1. of very high quality; very good of its kind
2. very thin or narrow. "a fine nylon thread"
synonyms: excellent, first-class, first rate, great, exceptional, outstanding, admirable, quality, superior, splendid, magnificent, beautiful, exquisite, choice, select, prime, supreme, superb, wonderful, sublime
informal: in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well
When it comes to words I’ve reached for when I’ve felt terrible, ‘fine’ is probably the default, possibly followed by ‘Great!’ I’ve smiled and said ‘fine’, when in fact I was far closer to the definition of (hanging on by) ‘fine thread’ and definitely not feeling ‘very well’ or ‘magnificent’.
I’ve also also spent Fridays in the pub with my team, acting like the life and soul, while feeling so sad and anxious on the inside. On other occasions, I've walked into the office on a Monday and, when asked, ‘What did you do this weekend?’ answered with ‘Just had a chilled one’. ‘Chilled’ meaning a weekend where I may have been laid in bed watching Netflix scoffing cheese crackers because I had no other food in, little energy to move and ‘the fear’ about bumping into anyone I might know.
When you feel such a heavy sense of blackness, but you don’t live in a war zone, you’re physically well and you’re not what anyone else would consider to be impoverished or in immediate danger, what else can you say? I feel bleak? It’s hopeless? I don’t see the point of me? I’m unlovable? I hate myself? Nope, you don’t want to share that , so I guess ‘fine’ works well as a conversation changer.
My shame (and denial) at feeling the way I did meant that I hid my feelings in my internal ‘basement’, shut the door, padlocked it, papered over it with a striking wallpaper and tap danced in front of that spot to distract passers-by. I hid it all behind achievements, my style, big hair, bigger smiles and jazz hands at parties – or so I thought.
In my teens I was going through a pretty tough time at school with bullying, desperate to be liked and failing miserably. It was so bad that I’d fear going to the supermarket with my parents on the weekend in case I saw someone from school. On school days, I’d feign illness or 'period pains' often to stay in the sickbay to avoid seeing anyone. Through it all I tried to appear ‘OK’. I eventually changed schools.
With low self-esteem ever present, I went into my first relationship like a lamb to the slaughter, and endured a year of my confidence and dignity being damaged severely. The relationship eventually ended with an intervention by my parents, who had taken certain steps to protect me from further abuse as they had seen more than enough.
Although I escaped the relationship, I wasn't entirely free as I would learn down the line: your body can provide a response to traumatic events by shutting down your memory and, in years that passed, I would 'forget' a lot of what had happened at this time. That didn't mean the memories had been erased. The way in which I controlled my eating – and later became ill because of it – and the way I could 'sleep for England' (my Dad's words), were all symptoms that at the time I didn't know were related to this.
In my twenties, things were better in some ways. I had a new circle of friends whom I adored, a job in PR that I loved and on the side I was modelling/acting/singing (a dream for a girl who had never felt very much of her looks or talents). This was something of a ‘new beginning’, but I still suffered with low self-esteem. I spent most of those years putting a brave face on my feelings and doing high kicks until dawn at parties with my friends, never allowing myself for a moment to feel anything beyond heartbreak and hangovers.
Fast forward to 2013, when I found myself staring into the abyss at my parents’ house. Everything I had buried had finally caught up with me, accelerated by an unexpected break-up with someone I had my dream life planned out with. I couldn’t really function and had no energy to pretend anymore. I needed help.
For me, therapy was the thing that made all the difference. It saved my life. By spending time with a kind and impartial person who wouldn’t judge me, I was able to dig deep and begin ‘the work’ that would be painful, but which would eventually allow me to say, ‘No, actually I’m not that great today’, and to express what I needed.
One hour at a time, with gentle professional guidance, I was able to revisit my past, understand the origin of my depression and explore patterns of behaviour in order to break them. I then learned strategies for developing inner confidence and happiness.
My friendships at this time were varied. There were friends who called and even though I wouldn’t pick up, they’d still call again. And there were also those who came and held me.
Conversely there were also those who told me to ‘move on’, ‘let go’ or – one of my favourites – ‘It’s been four weeks now, surely you should be feeling better?’
There were those who said, 'If you need anything, call me', but who were never around if you called. They kind of sat alongside those who were uncomfortable around me. Some retreated, simply worn down by the situation, and in the end just didn’t figure as a part of my life from that point, and this I do understand. It can be exhausting trying to love someone who just can't love themselves, particularly if you've never had more than a down day yourself and you can't understand it. Healing can take time. It's frustrating.
I know that I was also difficult to be around at times – high one minute, low the next, overly-analytical, insecure, sometimes paranoid and more often in need of a lot of reassurance. It takes a special kind of magic to love someone with depression, and it can be hard to remember that they are the very same friend who has made you laugh and loved you at times too.
So, it’s true that it can be difficult for the people around you. It’s easy to comfort someone with flu, or perhaps an injury. People take time out to go and visit the sick, make them soup and take them a copy of Grazia. But when a friend is battling the ‘black dog’, not everyone knows what to do and many just want you to ‘snap out of it’.
And so, this is often another reason why people say they are ‘fine’ when they’re not. Because beyond carrying shame about their feelings, there’s a genuine fear of being judged, making others feel uncomfortable and losing friends.
In recent years, people have often asked me how to reach out to their friends who are suffering with depression. This always touches me, because some of these people are those that others have considered ‘unfeeling’, but they’re just struggling to care for the ones they love in a way that doesn’t patronise or presume.
There are some things I can share that might be of help to someone who’s feeling low and struggling to communicate.
1) There are no magic words. Some of the times I felt most comforted were in silence, when people sat beside me when I had no energy. A dear friend often lay beside me reading magazines or shoving the Daily Mail showbiz app in my face (you know who you are!).
2) You can't 'fix' your friend. Believe me, everyone suffering wants to get back to themselves as soon as they can. It's like being locked in a cell, seeing the keys within reach and being unable to get them. It's going to take time and work that they have to do themselves. You can be there and comfort them through the difficulty. You can research and offer recommendations, but you cannot make it go away as much as you want to -If it wasn't for my friend Emma, who heard what state I was in, I would never have met Rachel, the therapist who I believe saved my life. But I still had to do the sessions and the homework, despite my family and friends wanting to fix it for me.
3) Surprise acts of kindness mean so much. I had a flatmate who often placed books on my bed, or flowers in my room. I also opened the door to surprise deliveries: one day it was sunflowers all the way from my friend in Hong Kong. Just knowing in that moment that she was thinking of me was a huge comfort.
4) No expectations keep you connected. My family kept me fed, watered and wrapped in blankets allowing me to ‘just be, without expectation’ while they went about their business. This allowed me to be in their space without feeling guilty for not offering much in return.
5) Listening helps. I’m so thankful to those who came and talked to me about their lives, and also to those who came and listened. Friends sharing their day-to-day stories made me feel included and the distraction from all of the noise inside me was good. My friend Vicky can pretty much recite chapters of my life that she wasn’t even there for and she knows the triggers of my anxieties, because she listened and she never judged. My friend Naomi joined me on the sofa regularly with wine and taramasalata (we still do this now!). She had no answers, but she was so kind and helped me to feel less alone. Tia was always at the end of the phone and reached out to me to 'check in' so often with Ayurvedic tips that might help me. By being there and listening to the same old story (believe me, it was driving me crazy too) my friends let me know that I was important.
These acts of kindness had a huge impact on me: they let me know that I was loved, and helped me start to recognise that I was loveable and worthy of love.
So, it was with therapy and friendship that I started on the road from ‘fine’ to ‘feeling good’ – although I didn’t get there without the admission of much of what had led to that moment. That in turn led to anger and RAGE, and finally, forgiveness for me and those I’d in some cases unknowingly harboured anger against,
These days, I answer honestly when I feel it’s safe to do so. I’m not for instance pouring my heart out to the man in the corner shop, but I would tell a friend if I wasn’t OK. I pushed myself and told my bosses at work when I needed time out. I levelled with a colleague, which gave me someone to go on lunch breaks with and be more honest. I told my friends when I didn’t have the energy to do much, rather than flaking at the last minute.
The last thing I'd like to say is that when the lid blew off, I never thought I'd recover. I felt like I was drowning and I was so ashamed of myself. If I can unlock the cell, and come out of it a better friend to myself and to those in my life, I know that anyone can do it. I am humbled by my experience and thankful to no longer feel the darkness. I'm not perfect today: believe me, I have struggles. But I have tools. I have survived a battle, and knowing I am resilient gives me confidence. Having been through it has also made me more compassionate, and less judgemental of myself and others.
If I can do it, you can do it. You will be fine.