Poppy Jamie on the On-Set Breakdown That Led to Her Hospitalization - and a Breakthrough: 'I Was Unrecognizable to Myself''
The TV host and one-half of the handbag duo Pop & Suki with BFF Suki Waterhouse tells PEOPLE about the lowest point in her mental health journey, and how it inspired her to write a book to help others break out of a vicious cycle
Poppy Jamie started her career as the youngest presenter on Britain's ITN and continued to make her name as an influencer and entrepreneur, launching the first-ever talk show on Snapchat and starting a line of handbags with her best friend, model Suki Waterhouse. But despite outwardly living an enviable life, she was suffering from extreme anxiety and eventually was hospitalized after a mental breakdown. The experience led her to create a website and write a new book, both titled Happy Not Perfect. Here, she shares the story of her own experience with mental illness and recovery, as told to PEOPLE.
My heart went out to Naomi Osaka when she announced that she was withdrawing from the French Open for mental health issues. It's been a watershed year for mental health, which is finally being accepted as something that can be injured and need treatment, like a sprained knee or even cancer.
It's incredible to see all the support she is receiving; many other athletes and celebrities are coming out with their own stories of struggling with own mental health issues. But the lack of support from other circles around her shows there is still much to do to educate and destigmatize and offer practical solutions.
I've never been in the extreme spotlight that Osaka is experiencing, but I have lots and lots of experience with crippling anxiety and depression-and with not always being "healthy" enough to focus on it. The worst moments were happening while Suki Waterhouse and I were creating the Pop & Suki brand.
In the beginning, before it all came crashing down, I thought I was living the dream. I had celebrity friends, access to million-dollar funding, and I was working with my best friend.
Suki and I met dancing in a LA nightclub and it was love at first sight. We were these young British girls having the time of our lives living a very L.A. lifestyle. We lived in the Chateau Marmont for a month and afterward moved just north of Sunset Boulevard while adventuring around the world giggling from morning to night.
We were afforded the opportunity to start Pop & Suki and it grew bigger than my wildest ambitions. We were painting the town pink with our accessories line but behind the scenes, the pressure was taking a toll on my mental health.
My anxiety had begun to get so bad, my digestion had practically stopped and my stomach was bloated constantly. I ignored the cracks and kept on keeping on, because life and work couldn't stop. I didn't have time to pause.
I was also ironically building a mental health app simultaneously, in light of my troubles, but no amount of mindfulness could cover up the unaddressed, pulsating emotional wounds. One day I spiraled and everything broke.
It was Jan. 2, 2016. Suki and I were on a shoot. We were excitedly prepping for filming what we had assumed to be just another light, "best-friends on the road"-style short film: Think Thelma and Louise but a bit more pastel.
When I got to set, though, the overconfident, mustachioed director had a different idea in mind: "Suki is going to kill Poppy." I couldn't believe it, but initially I just kept quiet and went into hair and makeup.
I thought I could handle it, but at that moment my anxiety was flying so high, my professionalism unraveled, and eventually I erupted at the director like a fire-breathing dragon, saying, "KILL ME!? WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS, YOU IDIOT. IT'S A BEST FRIEND BRAND! WHY WOULD SUKI KILL ME? WHY WOULD BEST FRIENDS KILL EACH OTHER?"
I proceeded to hysterically break out in hot tears. An awkward silence fell over the trailer van, as the crew debated whether they should stay, leave, or attempt to comfort me. I felt their uncomfortable stiffening and immobilization as they tried to make sense of my complete overreaction and hysterical outburst.
It wasn't long before the team filtered out of the trailer van while I blubbered out inaudible apologies. Why was I crying? Of course, I wasn't crying because the director wanted to "kill me." Rather, it was a million other reasons that I couldn't even begin to explain. Tears because I couldn't live up to the perfect expectation I had built in my head. Tears for not being "happy" when I was supposed to be living the dream. Tears for all the boys that hadn't texted me back and the haunting fear that it wasn't them, it was me.
The uncertainties that rattled my bones at night continued to avalanche, leaving me inconsolable and overwhelmed. I felt as though I was wrapped in an invisible blanket of guilt, anxiety and sadness. The lashing inflicted upon the director left me completely mortified and ashamed. I officially had lost professional composure, but most importantly, I had lost ownership of the all-powerful, bitchy inner voice that was ruining my life.
The next day, I was hospitalized. I was emotionally and physically drained and unrecognizable to myself. I kept thinking "What's wrong with me?". When the doctor stated my diagnosis I was even more confused. I could not comprehend that I was experiencing chronic exhaustion. It HAD to be more than just this?!
I was terrified of the consequences, but a friend wisely told me during that time, "Don't waste a breakdown, they can be our greatest moments of transformation". She was right. During the moments when our world feels lost and we're in crisis is often when we're presented with the best opportunities to create big change. This is what I did.
Every single day since that terrible time, I have dedicated myself to researching the mind and finding ways we can manage our mental health better and befriend our emotions. I was eager to learn for my own sake and felt it was part of my mission to help others. And not in a "let's just talk" way, although that's a vital first step, but more in a "let's do" way.
The Happy Not Perfect book is built around what I learned from working with mental health experts and researchers to better understand why my inner critic has been so ruthless and how I can make positive changes. The biggest life change has been being open to more flexible thinking.
Allowing connection, curiosity, choice, and commitment to drive decisions and not anxiety: I've found this flexible approach allows me to turn what might previously have been fear into useful energy. This allows me to be a more compassionate version of myself. It works because flexible thinking allows me (and you too hopefully) to bypass the emotional brain and instead tap into wise intuition and stretch my outlook into new shapes.
I hope the Happy Not Perfect book can help others with anxiety and provide relief from the debilitating thoughts that can come when our inner critic turns on us. Too often we are taught WHAT we need to feel, not HOW to feel healthily. We may not think we have a choice over how we feel, but we always have the choice to be kind to ourselves.
If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.