TV and radio presenter Fearne Cotton is such a cheery, vital soul that it’s hard to imagine her having a zit or a headache let alone poor mental health. She appears to have sunbeams radiating out of her hair and she probably sweats fresh dew. Which is why her new book Happy: Finding Joy in Every Day and Letting Go of Perfect is a breath of fresh air. She writes refreshingly and honestly about depression as something that can be accepted and worked through by being more generous towards yourself.
She calls her depressive state of mind her “black pit.” “This is what it feels like: being in a dark hole unable to pull yourself out of it. It’s not just sadness, it’s more than that. There is the feeling of worthlessness, the feeling of ‘what’s the point?’, being unable to concentrate, negative thoughts spinning out of control.” Some of it stems from a family history, she says. And it seems to happen when she focuses too much on the negative: bingeing on relentless bad news or agonising about the state of the world.
Cotton talks about an inner pendulum. It means thinking about where your own calm, middle ground is
The part that really resonated with me was this: “I’ve never talked publicly about my own brush with depression before, as I feared it would make it bigger than it was, or that others would think I was being over-dramatic or attention-seeking.” I know how she feels. I’ve also experienced depression during different times in my life but I rarely acknowledge it exactly for these reasons. If you haven’t been hospitalised and you’re not on medication, what have you got to complain about? But this way of thinking is depressive in itself. We all deserve better self-care, Fearne argues. Here’s how:
Work out your own balance
Acupuncturist Gerad Kite introduced Cotton to the idea of an inner pendulum. It means thinking about where your own calm, middle ground is. On a scale ranging from terrible, bad, OK, good and great, ask yourself these questions: “How are you feeling today?” “How’s your work-life balance?” “How does the past feel to you?” “How are you at putting your phone away?” “How are your stress levels?” “How are things with your family?” (There are more questions on page 29 of Happy.) If too many of your answers are swinging towards terrible/bad, your pendulum is swinging too far one way. On the other hand, if you do have problems in some areas but you are “great’ in others, that’s a balance of sorts and may be OK, as long as you’re comfortable with it. Either way: check in with yourself and look out for that swinging pendulum.
Replace “should” with want”
“Whenever I get into this exhausted mindset I try to distinguish between the things I feel I should be doing and the things I want to be doing,” says Cotton. This can be difficult to figure out, she admits. You might feel you “should” go to the gym, for example. But if you’re thinking that because you “want” to feel good, then get to the gym. Don’t compare yourself with others, work out what you want and what makes you happy. “To give you my own example, I rarely go out socialising these days,” she adds.
Don’t believe the fantasy world of social media
“You may have seen photos on my own social media channels that have made you think I have it all sorted. Well, let me reiterate that I most certainly do not.” We know social media is not real life, it’s a projection of the best parts of people’s lives. So why do we get sucked into it and believe it? Think of it as a film at the cinema and remind yourself that it’s not real. Beware what Cotton calls “the deathly vacuum of comparison and self-loathing”.