SHE’S known for coaching everyone from Ulrika Jonsson to Wayne Lineker through their relationship troubles, and Anna Williamson is a woman with personal experience in this area.
Now married with two kids, the TV presenter, counsellor and mental health advocate survived an abusive relationship aged 25.
The traumatic situation with her unnamed ex, who she says manipulated and controlled her, sparked a struggle with anxiety and panic disorder, something she still manages today.
But speaking on Fabulous podcast, Things I Told My Daughter, Anna, now 40, reveals how she THANKED her abuser for changing her life for the better.
She tells host Peta Todd, 34: “I thank this guy now. I’ve even thanked him to his face, a couple of years after (the relationship ended).
“It was my way of making peace with it, because actually what he did was completely change my life for the better.
“I saw him at work. We worked vaguely in the same arena, he was still a nuisance, he used to hover around where he didn’t need to be.
“But he didn’t bother me anymore because I saw him for what he was, which was quite a pathetic person. I pitied him.
“One day, I could see him out of the corner of my eye and said, ‘I’m going to go over there and tell him to leave me alone’.
“I asked him, ‘what do you want? Why are you hovering? You don’t need to be in this part of the building’.
“Standing up to that person who had been a complete arse and had turned me into a shadow of my former self and made me question everything I knew, thankfully only for a bit, it was the most cathartic thing.
“To look him in the face and say, ‘go away. I feel sorry for you, you’ve taken enough of my life, I’m fine, go and be happy away from me’. I felt euphoric. And I’ve never seen or heard from him ever since.”
I thank that ex now. I’ve even thanked him to his face. I felt euphoric. And I've never seen or heard from him since
After years of treatment through therapy and medication, Anna says she’s “very happy and proud to wear the label” of generalised anxiety disorder.
She adds: “I view that whole time of my life now, it sounds really controversial but having a mental illness and being in that situation, as one of the best things that ever happened to me.
“Because it changed me as a person for the better. It changed how I operate my life, who I’ve gone on to meet and marry, it’s changed my career and I have turned that whole episode into a massive positive.
“I wouldn’t be working or feeling so strongly in the field of mental health that I do now if I hadn’t been through that. I’m proud to fly the flag for mental health as someone that manages a mental health condition.
“I don’t want people to think you’re lesser of a person, you can’t do your job as well or you’re lesser of a partner. Actually I think I’m better, in every way of my life, as a result of managing my mental health.”
One thing Anna doesn’t wish to do is trivialise struggles with depression and anxiety, admitting she can empathise with people who sadly take their own lives.
She says: “When you are in the dull drums of a mental illness, it is the pits, it is the worst. I can totally empathise with people who so sadly and tragically feel like the best decision, in that moment, is not to be here.
“Because sometimes living with those dark thoughts can be overwhelming. I just implore everyone to get help because it can and it will get better.
“I was a friend of Caroline Flack and my God, the poor girl… it would have got better, it would have done. But to be in that moment, where you feel you just can’t cope with it, is an awful feeling.”
Anna is now happily married to Alex Di Pasquale, the father of her son Enzo, five, and daughter Eleanora, 18 months.
She appeared on the podcast with her own mother Mary, who lives 10 minutes away from her in Hertfordshire and explained Anna never suffered from anxiety as a child.
Mary says: “I know for a fact where your anxiety started – when you were about 25, when you had a relationship, which was a controlling relationship.
“You started having panic attacks. She used to ring me up in the middle of the night, as she had her own flat in London, it was awful.
“Everything you’ve done in your life, I think, has stemmed from that. Because of your own personal experience.”
I view having a mental illness and being in that situation as one of the best things that ever happened to me. Because it changed me as a person for the better
It was Mary who discovered Anna on what she describes as her “meltdown day”, when she realised she “couldn’t do it” as she was about to go on air to film CITV’s Toonattik.
Admitting she had a poor understanding of mental health conditions at the time, Anna says: “Truly, I thought I was going mad.”
Anna still has “dips” in her mental health, most significantly after the birth of her first child.
At one point, Anna was in a critical health condition, according to her medical notes, and she was left experiencing postnatal depression and even moments of post-partum psychosis.
Up until then, her anxiety had “lay dormant for many years” but was triggered after a GP unwisely told her to come off her low dose of SSRI medicine during pregnancy.
“It smacked me in the face like a shovel,” Anna says. “My poor husband must have thought ‘what the hell is going on with this woman?’ I was erratic, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant.
“It was a crap labour, it was a crap birth, it was long, I was overdue, it was 40 hours, it was a forceps delivery, I haemorrhaged, I wasn’t conscious when I gave birth, we had a lot of issues.
“I remember when I birthed (Enzo), the disappointment and sadness of not being fully conscious when he was born.
“I will never forget the feeling, I just felt sad because I could hear him crying in the theatre, I could hear my husband crying tears of joy and ‘we’ve had a boy!’ and my first thought of motherhood was ‘I’ve waited nine months for this moment and this is it?’ It was a really sh*t moment, is the only way I can describe it.
“I ended up having terrible depression, anxiety and birth trauma. With hindsight, I should have been admitted to the mother and baby unit because postpartum psychosis was very present.
“I was hallucinating, I had intrusive thoughts, it was a horrible time. I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t sleep (because of) the trauma, all I could hear was babies crying.”
I'm proud to fly the flag for mental health… I don’t want people to think you’re lesser of a person, you can’t do your job as well or you’re lesser of a partner. Actually I think I’m better, in every way of my life, as a result of managing my mental health
On a midwife’s advice, Anna went to stay with Mary who helped care for both her and Enzo – allowing the presenter to eventually bond with her baby.
She says: “I think we trivialise birth. It’s an enormous task, back in the day women died in childbirth frequently.
“Sometimes we just need to be a bit kinder to ourselves and other women who give birth. Just because a lot of people do it, doesn’t mean it’s not a massive thing. Your body and you will never be the same again.
“We all gloss over it. I really think we forget about the person who has just gone through this whole ordeal.”
- Fabulous magazine’s podcast Things I Told My Daughter is back with a new series. Hosted by Fabulous contributor, influencer and mum-of-four Peta Todd, it focuses on intimate conversations between celeb mums and daughters. Listen to Peta interview Anna now on all leading podcast apps.
- You can find last week’s episode, with Ferne McCann, here.
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