Something has changed in Ada Nicodemou. You can hear it in her voice as she discusses wrapping up another busy day on the set of Home And Away.
For someone who admits to working "harder than she ever has", her energy is projecting through the phone. Ada can feel it too – and she's never been more grateful for the change.
"I'm not sure what it is, but there's something about this year – and maybe my age – where my give-a-s--- radar has gone out the window!" she tells TV WEEK with a laugh. "We've all endured an awful year and I just thought to myself, 'I'm just going to say what I want to say.'"
Curious, we naturally ask: what is it she so desperately wants to say?
"Oh, if only! I could say a lot, but really, it comes down to kindness. Let's get back to basics and bring empathy and compassion back into our lives."
While the actress has been fortunate enough to continue working on the popular drama series in the midst of a global pandemic, her life is different. Or, at the very least, it's evolving.
Production paused for eight weeks, allowing Ada to spend time at home with her eight-year-old son Johnas and her partner of four years, businessman Adam Rigby.
"It certainly makes you closer with your family," she says playfully, her words carrying a hint of tongue-in-cheek. Yet, on a more serious note, lockdown left an astounding and unexpected psychological impact on the TV WEEK Gold Logie nominee.
"I went back to work when Johnas was five months old, so I haven't had a lot of time to be at home with him. But wow – the joy [of spending time at home with him in 2020] is the best thing that's happened to me all year," she says.
"We played, took bike rides, walked in the rain, painted; it really makes you think about how hard we work and our values."
Not that she's complaining. In celebration of her 20th anniversary as Leah in Home And Away, Ada is thankful for a steady job she still enjoys. But it was her big break in the hit teen drama Heartbreak High in 1994 that cemented a win for diversity and her own confidence to become an actress.
"There was never anyone who looked like me on TV when I was growing up," she says. "I wanted a connection with someone, and Heartbreak High was one of the shows that helped to showcase that. I'm very proud of my heritage [Ada's family is Greek-Cypriot] and it's nice to know there's a little girl out there who can relate to what they see on screen."
But having a long-standing career and a steady pay cheque isn't everything. This year has taught Ada that you can't rewind the clock and that she needs to be with her family.
"I'm the daughter of migrants," she says. "And from the moment I can remember, I was helping them. I love being busy, but years later, I've learnt to take a step back and reflect on what's important to me: children, health and time.
"Everything I say yes to now is pulling me away from my family, so it has to be something I really want to do. My mindset has truly changed; I want to be present."
Johnas' adolescent years aren't too far away and Ada is acutely aware that one day, he may be asking her to drop him off "around the corner" to avoid being embarrassed by her presence.
"I will die when that happens," she says with a laugh. "I remember doing that to my parents! Right now, he still holds my hand while we get groceries, but I know that day will come and I'm not looking forward to it at all!"
The youngster, whose father is Ada's former husband Chrys Xipolitas, is an abundance of joy to Ada, as is partner Adam, who has taken on the role of stepdad since they began dating four years ago. Ada acknowledges that his commitment to helping raise Johnas and come into her world "isn't an easy thing to do".
"Adam and Johnas adore each other; he's such a great stepdad and has really stepped up," she explains. "For a man to come into my world and love a child as if he were his own – and love me like I've never been loved before – is incredibly special.
"I rely on him a lot, which is a real first for me. I've never been able to do that before; I've always held the reins. So it's nice to know he has our back – he's a great man."
While marriage is often the next step in a long-term relationship, Ada doesn't feel any pressure to walk down the aisle a second time. The milestones she regarded as important in her twenties are no longer on her radar.
"I'm 43 years old now," she says. "I just want to enjoy what we have."
The same goes for having another baby. During her first marriage, Ada and Chrys suffered a tragic miscarriage with their second son, Harrison.
She chose to keep her grief private, but as time continues to hold more weight in her choices, Ada has discovered the importance of conversation – for herself and others.
"I feel more free to speak up nowadays," she says. "When I miscarried, I didn't know anyone who had had one, so I had no-one to turn to. I felt like my body had failed me. I struggled and went through a really tough time."
Ada felt pressure to give Johnas a sibling, although that has ebbed over time.
"I struggled with the guilt of not giving him a sibling," she says. "Johnas used to ask me a lot, which contributed to it, but now he doesn't. I'm content with him being a happy, healthy boy.
"Women can be so hard on ourselves and each other. We often create a fake 'perfect' world and when life doesn't go that way, the fall is so big."
While their remains a stigma around miscarriage and mental health, Ada wants women to speak their truth and to know that it's OK to do so.
And in turn, she's continuing to work on herself and advocate for her own wellbeing.
"I see a counsellor, which I never used to speak of because I was worried what people would think. But life isn't always going to be perfect, and we should normalise the tough times," she says. "Grief creeps up on you. It's a s--- thing to go through and never really goes away. But for me, it's a constant work in progress."
As she looks ahead with a renewed attitude, Ada declares she wants nothing more than to "be happy – as much as that makes me sound like a little girl! [Laughs]
"I just want to grow together, ease my mind of health and trouble, and simply enjoy life. That's all I need right now – we all do."