Writer and founder of Mental Health Mates Bryony Gordon joins Happiful’s podcast to talk about mental health, No Such Thing as Normal, and the book that changed her perspective on mental illness
Mental health advocate and writer Bryony Gordon joined I am. I have at the end of 2020, to talk about a very strange year, mental health, her new book No Such Thing as Normal, and challenging her own thought process when it comes to her own mental ill health.
After sharing about her love of the podcast format and the benefits of working and recording from home, conversation turns to the situation the UK finds itself in and the isolation lockdown can bring.
“I’ve realised the bits of me that really like lockdown are my mental illness, so I have to be really careful,” Bryony explains. “I’ve always said that all mental health issues, what they all have in common from anxiety to psychosis and beyond, is that they lie to you. They tell you you’re a freak and that no-one understands what you’re going through when that’s just not true. Not only does someone understand what you’re going through, but they are going through what you are going through.
“Mental illness thrives in a culture of isolation, so when you get into a situation where it’s State sanctioned that you don’t have to see anyone, my initial reaction to that is ‘phew!’,” she continues. “But what I’ve realised as this period goes on, is that it’s not actually that good for me. All of the things I thought drove me insane about life – commuting, the school run, meetings – they kept me grounded in some kind of reality.”
Explaining that continued isolation worries her deeply, Bryony acknowledges that many other people also feel concerned about being away from others, and that together we’re facing tough times ahead.
There’s no such thing as normal
Bryony’s ability to share her own experiences and think about how they might resonate and help others is evident throughout her work as a writer, podcast host and mental health advocate. She founded Mental Health Mates after her own need to know that she wasn’t alone, wrote Mad Girl, which explored her mental ill health experiences and life with OCD, and last year Glorious Rock Bottom documenting her experience of alcoholism and her route to sobriety.
Her new book No Such Thing As Normal, was conceived and written in 2020 and is a helpful guide to mental health and ill health for every household. “It’s all the things I’ve learned about being well from being unwell,” Bryony says.
“I’ve been really privileged to have met some really amazing people throughout my work as an accidental mental health advocate and they’ve taught me a lot, so in the book I refer people on to them. There’s lots of practical advice in there too. It contains all the things I would need to tell myself if I am in crisis.”
“I’m trying my best”
Reflecting on her current situation, Bryony shares that she is simply trying her best. “I have to come back to that whenever I start beating myself up. I remind myself that I’m doing my best.
“I’m not a bad person. Genuinely, for a long time my brain has told me that I am. I’m a person that has had an illness that sometimes causes me to make bad decisions, but I’m not a bad person. I’m just trying my best. We all are.”
The book that made a huge difference
“When our brains misfire, we somehow feel like we as humans have failed and that’s just not the case,” Bryony says emphatically. “One of my favourite books is This Book Will Change Your Mind About Mental Health by Nathan Filer. “It’s fantastic and explains how mental health terminology came about, the classifications and theories around primitive behaviours.”
“It helped me realise that our brain is trying to protect us in some way when it comes to our mental health, but it’s just slightly got it wrong,” she explains. “The key understanding for me was when I came to accept that my OCD was a faulty coping mechanism that my brain had employed for me as a little girl to try and keep me safe, and it hadn’t worked.
“So, now when I find the intrusive thoughts coming in, I can remind myself ‘I’m not feeling safe at the moment, my brain is trying to protect me and it’s making it worse. And that, for me, has been the most liberating takeaway around mental health.”
Listen to Bryony’s episode of I am. I have
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