Q&A -Anniki Sommerville - The Mind Map
By Tess Leigh-Phillips

Q&A -Anniki Sommerville

Don’t waste time worrying what people think of you. Most of the time they’re not thinking about you at all.

Published 29/03/2021
“If you’re not enjoying the party, leave!”

Anniki Sommerville is a writer, podcaster, radio host – and beacon of light for anyone approaching middle age.

Covering issues from parenthood and cosmetic surgery to sex, relationships and your career, her new book tackles all the struggles that come with midlife – with humour and attitude.

Ageing can be scary. Even in my mid thirties I feel a flash of worry when I realise I don’t know any of the songs in the charts.

Does it get worse? Not, like Anniki says,  if you are well prepared – and not if you start to be a little bit more selfish!

(Hot bath and early night for me then.)

In-fact your very best years may well still be ahead of you!…

Hi Anniki! Your new book is out soon! How to be a boss at Ageing! Can you tell us more about it? 

As you approach 40 and beyond, you start to think, well, what does it all mean?

And at the same time, you’ve got the expectation that you keep on achieving.

In the old days we might have slowed down a bit!

There’s a lot of pressure that’s coming in from different angles.

Things like perimenopause can bring anxiety and depression as well.

A lot of women don’t even know what that is!

Similarly, with the menopause, many women are completely taken by surprise.

They can’t sleep at night, aching all over, night sweats, feeling anxious – all these things.

And some of them just think that they’re going mad.

But the reality is, is that we just need to talk more about it.

You wouldn’t go for a job interview and not do any prep.

This is about our bodies! It’s important to know.

How have you found this past year?

Unfortunately, I lost my dad right at the beginning of lockdown.

That made me think about what does life mean, you know? What do I want my life to look like?

I think women are often bad at putting themselves first.

But losing my dad made me made me more dedicated to doing the things that I love.

I thought, actually, I haven’t got that much time to waste.

I’ve achieved yes, I’ve had all the material stuff, but what makes me truly happy?

I wanted to encourage that kind of thinking in my book.

Yes of course… So even with material wealth you found there was still an emptiness?

Yeah, I always compared it to climbing to the top of the ladder and then realising, I didn’t even want to be up this ladder!

My priority now is to find stuff that I really enjoy.

It’s amazing how many people turn to destructive methods, alcohol, drugs, dating, sex, shopping, anything to fill that inner void…

It is. I talk to loads of people now and they’re saying that their phone has become that thing.

If you’re feeling a bit of a bit of anxiety, you tend to pick it up and check it!

The past year has been an exceptional time and I think we’re all just trying to escape.

But it’s important to keep it all in balance.

I read something you said about social media…I thought it was lovely. You said “look for support, not for clues as to whether you’re good enough.” 

It’s easy to think “everyone’s doing much better than me”.

You just have to be so careful, because you don’t see the full picture online.

They’ve got a bigger house, or they are on a nice holiday or they’re doing more stuff with their kids.

You’ve got this funny combination as you get older, where you feel more confident in yourself, but you’ve also got this wave of insecurity

Perhaps I don’t look as good as I used to. Perhaps my job skills aren’t as great as they used to be.

But in your 20s, it might be “I’m not skilled enough. There’s people with more experience than me.”

We all suffer with self doubt.

I write in the book about the importance of collaboration.

Not seeing other women as threats but working together. Bringing different stuff to the table.

Do you think there are enough older role models for women?

The ones that are out there, it doesn’t always feel like they’re entirely honest with the challenges that can come.

A lot of older celebrities, yes they look amazing, but aren’t always as truthful as they could be about how they look that way!

So, for a normal woman, it’s easy to compare yourself and feel terrible.

It’s still the case that women are judged on their appearance.

It’s tough if you’re a celebrity too though, the media loves to speculate if you’ve had work done.

But then if you don’t have work done,  you get your picture on the cover of the magazine and there’s a great big circle around it saying “she’s looking haggard.”

You can’t win! And so I write quite a bit about about that.

For me, if I choose to get Botox, then it’s it’s no different really to dyeing my hair, going for a run.

If the end result is that you feel more confident, it’s entirely up to you to do what you want to yourself!

You also write about being an older mother in the book. What’s that like?

There’s lots of benefits to being an older mum.

I don’t have any of that yearning to go out, which I think sometimes you have when you’re younger.

But physically, I don’t have the stamina. Dealing with the fact that babies don’t sleep!

I can feel really bloody knackered!

I know all new parents do feel knackered, but I’m in my late 40s and I’ve got a two year old.

By the time she’s a teenager, I’m going to be in my mid 50s.

But, I would never change anything. I’m very happy and I feel very lucky to have them.

I struggled a lot to have children and I had a lot of friends who really struggled.

Some of them didn’t have kids in the end even though they desperately wanted them.

I started trying to have children when I was thirty seven, which doesn’t feel that old. But actually it is, for that anyway!

How do you cope with the day to day stresses of mum life?

I have a hot bath in the morning. That time to myself sets me up. I feel a little bit better than I did.

Small things like that can make a big difference.

I’ve seen so many mums constantly sacrificing their own needs for kids.

I don’t think that a good message to send.

I want my kids to see me working, to see me doing the things that I want to do.

And I want them to understand they can do that too!

What about general anxiety in these strange times? What helps you?

Podcasts help. I love Adam Buxton. Elizabeth Day does one which is called How to Fail, it’s brilliant.

I love hearing to people talk through how they got through a difficult situation.

I think, if they can navigate through a really tricky time, then I can do it, too.

I’m also very social. if I go up to the park there might be another mum there and I’ll have a chat with her.

If you’re honest, if you just say  I’m having a bit of a bad day today, a lot of people will be so glad you’ve said it.

They may feel exactly the same as you.

The other thing that really works is a little meditation.

Oh, and a little bit of time doing absolutely nothing, too is important!

Do you feel worried about the state of mental health in the UK?

I worry about teenagers.

I was prone to spending too much time in my own head.

Thinking that other people didn’t like me or having fun without me.

So imagine being trapped indoors, unable to see all your friends. It’s not easy.

Definitely. It’s so tough. I think we’re going to see the effects for a while, aren’t we? 

Yes! families with the little ones too. I went to loads of baby groups every day with mine.

I would get up, put her in the buggy, go off and have a coffee.

If you can’t do that, it really is very suffocating.

You need that sense of connection.

And loss, grief, bereavement, it becomes more of a reality as we age doesn’t it?

What I learned is you you can’t fix it.

There is no magic cure for grief.

It’s the first thing you think about in the morning.

You miss the person, you feel really depressed. You feel a lot of guilt.

There’s times where you just can’t believe that it’s happened.

I experience the painful feelings like waves.

It helps to remember they pass. But it’s hard.

We’re so fixated on trying to fix things.

But anyone who suffers with serious mental health issues, they’ll know as well, that there isn’t any fix.

There are days when you can’t get out of bed. And all you hope is that the next day is a little bit better.

And I think that’s it’s the same thing with grief.

I often wonder what my dad would think about the fact that I’ve written another book.

I think he’d be really proud. I just wish he was here to see it.

What’s the best thing about getting older?

You care less about what other people think. That doesn’t mean that you’re immune.

If someone says something nasty and it touches a nerve it can hurt.

But there’s a little bit more of the sense that ultimately, it doesn’t matter!

So if I meet new people, I’m quite direct. I just say what I think.

And I put myself out there, if I’m having a bad day, I just say so.

And if they don’t like that, I don’t worry about it as much as I used to.

That is quite liberating!

Being authentic like that is so important isn’t it?

It is! You read about women getting up at 4:00 in the morning.

They drink a smoothie and they do pilates, they’re on their cross trainer, house is immaculate, they never look stressed.

And that’s part of what I was getting fed up about.

I don’t know any women like that! And actually, if there are women like that, they are very, very wealthy.

What you’re comparing yourself to is a woman who’s got a nanny, a cook, a trainer, a husband who’s a hedge fund manager.

OK, I’m generalising a bit. But basically all this stuff is what you’re not seeing!

We’re thinking why at four o’clock in the morning, am I not meditating or doing yoga or designing a brand, launching my makeup line!

The reason you’re not doing it is because you don’t have the staff!

I think we need to just talk about that more for sure.

I love celebrities, but just want women to be mindful, what you’re comparing yourself to is something completely different.

So what’s your advice for the average woman, stuck in the house, mess everywhere,?!

Women look at mess and they feel out of control and they feel anxious.

We feel like it’s a reflection almost on ourselves. So if we have a messy house, we are a mess. But that’s not true!

I would say just give yourself a break, do what you can, good enough is fine!

If you’re having one of those down days, then that’s probably the day where you actually need to relax.

Take a step back . Remember that the state of your house is not a reflection of how good a person you are!

That’s brilliant. I need to remember that! Do you have a favourite piece of life advice to share?

I read somewhere that you’ll never be as young as you are today.

I will never be in my late forties again.

I don’t mean that in a high pressure way, but there’s no point feeling regret.

You are where you are now. So say no to the things that aren’t working. Do what you love.

What are the things that you’re going to be sad about?

You’ll be sad that you didn’t follow some of your own dreams, that you didn’t see more of your family.

That you didn’t see your friends, you didn’t spend time with your kids.

I don’t think in your last days on earth you’ll be saying “oh I wish I’d had that loft extension done and cleaned under the bed.”.

No! I doubt it! Sounds like your book could be useful for anyone of any age? 

I hope so! I know that these are all things that affect me, and they affect other women.

Everybody ages! All I hope is by By sharing my experiences of it, I might be able to help a bit!