"Bryony Gordon cheerfully describes herself as mad. Not faux mad, as in ‘I’m mad, me!’ but properly, clinically mad. "
Here’s a thought for when you next sally forth to do your weekend shopping: every third person you see will be suffering from some form of mental illness. You may even give a grim chuckle of recognition as you read this – because you yourself are one of them.
Yup. One in four of us battles with a range of conditions, often in secret, often alone. Depression. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Hearing voices. Paranoia. Schizophrenia. The figure may be conservative: people who manage to function while dealing with such conditions are notorious for keeping it completely to themselves. They don’t even tell their partners or parents or closest friends. They struggle on alone in shame, somehow managing to stagger from day to cursed day.
In other words, mental illness is – wait for it – normal. Yes, it’s normal. Far from being on the outside looking in, people with mental issues are integral components of society, part of the sum total of what makes us uniquely human.
Bryony Gordon cheerfully describes herself as mad. Not faux mad, as in ‘I’m mad, me!’ but properly, clinically mad. Her extraordinary autobiographical book Mad Girl is one of the most riveting human documents Judy and I have ever read. It is also, because of her sheer honesty and sense of the ridiculous, incredibly funny.
Bryony says that OCD means you can’t trust what your eyes are telling you. You know you snuffed out those candles on the dining table; you can see you have. But the moment you leave the room, you’re seized with the certainty that they’re still burning. So back you go. Again. And again. And again.
"Mad Girl is a watershed of a book: it shines daylight onto the dark secrets of mental illness and shows them for what they are – commonplace. Everyday."
Bryony Gordon describes an endless, whirling gavotte with an entity who forces her to doubt anything and everything. For years, this highly-respected newspaper columnist took her iron to work with her because it was the only way she could be sure she had switched it off and her flat wouldn’t burn down.
Then there are the rituals. The compulsive hand-washing – do it one more time, just to be sure. Sure of what? It doesn’t matter. Just do it. And maybe one more time, just in case. And another. And another.
And let’s not forget those complex internal mantras; words and chants you must repeat over and over so your family won’t die or you won’t catch AIDS or murder someone.
And it’s all one big secret, locked tightly inside your chaotic interior world. To everyone else, Bryony was a witty, pretty, bundle of fun, talented, successful and outgoing. We’ve known her for years and had no idea of the demons that pursued her.
But Mad Girl is Bryony’s epiphany. She woke up one morning and thought: ‘I’m sick of this.’ She decided that keeping silent was giving her illness a status and a cachet it didn’t deserve. So she wrote her book.
It wasn’t easy. Her demons weren’t going to leave quietly. She confesses that writing Mad Girl made her very ill for a time. But things are getting better: she’s in cognitive therapy now and it’s working. She’s even given the chief demon a name: Jareth the Goblin King.
Mad Girl is a watershed of a book: it shines daylight onto the dark secrets of mental illness and shows them for what they are – commonplace. Everyday. Normal.
Perhaps that should have been the title. Normal Girl.
Here are a selection of the reviews for Mad Girl
"I loved it. A brilliant fast and funny and frank look at something that absolutely needs to be talked about in this way"
"A powerful and intimate look at the way our minds can torment us, this honest and rather beautiful book will bring comfort to those who fear they are alone in their madness"
"Funny, warm and fearlessly honest. This book is a must for anyone who’s ever lost their mind but was too polite to mention it"