Ask the author: Fiona Thomas on mental health

Fiona Thomas is an author and freelance writer with work published in iPaper, Grazia, Happiful Magazine and Huffington Post. Her most recent book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss is a guide to freelancing, which is perfect for me, since I only just started freelancing at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Saying that – it’s probably relevant for many of you too! Want to give it a read? Well the eBook version was released TODAY so it’s hot off the metaphorical press, and the paperback version is out in October. Hello, Amazon Christmas wish list.

I first discovered Fiona as an author when I started coming to terms with my own diagnosis of depression and anxiety. Her book Depression in a Digital Age was the first thing I read on the topic, and it has led me down a delightful rabbit hole. Fiona’s approachable and very human style of writing is largely what gave me the confidence to share my own stories.

That is why I am more than a little bit excited that Fiona agreed to take part in my very first Ask The Author interview, which will be a mini series with mental health and wellness writers. Thank you Fiona!

Let’s get started…

What drives you to get out of bed in the morning?

I absolutely love being self-employed and it’s definitely my business that gets me excited. I love working on writing projects, whether that’s something big like a book or something small like sending an email newsletter. I guess I really enjoy the power and creativity that comes from turning a blank page into something that didn’t exist before.

Do you have any techniques for combating negative thoughts?

I think if you’re noticing the negative thoughts then you’re already doing much better than most people. I didn’t realise I had such a negative internal dialogue until I began using positive affirmations. That was when I realised that saying positive things to myself felt quite foreign, but the more I did it the more I managed to rewire my brain to say things like “I can do this” instead of “I’m not good enough to do this”. So I would say definitely start with positive affirmations, You don’t need to say them out loud either, just make a habit writing them in your journal every day.

Can you give an example of when you felt like your mental health was affected because of a job?

When I was working in the hospitality industry it was constant. The pressure to appear happy and energetic went against my nature as an introvert and left me feeling really drained and anxious. When I moved into a management role I found the stress of it all debilitating, which led to burnout and eventually a mental breakdown. Although not all of my previous work environments have been toxic, I think the traditional 9-5 generally doesn’t support my mental health and often triggers my anxiety.

What has your experience been like in the workplace? (Have your managers been understanding?)

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag depending on every workplace and the people who work there, to be honest. I’ve had some people send me home as soon as I’ve shown signs of mental distress, and others tell me to pull myself together and get on with it for the sake of the business. I think that some of that harmful behaviour is a lack of understanding and pressure from leadership.

If you could give any tip to your 18 year old self, what would it be?

Don’t give up on your creative side. I did that when I graduated from university and I think it played a big part in my unhappiness.

How do you explain what depression feels like to someone who has never experienced it?

This is a tough one, because I think it feels different for every person and I know that it also feels different for me depending on what I’m going through at that point in time. I suppose the most simple way to describe it is a sense of hopelessness. It feels like you’ve reached the end of your rope, with no energy left and no ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What is your relationship like with social media and technology?

Complicated! I write a lot about it in my first book because it was such a big part of my recovery. It gave me a way to talk about mental illness that felt comfortable and safe. Strangely, it was much easier for me to type out a blog post about my depression than talk about it in person. For that I’ll always be grateful.

Nowadays, I rely on it more as a way to run my business so that comes with an extra level of pressure. It can be easy to scroll for hours at a time under the guise of ‘work’ so I really need to keep my boundaries in check constantly. When it gets too much I just delete the apps that are making me anxious to avoid falling down a rabbit hole.

What is the best feedback you received after publishing your own struggles with mental health?

I love it when people say that they feel like I’ve taken the words out of their mouth, because that means that we’re not in this thing alone and I find that incredibly comforting.

What are your goals and hopes for the future?

I’d love for my new book Out of Office to become a bestseller. It seems like such a timely topic for people since we’re all stuck at home, so I hope that it inspires lots of people to get into freelancing. Long term I see myself writing more books in the future and hosting more online courses for writers. I just love writing and want to do it for the rest of my days!

What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health, or knows someone who is?

Remember that when you’re not feeling well, doing your ‘best’ will look very different to when you’re at the top of your game. The act of getting out of bed or taking a shower is impressive when you’re depressed, so celebrate the small wins and don’t put pressure on yourself to perform as well as you did before you got ill.

Have there been any resources that you have found helpful during your own struggles?

Not really a resource but I found exercise has always been helpful for me, in moderation. Any sort of movement normally perks me up even if its just some gentle stretching or a walk round the block. I also love doing HIIT classes and lifting weights. There’s something really symbolic about pushing your body physically, it reminds me that I’m stronger than I think I am.

Who are the people in your immediate support network, and why are they so important?

My husband and my family are always there for me, and not necessarily to talk about feelings. Just having a safety network and someone who will make you a cup of tea or phone the doctor on your behalf is so reassuring to me but on a practical level.

Thanks so much for your thoughts Fiona! You can follow her on social media on these profiles: