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You Are Not A Freak 

Bryony Gordon Author, Journalist and Creator of the Mad World podcast 

Are we getting better at talking about mental health? 

Definitely. When I compare the situation now to when I first started talking about my mental health, six years ago, the difference is huge. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go and I think sometimes we assume that because high profile people have spoken about their mental health that box has been ticked in terms of the provision of care, advice and support. But there’s a massive gulf between people being able to articulate what they want, and being actually being able to get the support and the treatment they need. Still more has been achieved on this issue in the last five years than in the previous 50! 

What spurred you to do to start writing about the subject? 

I wrote about my depression out of desperation to meet other people like me. I was going through, what you would term a breakdown, which is why I picked up on alcohol and drugs, because they were the only coping mechanism I had. Of course, they actually make everything worse. 

At the time, I had a column on a national newspaper and I can remember sitting in The Telegraph offices, with tears running down my face. The guy sitting next to me, my friend, Joe, was saying: “Bryony, are you okay?” and I remember thinking: ‘I’m gonna write my column about my OCD.’ 

My thought process was that if I put it out and then no one came in and arrested me, then I’ll know I have a mental illness and I’m not bad. Intellectually, I knew there were other people out there who had the same kind of OCD as me, but I’d never met anyone who had admitted to it. So, it was like me raising the white flag and going “If this is you, please come?” I was just desperate to find other people like me. There was no plan, but it set me off on a career path that I could never have imagined. Actually, it was really the start of me getting better too, because the more I spoke out about it, the more I met people, the more I saw, that it wasn’t just my OCD, it was depression that was a problem and alcohol was the coping mechanism I had developed over decades to deal with it, and that I needed to get help. So you know, all of it led from that one thing. 

"Mental illness is very isolating and the situation with the pandemic has almost manipulated our brains into a depressive state.”

You said recently that for some people the pandemic was like being locked up with the worst parts themselves. What did you mean? 

Mental illness is very isolating and I think the situation with the pandemic has almost manipulated our brains into a depressive state. It cuts you off from people and means you don’t want you to go out and connect with people. Obviously, we have a sort of a situation where we are having to do that for the greater good, but I think it’s been really ruinous for people’s mental health. I understand, it’s what we’ve had to do.

This time last year, I welcomed it because it meant my diary would empty and I didn’t have to see anyone and do things that made me quite anxious, but now I realise that the part of me that was relieved was my alcoholism and my depression. 

I was writing a book about depression towards the end of last year, and the things to look out for and then as soon as it came out I found myself feeling like I was clinically depressed. I have all the tools now to pull myself out of it quite quickly, but I worry about people that perhaps don’t have those tools. I know there’s a lot of people who are really excited about the world opening up again, but I think there’ll be a lot of people that are really scared about it as well... 

How do you think the pandemic has affected the young? 

It’s a huge thing. I have a daughter and I worry about that, but I don’t think like the idea that we are going through an epidemic of mental illness and that it’s somehow a new thing. I think people throughout the ages have always suffered from this kind of stuff, but we never talked about it. The other day, my daughter and I were watching the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the children were being evacuated and packed off on a train to the country and my daughter was like: “Mummy, did that happen? So, what I mean to say is that this is obviously a different set of circumstances - and I’m not saying which one is better or worse - but mental health issues are not new, but hopefully we have better ways of processing them. 

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What does it mean for you to connect with other people about mental health issues. 

I felt like a freak for a long time and now I realise I’m actually pretty damn average and that is such a relief. Like alopecia, you can’t see it, but in the back of my head there’s a big patch of hair missing, and I know that it’s stress from last year. Every time I talk about one of these things that I have I get messages from people saying, “Oh, I have that too.” And, I realise that humans are just, you know, we are all a mass of disorders and conditions.

 

So I know, it is the most normal thing in the world to feel weird and I think it is about accepting that when it rears its ugly head and, for me, it’s just been naming it and talking about it.

 

We all know someone who has experienced mental illness. It covers everything from anxiety, through to psychosis and beyond, just as physical illness covers everything from the common cold through to cancer and beyond, so I just think it makes sense for us all to talk about it, because it is only by talking about it, that we get better