Shirley Yanez’s appearance offers no clue to her extraordinary life. Now aged 63, she is smiley and immaculately groomed.
You’d have no idea that despite having lived in luxury in Hollywood, she was once homeless; that at one point, she thought nothing of spending thousands on a Chanel handbag, yet not long after was left penniless, having lost, she claims, £6.5 million in a week.
And it got darker even than financial ruin, she says, culminating in a disastrous marriage in Los Angeles and, at age 44, an attempted suicide.
‘I hadn’t taken enough tablets to finish the job,’ she says now, ‘so I dressed and went to the beach to watch the sun rise. I started to think how, if my mum had been sitting next to me, she would have told me I could do anything — even get out of this mess. And so I made a choice to dig deep and fight for myself.’
Finding inner strength: Shirley Yanez’s (pictured) appearance offers no clue to her extraordinary life. Now aged 63, she is smiley and immaculately groomed
Now she has written a book of lessons learned from this rollercoaster life of excess and loss.
Called The Mind Detective, it’s an absorbing read, part personal memoir, part therapy manual containing dozens of tips on how to stay resilient in the face of personal crisis.
Strength of character is key. Even at rock bottom: ‘I discovered I had my own ‘lift-me-up’ button. But everyone can learn to find their own.’
Shirley hopes to act as a ‘virtual counsellor’ through her book, which shows readers how to do what she calls a Mind Makeover and tackle issues such as anxiety and relationship problems.
Called The Mind Detective, it’s an absorbing read, part personal memoir, part therapy manual containing dozens of tips on how to stay resilient in the face of personal crisis
She stresses that she is not a qualified therapist, but simply a midlife woman who found the courage to pull herself back from the brink.
Today, she runs a clothing business in Leicester called Venus Cow, near the streets of her childhood. Hers was a tough upbringing — as one of six kids in a council house.
Despite leaving school at 15 to work as a trainee machinist, her ambition and hard work paid off and by the age of 30, she was running a large recruitment agency.
In the mid-Nineties, Shirley set up a head-hunting company and lived the London high life.
SHIRLEY’S FIVE LIFE-SAVERS
DITCH THE GUIDES
Most self-help books only offer a temporary fix. Positive affirmations operate at the surface level of your conscious thinking, but they do nothing to manage your sub-conscious mind. Stop asking yourself if you are happy and focus on helping other people. Eat healthily, exercise, be thankful for what you’ve got and surround yourself with good people.
Be realistic about what you can achieve. Lower your expectations while raising your standards. Positive visualisation exercises can be beneficial, but remember they are never going to manifest a mansion out of thin air. Failing to meet unrealistically high life expectations leads to disappointment. Happiness is found when you stop looking for it and start doing things you like.
If you’re feeling down, do something about it. So if you start having negative feelings, shift your focus by doing something different — go for a walk or move to a different part of the house.
SORT YOUR FINANCES
Try living on a set budget using only cash for one month. This takes away a lot of the pressure and status anxiety surrounding money.
Buy yourself flowers or do something you love to mark each step forward.
‘I wore Chanel, Escada, Dior. I had a gold Rolex watch and endless jewellery from Cartier and Tiffany. I was meeting all the movers and shakers in the City — the attractive men with money and Ferraris.
‘I started drinking more champagne and taking cocaine, because everybody was doing it. I’d be at Tramp nightclub until 4am, then back to work in the morning.’
Then came the biggest gamble of all. Shirley decided to invest in the dot.com market. Spending £90,000 on shares, she saw their value grow to £2.5 million in eight months.
These were the days of booming tech stock, and it made Shirley extremely wealthy.
When in 1999 her best friend asked her to be her maid of honour at her wedding in LA, Shirley said ‘yes’ and promptly took three months off work.
Yet the game of snakes and ladders was about to take an alarming turn.
Days after the wedding, she married the groom’s brother Marty on a whim in Las Vegas. He looked like Antonio Band- eras, she says, although he was an impoverished door fitter.
Within weeks, Shirley had sold her house and business and ploughed every penny into the dot.com stock market. She rented an eight-bedroom house for her and Marty.
Just three months later, Shirley’s Hollywood dream came to an abrupt end. With the bursting of the dot.com bubble, she found her shares were worthless and according to her estimates, lost £6.5 million, albeit in virtual money.
Her marriage combusted, too, and she began selling possessions to pay the rent.
‘One afternoon, everything hit me in one go, like a tsunami. It was horrific. The realisation that I was on my own, in midlife, having got to the top and lost everything was enough to make me want to end it all.’
The failed suicide attempt followed. For a while she lived in a homeless shelter, until a former business partner sent her a ticket to fly back to the UK, where she moved into her sister’s house in Leicester. She then found the inner strength to take control of her life.
‘I made an action plan. I learnt to lower my expectations, how to shop on a budget or at charity shops and to live a simpler, but more fulfilling life. I started to go for long walks. I gave up drinking and became vegan.’ With no money for counselling, she read self-help books at her local library.
‘I tried hard but couldn’t live up to the expectations of what the books were promising me and this made me feel like a failure. I knew then I had to get off rock bottom by myself.’ To learn how, Shirley studied the books of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Fourteen years on, Shirley has fought her way back to happiness — thanks in no small part to a £300 JobCentre business loan. The first £5 went on a pair of charity shop leggings, to make herself presentable. A business idea was born, and Venus Cow followed — plus, now, a lovely home and designer clothes.
But what’s more important, she says, is ‘I’m now healthy on the inside. Happiness is the simplest thing in the world to find, once you trust yourself.’
The Mind Detective by Shirley Yanez (£11.99, Austin Macauley) is out now. venuscow.com