In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley Holt, Roseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we talk to Bree Tomasel.
The hilarious Bree Tomasel is in our ears every day as the co-host of ZM’s Bree and Clint and she’s on our screens very soon as co-host of Celebrity Treasure Island, which hits TVNZ in September. Here Bree talks to Capsule about the particular anxiety of lockdown and the sadness of missing her family in Oz, how she’s found the tools that work for her mental health (including a puppy!) and the childhood event that started her journey with anxiety.
Here we are, the first days of Level Four 2.0! So how are you today, Bree?
It’s definitely a weird time, I feel it’s a very fitting time to be asking how people are! I’m not too bad, considering everything and the uncertainty that we’re facing, again, being in lockdown four. It’s quite full-on, but it’s one of those things where everyone is in the same boat, which we can take a bit of solace in.
You’ve got friends and family right around Australia, who are really having a tough go of it right now. Travel has been mostly impossible for 18 months now, how are you finding that?
I’ll be honest – we’re here to be honest, after all. It’s been bloody horrible. It’s been terrible. It’s such a weird feeling, because it’s not a choice that you’re making where you can’t see your loved ones and the closest people to you. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced – and the people who are in the same boat as me have never experienced either.
You’ve always talked openly about living with anxiety – how have the past 18 months been when it comes to your anxiety?
I have my ups and downs. For me, the unknown is the time when your mind kind of wanders and I remember at the start, I panicked because I couldn’t get an asthma inhaler because everyone was panic-buying. There was that sense of I don’t what’s going to happen and how bad this is going to be. And then eventually, cos I’ve suffered with anxiety nearly my whole life, you have these tools for dealing with it in your own way. You get yourself back on track and you think logically. The way I think of anxiety is you have one little thought that’s not real, that’s a hypothetical, and then anxiety turns that thought into a bigger thought and then a bigger thought and then it gets out of control. And as soon as you can try to bring yourself out of that with the tools that work for you, I feel like you come back to reality a little bit. But it can be hard to get out of that headspace.
“The way I think of anxiety is you have one little thought that’s not real, that’s a hypothetical, and then anxiety turns that thought into a bigger thought and then a bigger thought and then it gets out of control.”
What are some of the tools that you’ve learned that help keep you in a good mental space?
Last year I got a dog, like every other man and his dog, in lockdown. I’ve wanted a dog for 10 years but I never felt like I was in a space where I could give a dog a good life – I was too busy or I was renting. But last year I decided ‘I’m getting one’ and it has been so good for my mental health, because every single day I get outside for at least 30 minutes minimum and it makes me happy seeing how happy going for a walk makes my dog. I used to really struggle to exercise – we all know that it definitely helps but when you’re in that headspace, you just don’t bloody want to do it! But having a dog, you don’t think twice about it. So that’s been really amazing… even though she can be an absolute menace sometimes.
Your job requires you to be super switched onto the news and to social media, and both of those things come with their own issues of overwhelm. How do you keep a healthy balance of being informed?
It’s really hard because my day starts with going onto the internet and finding content to talk about, and everything that you’re looking at is just really grim, so it’s quite hard to not take that on. And at times it can feel a bit like social media where people are only sharing the highlights reel and there was one point last year where I felt really fake, because I was trying to entertain people and give them a laugh but at the same time, I wanted to let people know that if they weren’t doing great, then I felt that way too. You feel less alone when you’re like ‘oh, wait a minute, this person who I listen to every day, who seems so happy, is actually a real person who has these feelings I have too.’
But on the flipside, it is a really personal thing and with that old-school radio sensibility, they didn’t really share that sort of thing. But these days, social media has broken down that wall. People want that connection, they crave it, and it’s that connection with people that is the reason I love my job – and it’s that connection where you’re making people laugh and having fun, but it’s also an amazing opportunity and gift where you can connect with people on a deeper level as well.
Does it feel like this is an audience that’s more willing to talk about mental health and share how they’re feeling?
It was really interesting because when I talked about my anxiety and my mental health on the show, I didn’t really think about what was going to happen afterwards. The response I got was so incredible, I can’t even tell you, and it helped me as well, it made me think ‘oh, I’m not the only one.’ It was overwhelming. I received about 5,000 messages – it took me a couple of months. I know social media has many sides to it but in that moment, I felt like I had helped people in a way where I was also helping myself.
“Anxiety is something that affects me on a day-to-day basis and I’ve gotten better, but then things will come up – like not being able to see my family or a global pandemic (!)”
When it comes to your anxiety – when did you first realise it was something you were living with and what was the process of finding out more about it like?
It’s been an absolute journey and I’m still learning. Look, it’s quite a full-on story but when I was 10 years old, my mum, my nan and I got held under a home siege by two men, where they broke into my nan’s house. We went through this horrific experience and after that, I was seeing a counsellor for the courts, to see whether or not I’d had lasting effects from the situation. To be honest, I feel like my brain has blocked a lot of it out but I remember one day having my first ever panic attack after this experience. I got bitten by a mosquito on the hand and I ran to my mum – obviously, we lived in Australia – and I said ‘Mum, I’ve been bitten by a spider and I’m going to die, you need to take me to the hospital.’ That was my first panic attack and it’s been a real journey from that moment, where I’ve had more panic attacks and learned to deal with what’s reality and what’s not. Anxiety is something that affects me on a day-to-day basis and I’ve gotten better, but then things will come up – like not being able to see my family or a global pandemic (!).
That’s a massive thing to have gone through at any age, but particularly when you were so young.
In some ways I think it’s a blessing I was so young, because all I can really remember is my mum sitting in a corner of this room where these two guys were pretty much telling her that they were going to take me if she didn’t give them this, that and the other. I think about my mum afterwards and what an amazing woman she was. I couldn’t tell how much she was struggling afterwards – and she would have been – because all her focus was on me and helping me through it. I think that’s why we have such a strong connection but I’ll tell you what, she’s a bad ass bitch.
Have you found it takes extra effort now to feel safe at home?
There are certain weird things that I’m aware of – sometimes I don’t think about it, sometimes I’m very concerned with ‘is the door locked?’ or if there’s a sound at night time, it really worries me. But I feel like that’s pretty much anyone? There are certain things that trigger me. We had an incident at work where someone was confronted at the work carpark and that triggered me, but I feel like your brain goes into survival mode and I block a lot of it out.
There’s no way to do a graceful segue here but I wanted to ask you about filming the latest season of Celebrity Treasure Island – that seems like it would have been a full-on but fun time?
[Laughs] Yes, let’s just rip straight on to that one! TV people work their asses off; they’re just go, go, go. it was five weeks of non-stop, I’d get up at 7am for hair and make-up (which I was very grateful for as I didn’t have that last time), and then straight to set, and we wouldn’t wrap until 7pm, have dinner, and then I’d go home and run my lines until 11pm. That was my whole world for five weeks. I don’t know how TV people do it – and then you see the crew lugging cameras around, and you’re out in the elements, every day. I feel like the crew is going through their own ‘treasure island’ competition every day just as the contestants are! It’s like a real family, and it’s a whole lot of fun. And the places we were filming were so beautiful, I feel like even Kiwis will be blown away by the area we filmed in.