As Katie Fairhall bustles around her kitchen, it’s easy to see how she’s making a success of her baking business.
Her enthusiasm and energy shine through as she shows off her cookie mixes and chatters excitedly about new ideas and a recent business award nomination. What is more difficult to comprehend is a woman who once found it hard to get out of bed in the morning and would sob uncontrollably for no apparent reason.
As the wife and mum-of-two talks passionately about business and family, it’s hard to imagine a Katie who suffered anxiety attacks, had no energy and couldn’t go to work for months.
These days life is great. Katie juggles running her business Katie Bakes from her Alverstoke home with caring for her two children Holly, nine, and six-year-old Freddie.,
But more than 10 years ago she was pulling herself from the brink, having been diagnosed with depression.
Sitting contentedly over a cup of tea at her kitchen table, the 39-year-old recalls a darker time in her life. ‘It had been building up and up and I remember going to work one day and just shutting myself in the loo. I couldn’t stop crying and I had this tightness in my chest and couldn’t breathe. I now know it was a panic attack, but at the time I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I couldn’t go in, I just had to get in my car and go home.’
Katie was totally unprepared for such devastating feelings because on the surface her life was looking great.
The high-flying Londoner had been blissfully happy when she married husband James in a beautiful, sun-soaked Yorkshire ceremony.
And although she loved her London lifestyle and career in commercial property, she was full of hope when she left her friends and the big city behind for a new life on the south coast.
She found a new job and she and James had a steady income and were happy setting up home together.
But as she soon learned, depression can strike all kinds of people for all manner of reasons.
Too many life changes had taken their toll on Katie and gradually she sank towards a state of low mood and eventually despair.
‘I’d got married, I’d moved, I’d changed jobs. I’d had a lot of friends in London and my workplace was very sociable.
‘My family live in Yorkshire so they were pretty far away and I’d left all my friends behind.
‘Although my husband and in-laws are lovely and were brilliant, I’d moved away from my whole way of life.’
An outgoing, outdoors-loving girl, Katie had never experienced anything like it before and says she was in denial until she had really hit rock bottom.
‘It’s like building blocks I suppose. You can manage stuff to a point, but you get to this critical extra block which is loaded on the others and tips everything over the edge.’
Katie eventually became so unwell that the only thing she could think to do was contact the doctor who prescribed antidepressants. She also had a course of cognitive behaviour therapy, a form of counselling which sees the therapist and client working together to find ways of dealing with problems.
Remembering her bleakest moments, Katie says: ‘It’s a feeling of hopelessness and being totally overwhelmed. You have no energy and it’s hard to get up in the mornings because you don’t have any enthusiasm for anything.’
She says husband James was patient and supportive and there was nothing wrong in her marriage. ‘But it is really hard for people to understand, I know I would have found it difficult. I kept reassuring him that it was nothing to do with him or our life.’
Earlier this year, best-selling author Marian Keyes talked openly about her battle with depression, hoping that others would benefit from her willingness to discuss mental health issues.
And she also revealed the one thing that would give her comfort as she struggled to find ways of coping – baking.
Katie also found the creative process of cooking helped her find some kind of peace, a discovery that would ultimately lead to the business she runs now.
The treatment and counselling eventually had a positive effect and Katie and James carried on working, settling into home life and taking care of their two children.
But Katie had been left with an acute awareness of depression and the downward path that would take her there again. After having her children she had to give up her career and although she loved her family and was a devoted mother, familiar feelings started emerging.
‘I felt I’d lost my identity somehow. I’d gone from a career to being someone’s mum, which was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. My family are the most important thing to me. But I felt I didn’t exist outside that bubble. I’d gone from being one person to becoming another. I guess a lot of women find that strange.’
This time Katie decided to take action. She took a part-time job in a friend’s tea-shop and because she had always loved baking, started making Christmas gifts at home.
Her cookie and brownie mixes in jars were so successful that she decided to set up a business and website and now things are really taking off. When she started, Katie would attempt bulk-buying at the supermarket. Now that’s out of the question as Katie Bakes supplies up to 100 cookie mix jars and 150 children’s party bags per week.
Last year she reached the finals of the Hampshire Winning Women in Business awards and she has recently been nominated for the Best Children’s Party Supplier category in the national What’s on 4 2012 Junior Awards.
She’s busy and happy but only too aware of the dangers of depression and eager to reach out to others.
‘I can empathise far more now,’ she says.
‘When it’s happening to you, you feel you’re alone, but since then a lot of people have come out of the woodwork. I think it affects a lot more people than we realise.’
And she adds: ‘Don’t be in denial. There is light at the end of the tunnel but you need help. You can’t do it on your own.’
· Check out Katie Bakes at katiebakes.co.uk
Mental health charity MIND says that depression doesn’t always affect a particular type of person and can be triggered by all manner of life circumstances, or needn’t have a clear cause at all.
‘A lot of people feel worried about speaking about it because they look at their lives and think “what have I got to be depressed about?”. They might be successful but they’re experiencing all these feelings,’ says MIND spokeswoman Vicki Prout.
Depression doesn’t have to be linked to a big life event, but could be due to a series of stresses and strains including finances, work pressures and life changes.
‘Everything can build up and people don’t always realise as it can be a gradual process. We tend to think about and look after our physical health but not pay attention to our mental health.’
In its mildest form, the illness can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop a sufferer leading their normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile.
At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening, because it can make people give up the will to live.
For more information, go to mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/depression or call the MIND information line on 0300 123 3393.