The first thing to say about Bryony Gordon is that she’s unashamedly herself and encourages others to be the same. The second is, I LOVE HER. Not that you’d be able to tell… my northern heritage keeps me from showing emotion, as I noticed to my horror, on my This Morning appearance. People told me to ‘smile more’ as a kid, and now it all makes sense! The only exception to the ‘northern no emotion’ rule is when we’re drunk. Then all bets are off and the flood gates open… which probably explains the high percentage of domestics at weddings and christenings.
Greeting me at reception with that trademark beaming smile, she jokingly apologises if she smells of onions (yummy lunch thing), or seems fragile after a few drinks the night before. I can confirm that neither smelled or appeared fragile, she was just Bryony.
As soon as my arse hits the chair I could barely contain the crazy. “I just want you to know that I haven’t been stalking you.” I blurt out. (We kept bumping into each other and I was paranoid that she’d be freaked out, or get a restraining order).
Something that Bryony and I have in common is, we both experience extreme irrational thoughts, and after she assures me that she doesn’t think I’m a stalker, we discuss this a little. She worries about having killed someone, or molested a child and somehow blacked the whole thing out. Whereas I worry that everyone secretly hates me, or that I’ve sent offensive messages on Twitter/text/email and forgotten. (I spend far too much time checking all of my social media accounts for evidence). In short, we’re both well….. MAD, and this word is what first drew me to her book last year. I read it in two days and fluctuated between tears and hysterical laughter. If you haven’t read MAD Girl already, then you should.
Now, let’s get down to business… I was there to pick Bryony’s brain, not gorp at the Telegraph offices. (Which is like the interior of the Starship Enterprise btw).
You’re very open about your issues with mental illness. Would you encourage others to do the same? Particularly in the workplace?
(I briefly shared my own experiences with discrimination).
In an ideal world yes. I believe that mental health is every bit as important as physical health and if anything, its beneficial to employers that their work force is happy and feel supported. However, I understand that we’re not there yet and organisations need to invest more in mental health training.
But the thing is, discrimination is discrimination and you don’t have to put up with it.
Do you think mental health education should be introduced in schools?
YES! We teach children to be happy and smile, but we don’t teach them how to be unhappy, or rather how to deal with it when/if they do. A lot of mental illnesses develop in childhood and with the right education and help they can be stopped from developing further.
At this point Bryony smiles, takes my hand firmly and tells me to stop apologising for my questions. (Bad habit of mine). It’s a piece of advice that I feel instantly recharged by.
What are your general feelings about the social media and it’s impact?
It’s an easy target to go for, it’s so lazy of us really. I don’t think the SM has prompted a rise in depression, I think we’re just talking about it more.
I understand the pitfalls, particularly for teenagers and I hate the idea that bullying can continue in the safety of home.
However, for me personally, I like the SM. Instagram is my favourite. Sometimes I just love to look at photos of the Maldives, not because I yearn to be there, but because I find it cheering & relaxing to look at perfect sandy beaches. (I confess that I have a similar thing going on with puppies and Jane Birkin’s hair).
You often mention that you’re fully aware alcohol, poor diet and cigarettes are bad for our mental health. So, why do we still do it?
F**k Claire, if I knew the answer to that…. (we both laugh and go off on a tangent for five minutes). It’s a difficult question, but I think it’s a reaction, a short-term relief from pain. Humans like to be ‘out of our minds’ sometimes, we like highs. Saying that, I don’t believe in beating yourself up afterwards. Everyone is allowed a slip and you know that you can get yourself back on track, so I try to limit the shame and self-punishment.
Speaking of highs. You’re currently training for the marathon. Have you found that exercise improves your mental state?
YES! After my eleven mile run yesterday I was as high as a kite! I felt incredible. Running isn’t something that I ever dreamed I could do, particularly as I clearly don’t have an athletes body, haha!
(I refuse to even acknowledge this comment, because it’s bullshit. With the exception of her glorious, superhuman tits, which I hope to God she straps down to avoid injury. Bryony DOES have an athletes body. Sat across from me, wearing grey skinny jeans, she looks incredible).
In many ways I think I’ll be able to cope with the psychological side that people talk about, around mile twenty, because I deal with demons everyday!
You started Mental Health Mates nearly one year ago. How important is community support to you?
It’s not a replacement for therapy and we make that clear. I’m not a psychologist or a doctor. But it was very important for me to start MHM because it helps people to see (physically) that they’re not alone. There are lots of others who have mental health issues, and who don’t fit that ‘weirdo’ stereotype. It’s a place for people to hang out and meet like-minded people. Plus, what with long waiting lists on the NHS, our support is immediate. We’re here to help as a group.
As the interview reaches an end, she doesn’t rush me off. We have a natter about my shoes. (I have a thing for metallic colours, they make me happy).
I leave feeling that in many ways Bryony is the big sister I never had, (sounds so lame, but I don’t give a shit). I expect lots of people feel that way after reading her book. Someone who can offer solid and honest advice, have a bitch with, then go out and get pissed.