When I read earlier this week that Fearne Cotton has opened up about her struggle with depression I wanted to high-five her. You see, I know first-hand just how much having celebrities talk about this can help when you are dealing with your own battle with depression.
I had already experienced ‘the blues’ myself a little as a university student back in 2000 but it wasn’t until 2009 that I saw the very darkest depths that depression can take you to. Unfulfilled in my job and with a partner (now husband) facing redundancy due to the recession, I felt desperately unhappy and trapped. And while I knew deep down that something had to change, it wasn’t until I was severely depressed that I was forced to face the issue…and even then I didn’t accept it.
I had been barely sleeping or eating for weeks, just surviving on coffee, and eventually all the unhappiness that I had desperately tried to keep buried down inside bubbled up and culminated in me being very unwell…a bit like a rumbling volcano that eventually erupts spectacularly. I could no longer function normally and even the simplest of tasks was impossible. I also felt totally paranoid and deeply afraid of the world and everyone around me. But even when a therapist initially tried to explain what was happening to me and why, I thought she must be in on a big conspiracy against me. I simply refused to believe what was happening to me and the whole thing was very frightening.
As part of my therapy I did CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions and, as I started to see things a bit more clearly, I began to feel extremely ashamed and shaken. How had this happened to me? Why? And everyone around me felt the same, showing their surprise by saying that I always seemed “so together”. But that is exactly the problem. When someone is trying so hard to keep it all together for too long things can (and usually do) start to fall apart.
It took me time to heal, get over and accept what had happened but, strangely, the experience also brought a great deal of good to my life. That probably sounds very odd but I found CBT immensely helpful and I still use the techniques to this day. I also found out about mindfulness through CBT which, again, I find invaluable for managing emotions and keeping perspective. And during my darkest days, I found the Mind website (www.mind.org.uk) a great source of comfort. It was via Mind that I started reading about celebrities like Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax who have also been very open about their battles with depression and reading about their struggles really helped me to normalise what was happening. These were people I admired and looked up to, so if they were going through something similar, maybe I wasn’t such a freak or failure after all.
Fearne Cotton has apparently said that she realised she had to let go of ‘perfect’ and that really resonated with me. I don’t know why we feel the need more and more to take on so much and pretend that we are ok with it. Even motherhood can be like that but I find as soon as you are open about the difficulties, so many other people open up too.
Sometimes I wonder if the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ British style really doesn’t help when it comes to talking about mental health. I admire the fact that many Americans, for example, talk freely and unashamedly about seeing a therapist (unless of course that is only true in the movies?) and that Danes make Hygge (enjoying life’s simple pleasures) a pivotal part of their daily life. We can learn so much from these other cultures and I hope, one day, we British will feel able to talk much more freely about mental health issues and treatments.
There is no question that depression can be a huge, debilitating and alienating struggle but there are so many ways to get help nowadays and, though it is impossible to see while you are in the throes of it, dealing with depression really can help you to make changes for the better. Personally, for example, it has helped me:
- face and deal with my shortcomings and acknowledge my strengths
- learn how to explore difficult emotions and work through them
- become a more understanding partner and mother
- let go of ‘perfect’ too and embrace life’s imperfections
We really shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about depression and other mental health issues.
Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. (Author unknown)
Main image by Mindful Mummy