Home Australia I’m a hugely successful radio star who hid a crippling secret for years… until I moved to Australia and decided to finally face my demons.

I’m a hugely successful radio star who hid a crippling secret for years… until I moved to Australia and decided to finally face my demons.

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Christian O'Connell (pictured, with wife Sarah) has opened up about his history of crippling anxiety, panic attacks and breakdowns.

In 2018, when Christian O’Connell moved from the UK with his family to work in Melbourne radio, his clothes weren’t the only luggage he brought with him.

The 51-year-old had also been hiding a crippling secret for years, until moving to Australia finally forced him to face his demons – anxiety, panic attacks and nervous breakdowns.

Dealing with that made him realize how long his mental health had been a part of his life, he told Andy Coulson. Crisis, what crisis? podcast, where he also discussed a “men’s mental health crisis” in Australia.

‘I can probably see that anxiety was present in my life in my nervous system when I was a teenager, but in the ’80s that word hadn’t been invented. “They told you to just stop being so sensitive and be a man,” he said.

Like many young people of that time, he found a temporary solution in alcohol. He admitted that there was “a discomfort in my system and fear of fear and not knowing what to do.”

Christian O’Connell (pictured, with wife Sarah) has opened up about his history of crippling anxiety, panic attacks and breakdowns.

Like many young people of the 1980s, O'Connell (pictured) found a temporary solution in alcohol. There was 'a restlessness in my system and I was afraid of fear and I didn't know what to do'

Like many young people of the 1980s, O’Connell (pictured) found a temporary solution in alcohol. There was ‘a restlessness in my system and I was afraid of fear and I didn’t know what to do’

“And when I was 17 or 18, that would mean drinking two liters of cider on a park bench with my friends,” he said.

‘That’s what we did. You were looking for those things, you didn’t realize at the time what you were trying to do with them, trying to relax, trying to basically not feel what was trying to go through you.’

For almost 12 years, O’Connell was the breakfast presenter on Absolute Radio in the UK, winning awards and entertaining millions of listeners.

He surprised listeners when, at the peak of his presenting skills, he upped his game with his wife Sarah and their children and moved to Australia.

His audience had no idea that he had suffered a nervous breakdown, a series of panic attacks so severe that they sometimes left him unable to go on air.

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I started having really bad panic attacks, and they were only happening about half an hour before the show,” said O’Connell, who hosts The the Christian O’Connell Show on GOLD104.3. Coulson.

‘I’d never been nervous before a radio show, I’d suddenly come on to my radio station and start having panic attacks.

“I didn’t even know what they were at the time. I’d go out blaming that I wasn’t feeling very well and I’d come home, and I’d be falling apart.’

A year or two before that, O’Connell had begun to feel very unhappy and was not enjoying radio for the first time in his life.

He describes what happened to him as “an earthquake of life.”

‘He stripped me of everything and forced me to listen to him. And I am eternally grateful that I turned around, stopped, and sought help. He changed my life and changed me too.”

O’Connell confided in his wife, who said the words he needed to hear: “I think you need help.”

At first, however, he didn’t realize that he needed to hear those words. He thought his concern meant he was actually saying, “I think you screwed up.”

“It’s not what she meant, it’s not what she said, but it’s what I interpreted,” he said.

O'Connell (pictured) confided in his wife, who told him the words he needed to hear:

O’Connell (pictured) confided in his wife, who told him the words he needed to hear: “I think you need help.”

Christian O'Connell's image and his radio station logo appear on a wall in Melbourne.

Christian O’Connell’s image and his radio station logo appear on a wall in Melbourne.

With some prodding from his wife, this led him to see a therapist for the first time, even if he didn’t want to be there and was angry about it.

The therapist realized what he was facing once the radio star sat across from him and said, ‘You don’t want to be here, do you?’

‘No. “I think therapy is for people who have made a mistake, and I’m not,” O’Connell responded.

The therapist asked him why he had come then and O’Connell said something bad had happened and “I just want to get cut.” “This is fear, I just want it taken away.”

This made the therapist laugh and he said, “I’ll go get a knife.” Where do you think it is in your body? I’ll cut it off for you and I’ll be the richest surgeon in the world if I can cure people of panic attacks just by cutting them off.

He explained that the problem wasn’t “that,” but part of who O’Connell was. ‘

And that will be your journey, to befriend that part of you that really has something to tell you,” he said.

O’Connell eventually told his therapist that the family would move to Australia and “start all over again.”

But life in Australia was not easy for a long time. He still had panic attacks, his radio show didn’t have good ratings and he found it very difficult to make new friends.

At one point he felt so lonely that he asked an Uber driver to go have a beer with him.

He had to pay close attention to his mental health again.

And, to begin with, it takes a real effort. It’s like suddenly this horse has gone crazy in the meadow and is breaking down all the fences.

“And you have to quietly reach out to this wild part of you and say, ‘Okay, okay. Let’s breathe, sit down, slow down, we are here right now. It’s safe right now. “Get back into your body and get out of this noisy thing here and focus.”

Things eventually improved in O’Connell’s life, helped by his radio ratings taking off and his success in Melbourne matching what he had previously enjoyed in the United Kingdom.

But given his own experiences over the years, he is very concerned about mental health in his adopted home.

‘There is a massive male mental health crisis in Australia and it is actually getting worse. The danger zone is men, between 40 and 50 years old, and it’s really bad here,” he said.

He said many men find it very difficult to ask for help.

“You see the way men treat women and sometimes treat children, which underlies all of that.

“Part of it is that there’s a real problem with men in the way we’re raised and how we’re not allowed to feel our emotions safely, and that can only manifest itself in bad ways. Whether it’s alcoholism or self-harm,” said.

Ultimately, O’Connell has come out the other side after decades of mental health issues that first hid in a haze of alcohol when he was a teenager.

Andy Coulson (pictured right, with John Reid) interviewed Christian O'Connell for his podcast Crisis, What Crisis?

Andy Coulson (pictured right, with John Reid) interviewed Christian O’Connell for his podcast Crisis, What Crisis?

‘It wasn’t until many, many years later that I had to learn that it is a skill, you have to learn it (to cope without alcohol).

‘And it is something that will always be present in my life. “Now I have different ways of dealing with (mental health issues), which is a lot kinder for me.”

O’Connell also realizes that he made the right career choice.

‘I have been very, very grateful for my career in radio. In fact, it saved my life a couple of times.

Christian O’Connell was ‘talking to Andy Coulson’ Crisis, what crisis? podcast.’

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