Depression was so bad after my divorce I thought about throwing myself down the stairs, EastEnders’ Rita Simons reveals

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BATTLING through a stressful divorce and non-stop work, actress Rita Simons slumped into a deep depression, spending days struggling to get out of bed.

The former soap star, who played Roxy Mitchell on EastEnders, also suffered years of pent-up anger after splitting from hairdresser Theo Silveston, her husband of 14 years, in 2018.

Rita, 44, mum to twin daughters Jaimee and Maiya, 15, has turned her life around — and found love again
Rita split from Theo the same year she took part in I’m A Celeb and the pair divorced two years later in 2020

Now Rita, 44, mum to twin daughters Jaimee and Maiya, 15, has turned her life around — and found love again.

She says: “When I look back, I used to be quite aggressive, hardened and defensive, like I was on guard all the time.

“If something bad happened, I’d be the first to go, ‘Raagh!’, and start screaming.

“I used to channel that at the gym with boxing but now I just don’t get angry. I’ve become the me I was always supposed to be and I’m on the path I was meant to be on in my life.

“I had to grow a different way, and being away from my marriage has softened me massively.”

Rita split from Theo the same year she took part in I’m A Celeb and the pair divorced two years later in 2020.

She says: “It was a deep sadness, I would say a depression. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

“I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to be ‘out there’. But I had to be and so, because I’m a grafter, I did that thing when you throw yourself into work.

“It was all kind of lumped into one big mess and I was very ill a lot of the time. I lost a lot of weight. And I wasn’t telling people about the marriage because although my kids knew, I didn’t want them reading about it. That just ate me up, not being able to tell people what was really going on.”

Deep down, Rita — who has suffered with anxiety and OCD from a young age — knew she needed a break.

But she refused to stop working, appearing in hit West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and panto Sleeping Beauty following her departure from EastEnders after ten years in 2017.

She says: “I was bouncing around from job to job. I pretty much worked 13 years without a break.”

But Rita reached crisis point while touring in play The House On Cold Hill in 2019.
She says: “There were some stairs on the set that I came on stage on, quite high at the top.

“And I thought I could just chuck myself down. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to hurt myself enough to go to hospital and have someone look after me. That was scary.

“There was my anxiety, depression and OCD, but in the centre of all of that there was a really sad divorce happening.”

She adds: “We’re still friends, we’re amicable, but it’s never nice to get divorced, it’s a really cold, clinical thing to go through.”

Rita could not bring herself to slow down until the first lockdown brought much of her industry to its knees.

She says: “Had it not been for Covid, I probably wouldn’t have started to take a more laid-back approach to my work life.

“Lockdown gave me time to take stock, and while we all need to earn money, now I’m trying to be more thoughtful about jobs I do.

“When I was forced to stop, I stopped getting colds and chest infections and headaches. I was constantly ill from being on the road all the time.”

Rita also found love again, with actor Ben Harlow, her co-star in a 12-month UK tour of Legally Blonde: The Musical in 2017. The pair began dating in 2020.

She says: “He’s the loveliest man on the planet. And he looks after me. He makes sure I’ve eaten because I’m not very good at that when I’m in shows.

“Ben’s just wonderful and I’m very, very happy. It’s only now that I’m so happy I can look back and see I was a mess.

“But you don’t get anywhere in life without going through some s**t and I wish I could go back and tell myself it’s going to be OK. More than OK, it’s going to be great.”

Rita can trace her mental health issues to when she was around seven years old.

She says: “My parents would go out to dinner and we’d have a babysitter, but I would sit by the window all night waiting for the car to pull up in the driveway.

“If they’d said they would be back by 10pm and they were two minutes late, I would have this knot in my stomach which I now recognise as anxiety.

ANXIETY

“I’d ask the babysitter to phone the police stations and the hospitals. I’ve had that since then and for most of my life.”

The obsessive compulsive disorder was not diagnosed until Rita was in her teens.

She says: “I would latch on to a thought and obsess about it. I’d tell myself, ‘I’m not going to leave this window until my parents are home because otherwise they’re going to die’.

“I started to walk around with my grandparents’ address written on a piece of paper in my pocket just in case I was orphaned and I had to tell a policeman.

“I was only about seven, but these were the things I thought about constantly. And you get new obsessions as you get older.”

Around 750,000 people in the UK are thought to be suffering from OCD. At 14, Rita started cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions, which she says rescued her from what had become an intolerable situation.

She adds: “I can absolutely say that CBT cured the compulsive part of my OCD.

“When you have OCD, you are compelled to carry out rituals and there’s a part of the brain that is temporarily relieved by the completion of that ritual. I even used to do it when I first started driving. I’d have to shut my eyes for five seconds while I was driving because if I didn’t everyone would die.

“Obviously it was ridiculous but CBT teaches you that if you resist the urge to carry out that compulsion, the pathways in the brain change. The first time you resist the urge, it feels horrible. But do it once and the next time it’s easier. Resist a third time and it’s gone.”

Five years on from her EastEnders character Roxy being killed off by drowning in a swimming pool along with on-screen sister Ronnie, played by Samantha Womack, fans are still in mourning.

Rita says: “Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t come up to me in the street and ask, ‘Why did they kill you?’. To be honest, I didn’t have time to think about it too much, it’s other people who have a problem with it.

“For me, it was a wonderful time in my life and I collected Sam (Womack) out of it and Scott Maslen (Jack Branning) and Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) who are lifelong friends.

“I just received a message from Perry Fenwick (Billy Mitchell) this morning and I do miss my friends terribly there.

“But we all have to move on and ten years was a really good innings for me. Had I not done EastEnders, I wouldn’t have been able to open in Hairspray in the West End with Michael Ball. So I never get upset.

“I’m sad, of course, that we died, but eternally grateful for all the opportunities which have followed.”

Rita has found love again, with actor Ben Harlow, her co-star in a 12-month UK tour of Legally Blonde: The Musical in 2017

Five years on from her EastEnders character Roxy being killed off by drowning in a swimming pool along with on-screen sister Ronnie, played by Samantha Womack, fans are still in mourning

Rita appeared on I’m A Celebrity in 2018

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