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'Success couldn't fix our insecurity': Gillian Anderson and best friend Jennifer Nadel on why they've written a 'manual for life'
By Margarette Driscoll For You Magazine
YOU Magazine: February 25, 2017

Who do you turn to when you're struggling to cope? After counselling each other when the going got tough, Gillian Anderson and her close friend Jennifer Nadel have written a tried-and-tested 'manual for life' on the issues that affect us all

Ten years ago, Gillian Anderson met Jennifer Nadel, a neighbour in West London's Notting Hill, and, sensing a kindred spirit, made that classic mummy mistake of thinking how lovely it would be if their children could be friends.

They arranged to meet at a local cafe, where Gillian's 12-year-old daughter Piper and Jennifer's 13-year-old son Jack sat in stony silence. 'They just didn't get along,' laughs Gillian. 'We took a stroll through Hyde Park and they shuffled along, saying absolutely nothing. It was hideous.'

'But we ended up being friends, which was the blessing,' says Jennifer. Gillian nods in agreement as she sips coffee. The star of The X-Files and The Fall has turned up to the YOU photo shoot in tight-fitting black jeans and dizzying stilettos, looking immaculate even though she is about to go into hair and make-up.

For the first few minutes she's glued to her phone, sending anxious texts. The premiere of her new film, Viceroy's House (a drama set during the partition of India, which opens on Friday), has changed, 'so I'm trying to work out how to get my kids home from swimming'. Jennifer arrives late to many hugs and greetings in a big, curly wool jacket, colourful necklace and chunky rings.

From their first conversation - one that has never really finished - Gillian and Jennifer realised they had a huge amount in common. Not just a shared sense of humour, but also of having dealt with pretty much everything life could throw at them: a fractured childhood, broken relationships, being a single parent, serious illness in the family, money worries, depression, anxiety and a creeping sense of insecurity that seemed impossible to shake off. They became each another's go-to adviser when things got tough.

Now they have distilled their thoughts and experiences into a manual for life. We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere might sound grandiose, but it is a practical guide to getting to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and learning to cope in a world that sometimes seems overwhelming, even if you are beautiful and successful. 'This book doesn't come from lofty heights,' as they say in the introduction. 'It comes from two friends who have stumbled along together, trying, failing, crying, laughing, learning and trying again.'

It seems incredible that two such able and successful women could feel so unsure of themselves, but no one is immune to stress and anxiety. Gillian, 48, says she suffered daily panic attacks when she first became famous as FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files. Jennifer, 54, suffered a breakdown - 'a glorious, full-blown burnout' - when she was home affairs editor at ITN. From the outside, both had enviable lives but 'no amount of external success could fix the way we felt made us feel guilty that even with the gifts and luck we'd been given we couldn't make life work'.

Their recipe for finding peace of mind includes reflection, meditation and self-examination - looking at where your problems come from and how to fix them, without resorting to alcohol, drugs, work, food or abusive relationships, as they have done at times: 'You name it, we tried it,' they write.

Between them, they have clocked up many hours of therapy and distilled the best of what they have learnt into nine 'principles': honesty, acceptance, kindness, courage, trust, peace, humility, love and joy. Their aim is to get women working through the principles not just as individuals, but in groups that will use their new-found strength to campaign against injustice and create a more compassionate world.

'It's about women coming together to share troubles and joys without feeling we are in competition,' says Gillian. 'There are so many fundamental things we have in common. Who isn't horrified by rising suicide rates among teenagers, the degree of self-harm and the impact social media is having on women of all ages?'

Gillian's daughter Piper, now 22, is 'quite grounded', she says, but that's partly due to luck. 'There are times when I've gone waxing on about something or other and times when I've just let her be. She's very self-aware, reflective and honest, so the good stuff must have had some impact, although I'm sure there's plenty of negative stuff that's been passed down as well.'

By contrast, both her and Jennifer's early years were blighted by depression and anxiety. Jennifer first had therapy aged 15: 'I beat you, I was 14!' chips in Gillian. Jennifer grew up in an eccentric, alcoholic household in the English countryside with a very young mother and a reclusive, academic father. The house was divided into a children's half and an adults' half, and visits between the two were regulated.

Gillian's upbringing was more conventional, but perhaps moving around unsettled her: she was born in Chicago, but her parents soon moved to Puerto Rico, then London - where they stayed until she was 11 - before settling in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Aged 13, she ceased to be an only child when her brother Aaron was born (he had neurofibromatosis, a congenital condition that causes tumours to grow on the nervous system), followed by a sister, Zoe.

Gillian says there was 'a lot of stuff to deal with' in her childhood. She went off the rails, became a punk, dyed her hair, experimented with drugs and was voted 'girl most likely to be arrested' by her classmates - and actually was arrested and charged with trespass on the night of her graduation for trying to break into her school. 'There was a point where it was highly recommended that I see a therapist because I was struggling in school. I guess that was the beginning of self-reflection and looking at behaviour patterns and historical stuff.'

Gillian's father, who ran a film production company, tried to persuade her away from acting, or to at least learn word processing (her mother was a computer programmer), so she could earn money in the down times. 'Good advice, but I didn't listen,' she says.

Instead Gillian moved to New York and worked as a waitress between theatre roles until she was cast in The X-Files, aged 24. She thought it would run for 13 episodes. Instead, it dominated the next ten years of her life. She met her first husband, Piper's father Clyde Klotz, on set (he was assistant art director).

Having therapy as a teenager helped Gillian cope with fame, but she still felt overwhelmed at times. 'There were occasions during that series when I wasn't sure whether I could go on. I started having panic attacks on a daily basis while we were shooting, around the time Piper was born. It was a mixture of not having dealt with childhood problems, the work being intensive, living in the spotlight and the expectation on me, as well as not knowing how to get balance or properly take care of myself. The panic attacks forced me to start practising meditation, just to eke out a tiny bit of space for myself, and that made it possible to continue.'

Gillian and Clyde divorced after three years (she later said she had been too young and has encouraged her daughter to travel and 'make the most of her life' before getting seriously involved with a man), and she was briefly married to Julian Ozanne, a filmmaker. She then fell in love with Mark Griffiths, a businessman, with whom she has two sons, Oscar, ten, and Felix, eight.

Despite achieving fame on both sides of the Atlantic, she remained insecure: 'For years I was very self-centred and focused on my body, my weight, and it caused so much sadness. That really moves me now, just how much of my younger life I missed out on because I was so focused on my thighs or my outfit; it was such a waste of time.'

Obsessing about appearance is part of the career she chose, Gillian concedes, 'but it's becoming the world we all operate in because of social media. Facebook and Instagram have made all women focus on how they look and how they're represented.'

Jennifer agrees: 'If we get a knock in life we rationalise it by telling ourselves we're not good enough or pretty enough, and that's a form of self-harm. You wouldn't talk to your child or someone you love like that and yet that's how we talk to ourselves, almost automatically.'

Jennifer, who is on her second marriage and has three sons (Jack, 23, Theo, 21, and Arlo, seven), channelled her teenage woes into academic success: she trained as a barrister, then swapped to journalism, spending five years as a senior correspondent at ITN.

Television was almost as demanding as acting in terms of appearance and long hours. 'I felt obliged to don the uniform - power suit and heels - that my editor and the industry expected. I felt trapped. One morning I woke up and realised I couldn't go on. I called the news desk and said I was very sorry but I couldn't come in - not that day and, as it turned out, not ever.' Jennifer was diagnosed with severe depression which dogged her for the next ten years. 'I never thought I would work again.'

Motherhood brought its own pressures, especially for Gillian, who finds the noise and chaos of young boys unbearable at times. Maybe other mothers have 'tougher nerve endings', she says. She does the 'right thing' and gets down to play Lego but 'my kids can sense it's not easy for me. I struggled when Piper was little as well. I remember getting restless and feeling this pressure that I should be doing something else, but when I was doing something else feeling this pressure that I should be with my child. It's that constant tug of war...and I don't think I'm alone with that. I try to be tolerant and patient. How I am in the house depends on my time of the month: I'm either embracing of the noise or it's nails on a chalk board. But they know that it's just Mum. There's an acceptance and a lovingness.'

There are 12 years between Piper and Oscar, so Gillian's daughter was an only child for almost as long as she was. 'I don't think anything is accidental in life. It wasn't on purpose but it's ironic,' she says.

Is there some advantage to having a spell as an only child? 'I'm not so sure. It was really important to me that Oscar had [another] sibling because Piper felt like an only child, Oscar's dad was an only child and I didn't want to repeat that with Oscar. So his relationship with his brother is something new to me. I've never observed similar-age sibling relationships before and it's really fascinating and beautiful.

'Independence-wise being an only child is good, but there are traits that I have seen in other only children: being quite selfish, not really wanting to share. It's taken a long time for me to push the boundaries of those and be less controlling, less protective of my world and my space.'

Relationships with men have been no easier. Jennifer had a 'horrible' divorce from her first husband, which was 'incredibly messy and painful and took many years to recover from, although looking back I can see how it led to transformation. I had to learn to love in the face of anger.'

Gillian saw a pattern with her partners: 'I'd meet someone, instantly fall in love and spend every waking hour with them, but stopped doing the things I enjoyed doing, stopped taking care of myself. I adopted their interests, friends, music, tastes...before long I'd start to resent them, even though it was me who actively let myself go.'

After six years together, she and Mark split up (they didn't marry) and she has used some of the experience of her dealings with her ex in her book. 'A spiritual adviser encouraged me to start thinking of [him] as my "beloved", that regardless of our separateness we will be raising two children together for the rest of our lives and that makes him one of the most important people in my life, whether I like it or not. As you can imagine, this is not easy, but the times I am able to communicate with him from a place of love and appreciation rather than resentment, or as he says "againstness", the more my perception shifts.'

Gillian and Jennifer's book, We, asks its readers to work through a series of exercises designed to shift their own perceptions. The first is gratitude. Though it seems simple - too simple almost - taking a look at your life and writing a list of things to be grateful for can be transforming however low, angry or despondent you feel, they say. The next is gentleness, the simple act of being kind to yourself. You're not perfect: don't dwell on little slip-ups, and banish the self-criticism.

Meditate. This is a tough one: Jennifer says when she first had a go, it 'felt like I was being put in a torture chamber'. She and Gillian suggest making a quiet space for yourself, with fresh flowers or a candle nearby, but once meditating becomes a habit it gets easier. 'I had to be facing in the right direction, there could be no distractions, the candle and incense lit, my legs crossed,' says Gillian. 'Then at one point I was away working and had none of my usual crutches. Now I can do it anywhere - in a crowd, on a bus, at work.'

All this is preparation for working through the nine principles, which are designed to guide you to a place of 'acceptance', where you can switch the spotlight from yourself to the problems of the wider world. They include a guide to choosing a cause close to your heart that you could support or campaign around.

Jennifer stood as a candidate for the Green Party in the last general election and is a trustee of Inquest, a charity that supports families of people who have died in custody. At ITN she covered miscarriages of justice and visited prisons: 'It gave me a harrowing insight into the powerlessness of being incarcerated wrongly and not being able to get anyone to believe you.'

Gillian styles herself on Twitter as 'Mum, actress, activist' and has campaigned for women's and children's rights (including her own: she made it public last year that she had been offered half as much money as her male co-star for an X-Files revival, a situation that was eventually remedied). She recently spoke at Davos about trafficking and modern slavery: 'the thing that breaks my heart'.

If it all sounds too earnest, remember that one of the principles in We is joy. 'There have been times when the knocks have felt so hard and all-consuming that I've struggled to smile or to laugh, but it's possible to break through that,' says Gillian. 'I try not to chew over or hold on to arguments, make space to lighten things - though, I have to admit, life situations come regularly where I think, "What! This can't play out like this, are you kidding me?" I forget that I can't control everything.'

So reaching that place of acceptance, even for them, is a work in progress? 'Absolutely,' says Jennifer.

'Ongoing,' says Gillian. 'Every day.'

From honesty and kindness to trust and joy, these nine principles will help you get to know yourself and equip you with the skills to cope when life seems overwhelming.

We all do it: tell ourselves we're OK when we're not; that we don't mind when we do, and say yes when we mean no. We override our instinct in the name of being practical or polite. We bury our dreams and then help others fulfill theirs. We disguise and shape ourselves to conform to an artificial feminine ideal only to then suffer the consequences: depression, relationship problems, anger issues, addiction and despair.

Think of yourself as the archaeologist of your own life. Ask yourself questions as you would someone else you were studying. When was the last time you were happy with your life? Why was that?

Without acceptance we find ourselves in conflict with reality. We spend precious energy fighting against our lot rather than working out what we can do about it. This is true even when we have the best of motives. 'If you loved me, you'd stop drinking,' we tell an alcoholic loved one whom we know is powerless over their addiction. Even if it's just the rush hour gridlock or the rain, our default position is to rail against it and want it to be otherwise.

Acceptance takes real courage. It ultimately involves grieving losses you'd rather deny. The more we start to accept the things we can't change, the more effective we become at changing the things we can.

Who am I, if I am not the child who was neglected or the woman whose partner deceived her? Having the courage to free yourself from the burdens of the past is difficult, but it creates internal space for your intuition and instincts to find solutions you couldn't have imagined previously. Find ways to release anger so that it doesn't turn into resentment. Let go of being right so that you can be happy.

With trust life starts to open up. We're able to embrace opportunities, have fun and make the most of our time on this earth. Trust fosters cooperation and compassion rather than competition. Without trust we doubt others, we worry, we compete and we try to control outcomes. We live small when we could be living big. Ask yourself, 'What would I do if I was not afraid?' and then do it.

Humility enables us to look at what joins us rather than what sets us apart - our common humanity, wounds, longings. Instead of pursuing bleak self-interest we foster connection. Without humility we are at the mercy of our egos. We worry about success, status and what we don't have. There is a technique for spotting when you're in egoistic thinking with five bad habits that all begin handily with the letter C: Comparing, Criticising, Complaining, Controlling, Competing. These thoughts are defence mechanisms, only they don't work. They rob us of peace of mind, and each time we pick up one of these toxic Cs we cloud our minds and outlook.

Peace leads us to a safe space within ourselves that we can return to whenever we are feeling distressed or unsettled. Over time we discover that when we are at peace our levels of emotional reactivity are reduced and our capacity for joy is increased. It is by detaching from our thoughts that we achieve peace.

Meditation is a gateway to the space that exists within us beyond our thinking selves. There are many ways to meditate; none is right or wrong. Find a practice that works for you. Maybe it's prayer, yoga or chanting. Be open and curious.

Love isn't something we either do or don't have. It's something we can experience at any time. It comes from knowing that love isn't a feeling; it's an action. Every time we act with love, we generate more. Like gratitude, it has a multiplying effect - the more loving you are, the more loving you'll feel.

When a relationship or a close friendship ends we're often so heartbroken that we feel as if love itself has disappeared. But, as hard as it is to remember during these painful times, there is an infinite supply of love around us. It does not reside in one person.

Joy is not an indulgence, it's a necessity. Without it we render ourselves vulnerable to depression and burnout as well as our ability to connect and be of use to the wider world.

Think of each day as a blank canvas and try to fill it with things that uplift you. Look for beauty because joy is never far behind it - whether it's a spider's web, an art gallery or the rhythm of falling rain. Notice the things that make you laugh and lift your spirits. Give yourself permission to have more of what enthuses and impassions your life.

All this is preparation for working through the nine principles, which are designed to guide you to a place of 'acceptance', where you can switch the spotlight from yourself to the problems of the wider world. They include a guide to choosing a cause close to your heart that you could support or campaign around.

Without kindness, no matter how much we do, have or achieve, there's a hollowness at our core. Like love, kindness is an action. It allows love to flow through us so that we become channels for a greater purpose than our own limited wants and needs. It's the neighbour who keeps an eye on the elderly lady next door or the woman who stops to talk to a homeless person to offer them help.

Random acts of kindness will change your default setting to one of compassion towards others. That's not to say that you will always feel like being kind, especially if you're hurting. But acting kindly every day, no matter how mean you feel, will adjust your outlook, attitude and responses.

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