Career

Jay-Jay Feeney on depression, Dom and dating again

'I completely, utterly lost the plot. I remember thinking I’d actually gone crazy.'

By: Sebastian van der Zwan

It was in the pages of Woman's Day magazine, in June 2014, that Jay-Jay Feeney revealed to her husband Dominic Harvey she was taking his surname as a 10th anniversary present. So it's only fair the radio star announces in Woman's Day that she's gone back to her maiden name.

"It'll give me my identity back," she explains of the move, which comes seven months after the Edge co-hosts confirmed the end of their 18-year marriage.

"It'll separate me from Dom as we're still thought of as Jay-Jay and Dom Harvey. It's just one more way of helping us move on, even though we're still best friends.

"We're not divorced yet and you can never say never – we still tell each other 'I love you' and have a joint bank account – but we're going our separate ways. People say it's just marriage and you lose your spark, but Dom and I were both bored. That's why we broke up."

Leaving The Edge last December, after a whopping 23 years working alongside Dom at the station, was the first step to reclaiming her sense of self. Her new job on the afternoon shift at More FM, announced last month, will be another.

Jay-Jay, 43, is "excited and really energised" about working with Kiwi cultural treasure Jason Gunn on The Jase & Jay-Jay Show, which begins on April 23, but she's perhaps even more thrilled about not having to wake up at 4am five days a week.

"Honestly, I think the early starts were the cause of my depression," she says. "When you're tired, everything is worse. It's so hard to get out of any slump. When you're constantly exhausted, it makes it really hard to cope when bad things happen."

Jay-Jay and Dom on their wedding day in 2004.

In October 2016, Jay-Jay disappeared midway through her breakfast radio show, only to be found crying in a bathroom. She remained off air for an entire month afterwards.

Speaking openly about those dark days for the very first time, she says, "I call that the Great Depression. I've blocked most of it out of my mind because it was such a horrible time. I've never felt so low in my life. I hit rock bottom.

"I don't know exactly what triggered it, but it was a multitude of things that happened over the years and just started grinding me down. I was trying to cope, pretending I was doing really well and still giving everything I could, until one day I couldn't do it any more.

"I completely, utterly lost the plot. I remember thinking I'd actually gone crazy. I thought about going to hospital and admitting myself into the psych ward, I was that bad. I really needed help, but I was so scared it would make the news."

Jay-Jay barely got out of bed for the first two weeks after her breakdown and she didn't leave her Auckland home for another fortnight. She recalls, "I was so tired, I slept all day and all night. I just didn't know what I'd do if I got up.

"I had a couple of really good friends checking up on me, but I didn't want anyone around me. I needed to crawl out of this dark cave by myself and I didn't want to bring anyone into the cave with me – I wanted them to stay safe and happy in the sunlight."

Eventually, Jay-Jay felt strong enough to see her GP, who changed her depression medication and encouraged her to see the psychiatrist she still visits to this day. She encourages anyone else with mental health problems to seek help and speak to trusted mates.

She tells, "My psychiatrist was really great at helping me compartmentalise my problems so they seemed more manageable. He told me to exercise, to get out of the house and to see my friends, which I didn't feel like doing at all, but it really helped."

Jay-Jay confesses she is "permanently depressed", but she insists she can manage her mental health much better these days.

"Something pretty bad would have to happen for me to go back to that dark place."

Having said that, Jay-Jay concedes she hasn't worked full-time since December, which is part of the reason she currently feels so "comfortable and relaxed". The extra sleep also helps.

She grins, "I just feel so happy and so alive at the moment. Before, I'd be a big, tired mess by 2pm every day. Now I'm very social. My friends don't know who the hell I am any more – they've never seen so much of me. I'm really loving it."

Also adding to Jay-Jay's newfound lease on life is a three-day, girls-only health retreat she attended in the Bay of Plenty, where she learnt "the practical side of how foods work together to fuel your body".

She laughs, "I thought I'd hate it, but I've lost three or four kilos since then and kept it off. My stomach has definitely flattened out and I've lost a lot of fat around the middle. I've still got a bit to go, but I feel so much better."

Jay-Jay now avoids sugar and has swapped high-calorie vino for healthier vodka sodas, but she insists, "I haven't gone prudish. I had a big night on the wines recently, and I caved in to some fish and chips. The most important thing I've learnt is the 80:20 rule. Never go on a diet – just be good 80% of the time and do what you want 20%. Don't ever deprive yourself."

The radio diva is determined to keep up her healthy new habits when she relocates to Christchurch for the new job on More FM, a surprise move she was only informed about last month.

"I was very shocked when my new boss told me," she recalls.

"I assumed I'd be living in Auckland, broadcasting to a couple of cities, leaving Jase in Christchurch to do the rest of the country. I was scared because there's a lot of change happening for me at the moment and this is no small thing.

"I had just bought a new apartment after leaving Dom and fully furnished it. I'd settled in and got a new car, and felt so happy and comfortable, but now I have to uproot my life all over again."

However, having not spent much time in Christchurch, Jay-Jay is excited about exploring the Garden City and meeting friendly Cantabrians.

She smiles, "Random strangers have already been sending me messages inviting me around for drinks and Jax Hamilton from MasterChef has offered to make me some jerk chicken."

Jay-Jay's nervous about her pre-move road trip, dubbed "Jaywatch", which will see her visiting More FM stations around the country, from Whangarei to Balclutha, and taking photos with listeners.

"I need 5000 selfies before they'll let me start my job, so that's a big ask. I'll be working hard to win people over one picture at a time!"

But she's looking forward to "acting my age" at her new station, which has an older demographic than her last one.

"It's time to grow up," says Jay-Jay. "With The Edge, you need to keep on top of what young people are interested in, but it was exhausting and I just don't have the energy for that any more."

Yet while she acknowledges she's "technically middle-aged", Jay-Jay insists, "I just don't feel 43 and I certainly don't want to be judged for it. I have a lot of good friends in their 20s and I recently had a boozy night with Duncan Garner's mum, who's 71 but still a vibrant, cool chick. It doesn't matter how old someone is."

Does this apply to her love life too? "Absolutely!" Jay-Jay laughs. "If someone in their 20s wants to pash up a 43-year-old, then I'm single and I'm going to live it!"

She's had a flood of offers of dates via social media since splitting from Dom, but Jay-Jay says, "It's frightening being back in the game because the last time I was single was 18 years ago. We didn't have smartphones – there wasn't even internet dating.

"This is a whole new thing for me and being well-known makes it more difficult because you've got to find someone who's genuinely interested in you, rather than just wanting to brag to their friends."

Jay-Jay has only gone on "three official dates" so far, with no real success. She laughs about one "disaster" with a bloke who had an ankle fetish and owned several taxidermied animals.

"He was a bit of a stalker and I had to fob him off," she giggles.

"Anyway, I'm so not interested in a relationship right now. I'm up for some fun times, but just don't pester me to move in. If love catches me by surprise, so be it, but I'm not really open to that right now."