In one of the first chapters of Mad Girl, Bryony explains that OCD became somewhat fashionable, with celebrities spewing, “I’ve got to have my house clean, I’ve got such an OCD when it comes to that”. And I’ve often noticed the same when it comes to depression. What is still so weird, when it comes to this, is the fact that people still decide to shame others over mental illness – and that’s why so many of us decide to hide their burden.
And that’s how the book starts. Bryony Gordon is a columnist for the Telegraph, where she channels her 20-something adventures into articles. She’s got a great job, and she’s the life of the party. But as she eagerly writes about her crazy experiences, she hides that she suffers from obsessive thoughts and compulsions, bulimia, and drug use that’s far from recreational. In Mad Girl, she explains to us how a life with a mental illness looks like – and accentuates how important the recovery process is.
She goes quite deep with the background that she provides: starting as a teenage girl who first develops the OCD, to her years when she discovers an auto-immune disease alopecia, to times when she vomits to keep thinner. She honestly writes about her drug abuse and doesn’t hold back when it comes to obsessive thoughts on her mind. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll probably recognise a fair share of her memories in your own. If you haven’t, you’ll be moved by her ups and downs.
But although she writes about serious topics – OCD, eating disorder, depression – she keeps the sassy, confident tone of a seasoned columnist and excellent writer. Her story is filled with little details fuelled by humour: say, the moment where she opens the box with the items she owned as a teenager, or the description of the bad, week-long therapy that was more humiliating than helpful. And that’s what gives this book so much power. Bryony’s humour shreds the illness to pieces on paper, without diminishing the impact of the events.
So many times she strikes us with the numbers – those that signal it’s high time for us all to speak about mental wellbeing. She also mocks the long waiting lists she was on to see a therapist, and the mental health professionals who behave like they don’t care in the slightest about the problems you’re looking to relieve. It’s a personal account of recovery that talks about problems that affect a much wider group that often doesn’t get required help, and that makes it truly relatable. She admits she was in a good position: her mum was very supportive throughout that time, and she was born in a middle-class, comfortable home. But soon the story starts to meander, we get to see her problems in a brand new light and start wondering what happened to all of those who were less lucky.
Bryony’s tone – so warm and hopeful – keeps the reader hoping that it will get better at some point. It also makes the topic of mental illness more human. Instead of thinking of people closed in mental wards, we understand that mental illness can affect anybody. It doesn’t choose, but many people still feel they can’t reveal their problems to the others, feeling out of place. That’s why we should look after each other – and speak about what bothers us.
With a collection of anecdotes, Bryony Gordon speaks about things that are very often a taboo – and throws away the stereotypes of the mental illness. Pledging for the change and encouraging others to be brave through the recovery, she brings up the best and the worst in her story to show us that mental illness doesn’t come in all-size-fits-all.