Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon, is a darkly humourous account of living with mental illness. Since she was a child the author has suffered periods of debilitating OCD and clinical depression. As a young adult she developed eating disorders. She turned to alcohol and cocaine in an attempt to cope with her demons. Now she has decided to talk openly about these issues. Her aim is to out the prevalence of mental illness, to challenge the stigma society attaches to maladies that are ‘all in the head’, and to build understanding of the blight misconceptions can cause.
Bryony is the first to admit that she had a privileged upbringing. Privately educated and from a stable, supportive, middle class family she nevertheless developed anxieties at a young age. She recalls at age twelve fearing she may have AIDS despite never having indulged in risky activities. In an attempt to save her family from infection she washed her hands so frequently they cracked and avoided touching her parents and siblings. And then as suddenly as her acute fears had arrived they passed, until returning with a vengeance, in new and damaging forms, when she was in her late teens.
As Bryony recounts the hedonism of her twenties, how she acquired her dream job in journalism and travelled the world on glamourous assignments, she shares the self esteem problems that resulted in abusive relationships and her self-abusing lifestyle. None of this is to court sympathy but rather to demonstrate how adept people are at hiding what they do not wish others to see. She dreamed up happy scenarios, shared only the edited highlights of her life, and was reluctant to admit all was not as it seemed, even to herself.
Bryony lived what looked to be a normal and successful life, joking about many of her wilder exploits and using them as fodder for her writing career. Now what she wishes to do, in talking openly about what was actually going on during this time, is to demonstrate that mental illness is not shameful. She wishes to engender a wider acceptance that sufferers are not somehow to blame.
It is believed that one in four people experience mental health problems yet still the default is not to admit to such suffering. The cause is unknown, there is as yet no cure, and treatments are limited. This is before the woeful underfunding of mental health provision within the NHS is taken into account. Bryony eventually found help through CBT but only because she had the resources to fund it.
The raw honesty and self deprecating humour with which this account is written makes it a touching, sometimes shocking, yet continually entertaining read. The misery described is never gratuitous. As a social anxiety sufferer I found it uplifting. My hope is that those who do not have to endure such afflictions may gain a better understanding from this highly readable account. Those who do suffer may take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. They too are one of ‘The We’, and we are to be found everywhere.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.