Emma Thompson has known the highs of stardom as an iconic British actress and screenwriter. But she has also known the lowest lows due to her battle with depression.
The 51-year-old says her depression was once so bad she was unable to wash or even dress herself.
“I’ve certainly been there, in various depressions, when you never wash, and wear the same things all the time,” she said in an interview with Easy Living magazine.
“It’s the sort of depression that doesn’t necessarily make you want to kill yourself – you just don’t want to be, you want to switch it off and stop. That’s not the same as saying ‘I’m going to kill myself’. But it’s a feeling I know well.”
Thompson thinks her first bout of clinical depression occurred in the 1980s, when she was doing on-stage performances of Me and My Girl.
“I really didn’t change my clothes or answer the phone, but went into the theatre every night and was cheerful and sang the Lambeth Walk. That’s what actors do,” she told the Telegraph.
She suffered another severe bout when she divorced her husband Kenneth Branagh in 1995. The double Oscar winner branded divorce as a “ghastly, painful business”, adding: “But also fame, in some ways a ghastly, painful business as well. You become slightly more public property in a way that’s not necessarily always comfortable.”
Thompson says work was the saviour. She refers to her work on Sense and Sensibility, starring Kate Winslet and her now husband Greg Wise, for which she wrote the screenplay.
“The only thing I could do was write,” she says. “I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was alright, because I was not present. Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”
Writing provides and escape for Thompson, and when asked what from, she answered: “Oh, you know, the voices in my head. The constant “must do better”, “must try harder” plus “you’re too fat and not really a very good mother.”
Trying to have a second child after the birth of her first one, Gala, was another factor fuelling her illness: “It was hellish after Gala was born, trying to have another baby through IVF. That was terrible – I blamed myself, and no-one could persuade me that it wasn’t my fault – and that led to another depression.”
Nine years ago, the actress unofficially adopted a 16-year-old Rwandan orphan, which she says made it possible for her to “balance” herself, rather than constantly escaping into a “fantasy world”.