Kimberley Nixon speaks exclusively to Cinamore about her career across film and TV, the triumph of Fresh Meat, and candidly on perinatal OCD.
Kimberley Nixon, BAFTA Cymru winner for her role as Holly Pryce in Ordinary Lies, speaks exclusively to Cinamore about her career as an actress spanning roles from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Wild Child, the tremendous hit of Fresh Meat, and exploring an honesty of her mental health caused as a result of childbirth.
It was her use of the social media platform, Instagram, that caught my attention and was the reason for seeking an interview. To be so transparent, genuine, and truthful to an online audience is rare, but for it to come as a result of Kimberley Nixon’s experiences with perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is commendable.
Kimberley Nixon first entered the eyes of the industry when she starred in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and Wild Child, with both now being subject to a teen cult following, with many of its original audiences returning for repeated viewings over the years.
“It’s really nice when women come up to me and say, you know, oh I loved my teens, that was my film, that’s the film I go to when I wanna feel better.
“It’s always interesting because you only do a few days on these films like 15 years ago. But they last forever because you’re part of that story. And, to be honest, with Angus Thongs I had no idea what I was doing. I was sort of winging it.”
“There are middle-class people in Wales too…”
But to me, and I’m sure many others, Kimberley Nixon is mostly associated with her role in Channel 4’s Fresh Meat as Welsh dentistry student Josie, whose on-screen relationship with Kingsley (Joe Thomas) provided a heartwrenching story wrapped in the sitcom tale of strangers in a University houseshare.
“I think you’re tapping into some other part of your brain to remember your lines and to perform, and to be somebody else,” explains Kimberley, before adding that her role on-set is to present a truth within the lie of fiction.
“I found that whenever I’m performing, literally between action and cut, my OCD goes away; my intrusive thoughts go away. The radio gets turned down and I’m just focused on being somebody else.
“And then as soon as they say cut, everything that was happening in my life will come flooding back in.”
The art of masking, a term given to behave or showcase traits of being neurotypical, is a hard task for anyone with a neurological disorder, and as Kimberley explains, it requires manoeuvring of the subconscious to present a required temperament or identity.
“It’s just you and the lines.
“Because obviously, we have to be incredibly aware of lighting and sound. Not banging my cup down over my lines, where the camera is, all those sorts of things, but at the same time, absolutely forgetting all of those things exist.”
“I think in exchange for that mask you get, you have to lend certain parts of yourself. So there’s always something, I always kind of feel with Josie that (whilst) I never had a sister, I (saw Josie as) a kind of wayward little sister that I love dearly, but just, oh, stop making bad decisions.”
Whilst speaking more specifically about Nixon’s role in Fresh Meat, she mentions her audition process. Most of her auditioning journey was for Oregon, the role later given to Charlotte Ritchie.
“Halfway through my last audition, Sam Bain said, ‘Oh look, I know you don’t know the lines, don’t worry about any of that, but do you mind reading for Josie?’
Sam Bain and co-writer Jesse Armstrong had penned the sitcom Peep Show, before going on to write Fresh Meat. It was the former that caught Kimberley’s attention before auditioning.
The pair have since gone on to write collectively on the show Babylon, directed by Danny Boyle, and independently on shows including Armando Iannucci’s Veep, and multi-Emmy-winning show Succession for which Jesse Armstrong is credited as its creator.
“I’d been doing Oregon in an English accent. So I said, do you want Josie in an English accent?
“He said, well you know, she’s middle class. So I was like, there are middle-class people in Wales too…
Equally, as she explained, it seemed that her Welsh character was also a homage to Sam Bain’s spouse.
“His wife is Welsh and he kind of thought it’d be a nice nod to her.
“It was such a freeing experience because it was the first time in my career where I didn’t have to do an accent, and that really freed up a lot of my brain to just really lean into her because she’s insane.
“So I accidentally came to Josie and she accidentally became Welsh, I think pretty much down to Sam Bain.”
After four successful series running on Channel 4, and multiple Royal Television Society awards, it was only natural to ask about the future of Fresh Meat as a show, and whether Kimberley Nixon would consider returning alongside her cast mates Joe Thomas, Jack Whitehall, Zawe Ashton, Greg McHugh, and Charlotte Ritchie once more, especially after recently celebrating its 10 year anniversary.
“We would laugh all day long, so I think we would in a heartbeat! I mean, JP (Jack Whitehall) would probably be Prime Minister, so I dunno if Josie would be the Carrie to his Boris, I don’t know,” suggests Kimberley.
However, when celebrating its 10th anniversary, it seemed that both Bain and Armstrong were reluctant to return to the now-graduated Fresh Meat story, at least for the time being.
“OCD is like wearing somebody else’s dirty coat.”
What I was interested in learning more about though, was how Kimberley’s approach to acting may have possibly changed since her OCD diagnosis. As part of that, yearning to hear from her about how she is using her platform as an actress to raise awareness for neurodivergence like OCD alongside her role as Ambassador for the National Autistic Society.
It is worth noting that Kimberley Nixon’s experiences with OCD come from giving birth and that I, as a male writer, am only offering a reflective perspective on the topic from this conversation.
To be frank, I have always been hesitant to both ask, and subsequently write, this section of the interview that delves into perinatal OCD.
For total transparency, I interviewed Kim in November 2022 and have since been torn about publishing this article. This is due to an internal back and forth about my position as a male writer, and whether or not I am the right person to explore an issue that will not affect me in the same capacity as those who experience pregnancy in such a firsthand way as Kim.
However, I believe it is my purpose as a writer to share stories, and truths, though I appreciate that other journalists are writing about their lived experiences. Therefore, at the end of the article are external links to the OCD NHS page, as well as further information should it be of use, plus links to female-identifying journalists and writers who have written about childbearing and mental health in some capacity.
As we began exploring her personal connection with OCD, I first asked Kim to share with me how she learned of her diagnosis, and the support that she received for it, as well as what having OCD feels like to her.
“For a long time, I told people I had postnatal depression.
“It was an easily understandable phrase. People have heard of it. They kind of know what it means, and they tend not to ask any more questions. But it wasn’t postnatal depression.
“It wasn’t, I didn’t fit, which made it even worse. And you’re desperately trying to fit into a box. You’re desperately reading symptoms for postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety and natal psychosis and you’re not fitting in any of them. And then when I came across postnatal OCD, it was just tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
“They’re very unusual symptoms and they’re contradictory symptoms. And I’d never heard of it before.”
“OCD is like wearing somebody else’s dirty coat. It’s like the smelliest oldest coat and you’re wearing it and you just wanna shrug it off and it’s horrible.
“It’s this really horrible feeling. And when it’s really, really bad, it genuinely feels like you’re wearing someone else’s skin and it’s physically unbearable. It’s so uncomfortable. But it’s the only way I can describe it to other people so that they kind of get a sense of what I mean, because otherwise (people say): ‘Just think of something else’.
“Oh yeah, I should have tried that,” she sarcastically rebuttals.
Yet, for Kim, accessing support during the pandemic through the National Health Service proved frustratingly difficult.
“I was having these horror films (in my mind) to the point where I was so physically anxious, I was shaking all the time. I couldn’t, I didn’t sleep for about 10 days. If you take away sleep from somebody then you can’t mentally process anything. You can’t function.
“But even through that fog, I knew I wanted to get better.
“I just wanted to be the old me and enjoy this gorgeous, healthy baby we’d longed for, for such a long time. So I knew the only way to do that was to be honest. And I was, from very early on. One day I turned to my husband and said something was wrong. Something’s really wrong.
“He said, okay. You know he knows me very well. We rang the GP straight away. Everything was put into action. I was very honest about my symptoms. I was very honest about what was going on.”
“Make the cake, eat the cake, and say to yourself afterwards: ‘that was a good cake’.”
Kim sought help at her most vulnerable, giving honesty to professionals in hopes of getting the support she needed. However, her experience wasn’t as smooth as expected.
“I feel that I was made to feel like a freak that every time I said a symptom or an experience that I was having, it was met with: ‘what do you mean?’
“Rather than met with, which I know to be the truth now of, ‘everybody has those, everybody has thoughts that whizz through their brain’.
“I desperately needed them. I asked for help over and over and over again, and I asked everybody I met, and I was honest with everybody I met. And it made me worse. It just made me worse.
“So things need to change, but I realized things would only change if people were honest about it and started talking about it.”
Kim has continued destigmatising perinatal OCD with her social media presence on Instagram to her audience of twenty thousand, as well as producing and creating original blog posts and podcasts under the publishing name Kimfluencing My Brain.
“I don’t find it easy to speak this personally, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I know however hard it is in the moment of being honest with people and putting yourself out there a little bit, I know in the long run: one, it’s better for me and helps me recover, and two, it helps change how we talk about it.”
Recalling one particularly horrific experience, Kim tells me of a time when she waited patiently for a phone appointment with a top perinatal OCD clinician. A clinician so in demand that beforehand she had to undergo a triage with a nurse to speak about the specifics of what she wanted to gain from the call.
After explaining everything to the nurse, she finally received a callback, hoping to be told something that could help her.
“I put the call on speaker with my husband and I said to him, can you just be my ears? Cause I can’t retain anything in my brain at the moment.
“I don’t wanna miss something, or what I can often do when in conversations is get the wrong end of the stick. I can misconstrue things. So we did and (the specialist) didn’t know that my husband was there.
“My husband just quietly listened in and I had an eight or nine-minute phone call, which was supposed to be 45 minutes.
“And he knew absolutely nothing about my case. He asked me how pregnant I was.
“I said, my son’s four months old.
“He said, right. Okay. Tell me a little bit. I was a bit like oh God. Okay. So, I spoke for about two minutes, and then he said, okay: ‘just having chatted to you, you seem like a very nice person.’
“‘All I can suggest to you is that you need to have better self-esteem and believe in yourself a bit more. So go to the library and get a self-help book.’
“I said, we’re in lockdown. The libraries are closed.
“‘Oh, okay. Do you know what I want you to do? I want you to bake a cake. I want you to bake a cake. Make the cake, eat the cake, and say to yourself afterwards: ‘that was a good cake’.
“I’m sort of looking at my husband like ‘have I gone over to the other side? Am I absolutely too far gone that I’m hallucinating?’
“Then the specialist went, ‘Oh, just before I go, can I just check? Is the baby safe with you?”
“All I could think of at the time and, and all I can think of since, is a woman with a tiny baby in the throes of extreme postnatal mental illness without the support that I had, without incredible family and friends who I could be very honest with. Just this woman with this baby alone and that was her lifeline, that’s what she got.”
Despite sharing her experiences and feelings of being at her most vulnerable, the blatant apathy Kim endured is, unfortunately, an issue all too typical across the wider mental health care system.
“Have I been cursed, or is this like a spell, or am I secretly magic and I’m Matilda?”
“My OCD is constantly trying to solve the unsolvable. I’m trying to prove a negative all the time, and it’s exhausting. But I’m fighting it.
“I’m trying not to do that, I’m trying not to ruminate, I’m trying not to because you could go down a rabbit hole so quickly and I’m trying to be in the here and now in the present.
“I’m hoping in the long run that it will get to a point where this will have been a, not a good thing for me, but it will have changed my life in a positive way.
“I will know who I am, I will know more about myself and not just knowing, but knowing that it’s all okay. And showing my little boy that you can be open and honest and there’s nothing that he can’t tell us.
“Everybody has a thought that just pops into their head that they didn’t invite or it intrudes on what you are thinking about. Everybody has them all day, every day.
“It’s just the one in five who gets stuck on (that intrusive thought) and thinks they mean something and try to figure it out. I mean, that’s basically what my OCD is.”
Kimberley Nixon’s consistent tenacity in comprehending, and tackling her OCD, whilst empowering others to normalise and destigmatise an otherwise unheard-of illness is phenomenal.
Her resiliency, revealing transparency, and compassion in our conversation was astounding; becoming an illustration of the blueprint for a brilliant mother.
“When I think of myself growing up as a little kid, having intrusive thoughts and not understanding, thinking that when you’re really little: have I been cursed, or is this like a spell, or am I secretly magic and I’m Matilda. Will this ever go away? I can’t tell anybody this horrible, shameful secret.
“That’s lifting and that’s going and I’m definitely less ashamed.”
- Drag Me To Hell; Kimberley Nixon (Kimfluencing My Brain; 2022)
- Giovanna Fletcher talks motherhood, lockdown and why she’s after Michelle Obama; Jenny Proudfoot (Marie Claire; 2020)
- I thought I wanted to harm my baby: why we must talk about postnatal anxiety and OCD; Yousra Samir Imran (The Femedic; 2022)
- The Left Behind; Kimberley Nixon (Kimfluencing My Brain; 2022)
- Overview: Obsessive-compulsive disorder – NHS
- Perinatal OCD – Mind
- Unbearable; Kimberley Nixon (Kimfluencing My Brain; 2022)
- What does a panic attack feel like?; Fearne Cotton (Happy Place; 2021)
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