‘I fell into a big hole’: Fearne Cotton on struggling with depression
TV and radio personality Fearne Cotton is generally a woman who exudes cheerfulness on screen; she seems a very ‘light’ figure in the best sense of the word, happy and self-assured. This exterior hides the demons she struggles with, however. And this week, she’s been openly talking of her struggles with her mental health – and the toll depression has taken on her life and “seemingly perfect” career
Previously, she described her depression as a “black pit.” A weight she was unable to hold on her own because she was stuck underneath it. “Everything was a drag and felt heavy. I felt antisocial, cut-off, alienated, and they were massive warning signs. Everyone has that light bulb moment that they need to do something differently, but for me, it was feeling stuck.”
“[Depression] is a chapter that I often in my work talk around, but not really about it because there’s so much of it that I’m still processing and still have a bit of a hangover with. A lot of my work has come from that area of my life where I fell into a pretty big hole of depression and not much around me seemed to make sense.”
Speaking this week on Angela Scanlon’s Thanks A Million podcast, said that depression is apart of her everyday life, having such an effect that it knocked her work confidence partly leading her to leave her roles on Celebrity Juice and at BBC Radio.
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“There are a few things I’m still working on from that time. One of them is confidence because I totally lost it when I didn’t have any at all, which has really hindered me in my work life and somewhat in my personal life…,” she explained.
“My working life, I really lost confidence… I literally couldn’t put myself out there in the way that I used to.”
It led her to make a decision when she was covering Zoe Ball’s popular show. “I loved it, I did it for about a year, and it was amazing. And then I had to have a really honest conversation and just say, “I don’t sleep at all the night before. And I do the show for [sometimes] two weeks plus and it’s going to make me ill.”
“I just think you have to look at your health, which is the most important thing we have… I cried my eyes out making that decision… But I think sometimes we have to honour what our bodies are telling us.”
She spoke candidly about feeling alone during these periods (as so many due when they are struggling with their mental health), not even daring to use the term depression when talking of how she felt.
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“I felt very isolated and very alone in my experience. It was long before I even dared use the word depression… Now, it’s an everyday part of my life, whether it’s friends who know that I’ll open up about it or mostly in my work. Before this point, I would never have dared talk about my mental health. I don’t think I even knew what that was.”
However, she knows what it is to come out the other side, and even wrote a book on how to live a happier life.
Here are some of her recommended tools from a previous book, Happy: Finding Joy in Every Day and Letting Go of Perfect that I always go back to:
Talk Talk Talk
If you slip into the darkness, find someone you trust – friend or professional – and tell them about it. Cotton also advises go with your gut when choosing to open up; you don’t have to take advice from others when you do this, as long as you do it when it feels right to you.
Find your balance
Cotton cites the theory of the ‘inner Pendulum’ as one that helped her greatly. This theory leads you to notice your own natural swing of emotions. Rather than swing with great force from one feeling to another, you can sit above it all, on the top of the Pendulum, and observe it unfolding – it basically means finding your own middle, calming ground. You ask questions such as “How are you feeling today? How’s your work-life balance How are you at putting your phone away? How are your stress levels?
“Weigh up your answers from okay to good, great, bad, terrible. If your answers are swinging too far one way, look at your balance. It’s fine if you have problems in some areas, but you are doing great in others, that’s a balance of sorts, as long as it makes you comfortable – that’s the key – to keep an eye out for the swing.”
Don’t be afraid to really slow down
“I know that when I get closely involved in a project, I’m excited about, it’s partly to do with the fact I love to feel busy and useful, but it’s also to do with the fear of stopping,” Cotton said. “What if I truly stopped? How would I feel? Would my demons creep back up and shout in my face?
“My inner compass will always spin towards the route of exhaustion and boundary-pushing, but I now try to reprogramme my mindset to take a little time to stop, get centred and look around me. I tend to favour the kind of ‘stopping’ that allows me to trick my mind into thinking I’m still ‘doing.’ Yoga, painting, running or cooking. This suits my over-active brain – and probably quells my underlying fear of truly letting go. Learning to slow down and stop once in a while is a tricky change to make, and you have to be prepared for where your mind might go [in terms of thinking of more worries, etc.] once you’ve stopped trying to distract it with other things. I think facing these things is a better option than battling on and covering your troubles by keeping busy.”
Main photo: @TheBookSeller