I’d never heard of Bryony Gordon before reading this book and I had no idea that her first book The Wrong Knickers had sold over 2 million copies and was already a Sunday Times bestseller. I just happened to be in Tesco one day browsing the shelves and Mad Girl seemed like the most obvious choice, that says it all doesn’t it? The blurb promised humour and warmth, it promised to ‘shine daylight on to the dark secrets of mental illness’ and to do so with jaw-dropping honesty.
Whilst reading the first few chapters I was amazed at the similarities between myself and Bryony. I am by no means a talented journalist, you’ve probably guessed that by the several grammatical errors I’ve probably already made in the introduction alone. She talks about her relatively normal childhood, about her obsession with Take That (however I was more of a Boyzone fan) and her pretty generic teenage years. There is no traumatic moment that kick-starts her OCD. She wasn’t bullied or abused. Her parents divorced much later and she was in fact quite privileged, but for whatever reason on her twelfth birthday things changed. Overnight she became convinced that she had AIDS. She developed idiosyncrasies to cope with the invasion of germs and to avoid contaminating her family. She became convinced she was going to die. The idyllic life Bryony had come to live crumbled away. I making this book sound really depressing, and at some points it is, but it’s also hilarious and almost therapeutic to read.
This book reassured me that others have the same thoughts as I do and that they are ‘normal’, but at the same time, they aren’t. Carrying around your straighteners in your handbag in case your house bursts into flames, clicking your fingers an exact number of times to ensure you’ve switched off the gas cooker, taking photos of sockets on your phone, not leaving the house in days because ‘it doesn’t feel right’, being so convinced that you are going to go to jail and that your baby will be taken away that you can’t watch any program that features a prison (I can’t be in the same room with my husband when he watches OTNB), being convinced that if you even think of something bad it is now destined to happen, constantly feeling guilty that you have ‘no right’ to feel the way you do, feeling like you have a permanent itch on your brain that you can’t scratch, waking up thinking that everything is too perfect and that something really bad is about to happen, and that you deserve it. The list goes on and on. Apparently, others have these thoughts too but ‘normal’ people don’t obsess over them 24/7. Mad Girl helped me understand that maybe my mind is a little bit broken too.
In a way, I feel selfish comparing my life to Bryony’s. She suffered with alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency as a result of OCD. My life has not nearly been that dramatic, but my head seems to be just as confused. I began going to CBT but quit because my therapist kept digging at my childhood as if trying to pinpoint the origins of my anxiety was the key to unlocking it. She made me feel like a fraud. I left feeling that I had no right to feel the way I do. So, when Bryony writes, “…sometimes there isn’t a reason for mental illness. There isn’t one at all.” It actually brought me comfort.
I really recommend picking this book up. It became cathartic to read. Apparently, 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives, so it’s pretty astounding that it’s still a taboo subject. Some of you may be reading this thinking it’s in poor taste to discuss such personal matters online. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I can’t for the life of me understand why mental health doesn’t get the platform it deserves. If you have ever suffered from depression, anxiety or OCD I encourage you to read Mad Girl, however, equally, if you are someone who believes people should ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘man up’ when they are feeling down, anxious and in need, by all means, read it too! Either way, you’re sure to learn, laugh and, perhaps, even heal just a tiny little bit.