Tara West was finally reaping the rewards of a top job in advertising and her debut novel had just been published when she told her husband she wanted to kill herself.
Career-wise and in her personal life she had come a long way from her childhood growing up in a single parent family in Rathcoole, a loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast.
But success couldn't negate the emotional turmoil of the past, and the strain of keeping her background a secret from her sophisticated, middle-class colleagues at the ad agency was also taking a considerable toll.
Ironically, when it all seemed to be finally falling into place, West fell apart. Overwhelmed by depression, she suffered a debilitating mental breakdown.
Rebuilding her life has taken years of therapy, anti-depressants and sheer guts, but West has survived to literally tell the tale in a stunning memoir in which she writes unflinchingly about her early family life, lowest ebb and eventual recovery.
Surprisingly, The Upside of Down is not a heavy read, but often unexpectedly amusing.
"People say that I'm so brave putting this out there, but it's just the truth," says West, self-assured and professional, before throwing in a typical quip: "Then again, maybe I just have no dignity."
I suspect the humour is a foil against the darker narrative that unspools from her first memories of growing up in Rathcoole in the Seventies. The youngest of four, West (50) has two sisters and a brother, and was an artistic, sensitive child who observed the motivations and moods of those around her.
Until she was eight, she recalls a fun mother, siblings who loved the Bay City Rollers, watching Tomorrow's World on the TV and rainy days spent playing Monopoly and Battleship.
Her father was a docker and they had "enough money for shoes from Clarks and holidays on the north coast". But when he was made redundant, the family unit started to fracture.
Her parents' marriage was, says West, "an awkward match". Her mum was 19 and her dad, 32, when they had wed after a whirlwind romance and with their first child on the way. She had been to grammar school; he'd limited education.
West recalls an uncomfortable episode when her father demanded her mother accompany him to the dole office to help him sign on. West was ill, but her furious mother was forced to bring her along.
It was also around this time that her mum, now in her mid-30s, lost weight, experimented with make-up, bought sexy boots and became "head-turningly foxy".
West, her mother and siblings moved into her maternal grandparents' house. "When's Daddy coming?" asked West, but didn't get a response. "I didn't know they'd split up. No-one answered my question. I'd to work it out.
"When I did, I felt okay about it. My big relationship was with my mum. I only really missed dad after we'd met him in town on Saturdays, then I'd be tearful going home. He wasn't the sort of dad who'd have played with you."
Her mum was allocated a maisonette in East Way, on the other side of Rathcoole, but West no longer felt at home on the estate. "When many people hear the word 'Rathcoole' their instant reaction is 'oh my God, bad', but where we lived before my parents split up was a lovely area with nice people. There were lots of families, older couples, everyone went to church.
"But the area we moved to was completely different. The buildings were newer and people hadn't been living there long. It was just 10 minutes away, but it was darker, more dangerous."
Soon, West picked up a new vocabulary of crude sexual terms and swear words, asked her brother to say 'H' to find out if he was a Catholic but never learned "the Protestant anthem, The Sash. I was not born to East Way, I moved there, and it was too late for me. The first nine years of my life had turned me into a pleasant, well-meaning kid and there was nothing East Way could do about it."
For a while her mother became angry and remote, and West now believes she, too, was depressed. "I think she didn't tell anyone how she felt because she risked losing her children."
West escaped by writing stories about her imaginary friends like Fitzy. She moved to an all-girls grammar school and at weekends dressed as a punk.
Her mum encouraged her to be ambitious and told her one day she'd have "the large double-fronted house, the beautiful children, the pots of money". West says now: "She wanted these things for me because she had given up that she was going to get them for herself. She was from that generation where once you got to a certain age, that was it. It's different today; I'm at an age where I'm thinking about the next thing I can do."
By the time she's 18, West and her mother have moved to a sixth floor flat in one of Rathcoole's four tower blocks, and she had started a Foundation Course in art at Ulster University. She was mostly living alone as her mum was spending weekdays with a new partner.
She briefly dated a couple of boyfriends but had no self-esteem. "I couldn't let my guard down; they would only be disappointed and/or disgusted when they got to know me," she writes. She drew images "of a body drifting under black water", missed the interview for her degree course but lacked the energy to do anything about it.
Instead, West hibernated in her flat until her mother coerced her back into company. She spent a year working in a video store and met her future husband Dave.
Back on track, she was offered a place to do an English degree at Queen's University, Belfast but her mother suggested a BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University had better job prospects.
The choice paid off, though not initially as regards salary. West was snapped up by a Belfast ad agency and found herself in an expensive world on a meagre income. "The jump I made every day from penury to high-end luxury was disorientating," she writes. There was "designer furniture, fragrant air, thick chocolate biscuits on the boardroom table, luxurious gifts and trips. I had two pairs of trousers, three tops, two pairs of shoes, one bra, a plastic handbag and a big weekly repayment to Freeman's catalogue."
West was promoted from trainee advertising planner to copywriter, a creative role in which she excelled. She pretended to clients that she knew about rugby, had a posh boyfriend and "that her bra wasn't held together with grey thread".
She explains: "I couldn't possibly tell anybody where I came from. They'd have just looked at me. Back then, Cool FM did this 'eye in the sky' helicopter traffic report. I remember being in the helicopter with a client and people were pointing out all these lovely south Belfast homes… and then I could see Rathcoole. I muttered something about my home being in the Whiteabbey direction… keep it vague! I'd created this glossy, lipstick-y persona - telling them would have destroyed that."
Clients loved her work but West lacked confidence and felt a fraud. With Dave, an aeronautical engineer, working nightshifts, she resumed writing stories about Fitzy. When a publisher offered a book deal, she worked tirelessly. "I wasn't going to let anyone in work accuse me of slacking off to write, so I doubled down on what I was doing in the office. I later found out it was manic high."
Her novel, Fodder, won excellent reviews but West was ill at ease attending literary events. "They can be very middle class; I didn't feel I fitted in there either."
At 32, just before Christmas, West had a breakdown. She summoned the courage to tell Dave she wanted to kill herself. "I'd been feeling worse and worse but it's hard to tell anyone, especially close family, that you feel suicidal because you know from that point everything is going to change for them. You don't want to mess up other people's lives. But I couldn't keep it in any longer; it was either tell Dave or something desperate. We were terrified, we didn't know what was happening. We stared at each other in fear, not knowing what to do next."
Incredibly, she went to work the next day, a decision that confounds her today. "I mean, really? I was completely mad."
Her description in her memoir of her imploding world is terrifying and moving. Sitting in her smart office, "my heart has expanded to fill the top half of my body, the muscle so huge it's choking me. My fingertips leave crescents of sweat on the green glass….I can't stay here. I will faint, or shriek, or die. I smooth my hand across my forehead. My mother used to do that to me when I was little".
After Christmas, she was signed off work for nine weeks. Out driving with her mother, she secretly thought about how her death would make things easier for those who love her. She went to bed hoping she didn't wake up.
Dave and her mum's efforts to help were heroical, but they were panicked and floundering. In 2002, there was little public awareness about mental health. West saw GPs, was prescribed various anti-depressants, read self-help books, went to bed "in drifts of lavender", ruled out private counselling as too expensive at £30 for half an hour and found eating Turkish Delight with her mother provided the most solace. Her depression lasted around two years.
Going freelance helped and soon afterwards West discovered she was pregnant. But then came a devastating blow when her mum fell ill and died. Her daughter arrived in 2005 and West called her Farha - "the name is Arabic and means happiness". West missed her own mother terribly and worried she'd be a poor mother herself. "Mum would have loved everything about Farha," she says. "And I put myself under incredible pressure to get everything right for Farha because I didn't want her having a mum living on the edge of her sanity."
West started a job with a new agency but suffered recurring bouts of depression. What proved a turning point was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. "That's made an enormous difference, though some people didn't actually like me anymore because I became more confident, less dependent on others for approval. I became happy to say no, to disagree with people, though not in a confrontational way. I had to deconstruct my way of thinking and reconstruct it into something I actually believed - that I was fairly talented and normal, not disgusting and unlovable."
Regaining her confidence, she contacted the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and got support to write her second novel, Poets are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan, which is again well-received.
West did try to come off anti-depressants but found if she got stressed everything "went t*** up" so has stayed on them. She's also manages her energy levels. "When I get super excited, I have to be careful."
What has clearly been pivotal is that she's finally living life on her terms. She is doing a PhD in Creative Writing at Queen's and working on another novel. Her mother would be thrilled that the family now lives in a double-fronted home, near Carrick. "Dave's my rock and I cling to him," she says. "I couldn't have done any of this without him."
She adds: "I want others going through something similar to know they don't have to live like that. There is help. You can sort it out. And, if I could speak to myself as I was then, at my lowest point, I wouldn't try to save myself from it. It helped me understand myself and also gave me more empathy and compassion for others. I value my experiences and have gained more than I lost from them."
The Upside of Down by Tara West, published by Dalzell Press, £12, is available on Amazon, at No Alibis, Belfast, and Secret Bookshelf, Carrick
If you, or anyone close to you, is affected by any issues in this article, please contact the Samaritans free on 116123 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000