‘I had a nervous breakdown and just exploded’: Jameela Jamil on how openly discussing mental health changed her life after bullies and an eating disorder left her feeling isolated
Loneliness is a taboo subject, let’s face it. In a time when we have more communication devices than ever before – literally at our finger tips – it’s rare for us to reach out to those around us to admit that we all experiencing loneliness.
Watch Jameela Jamil’s candid interview for GLAMOUR Unfiltered about her journey with loneliness through bullying, an eating disorder and Hollywood.
As someone who felt incredibly lonely growing up, the findings from Bumble BFF’s #AskingForAFriend survey hit home. 2 in 3 Brits admit feeling lonely, 84% of us find making friends hard and most shockingly, 2 in 3 feel they cannot get in touch with their friends when they do in fact feel lonely.
Step forward Bumble’s new ambassador, Jameela Jamil, the former TV presenter-turned-Hollywood-actress who through her Netflix fame in The Good Place, has used her platform to campaign for open and honest conversations around mental health and body image with her I Weigh social media community.
I can vividly recall Jameela telling me at a London Fashion week party over three years ago that she was leaving London, without any LA contacts, to pursue her dream of becoming a game-changing actress. Fast forward to us sat in a sweeping mansion in the Hollywood Hills in the height of a Californian summer and it seems much has changed for the 33-year old. But as we discuss her own personal relationship with loneliness, one thing is certain: she is more empowered than ever before and refreshingly honest about her struggles.
Here, Jameela recalls times of crippling loneliness and how she overcame a car accident at 17 years old, severe bullying at school and an eating disorder to conquer her loneliness…
Bumble have done this amazing insightful survey into loneliness and friendship using the #askingforafriend. The campaign is all about championing real friendships and one of the crazy things that have come out of it is that 2 in 3 Britain’s feel lonely and isolated which I found like a particularly quite scary idea because that means people around you are feeling super lonely…
Half of Americans feel the same way but in England, it’s such a small place and we’re all so packed in together especially in the bigger cities, you can’t imagine anyone having the opportunity to even feel lonely. But it’s such an in-depth thing and so it breaks my heart but it’s something I so related to as someone who was so lonely until I was like 19, I didn’t really have any friends. I understand the implications for your mind, also for your health and your spirit. So, it’s something as soon as they brought it to me, I was like, ‘yes, anything to encourage friendship and to make sure that people are coming together!’ It’s so vital for our mental health and if you look at our mental health statistically it’s on the decline in an exact parallel with how loneliness is up. Mental health is sort of the driving force behind all of my activism really so this all fits really well.
What’s your own relationship with loneliness been like?
I was super lonely; I mean I wasn’t kissed until I was 21 so I was sexually very lonely! Where the f**k was Bumble? I didn’t really have any mates till I was 19, and I was incredibly lonely, just socially awkward and socially inept. The longer you go without friendships, the harder you find to strike them up because you feel taboo or you feel like a loser but you’re not a loser and there’s nothing wrong with you. Everyone can be lonely at some time. I get to meet some of the most famous people in the world and they’re lonelier than any of you! They are the loneliest because they can’t go outside and have to live in hotel rooms with security guards and they don’t even know who to trust. Loneliness can happen to anyone and its pivotal that we destigmatise it and stop making it something that anyone feels ashamed of.
Are there times where you felt you couldn’t reach out and say that you were lonely?
Definitely. I think when I was in my teens to early 20s, I didn’t talk about anything to do with how I felt or how my mental health worked. I think it was quite British as well.
We’re not okay with talking about how we feel and talking about how much pain we’re in emotionally. It’s fine to have any kind of physical ailment but any ailment of the heart or mind and you’re just supposed to suck in and keep to yourself. So I didn’t tell anyone for ages and so it resulted in me sort of having a nervous breakdown at 26 because it just stored up in me and I just exploded at one point because I hadn’t had the chance to let that out until then and it’s so vital that we do. That’s why I’m so open about my mental health because I want people to know that’s its nothing to be ashamed of.
You’re just a warrior for making it through every single day and you should be hugely proud of yourself it’s happening to so many more people that you know and the bravest thing you can do is speak up about it. You must, you should, and you will feel immediately better for doing so and you’ll also find out how many other people feel the same way, they’ll feel sad or they’ll feel depressed or they’ll feel lonely and we’re all just looking for connection. it really affects your mental health, it affects your stress levels, and your stress levels affect the rest of your health. I think that’s probably one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t just tell people I felt lonely.
Do you think that having the Bumble BFF app when you’re at that stage in your life would’ve helped you immensely?
Yes, totally. I would’ve had a completely different experience, I would’ve had people to ask things to. I could’ve done with a little bit of advice on like how I was going to kiss when it came to my first kiss at 21. I would’ve loved advice about boys or about school or about life, I didn’t have anyone to turn to, I just had to figure everything out about myself. That’s sucks. That sucks so much more than having to admit that you’re lonely. Being lonely sucks so much more and it’s just not worth it. We should all be able to say I am asking for a friend. I still, in my 30s, will formally ask someone to be my friend.
In this survey, 1 in 5 people said that social media makes them feel lonely. I thought it was actually quite low in comparison to what I thought it was going to be like because I can feel myself feeling like massive FOMO when I go on social media. Do you ever feel that?
Social media is still a highlight reel; the highlight reel we hear about at school or uni or at work and so we’re comparing ourselves endlessly to that and therefore that makes us even more ashamed of the fact that we’re not living these lives. I did have FOMO when I was younger massively, but now I’ve sort of settled into the fact that I really am just a boring old twat, which is great!
I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do a lot of the things that I ever wanted to do. I’ve gone to the parties and the parties are crap – most of the time and I’ve gone and done the things that I had FOMO about, and it was all rubbish. Also, social media can make you feel connected to the world because you’re constantly being stimulated, constantly being updated on your friends. The problem with that is while I love social media, that it then stops you from actually meeting up with that friend because you think you’re updated with their life, but you’re just updated with their highlight reel. You have no idea what’s going on with them and I’ve been guilty where I’ve thought I’ve been in touch with everyone and know about their holiday that they went on because I’ve seen their favourite bikini picture, but I didn’t know what was going on in their lives. And so, I really think we need to push friendship forward because I think its genuinely one of the most important things in the world. It’s one of the most important things in my life, I’m not super close to my family and so I’ve made a family out of my friends. And I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t so, I passionately care about this subject.
What kind of relationship did you have with yourself in those super lonely moments?
I was horrible to myself and I didn’t have a friend to tell me not to be. I was just there, sort of bullying myself when I was younger and blaming myself for being lonely. I was talking rubbish about the way I looked and telling myself I wasn’t good enough. I was just battering myself and I didn’t have anyone around to stop that from happening. I think women in particular are really, really guilty of doing that and we’re taught to about society. So, we really need a sorority, we really need our friends to be able to stop us from hurting ourselves because we have a tendency to do that because it’s what we’ve learnt.
What is your relationship like with the sisterhood? How has that changed do you think in your life?
Great! It’s been so great and also within this industry I didn’t really have any female friends until Times Up and Me Too because there was this real sense of competition and this division between women before. I think because we were divided, we were able to be conquered, until now. Me Too and Times Up really brought women together and created this true sense of community and suddenly we had this empathy for each other and realised we were all going through the same thing. We’d all been holding it in by ourselves thinking it was only happening to us and the competition has lessened SO much. Now it feels like we’re genuinely happy for each other, we’re working together, we’re making a space and not taking space. It’s been really cool to be here and starting a new career in a new country where I had no friends and no contacts. I’m so glad it happened, now, because people have been so much more open, welcoming and less competitive.
How difficult was that for you to uproot your life and move to LA?
I mean my motivation was so strong to go, because I had a cancer scare that gave me the kick up the arse that I needed to go and start a whole fresh new life. So, I think I wasn’t thinking about it but when I got here and realised, ‘oh my God, I don’t know anyone!’, it meant that I had to kind of flex this muscle that I hadn’t needed the last ten years in England of learning how to make friends again, how to pursue people, get to know people and have that social anxiety of people not knowing you and having to win them over. A lot of people here are from a completely different culture and a background to me, and a lot of people here have known each other for years and that’s super daunting. So, it was definitely maybe a year before I really started to develop really close friends. But I met my boyfriend, who became my best friend and then my boyfriend, so he stopped me from feeling too lonely.
What were the turning points in your loneliness journey in Hollywood?
A big turning point for me was Ted Danson on Good Place where he just immediately embraced me as a friend. That was so cool because it was my first job and it happened very soon after I got here. That was the first time that a complete stranger who didn’t have to take me in as a friend and who definitely has enough friends of their own, already to embrace me and sort of take me under his. I was kind of going through a lot during season one with my health and he was really there for me. It just sort of relaxed me and made me realise not all the people in this industry are terrible and scary. You don’t think a 70-year-old icon is going to become your mate, but he did. He also has us over for sleepovers, non-sexual sleepovers, in his house. We just sit around the fire and chat and then in the morning him and his wife they cooked us brunch!
With I Weigh you have created an incredible community who speak out about body image issues. What have you had to reconcile within yourself to enable you to do it?
The coolest thing for starters about I Weigh is that it is a community and it’s a community that I consider myself a part of. It’s not my company, it’s my community and I have benefitted as much from them as they have benefitted from anything I said. I draw so much strength from people in that community. They do such incredible things like they come out on the I Weigh account, or they tell their parents they’re transgender for the first time and like take us through that journey with them. I think the hardest thing about I Weigh is that it’s been a reminder for all of us that are involved in to keep checking ourselves when it comes to the way we think about our bodies and the way we talk about our bodies. SoI think it made me realise I wasn’t as far along in my recovery with my eating disorder mentality as I thought I was. I realise I still had a way to go to really stop that inner voice, that inner bully that I have that tells me bad things about myself. Via I Weigh I have become most confident, more powerful and a self-loving version of myself that I have ever been, and I couldn’t have done that without the people in I Weigh. I’ve never felt surer about anything about me and more worthy of respect. I didn’t respect myself. Now I respect myself and I demand the respect of others and I owe that to I Weigh.
Having an eating disorder is a very isolating thing, too. Do you ever let go of that person or have you still got her with you?
I think it’ll always be a tiny part of me, but that voice has shrunk and shrunk. I had ENDR therapy which helped kind of get rid of the root cause of the eating disorder. But the body dysmorphia lives with me forever and also as a woman you’re constantly reminded by fashion or by media or by Hollywood or your friends around you, ‘body body body, looks looks looks, worth worth worth.’ It’s a constant struggle to kind of undo that and unlearn that but it does become easier and easier. I am living proof that you can go from being the most anorexic person you’ve ever heard of to now being someone who genuinely looks at food as fuel and doesn’t beat themselves up anymore over things like cellulite or thighs or whatever.
Did that make it harder for you to make friends?
For sure, having an eating disorder made me feel much more secretive. It’s naturally a secretive mental health disorder because you’re trying to hide it from most people. Because what you are doing is, you’re physically hurting yourself. It’s a form of self-harm so I think that does make you more likely to retreat away from other people and that again is an important part of friendship is that you need some people around to witness your life and to check in on you. And sometimes let you know that you’re not looking after yourself. I think because my not having friends around me, made it very easy for me to just starve myself almost to death and I wish that I had a shoulder to cry on at that point and someone to tell secrets to so someone could have told me how wrong those secrets were.
When you’re feeling at your peak loneliness, what age would you say that was?
Oh, my peak of loneliness, oh my god, there is an actual moment, I was 13. I was bullied really badly throughout school. I was bullied from the age of like 6 until I was 17. That’s why I didn’t finish school because I got bullied so badly. After I got hit by a car, after a year, I got offered to go back and finish school, so I would be able to go to uni. I was so traumatised from being bullied that I didn’t go back to finish school. I was like no, I actually can’t be in that situation ever again, it felt like prison to me. When I was 13 – this is sad – some of the worst school bullies at school, turned up at my house on a Saturday night. I was in watching the Eurovision Song Contest with my brother. They turned up at my house and I thought maybe they were coming to ask me if I wanted to hang out. No one had ever asked me to hang out before. I opened the door and they were like, ‘what are you doing, we’re just going out?’ I was like, ‘oh I’m just watching the song contest, but I don’t have to.’ And they were like, ‘’oh cool we were just wondering what you were up to! We’re going off now, bye!’’ And left me there, standing at my door. They came just to let me know that they were going out, having a really fun night and that I was alone, at home.
You were 17-years-old when you had the car accident. That must’ve been another really lonely experience for you?
It was rubbish! I didn’t have anyone to come visit me, because I didn’t have any friends. I spent the year on my own. I needed social media. It would’ve been great. And I needed ways to meet friends and talk to people online or meet up with them or have them visit me. It was rubbish but it motivated me, afterwards. Once I got better, I was like, ‘right, I am done with this loneliness shit. I’m moving on with my life, I’m going to go out, I’m going to be brave, I’m going to make friends, I’m going to ask people to be friends with me and I’m going to just learn some goddamn social skills!’ And I did and at 19, I met a group of friends who were still my best friends 14 years later.
If you were to give advice to someone out there right now, who is going through a period of loneliness. What advice would you want to give them?
I would say, it’s not your fault and you must not feel embarrassed about the situation that you found yourself in. You should find people who are like minded and if you can’t go out and do that then join the Bumble app with the #askingforafriend. Join this campaign, join all of us, we’re all out here looking for friends, you can never have too many friends and find your people. You need your people and I think that’s so important so get out there, do it now!
Jameela Jamil is the new ambassador for Bumble BFF and it’s #askingforafriendcampaign.