I had been dying to do this interview, for the longest time. Over the years I had read every interview with Angela Scanlon that has been published. From as early as I can remember I looked up to her. I had followed her for years. I followed her around the house waiting patiently for any cast-offs to come my way. And to the shop in the hope of a Mr. Freeze to keep me occupied for at least a half-hour (even back then she was the one with the paper).
It’s weird, interviewing your sister, someone you’ve known for 33 years. You know so much about them. There’s all the unsavory stuff I could probably make a pretty penny on but there are the heartaches and bellyaches too. The highs, the lows, the TV shows, and noes. And today I’m getting the lowdown on how these hectic habits impact her emotional health.
The past 15 years have been an absolute whirlwind, I’ve seen it from the sidelines.
The relentless schedule, the hard work and dedication, the late nights and early mornings. The struggles and smiles. And the sheer exhaustion of it all. And there’s the added pressure of posting it all on social media. More followers, more likes or you won’t get the job.
“It’s a tricky one,” Angela says, “social media has perpetuated the idea that you can have it all. Not only are you supposed to have it all, but you’re supposed to document it all too. I believe that you can have a really strong career, a really strong social life, and a really strong family life but you can never have all 3. You can maybe have 2 of those but 1 of those you have to sacrifice.” And with an air of regret she says “For me, it was family and friends.”
I knew that of course, I did. The early flights back and missed debriefs after the savagery of the night before. But the vision was tunnelled. Work was the priority, it always had been. “My work was my everything. It was an unhealthy fixation, a work addiction of sorts. My whole identity was wrapped up in my work. My perceived success, my ability to get the job, to progress. But the more I worked, the more I was applauded and those around me fed it without even realizing. I was relentlessly pushing myself and being swept along with other people’s encouragement but I felt like a workhorse.”
“The only thing I had to offer was my work because I had neglected so many other areas of my life. I thought if I stop working I have nothing to talk about, nothing to give. People don’t know me, they know that persona so if that’s gone, what’s left. That’s what I’m trying to figure out now. My work is a part of me, it’s not the whole of me. Now I’m trying to reintroduce myself and other people to parts of me that have been lost and sacrificed for a very long time.”
To put context to this, the conversation often went to work. The last project, the next project. What’s what, who’s who with a couple of snaps for Instagram (I happily obliged. Insta wife right here). But this was the tricky part because socially, it’s accepted. Success is sought after, it’s applauded but no-one thinks about the day-to-day impact. I could see she was knackered. Running on autopilot. Any downtime spent chasing her tail. She was never quite there. And it’s hard to see that in someone you love.
You don’t know if that’s who they are or who they’ve become. And that’s the thing with mental health that makes it so hard to recognize. We’re always growing and changing, so it’s hard to know where the person stops and the symptoms begin. I guess in hindsight it was pretty obvious but the line of intervention is fine.
After loads of success, both in Ireland and the UK she knew something was off.
“For me, it was the feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. That things never felt quite like I thought they would. I kept changing the goalpost, I’ll be happy if I get that job, that house. If you keep changing the goalpost it keeps distracting you from feeling the things you don’t want to feel. I had a couple of big goals” she continues “and when I hit them, I felt nothing but fear, massive anxiety, and real sadness. The realization of ‘oh, what now’. If it’s not the job, the house, the place, then you have to go a bit deeper to figure it out.”
There’s a bit of an illusion that comes with ‘going deeper’ and it doesn’t help when every second Instagram account is claiming expertise on enlightenment. When the media overwhelms you with information on the latest ‘thing’ there can be a tendency to dismiss in refute of those pushing it but this is one ‘thing’ that shouldn’t be shunned. When someone appears to have such a rich life it can be hard to fathom any kind of lack but emptiness doesn’t discriminate. And it wasn’t just at work.
It crept into everything. There was unease, an anxiety in Angela just being.
“Everything I focused on was in the future. I could be with my family, at an occasion and I would feel disconnected. Suddenly I’d have spent the whole weekend in my head rather than connecting with people. When I did take the time to go home, to spend time with family I never allowed myself to be there.”
And that’s exactly how it felt on the other side. Disconnected. I missed her. A lot. I missed plotting and scheming and being general dorks. I missed her telling me to shut up talking when she was trying to sleep and her mad rituals. Sunday evening was a potluck. Depending on the mood you could be met with a facemask, a foot mask, or a hair mask. There was always a candle burning. If I was lucky some paolo Santa, wafts that I pretended to like filled the house. A spritz of magnesium, a reflexology appointment later and she was golden. In hindsight, it was an attempt to feel better. And I was right there behind her.
But it’s a changing story now.
“These days I try to remind myself that I need to get rest, to have fun. I’m trying to be more present. The magic is in the moment.”
I always knew she would make an amazing Mam. She’s sensitive in a way that few people are and much more motherly than she’d have anyone believe. As a younger sister, I can say that. She was forever looking out for me. Like the time she rescued me in senior infants from that kid who was giving me a hard time. Or the endless dates she tried to orchestrate from afar. She had my photo shared with the cast of Robot War but god forbid anyone to mistreat me. Nobody messes with Angela Scanlon’s blood! But when Ruby was born I was worried. I wasn’t sure she knew how to slow down and asking for help was never a strength. But it was really only the start and she did for her daughter something she would never have done for herself.
“Having Ruby played a huge part in me reaching out for help. The routine of it all, the sadness I felt at being disconnected. Her being a reminder that this is it, this is what it’s supposed to be about. The big, shiny things weren’t going to make me feel better. I just needed to figure out how to enjoy the little things. When you become aware, you realize just how checked out you were.”
Going to therapy is notoriously difficult.
It’s a massive investment of time, emotional energy and money. It gets worse before it gets better and it has a magical way of sorting one thing in your life only to expose another c*ck up you didn’t know existed. Knowing Ang as she is had me very curious. She’s not big on routine. Loves a bit of sparkle. I was apprehensive about her committing to seeing the same person week in, week out in a room that’s stripped back and functional, not a Farrow and Ball hue or a bonsai tree in sight. But like the sunshine on her wedding day, she pulled it out of the bag.
“For me it was difficult. I spent 10 years as a freelancer with zero routines. The idea of needing to be somewhere everything Thursday at a certain time terrified me. But it was a necessity. I honestly felt like I was falling apart. But all in the biggest thing I’ve learned is that we’re multifaceted beings. I’m very comfortable with the happy, shiny parts of myself but deeply uncomfortable with the parts of myself that I deem to be unacceptable. Things like my ambition and I can be cold at times.”
“There were emotions that I felt were acceptable and a whole lot that I thought wasn’t and as a result, I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. In accepting those bits rather than scorning them, I started to feel lighter. You end up liking yourself a bit more because you have accepted the bad bits you can celebrate the good bits even more. I feel stronger, I like myself more.”
And just like that, she’s gone. The quest goes on. A spritz of Moon Mist, a shot of Ashwagandha, the sage leaf burns but our girl is on the gravy train.