‘HOW I MAKE MINDFULNESS WORK FOR ME’
Every woman needs Jessica Rowe on speed dial. Relentlessly sunny and unflinchingly honest, the Studio 10 presenter is the girlfriend everyone should call on for solace, wisdom and wine after a soul-destroying day. Admittedly, you’d have to sit amid piles of laundry and scattered toys if you visited her home, and you’d likely have to settle for burnt toast if you were hungry – cooking is not the self-proclaimed Crap Housewife’s strong suit – but you’d leave feeling better about the world than when you arrived. “I’m a very proud Crap Housewife – it’s a badge I wear with pride,” says Jessica, whose regular posts of spag bol and tinned spaghetti on toast make this anti-martha Stewart the hero we didn’t know we needed.
“If we’re open and honest it gives other people permission to do the same. I’m good at other things, but I’m not a good cook. I have a car you could live in it’s so messy, and I’ve got piles of stuff everywhere. But that’s okay, because more and more I realise I don’t want to spend my spare time sweating that stuff. I want to spend it with the people I love, doing things I enjoy and they enjoy.”
Family and friends are everything to Jessica, 47 – anecdotes about her daughters Allegra, 10, and Giselle, eight, pepper our conversation, and she speaks with great affection about ‘Petey’, aka Nine newsreader Peter Overton, the husband who’s been her rock through devastating professional and personal setbacks. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the rollercoaster decade she’s had, keeping her mental health in check is the linchpin of Jessica’s wellbeing philosophy. “I believe mental and physical health are very closely linked,” she says. “I do pilates once a week and that’s more for my head than for my body, for dealing with stress and anxiety. Before that I did mainly weight training at the gym but I was getting a bit bored and wanted to change things up a bit. I do pilates with a friend, we have so much fun. We laugh and we try not to fart – because you’ve got to squeeze the pelvic floor and all these different muscles. Because I’m doing it with a friend I’m less likely not to rock up.”
Jessica is also the new ambassador for Solar D, a sunscreen which blocks harmful rays while continuing to allow sunlight to stimulate the natural production of vitamin D. This is something she’s passionate about given vitamin D deficiency has been to linked a range of illnesses including depression.
As well as exercise, Jessica also maintains her mental health with antidepressants, something she has no shame about admitting, insisting depression should be
when she developed postnatal depression, speaking up wasn’t easy ‘it’s only now that i’m comfortable enough in my skin to be myself’
treated like a physical illness – and regular mindfulness exercises.
“Initially when a psychologist spoke to me about mindfulness, I was ‘oh come on, this is a bit of nonsense’ but when I did some breathing exercises with her, and read more about it – I love Ruby Wax’s book
Sane New World – that really changed my thinking about how useful it can be and how doable it is,” she says. “Because it’s not about having to change your life, it’s just looking at some simple techniques to bring you back into the moment and make you present. It gets you out of your head and out of those sometimes-swirling thoughts that can become a vortex – that negative self-talk.” The influence of her mother Penelope in shaping Jessica’s approach to wellbeing has been profound. Helping care for Penelope as she battled bipolar disorder instilled in Jessica the need to keep her own mental health in check. Yet, despite all her advocacy work with her mum over the years to tackle the stigma around mental health, she found when she developed postnatal depression after Allegra’s birth, speaking up wasn’t so easy. “When I realised I had a mental illness I felt so ashamed, and the level of that shame really surprised me. I did what so many people do – I thought, ‘what right do I have to feel like this? I have everything I could wish for. I have my beautiful husband and this beautiful baby I wanted for so long…’ It took me a long time to ask for help. Once I got that help and I became better, I thought long and hard about talking about my experiences [publicly] and I realised if I didn’t, I’d feel like such a hypocrite. Because my message before had been ‘you need to talk about it’. And that is why, to me, being honest and open is so important.” Finding confidence When Jessica talks about life, her words are imbued with a wisdom that can only come from someone who knows life isn’t always fair. As well as the debilitating postnatal depression, there was her high-profile firing (aka ‘boning’) at the hands of then-nine boss Eddie Mcguire that left her reputation in tatters. And her gruelling IVF journey to have children. But through all this, her innate optimism and steely refusal to let anything “get the better of me”, have ensured she always rises to the top.
“My mum taught me that often we don’t have a choice about what happens to us in our lives but what we can choose is how we decide to deal with it,” she says. “I think resilience is so important but you don’t know you’ve got it until you need it. There are many times when I’ve felt like I couldn’t get up again – it’s only thanks to the love and support of people around me who’ve believed in me that kept me going.”
The image of her in the grips of crippling depression is hard to reconcile with the radiant, effusive Jessica of today. But she says she wouldn’t be the person she is today without facing down the challenges that could have easily derailed her. After the humiliation of her job loss, she was stuck in career purgatory for years – “No one would return my calls,” she recalls. Optimistically, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars, believing if all went well, she could win the program’s trophy and reignite her career. All did not go well (she finished seventh). With gallant pluck, she then set her sights on a role on Play School, taking singing lessons to improve her chances. She failed to get the gig – twice – but she won something greater. “All those things I did helped me get my confidence back, and my lightness and my sense of fun. I then got a gig on Weekend Sunrise reading the news. They were all small steps back into finding out who I was again. As a result, I got a great opportunity to audition for Studio 10, which I’ve been doing for almost four years. It really is my dream job because I’m myself – but I don’t think I could have done this sooner, because it’s only now that I’m comfortable enough in my skin to be myself,” she says. “Life is good. But I’m very conscious of making the most of it because things can turn on a dime.”