She was initially diagnosed with the condition at the tender age of eleven, following her parents’ bitter divorce. “It wasn’t a slow and gentle descent into depression,” said Fifi. “Something totally switches in your mind. I’m still trying to work out what’s wrong with me now.”
It is good news that she and other public figures (Ruby Wax, Marian Keyes, JK Rowling, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry) admit to doing battle with what Churchill called his‘black dog’. But it wasn’t always this way. Go back a few decades and depression was the last thing a person would admit.
My grandmother was diagnosed with depression in her seventies (one of several relatives to feel its pernicious grip) and had a spell in hospital. But she belonged to a post-Victorian generation who didn’t use words like depression – instead she had ‘bad nerves’. Even when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties people didn’t really understand depression, other than it probably afflicted weak-willed individuals.
I was first diagnosed with severe clinical depression in my early thirties after a particularly traumatic break up. For years I had endured bouts of baffling and frankly embarrassing despair. But it never occurred to me I was depressed, I kept blaming external circumstances – the job I loathed, the boyfriend who rejected me, childhood wounds, lack of sleep, lack of money.
I used to punish myself for faulty thinking, promising myself I could transcend the dark feelings and that it was just a question of having more self discipline. I would write myself lists of how to be happy – go to the gym, take up voluntary work, get that job, car, man, holiday, pay rise. I told virtually no one of my suffering.
Then, one day I found I just couldn’t function anymore. I couldn’t concentrate at work, couldn’t type, couldn’t find the will to leave my flat. I would sit in a dark room of an evening drowning my sorrows in Chardonnay.
Quotes on depression
Quotes on depression
1/14 Alistair Campbell
Alistair Campbell: "One day, we will look back and wonder how on earth we used to believe that depression was a lifestyle choice, only to be debated and taken seriously when an A List film star took his life, and the world filled with people saying how shocked and saddened they were. "
2/14 On living with depression
Stephen Fry: "Depression is as real as the weather…it’s all about a kind of mental umbrella. 'Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.'"
3/14 On living with depression
Ernest Hemingway: "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." (He also said "happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know")
4/14 On living with depression
Jonathan Davis: "A lot of people don't realize that depression is an illness. I don't wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it."
5/14 On passing judgement on depression
Geoffrey Boycott: "Until you've had depression I don't think you're qualified to talk about it."
6/14 Jack Dee
Jack Dee: "I have had issues with depression all my life, and it's probably true to say there was a tendency towards it even when I was very young, during my schooldays. There was often - and this is quite common with comics - a sense of not feeling as if I belonged anywhere."
7/14 On living with depression
Jason Manford: "The world needs you even if you don't think it does. I promise, we need you here, now."
8/14 Author Jeanette Winterson
Art saved me; it got me through my depression and self-loathing, back to a place of innocence.
9/14 On life and depression
Agatha Christie: "I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know that just to be alive is a grand thing."
10/14 On living with depression
Albert Camus: "In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
11/14 On dealing with low mood
Dolly Parton "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
12/14 If you're feeling depressed right now..
Annabel Giles: "If you’re depressed right now, then let's remember that we only have to do today, that's all. Nothing more. We can do just a day, can't we? And don’t forget, we haven't always been like this. The good days will come back. We've just go to do as much as we can, when we can."
13/14 Helen Keller on looking for the positive
Helen Keller: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
14/14 On it happening to all of us
Mariella Frostrup: "Only those with skin as thick as elephant hide can hope to sail through their teens unscathed by self-doubt and bouts of depression."
Thankfully I eventually found the courage to seek professional help and my subsequent diagnosis at the Capio Nightingale Hospital and the provision of Cymbalta, a powerful anti-depressant, put me back together. But even then, I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing. How could I have been depressed? I was always so determined not to be.
I’ve since learnt that like many illnesses, once depression is diagnosed it can be managed; even kept in remission. Also, just because you’ve had depression once it doesn’t mean you are destined to battle the illness for life. But, despite the advances in therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatment there are still those who are lost to the disease.
A decade ago I had lunch with Australian model and TV presenter Charlotte Dawson who took her life earlier this year. Charlotte, it turned out, had battled depression all her life.
She lived in a luxury Sydney penthouse a stone’s throw from the restaurant where we met that day. I was writing a showbiz column for a weekly Australia magazine and she was hurt at my having flippantly labelled her an ‘incorrigible party girl’. I promised not to do so again, albeit surprised at Charlotte’s apparent vulnerability. She seemed tortured even then, but for all intents and purposes she looked a picture of health and happiness. Indeed, she appeared to have everything, but apparently believed herself to have nothing.
Her story illustrates that depression does not discriminate – it hits people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old. It also highlights the importance of seeking help and reaching out when caught within depression’s vengeful clutches.
“Speak out to whoever you feel able to,” urges Fifi Geldof. "Don’t keep it in, don’t ignore it; it doesn’t help. Put your mask on when you feel you need to but when you’re in a safe space then talk or cry or sit or just be with people who you feel able to be yourself with whatever yourself of that day is. You will wake up one morning and feel not quite as bad.”Reuse content