Zoe Marshall has been through more trauma than most people can only imagine — but she wouldn’t be the strong, empowered woman she is today without it.
Losing her mum to cancer when she was just 22-years-old, as well as being a victim of domestic violence, Marshall is on a mission to share other people’s stories.
Her recently-launched podcast The Deep (which reached number one on Apple Podcasts at the end of July), is a thought-provoking conversation-starter, where she interviews people from all different walks of life, including terminal parents, online trolls, sex workers, extremists and drug addicts.
But it’s her own history that has given Marshall the empathy to be able to create a space for these people to feel safe in telling their story.
“There is no way I could have the conversations I’m having,” Marshall said in an interview with TheLatch—.
“I couldn’t hold the space for people if I hadn’t gone through it — not that I have been through all of the things that all of these people have, that is impossible — but I have gone through similar levels of absolute disbelief, loneliness, tragedy, trauma, suicidal thoughts and processes.”
For years, Marshall, who is married to Wests Tigers NRL player Benji Marshall, contended with being called “Benji’s wife” — something which she used to fight to break away from.
“I think from the moment I understood his level of fame I always pushed back on that, never wanting help. Always doing it my way. Always trying to prove myself. Even taking jobs that weren’t right for me because I thought that it would establish me away from him,” she said. And it was her friend Jules Sebastian, who is married to singer Guy, who taught her to understand her “importance aside from that”.
“I think the biggest thing about this project is there is no competition because this isn’t even about me. My name might be on it, but this isn’t about me,” she said. “And the gift in all of it is, since I stepped away from trying to prove myself, the gift has done itself now.
The Deep has given voice to those Marshall finds fascinating and in turn, helps others to explore and expand their horizons.
“I think it makes every listener check in with themselves. Like, who am I right now?” she said.
Here, Marshall talks to TheLatch— about the inspiration for her podcast, what it’s like parenting in the times of COVID-19 and how she copes (or doesn’t cope) with the heavy subject matter she covers while keeping on top of her own debilitating anxiety and depression.
Anita Anabel: Congratulations on the huge success of The Deep. Why do you think audiences are resonating with it?
Zoe Marshall: I really believe it’s timing. I’ve tried to make this podcast now in different forms for eight years. Initially, it was called The Truth in 2013 and then it morphed into something else and now I feel like people are in a place where the mask has dropped in a way, and 2020 has shaken everybody up. Everything that we’ve known to be true has gone.
But I also think that we’ve had to face a lot of things about ourselves that are quite uncomfortable and nothing makes us feel more connected when we’re in that place than hearing someone else’s truth and vulnerability.
I feel like that has been such a beautiful bridge between pre-COVID and post-COVID because now I think the things that people were harshly judgmental of — they come into an episode having preconceived ideas about and they’re really willing to soften those.
I think that there’s something there about people being ready.
AA: I love that the synopsis for The Deep is for “thought-provoking conversations that help us explore who we are when no one is looking.” Why did you choose to talk about this?
ZM: We present ourselves how we think the world needs to see us and that is so obvious on social media. It’s obvious when we turn up for our jobs, for our families and for all those things. And I think who are you in your quietest moment when you are completely alone when you can do and be whoever you want to be, I find that so fascinating.
It also allows us to explore things that you wouldn’t normally. For instance, if your family is super judgemental on homosexuals. You might not listen to a podcast on gay marriage or you might not understand a parent raising a trans child or you might have cultural beliefs of that being ‘wrong’. But when they’re not around and no one can see you exploring a side of yourself, that is really fascinating to me.
I think it makes every listener check in with themselves. Like, who am I right now? And I think that’s really intriguing.
“Who are you in your quietest moment… I find that so fascinating.”
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When I talk about Kate @its_not_kates_time I get emotional, this woman bared her soul to me. Kate is courage personified, if you think you’ve had a bad day, week, year. Please let Kate share her last 24 months with you. She never wavered from the uncomfortable parts of her story, she shares it all with no fear. I invite you to listen and if you have questions hold them. Because you will also get to talk to Kate. This is “The Deep” @whatsthedeep / first episode drops 6am tomorrow morning.
AA: Has what you wanted to achieve with the podcast evolved? Has it turned out to be what you thought it was going to be?
ZM: I think the intention was to always have people share stories that are often not heard, to be heard. I don’t think it has changed in that way. I think that I go wherever I feel is interesting to explore.
I guess people might have thought that these episodes were about overcoming trauma, but they’re not. We’ll learn that from the troll hunter and we have an extreme activist, so it’s not necessarily based on trauma. It’s based on what I think needs to be shared or what I need to learn.
You know, I’m the greatest guinea pig of all, I just come from a place of extreme curiosity.
I want to know why people have real relationships with real dolls and I want to talk to them and I want to meet them and I want to touch the dolls or I want to speak to a murderer and talk about that defining moment where we all had had extreme amounts of rage. Like, what made you step over the threshold?
It’s a never-ending list because humans are captivating and complex. It’s sharing the stories that are the most important part. But where I go with that, no one knows. I don’t even know.
“I just come from a place of extreme curiosity. “
AA: You’ve openly discussed your debilitating anxiety on social media and during interviews, so how do you deal with the heavy subject matter?
ZM: I haven’t seemed to manage this part yet. I’m learning the importance of boundaries, but I am a big empath. I feel these people and I feel their stories, I feel their trauma and that’s not healthy.
I’ve spoken to my psychologist about it and all of these alternative guides to managing that because I’m not doing well with that at the moment. That’s probably the one thing that is taking its toll.
But I’m also not willing to not be there with them in the conversation the way I want to, because I don’t feel like anyone else will get the same experience if I am not deeply there with them.
AA: When doing research for our interview, I found this post on your Instagram page and it was from a woman who discovered your podcast. She wrote: “Before the intro: Is this lady JUST Benji’s Mrs? Who is she?” and then “After the listen: WOW – How wrong was I — no wonder he married her!”
Talk me through being called “Benji Marshall’s wife” and paving your own way.
ZM: I think from the moment I understood his level of fame I always pushed back on that, never wanting help. Always doing it my way. Always trying to prove myself. Even taking jobs that weren’t right for me because I thought that it would establish me away from him.
A beautiful friend of mine, Jules Sebastian shared with me publicly when she spoke at one of my women’s events, that she champions her husband and so do I, but she understands her importance aside from that and she also acknowledges the love of the people for her partner, so she doesn’t compete with that.
I think the biggest thing about this project is there is no competition because this isn’t even about me. My name might be on it, but this isn’t about me.
There are hundreds of thousands of listeners that don’t know who I am and they have no context of who he is. So, I think now the beauty of that is this is much bigger than not just being someone’s wife. It’s way bigger than that. And I think that now I’ve released myself of the shackles of trying to not be that.
AA: You are surrounded by some incredibly empowered women.
ZM: I think it’s not just empowered women. It’s the fractured women that are even more interesting. Those resilient, vulnerable, courageous beings. They’re the ones I want to connect with and the more fucked up, the better. You know, like, you’re my person. If you have been run ragged and you’re still breathing, even if it’s heavy, you’re my people.
I appear glam and I appear all of these things, and I love that don’t get me wrong, but I don’t fit the mould of who should be telling these stories. But I also fucking love that, because who’s to say I can’t be fucking glam and tell the stories?
I’m changing the narrative that this is just for grungy journalism, like Vice or SBS, that they are people that can hold the space.
Really, what I want to do, is penetrate the mainstream — the glossy unconscious version. I don’t need to be amongst the conversations of people listening to conversations with Richard Fidler. I need to be amongst the ones that call me a footy WAG because I need to penetrate them. Not the ones that are already in the bubble and swallow the pill.
AA: Amen! You allude to the fact that you have gone through so much trauma yourself, including the loss of your mum at a young age and domestic abuse. How have these events shaped who you are now?
ZM: There is no way I could have the conversations I’m having and that’s also why it didn’t work out all those years ago because I needed to go through some more. I couldn’t hold the space for people if I hadn’t gone through it — not that I have been through all of the things that all of these people have, that is impossible — but I have gone through similar levels of absolute disbelief, loneliness, tragedy, trauma, suicidal thoughts and processes. I have sat in the depths and I still get moments of being triggered back there through these conversations, so it’s always a very humbling experience that no matter how far I’ve come, this is all the woven tapestry of who I am.
“I have gone through similar levels of absolute disbelief, loneliness, tragedy, trauma, suicidal thoughts and processes.”
AA: Losing your mum at a young age had such a profound impact on you. How has it affected being a mum to your two-year-old son Fox?
ZM: I think it’s become more difficult because I haven’t been able to ask her anything, so I maybe don’t trust my parenting style because I don’t have a sounding board that I don’t pay for.
I grew up with my mother being completely enmeshed with me and I’m trying to raise my son where he has perhaps more independence. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job of that because I am totally obsessed with him and smother him and all of that stuff.
I feel like, it’s just really hard not having a mum when you’re raising a child. There’s no real silver lining to that question. It’s just shitty.
AA: And right now, for all parents, it must be difficult raising a child during a global pandemic.
ZM: I think before I even had a baby, I really questioned having a child and bringing a child into the world as it is, because a hugely selfish component of that, especially with climate issues and what I’m leaving him with, that is really terrifying for me.
But I also felt like I need to experience that in this lifetime so having a child during this time, I think it’s easier for me because I have a two-year-old and I don’t have to home school, however, it’s also difficult for me because I’m stuck with a two-year-old who can’t entertain itself. [Laughs] But I have tried, through the frustration of it all, to see some opportunity that this is only once in a lifetime to be able to be so immersed in each other as well.
He knows how to say “coronavirus”. I tried to explain things to him as they are and he can pick up bits that make sense, but there’s no fear around it for him. But it is frustrating for him because we can just go on play dates, and my husband has really high protocols around the NRL too, so we can’t have people visit and we can’t do lots of things. So, for him, I think it’s creating patience, if not anything else.
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