We chatted with actress and former Hear’Say singer, Suzanne Shaw, 39, who opens up about her experience with depression, her relationship with alcohol, and her new passion for running…
Recognising unhealthy habits
I overhauled my lifestyle, because it was playing havoc with my hormones and emotions. I’d struggled with my mental health for 19 years and medication wasn’t enough to help me get better, so I had to take responsibility. At the end of 2019, I started a plant-based diet then three months later I decided to cut out alcohol. Before, I’d eat healthily but on treat days I would have pizza, chips and burgers. This would always go hand-in-hand with, “let’s have a bottle of wine – let’s party”. It was a roller coaster. From Monday to Wednesday, I was always recovering from unhealthy eating and a hangover from the weekend.
I used to have a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It would set my anxiety through the roof. When I lost my dad in 2012, I remember wondering how I was going to get through it. That’s when I started drinking more heavily, because I was trying to find that dopamine hit, something to make me happy through the pain. After my second child, I spoke publicly about postnatal depression but was never brave enough to say “I’ve struggled for a long time with depression”.
Suzanne Shaw: ‘Something had to change.’
The depression came off the back of my time in Hear’Say. We weren’t looking after ourselves, because we were worked so hard. We were doing 20-hour days, a lot of travelling and had bad nutrition. No wonder we felt like a train wreck when the band split – the day after I turned 21. People called us flop stars and I couldn’t help but believe it. I’ve had some quite dark moments, where I’ve struggled to function and get out of bed. Even my kids weren’t enough to get me out and, as a mum, that’s hard to admit. Two years ago, I thought, “I’ve not yet planned to take my own life but if I carry on, this could get very serious”. Something had to change.
Making healthy changes
All the changes I introduced were self-taught. I took an online accredited Mindful Nutrition course, read loads of books, found people on social media who I aspire to be like I listened to podcasts. One of my favourites is Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee who speaks to incredible doctors, speakers and inspirational storytellers, such as Dr Gemma Newman, a GP and plant-based doctor. She helped me understand the power of veganism and how to eat a varied plant-based diet.
It’s easy to be a junk food vegan and I feel groggy after a bag of chips, but if I have a week of good, healthy eating, I feel lighter, more sprightly and happy. I used to struggle with an intolerance to dairy and meat and would constantly have stomach pains, but this stopped when I cut out dairy and meat, so I didn’t miss those foods. Bacon, on the other hand, took three months to stop craving!
I take tons of supplements. This includes magnesium, which helps with hormone balance and is great for helping with inflammation after long runs. I also take B12 and iron, because I eat a plant-based diet. And I’ve started taking sea moss. You get omega-3 from fish skin, which helps your bones and your skin, but the fish get their omega-3 from the sea plants, so I’m just cutting out the middleman! It’s a paste that I take every day and isn’t amazingly pleasant, but I have noticed a difference in my skin. I use a basic range of beauty products, with Aveeno being one of my favourites. While I always smear on Aveeno cream, I believe you get better skin and hair from supplements and what you eat, because of vitamins in vegetables.
Suzanne Shaw: ‘I got rid of my social life and began putting myself first.’
I meditate pretty much every morning. It’s a good meditation if I do 40 minutes, but 10 minutes is where I’m at 90 per cent of the time. How did I get into that routine? Because I needed to find my happy place, so I found the time and stuck to it. Quitting alcohol was the catalyst, because I started showing up for myself. I got rid of my social life and began putting myself first. I’d wake up earlier after getting better sleep, wouldn’t look at my phone, then meditate. The more I showed up for myself, the more confidence I got, so the more I wanted to stick to it and get better. It was literally a mind switch.
I refuse to be down on myself, because I did it for so long. If I look in the mirror and start criticising myself, I say, “I’m not having this. You’re fine. You look great”. I’ve had lots of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and have recently been practising the Three Principles method with a phenomenal coach and psychologist called Sarie Taylor. It’s mindful consciousness and tells you how your mind is working and that fear thoughts are just signals telling you to be safe. Those fear thoughts, the moments of “you’re not good enough”, are a survival tool. Now I welcome them. I am body confident and embrace my cellulite.
I’m at a place now where I’m anywhere between 8.5 to 9 stone and if I put on a few pounds, so what? If I lose a few pounds, so what? I put on a stone in 2018/19 during a period of depression, due to drinking alcohol and eating unhelpful foods. So, when I changed my lifestyle, I’d already lost that initial weight, but I’m certainly not much different to what I used to be. I actually did all of this for my mind.
Starting my running journey
I always say “you’re only one run away from a good mood”. Running is my main exercise, as well as yoga and a bit of strength work. I started running at the beginning of last year and now do ultra running, covering distances that are longer than a marathon. On the day of Prince Philip’s funeral, I ran 40 miles over 10 hours. I stop and start all the way through. I run five miles, then walk for a couple of minutes to get the toxins out of my legs then run again. I’ve learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you stop fighting the upset, you begin to feel euphoric and able to go a bit further. That builds confidence and makes you feel like you can tackle the stresses and strains of life. Running is like my therapist.
Suzanne Shaw: ‘You’re only one run away from a good mood.’
I’m excited about turning 40 in September. I’ve done this really hard work on myself, I’m making better decisions and there are so many exciting things happening. I never thought I’d be going into the health and wellness sector and that’s become my job with brand deals and motivational speaking gigs. I’m entering a new chapter of my life.
Visit Suzanne Shaw’s new online health club atthehappyhealthclub.com.