Lynda Bryans: 'I couldn't fathom why I had clinical depression because I was the most optimistic person ... I was afraid, worried, and inside I was just a shell. The only thing that kept me going was my family, holding me up'
The Big Ask
In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to Lynda Bryans (57), a journalism lecturer at Belfast Met and former UTV presenter. She lives in Belfast with her husband, Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt, and they have two sons, Peter (24) and Christopher (22).
Q: Tell us about your childhood
A: My dad Billy was a builder, but he later went into bespoke kitchen manufacturing - he had his own workshop beside my family home. My dad actually built the house when he and my mum got married in 1957. They've been married for over 60 years and they still live there.
My mum Carol worked with dad - she did the books and the accounts for him, that sort of thing. Aside from that, she was really a stay-at-home mum. She worked in a linen company way before we were born but gave that up when she had children.
I have a sister called Alison and a brother called Glen, both are younger than me.
My best memories are of primary school and growing up near Saintfield. It was very much an idyllic childhood - I'm very hesitant to describe it as that, but it was. My childhood was surrounded by nature. My dad was from a farming background, so he knows the countryside really well and I remember we would get up, put our welly boots on and go up for a walk along the farm lands. My dad always knew where to get really good blackberries and sometimes we'd come home with a bucket full of mushrooms and have those for breakfast.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: My sons. When I look back on my life so far, as I do now and will do again in years to come, I think the two boys would be the people I look back on with much pride. They are two very different guys - Peter has a law degree and is very determined to work in law, while Christopher is a super-talented jazz guitarist and has just graduated with a music degree. They have achieved a lot and I'm surprised by them every day.
Q: The one regret you wish you could amend?
A: I don't have any major regrets. There have been opportunities I wish I'd taken maybe, but there's nothing pressing. I think you are where you are for a reason and you should always make the most of it.
Q: Do you have any phobias?
A: I'm not keen on having spiders in the house, which is funny because when I'm outdoors, they don't bother me at all.
Q: The temptation that you cannot resist?
A: Friday night is my and Michael's 'big night in'. It's the end of the working week and we'll come home and have a curry or something.
When I pour myself that gin and tonic and I have some olives to go alongside it, I can relax. Getting to nibble on olives is the best part.
Q: Your number one prized possession?
A My wedding ring. It was a second marriage for me and Michael - and that's no secret - so we didn't want to do the 'big white dress' wedding again. I gave him an idea of the ring I wanted. I showed him a picture of something I liked and he went and got it specially made. It has little diamonds all the way around it. That's the one thing I suppose I cherish most - and it's just as well because I can't get it off my finger anymore!
Q: The book that has most impacted your life?
A: I love reading when I'm on holiday and I especially love Northern Irish novelist Brian Moore's novels, but nothing has really impacted me. The only exception would be the Bible. I'm not really attached to any books but if I was stranded on a desert island, I would be glad to have the Bible with me. It's the ultimate example of who we should be trying to be and what we should be trying to do.
Q: If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?
A: I would change our law so that the MLAs who do want to work in this country would be allowed to make laws and actually legislate. I think it's appalling that Stormont is sitting there and people are waiting for operations, the health service is a mess, the list goes on. There are decisions that need to be made now instead of later.
People often say they want the MLAs to get back to work and I always say: "Well, my husband still goes to work every day." It's not his fault that he can't get into the chamber. It's sad that everyone else is being prohibited by the big parties at the top.
Q: What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A: When I hear child abuse or animal cruelty stories on the news. The fact that these things are happening at all - what possesses someone to do something like that in the first place?
Q: Who has most influenced you in life?
A: My daddy. I think if you have a good, solid, stable, as rounded as possible childhood, you have been set good foundations for a solid and stable adulthood. My mum and dad did that for me.
But with my dad, I think it's the nature thing - he's always loved the outdoors and gardening and I picked that up from him. Any gardening knowledge I have, I definitely got from my father.
Q: Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A: You know, when you get asked this question, you think about all the celebrities you would ask, but really, I don't know what any of those people would actually be like.
Some of the best nights we've had have been with a couple of friends around the dinner table.
We have friends called Trevor and Christine, and when we get together, I can just relax, and Michael relaxes too - it's a nice dynamic around the table.
So, even though it may sound boring to everyone else, my top three dinner party guests would be our two good friends Trevor and Christine, and my husband Michael. I think if you had people like President Kennedy or Ghandi, you'd have to work too hard - after one glass of wine I wouldn't really care what they said!
Q: What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A: When I was given the choice of going freelance, I had to give up my staff job at the BBC in order to take up a TV presenting role. I probably knew it was the right thing to do, but I was really nervous about it, and Michael said to me: "Change happens. Go with it and make it work for you." That's the best piece of advice I've ever received and I still look back on it.
Q: The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A: I like fly fishing. I don't do very much these days, in fact, I haven't even got a fishing licence this year. I just don't have the time to do it.
Also, I've never caught a salmon. I've caught a lot of trout, but I don't like the taste of it, so I gave up fishing. If I caught a salmon, that would make it all worthwhile - a salmon would be lovely!
I first held a fishing rod with my dad. When I was younger, we would go to a local lake and bring a picnic and catch whatever, probably pike or something like that.
Q: The poem that touches your heart?
A: I love WB Yeats and a lot of his work has touched my heart. I'm not sure if it's even a poem, but I have a fridge magnet with a quote from Sean O'Casey which reads: "When it was dark, you always carried the sun in your hand for me."
It reminds me of Michael and how he helped me when I had a mental health issue in my early 30s. I was in a very dark place and he kept the light on for me and got me through it.
When I saw the magnet, I thought the quote was so beautiful, so I bought it and it's been on my fridge every since.
Q: The happiest moment of your life?
A: A lot of people say when their first child was born, but I was in a very bad place when Peter was born - I was depressed.
So, I think I would say when my second son Christopher was born, because I didn't have depression then. Mentally, I was in a good place and it was such a different experience from the previous birth that I just wanted to make the most of it.
Of course, I was worried about giving birth for a second time. I went back to the same obstetrician and he was clearly worried too. He kept asking me how I was and he wasn't talking about the fluid I was carrying in my legs.
I was certainly apprehensive, but I knew that there were certain events that led to that previous breakdown of my mental health and those events weren't in place this time.
Q: And the saddest moment of your life?
A: When I was pregnant with my first son Peter. When I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy, around October or November, I realised something just wasn't right with me. The pregnancy was planned, everything was planned, so it's not like it was an accident. I had a very busy life - I was working in London and travelling back and forwards. I knew I was coming home to Belfast at Christmas time and the baby was due in January, so I knew there was an end to the chaos, but my head was not in a good place.
Another factor was the issue with our house - we had builders who were renovating our home and unfortunately they made a very bad job of it and we eventually had to take them to court.
I think it was that particular moment, because there I was, pregnant, you know, it's not something you can put on hold for a few months until you sort things out. I knew this baby was coming in January and our house was a mess. We had to move out again and allow good builders to come in and right the wrongs. Actually, the builder that came in to fix our house just built a garage for us recently, so he's a good friend.
So really, that was probably the saddest and most frightening time of my life. I had no idea what was happening, I just couldn't remember anything, I couldn't focus on anything. I began to get afraid and worried, and I'd gone so far that I couldn't even cry anymore. Inside me, I was just like a shell. I was numb - I couldn't cry or laugh because I had nothing to give anymore.
The only thing that kept me going was that I had a baby inside me and that my family were around me, holding me up.
When Peter was born, I still couldn't function properly. My husband fought for me when I didn't have the strength to fight for myself. Had it not been for him and my close family, I would have been put into Knockbracken Healthcare Park.
I was going to my GP, in fact, I wasn't going outside at all. I was agoraphobic - I wouldn't go out of the house, I wouldn't answer the phone and I barely spoke to people. It took me all I had to go to my obstetrician appointments and had it not been for Michael, bundling me into the car and taking me to these appointments, it just wouldn't have happened.
My GP came out one day and diagnosed me with clinical depression there and then. Once I could put a name to what I had, the mystery was taken away from it somewhat. I really thought I was going crazy. The main thing he gave me that day was hope that I would get better.
I also had a community psychiatric nurse, Liz, who came to see me on a regular basis, and she was amazing. She kept me alive. My GP was an absolute rock as well. You can say what you want about the health service, but when you really need it, it's there.
So, my experience with having baby Peter was not a good one but not for any other reason than my own head.
It was absolutely not his fault or mine, it was the circumstances surrounding me. I like to think I've made up for it as he's got older by giving him extra hugs and things - though I'm not sure he likes that.
Q: The one event that made a difference in your life?
A: I suppose having clinical depression, because, you have to move on with your life after that and I found it quite cathartic to talk about it. I couldn't quite reason why I got this bizarre thing because I was the most optimistic person.
For me, working through it helped me to understand it and to understand mental health as a whole. I didn't tell anyone outside of my family until a few years after.
I met a friend of mine, radio producer Owen McFadden, for lunch and he told me about a series he was doing with a psychotherapist.
We just got talking and I told him about my clinical depression and just how low I had got - I wanted to die and thank God I didn't take that step.
He couldn't believe it and he asked me to talk on the radio about it. I was terrified but the reason I did it was to help me understand it and to help other people who were going through it. If had someone else saying, "I've experienced this and you do get through it", that would have been a real step for me. It would have given me hope. For me, talking about it helped.
Q: What's the one ambition that keeps driving you onwards?
A: To live a good and healthy life for as long as possible - and to keep my head in a good place.
Q: What's the philosophy you live by?
A: Just to live and let live. If you aren't doing anyone else any harm or damage, then you're doing just fine.
Q: How do you want to be remembered?
A: As playing a small part in bringing mental health issues out into the open.
That would make it all worth it. And it has been a small part but I think by talking about your mental health and encouraging others to do so, it brings it into the light and removes the stigma.