Bryony Gordon on addiction, OCD and ‘endless ****ing anxiety’

March 28, 2024. Series 7. Episode 85

In this episode I’m joined by the force of nature that is Bryony Gordon. Journalist, author, presenter, podcaster, mental health campaigner, marathon runner, cold water swimmer… there’s nothing this woman cannot do. Yet accomplishing all this whilst also dealing with demons is no mean feat – it is a testament to her resilience, her work ethic and her bravery.

Bryony has an honest attitude towards and astonishing candour about her struggles, both physical and mental, including extreme OCD or pure O, binge eating and severe anxiety.

She tells her story in a way that is as helpful as it is compassionate, champions her charity Mental Health Mates and gives voice to the crisis we face in this country when it comes to the services that are available – or too often not available – for young people who are struggling.

Bryony’s mental strength, especially in the difficult moments, is just one of many valuable take outs from this episode. Her new book, Mad Woman, is out now. Thank you, Bryony.

Key Words
OCD, mental health, addiction, alopecia, trauma, eating disorder, bulimia, shame, depression, anxiety, boundaries, positivity, running, work ethic, balance, acceptance.

Mental Health Mates:

Mad Woman (Bryony’s new book)
The Wrong Knickers: A decade of chaos:
Mad Girl:

Stream/buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning:
Some Velvet Morning Website:
Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream:
Photo Copyright: Laurie Fletcher

Host – Andy Coulson
CWC team: Jane Sankey, Louise Difford, Zach Ellis and Mabel Pickering
With special thanks to Ioana Barbu and the brilliant people at Global
For all PR and guest approaches please contact – [email protected]

Full transcript:

Bryony Gordon:                 That was how low I’d got. My time was up basically. About ten in the morning and sitting on the end of my bed and being like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Because if I carry on I’m going to die.

Andy Coulson:                   Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please do hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.

Today I’m joined by the force of nature that is Bryony Gordon. Journalist, author, presenter, podcaster, mental health campaigner, marathon runner, cold water swimmer. There is nothing this woman cannot do. That she has done it all whilst dealing with demons that would put a brake, to put it mildly, on most of us, is testament to her resilience, to her work ethic and her bravery.

And as the founder of the charity Mental Health Mates, Bryony has delivered on her mission to change the debate around mental health. She continues to have strong views on the crisis that we face in this country, including when it comes to the services that are available, or too often not available, for young people with mental illness.

Ten years on from writing for the first time about her battles with mental illness and addiction, Bryony has now written a brilliant new book, Mad Woman. A no holds barred, honest and exposing analysis of her struggles both physical and mental, including extreme OCD known as Pure O, binge eating and severe anxiety. It’s a book about crisis of the most personal kind, written in a way that is as helpful as it is compassionate.

Bryony Gordon, welcome to Crisis What Crisis.

Bryony Gordon:                 That’s a lovely introduction.

Andy Coulson:                   How are you doing?

Bryony Gordon:                 I’m good, yes.

Andy Coulson:                   How’s the training going?

Bryony Gordon:                 I mean, it’s going, is what I will say. Obviously this is a podcast, but I’m taped up; my legs are sort of covered in-

Andy Coulson:                   You’re on film Bryony.

Bryony Gordon:                 Okay. I can flash my legs for the people watching.

So I am not an athlete, I’m a size sort of 18 to 20 and- but running, exercise generally has been quite transformational for my mental health. The moment I started doing exercise for the way it made me feel rather than the way it made me look was a sort of watershed moment, if you will. And I’ve since done a couple of marathons, I’ve done triathlons, I’ve done silly things like ten 10Ks in ten days.

Andy Coulson:                   The organisation, Mental Health Mates, was born out of you identifying a gap, right? Which is something that you talk about more broadly in terms of the services that we have currently around mental illness in this country, which I want to get into in a bit more detail.

But you’d spotted something there that you just thought, “This isn’t readily available, it’s not accessible at the moment.”

Bryony Gordon:                 No. I mean, it was born out of desperation really, because I was really unwell. I was having my umpteenth episode of OCD and I was out- I’d heard that exercise was good for my mental health and I was desperate; I was totally desperate. And I, like a lot of people with mental health issues, my only treatment for them was alcohol and drugs, and that doesn’t work. Spoiler alert.

I remember I was out running, or kind of jogging, on Clapham Common near where I live, and I was listening to this podcast about this writer called Carson McCullers who wrote this beautiful book called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and she tried to take her life many times and she sadly died of alcoholism in her fifties. But there was this archive audio footage of her, and she said, “Sometimes it feels like everyone is part of a we except for me.” And that stopped me in my tracks because that’s exactly what mental illness felt like to me.

And I was there on Clapham Common you know, huffing and puffing, and I looked out and I saw all these groups of people exercising together. So you had people playing football, mums pushing buggies together, and then the really strange- you know, the people doing military fitness. And I thought-

We hear this statistic all the time, which is one in four people will experience a mental health issue each year. So in my field of vision there was probably like ten people who were going to experience this, and yet there was nothing where people could come together, you know? There’s CBT, hidden therapy that you could kind of access in a shadowy way through your GP if it was available, but there was nothing.

And so I had this idea. I was like, what about walks for people with mental health issues? Because we know that getting out is good for your head. For me, all of my issues want me locked inside. They want me by myself in my bed, because that’s where they can thrive. I’ve always said this. The thing that all mental illnesses have in common is that they thrive by lying to you, and by telling you that you’re a freak, and by telling you that you’re alone and by telling you that no one is going to understand what you’re going through. And that’s just not true.

And how about providing a space where you can start to kind of pierce through that lie that these things tell you?

So I kind of ran home and I said to my husband, “I’ve got this idea. I’m going to do these walks and I’m going to call it Mental Health Mates.” And he said, these were his exact words, “What if a load of nutters show up?” and I was like, “That’s the point.” I probably can’t make that joke any more.

But anyway, so I went on Twitter as it was then known, and I was like, “I’m going to be at this point in this park at this time,” and it was a morning, Valentine’s Day 2016, so eight years ago, “Come along if you want to.” And to my amazement twenty people showed up, and it was just this lovely morning where people were walking around the Serpentine and chatting about treatment, efficacy of antidepressants, and all of those things, in the same way that you might, you know, football in the pub.

And the thing about it was that because when you’re walking forward you’re not looking at each other directly in the eye it was just a lot easier for people.

Andy Coulson:                   It’s a freer conversation, yes.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. So we did it again, and then people got in touch and were like, “I’d like to do one in Leeds,” and someone would like to do one in Manchester, and here we are eight years later and it’s in 150 towns and cities across the UK. We have all these incredible walk leaders. And what Mental Health Mates does now is it provides the training and the resources for people to set up their own walks in their own communities and get some kind of power and agency back over their own mental health.

Andy Coulson:                   That’s amazing. Congratulations with it. It would be a gross understatement to say that mental illness is an issue that’s close to your heart. I think anyone who is listening to this is already getting the idea.

But it’s an issue that’s dominated your life since you first developed OCD as a young girl. Can you tell us please, just give us an idea of how it first manifested and what happened in that immediate period after?

Bryony Gordon:                 So, OCD- this was the early ‘90s and obviously there was absolutely no chat about mental health at all. I remember, I’d gone to the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, it was the big thing and I was 11 or 12, and I just had the best time. I went to bed that night, and I woke up the next morning and I’d had this dream that I was dying of this incurable disease. I woke up and I was like, “I’m dying of AIDS.”

At the time there was this huge public, very shaming public health campaign about HIV and AIDS which was massively stigmatising of gay people and, you know, it was pretty awful now I come to think about it.

But I was a 12-year-old girl. Like, why-?

Andy Coulson:                   But you had obviously absorbed it.

Bryony Gordon:                 But I’d obviously absorbed it and I was absolutely convinced Andy, that I was dying of AIDS. I started washing my hands, and if I wasn’t dying of AIDS there was something else, I was going to get it. So I started washing my hands obsessively until they bled. I slept with my toothbrush under my pillow because I didn’t want to infect my family. I had all these phrases I had to say that would, in my mind, somehow protect everyone and myself from a deadly illness.

And I remember it was Christmas and I remember thinking, “This is going to be my last Christmas. This is my last Christmas,” and I couldn’t believe it because I was so young.

Andy Coulson:                   Did you talk to your- your mum was the first person that you spoke to, wasn’t she?

Bryony Gordon:                 But not until many years later.

Andy Coulson:                   Many years later?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, we’re talking like five years later.

Andy Coulson:                   So you kept this inside for how long?

Bryony Gordon:                 Well it was weird, it was like a period of about three months and it was like, just as quickly as it came, it went. And I think probably my parents thought that it was just a phase. Because you know, young people go- you know, you’re hormonal.

The thing is, it could have just been a phase. Everything we know about mental illness is that like physical illnesses they are very treatable if you catch them early. And if not they kind of snowball and become bigger and bigger. And that was the case. And that’s not any judgement of my parents, by the way, it just wasn’t something that people- and I didn’t know it was a mental illness.

Andy Coulson:                   So there was no conversation around it, because minds weren’t open to, you know.

Bryony Gordon:                 But also, I don’t know. I look back, and I write about this in the book. There were lots of weird things. Like, I remember genuinely really believing that I might be pregnant with an alien. You know that Sigourney Weaver- I was terrified that I had this strange thing inside me. And it was only really when I was writing Mad Woman that I thought, “Oh, that’s a bit-”

And it was essentially, I remember my therapist saying that was sort of a psychotic episode. And I think God, like I was really unwell. But it was just- it just wasn’t talked about.

And it was only years later it sort of came back when I was studying for my A-levels. I can see the stress.

Andy Coulson:                   Just quickly, the period in between was relatively- from a mental health perspective calm, yes?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, I was, dare I say it, a well-behaved teenager, but just with the normal kind of boyfriend trouble, that kind of thing. And then at about 17, just before my A-levels that came back, and this time there was the worry about AIDS but there was also the worry that I might have hurt someone and blanked it out in horror. I started reading newspapers to check that no one had been murdered or hurt in my local area.

I have a much younger brother, and I was worried that I might have done something and hurt him and blanked it out in horror. It was just horrible.

Andy Coulson:                   Were those thoughts that stayed with you, or were there periods were you’re having those, “Oh my God, have I killed someone? I need to check the papers,” do you then sort of emerge from that into some-?

Bryony Gordon:                 No, they were more or less solid. And I remember it was pretty awful, and it was again getting back to that thing of like, I can’t leave the house.

Andy Coulson:                   Which is nightmarish.

Bryony Gordon:                 And then at the time there was this film out. This is where- it’s so interesting how lucky I feel at the time. There was this film out called As Good As It Gets, I don’t know if you remember it?

Andy Coulson:                   I do remember it, a very good film yes.

Bryony Gordon:                 It had Jack Nicholson in it, and he kind of played OCD for laughs. He won an Oscar, and I remember he stepped over each-

Andy Coulson:                   He couldn’t walk on the cracks of the pavement.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, exactly. He played it for laughs, and The Guardian had this big piece about OCD is actually very serious and these are the ways it manifests. And I remember my mum left it out for me. So she must have noticed something, and I remember reading it and reading about this type of OCD whereby you worried that you might have killed someone or hurt someone or done something terrible, molested someone. And it talked about intrusive thoughts, and this type of OCD called Pure O.

And it was like, I couldn’t believe. Like, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “That’s me.” But OCD being what we call the doubting disease, it then went, “Mm, but is it, or are you using this as an excuse?” Just thinking about it makes me kind of tear up.

Andy Coulson:                   Tear up because you can still feel what you felt?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, and it was so terrifying. But I remember also I think feeling really sad for that version of me, that I kind of just thought I was weird and I was faulty. And now I can see that I wasn’t, that I was just a very unwell child. But it was like-

Andy Coulson:                   So do you look back at that period then as a missed opportunity? Because there are a number of things in your story where you could say if things had gone differently you would have reached the sort of level of self-awareness that you have now a lot sooner.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, of course. But I can’t think like that, because that isn’t what happened. And in a way I had to go through a lot of pain, but I’ve had an incredibly blessed life and I’ve encountered the most amazing things and been able to experience the most amazing things because I did miss- those opportunities were missed.

Andy Coulson:                   So you are ultimately and optimist, aren’t you?

Bryony Gordon:                 I’m wearing a t-shirt saying it. I’m not, I’m actually ultimately a pessimist. Like, my default setting when I wake up-

Andy Coulson:                   Really?

Bryony Gordon:                 This morning Andy, and every morning, I wake up and I go, “How can I not do the things I’m planned to do, because I’m-?”

Andy Coulson:                   Okay, and when you go to bed?

Bryony Gordon:                 I feel much more optimistic. I’m like, “Phew, I got through another day.” But I’m in fear; I’m in constant fear that catastrophe is just around the corner.

Andy Coulson:                   Right.

Bryony Gordon:                 And that I think is something that is quite, you know, for people with a background of mental health issues is quite normal. That kind of- the fear of impending-

Andy Coulson:                   Of course. And also trying to apply, “You are,” is a nonsense conversation anyway isn’t it, in a way, because we’re all a number of different things.

Andy Coulson:                   But to say in one sentence, as you just did, I’m not going to look back and be bitter about the missed opportunities with my diagnosis and with other things that have happened during the course of your life. I’m not going to be bitter about the fact that a door that should have been open to me actually remained shut. I’m just going to look back at it and say, “Do you know what? It was tough, and it was difficult,” and we’re going to hear about just how tough and difficult as we talk.

But that can take you into a really dark place, that could absolutely tip you towards bitterness. And it hasn’t, and that’s what I mean about you being optimistic.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, but I can’t- I’m not- I don’t have the luxury of that. As someone with a history of mental illness, as an alcoholic in recovery, as all these things, I don’t have the luxury of dwelling in misery. Because the moment I do that, I am, pardon the technical language, fucked. You know? The moment I start down that path I’m going to a very dark place, as you said.

So I’ve learned, this is something I’ve had to learn, I can choose to focus on the negatives or I can choose to focus on the positives. And when I choose to focus on the positives it’s hard, it’s not something that comes naturally to me, but I definitely end up feeling a lot better for it.

And my brain, as I said, if you think about- you know in movies where The Rock has to diffuse a bomb and it’s like- I’ve said The Rock just because I’m obsessed with The Rock, but anyone, some action hero. And you’ve got the wires are connected-

Andy Coulson:                   Don’t cut the wrong colour.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. And I feel like I was born with my wires- the colours were wired the wrong way, right? So I wake up and I want to go back to bed, and I want to hide, and I think something terrible is going to happen that day. That is instinctively how I feel. It’s how I feel right now, it’s how I feel today. You know, when I’m in book promo or whatever and eyes are on me I’m like, “Something terrible is going to happen.” I can’t just enjoy life because that’s just the kind of mindset of someone with a history of mental illness.

So I have to do- from the moment I wake up it’s like, “What can I do to kind of prove that wrong?” And every day that is my battle, and I have to kind of employ a lot of little things to kind of show that that’s not actually the case. Because every day until today of my life, nothing-

Andy Coulson:                   These are strategies that you’re running in your mind to keep yourself-

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. But the impending doom hasn’t happened because I’m still here and I’m talking to you, and the world is still spinning.

Andy Coulson:                   And not just the world is spinning, you’ve created brilliant work, you’ve made a proper difference to people’s lives. Even if we just look at Mental Health Mates, that has had a ripple effect across God knows how many lives, families, individuals.

Are you able to kind of feel proud?

Bryony Gordon:                 Sometimes, yes. I think I’m getting to that point where I go, “Oh yes look, you’ve done enough. You don’t have to prove that you’re a decent person.” I think sometimes a lot of my work is about proving I’m not a bad person, because that’s what OCD does. You know, it wants you to think you’re the worst person in the world, and I’m just objectively not the worst person in the world. You know, you and I both know there are far worse-

But also, for me it’s about going, “Life is kind of-” it’s more nuanced than that. And we live in this very binary, almost like, you know, we don’t live in the Marvel Universe where you have goodies and baddies, do you know what I mean? It’s me learning that there are bits of me that are bad, and that’s okay.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes, of course.

Bryony Gordon:                 Because we’re all flawed and we all fuck up.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes. So I’m feeling like a total idiot for saying you are an optimist, even though frankly you’ve walked into the building with a t-shirt with it written on, so I’ve obviously absorbed it subliminally.

Bryony Gordon:                 But this is my-

Andy Coulson:                   But isn’t it also the case though that of all of those things that you’re wresting with every day, one of those things is also an optimist, right? And that’s what I’m interested in talking about with you, because the resilience is unbelievable in your story. It’s self-evident and unbelievable. Layers of these crises that you still managed to punch through.

So isn’t that part of you as valid as the other more difficult voices that you’re wrestling with?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. I haven’t thought about that. That’s a nice thing to think of, that I am wrestling- yes, we are all many parts and many different things. And essentially I guess-

Andy Coulson:                   Internal family system. Kind of Schwartz isn’t it, who wrote that, that’s the idea I think isn’t it, that all of these things are-

Bryony Gordon:                 Acknowledging all of your-

Andy Coulson:                   And equally valid.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. And I think OCD is- in an ideal world- sorry my Apple watch is telling me to stand up and move around.

Andy Coulson:                   That doesn’t help. I mean, feel free.

Bryony Gordon:                 It’s alright, I’m quite comfortable. OCD is like a mechanism of checking that you’re safe, I think. And fundamentally inside me there’s a Bryony that knows that I’m safe but needs to just double-check, you know?

Andy Coulson:                   I’m saying more than safe though, I’m saying brilliant.

Bryony Gordon:                 Thanks, that’s very kind.

Andy Coulson:                   Well, it’s evidenced. Never mind my opinion, it’s perfectly evident. Your book being the latest example.

Anyway, let’s move on. I think I’m right in saying that after that initial bout of OCD your symptoms faded- well, they faded for a few years, sorry. After the return of the OCD I should say, it faded again, post A-levels. Is that right?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   It didn’t stay continual thereafter.

Bryony Gordon:                 Well, I guess it’s always been a sort of ticking thing, sort of like a Dido album at a dinner party you know, just quietly in the background. And then it’s kind of come in and out over the years in different ways with differing intensity.

Andy Coulson:                   So give me an example of when it really hit hard again.

Bryony Gordon:                 Throughout my twenties I was working at- well, I still am working at The Telegraph, and it was also just kind of there, you know? But I guess because by that point I’d discovered alcohol and drugs, and boy oh boy did they help me to motor forward for a while. It was like that was how I shut that questioning voice out every night, by just getting on it and becoming gregarious fun Bryony, you know?

Andy Coulson:                   Do you now understand that to have been a slightly chemical thing as well? I mean obviously you were taking drugs and drinking, but you remember that period now as, okay, it actually just sort of worked very directly, right?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   Just go out and get hammered, I’m just not going to have to- and that voice is going to disappear.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. And also-

Andy Coulson:                   It was that sort of straightforward for you?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. It was like putting on a sparkly dress and being like, I can be the person I’ve always wanted to be, who has no self-doubt and has all this confidence and can go and be this sparkling human, you know? And it did, and I always say this with alcohol; it worked really fucking well until it stopped working, you know, until it didn’t.

I’m sort of grateful to alcohol and drugs in a way for that, because I don’t think I would have- sometimes there are points where I look at- in the years since I’ve got sober, right? When I got sober, the year that I kind of went to the depths of my alcoholism my career had never been higher, okay?

Andy Coulson:                   You had these two things running in parallel.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, and that’s not what we stereotypically view an alcoholic. We think that you know, when someone is forced to their rock bottom they’re sitting on a park bench with a paper bag, and that wasn’t what it was like for me. I’ve jumped ahead here but you know, I’d interviewed Prince Harry, I’d run a marathon, it was great. And I realised, there’s a point now where I realise that actually maybe I needed to be that drunk to push myself that high.

Because these industries, as you know, Andy, are not fucking easy to manoeuvre, you know? And they require a sort of almost inhuman kind of ability to kind of navigate them and to force your way to the top.

Andy Coulson:                   They require energy, they require resilience, they require- but they also require professionalism, right? So you were also managing somehow to- because you know, there’s a reason why you were successful as a columnist, right?

Bryony Gordon:                 No, but the professionalism, yes, they require all of that. But they also require an element of your energy that actually now I look and think I don’t know if that’s healthy.

Andy Coulson:                   Health, sure. Of course it wasn’t. And it was a moment in time, different attitudes I suspect even. And also you were around news, right? Continually. So having heard how you’d absorbed things as difficult messages, difficult stories, or from a film even, you talked about Alien, you were in a newsroom. You know, you’re surround by-

Bryony Gordon:                 Adrenalin.

Andy Coulson:                   Actual kind of catastrophe and crisis. You’re in the business of it.

Bryony Gordon:                 People thrive on it.

Andy Coulson:                   People thrive on it.

Bryony Gordon:                 I always remember when something terrible happened, like some big event, people would kind of prick up and get almost excited.

Andy Coulson:                   So how did that kind of react, what impact did that have on you?

Bryony Gordon:                 Well, I wasn’t ever in a newsroom really, I was in what we would refer to as the Cotwsolds.

Andy Coulson:                   It was never called that on The Sun, I can tell you. But I get the point.

Bryony Gordon:                 Whereas in the news- I remember someone at The Telegraph saying the newsroom was Baghdad and the features was the Cotswolds. And I’d think, “Well, you know, it can get dark here in the Cotswolds.” Here in Chipping Norton.

Andy Coulson:                   Exactly, exactly.

Bryony Gordon:                 So I was never kind of that- I was always a bit too-

Andy Coulson:                   My point badly put is that given what you’ve described as your challenges, to be in that environment, albeit on the Cotswold end of it, it’s interesting that that’s where you were, right? And it’s interesting also that that’s where you thrived, because you did.

Bryony Gordon:                 I suppose also yes, there is like, when you work at a newspaper it’s like, “Look, there is catastrophe every fucking day.” You know? Impending doom all over the world, you know? It sort of proves that little voice in your brain right.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes. Can we back-peddle a little bit?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes we can, sorry. I’ve gone off the-

Andy Coulson:                   No, I’ve skimmed over an important moment. Because in addition- I think you’re 17, there or thereabouts, and in addition to these all-consuming overwhelming challenges that you’re facing, you also start suffering from alopecia.

Bryony Gordon:                 Oh yes.

Andy Coulson:                   I’m right? At about 17?

Andy Coulson:                   Yes, all my hair started falling out. Which I guess was the stress of thinking I was a serial-killing paedophile.

So if I explain OCD, because that’s the real- I describe OCD as your brain refusing to acknowledge what your eyes can see. So that your hands are clean, or the oven is off, or the hair straighteners are unplugged, or whatever. And there’s an element of it, Pure O, this subset, which is about thoughts. So we all have thousands of thoughts a day, we are not our thoughts.

And we’ve all had that thought, you know, “What if I just threw this baby on the floor?” when someone hands it to you at a party. Or on the Tube, “What if I just push someone in front of the Tube?” And yet most of us go, “Well no obviously I’m not going to do that,” and we just dismiss it and get on with our day. Someone with Pure O will be so distressed by their thought that they will ruminate on the thought again and again to prove they are not the thought, and that’s the kind of OCD I had.

And so obviously, when people say to me, “I’m a bit OCD, you should see my sock drawer,” I want to kind of wallop them over the head. Not that I’d resort to violence. Because that’s not- my husband always jokes, “I wish you had the good type of OCD,” because I’m kind of feral and a mess at home. There is no good type of OCD.

But that was torturous, and obviously people don’t talk about it. And it’s only been later in my life that I’ve been able to talk about this kind of stuff openly like this. But the stress of that, I really do believe- yes, my hair fell out. So I looked sort of like Bobby Charlton with a comb-over at the age of 17, which is not a great look.

Andy Coulson:                   Not a great age either, to be facing that kind of trauma.

Bryony Gordon:                 No.

Andy Coulson:                   [That must have had a very significant impact on your self-esteem.

Bryony Gordon:                 I think it did. But it also kind of made sense to me, it was like my outside reflects my inside, you know? Things weren’t right. And also, if you have-

Andy Coulson:                   That’s a very smart insight for a 17-year-old girl.

Bryony Gordon:                 But also, if you have big patches on your head, you look unwell and people take you seriously. That sounds awful, but like, there’s still that notion that mental health issues are not serious, you know? And we have sympathy for someone who has a physical illness but not necessarily a mental illness. So I think there was a little bit of relief in me-

Andy Coulson:                   That it was kind of showing, it was a demonstration of what you were going through.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   Right, so did that cause- obviously your family, but the medical professionals that were around you, that led to helpful interventions did it?

Bryony Gordon:                 No, not at all. They were a bit like- I remember my mum- it was the first time I’d seen my family go, “Oh God, she really is unwell.” And that’s not- again, this isn’t like a judgement of them. It was just so evident. And I remember my mum taking- she would do everything to try and help me, but there was just no structure out there to help me. And there still isn’t, to a certain extent.

I remember her taking me to the doctor, and the doctor sort of looked at me and was like- with a way that was like, “There are actual really ill people out there, you’re being a bit vain.” So again there was that element.

But yes, I have a sort of gratitude to my hair, because still to this day it’s a sort of way of me measuring how- I’ve got patches. I always have like a patch here or there, and I have a few patches right now, and it’s a good measure of how stressed I might be. Three months after a stressful event a patch will appear somewhere.

Andy Coulson:                   Right. So it serves as a kind of reminder that sort of-

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, a bit like, “Come on Bryony. A bit of self-care is required here.”

Andy Coulson:                   Yes, yes. Optimist is not the right word, we’ve discussed that and I won’t go back there.

Bryony Gordon:                 It’s alright, we can go-

Andy Coulson:                   But there is- I don’t know what the word is, but here’s another example. You say, “I’m grateful for the issues that I had with alcohol. I’m grateful for the alopecia.” You’re certainly a grateful individual, that’s for sure.

Bryony Gordon:                 But that is solidly because of sobriety, and having a programme. A twelve- step programme.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes, and you’ve been able to get there.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   And you’ve been sober now for?

Bryony Gordon:                 Nearly seven years.

Andy Coulson:                   Nearly seven years. Congratulations.

Bryony Gordon:                 Thanks.

Andy Coulson:                   Let’s move forward with the story. You’ve done some incredible work advocating for body acceptance. We’ve touched on it already, your marathon running. I mean you run the London Marathon in your underwear in 2018.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   You’ve also spoken about how Instagram has been a very useful tool for you, but you’ve also had a lot criticism, a lot of hate on social media, right? Obviously you see it as net positive for sure?

Bryony Gordon:                 It’s interesting, I don’t get- I get a lot of love on Instagram. I mean, it’s 99% love.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes. On other- through other platforms-

Bryony Gordon:                 But through other platforms where I write columns and things yes, there’s a lot of- yes.

Andy Coulson:                   So how do you deal with that? I mean, there’s not a lot of it, as much as there was I suspect at certain points?

Bryony Gordon:                 No, there’s still a lot of it. I get a lot- just the other week I had the most terrible email from someone that just was talking about how disgusting I was. There’s a lot of judgement, a lot of people who- they say this running challenge is a terrible way to lose weight. Well, it’s not a way for me to lose weight, it’s something completely different than that.

I think a lot of women get- who are in the public eye, and I’m not that public but you know, who step onto mainstream media platforms, get a lot of abuse that is sort of normalised. And I really use it as fuel and as sign that I need to carry on doing more of what I do.

And the way I deal with it is I have to be really mindful that these people are not representative of most people even though they look like it in the comments section-

Andy Coulson:                   And they are loud.

Bryony Gordon:                 Because they’re louder and they shout everyone else out. So it’s like the bullies kind of think that they are-

Andy Coulson:                   That’s what it is, yes.

Bryony Gordon:                 And I have to remember that that’s not actually indicative of most people.

Andy Coulson:                   Did that take you a while to work out? I mean, in the first sort of phase of you getting those kind of emails, those kind of messages, what was the instinct?

Bryony Gordon:                 No, it’s still something I really have to tell myself, because it’s still not- you know, you see these messages and you think, “God, everyone hates me.” Of course, most people aren’t fucking thinking about me, Andy, do you know what I mean?

Andy Coulson:                   Of course not, it’s all about them.

We’re newspaper people, you know, this is pre- you know, changes in technology, these would have been letters written in green ink and sent in, right?

Bryony Gordon:                 But I do think it’s really interesting where we go next. Because obviously the comments underneath on newspaper websites create a sort of engagement, but I don’t think you can- I also think that they can, when they get nasty, which is the case on any newspaper with any woman, that is what happens.

I just think it’s gross and I think there needs to be some sort of- you know, these are things that people who in real life would never ever dream of saying something, and they are probably very well brought up, you know? But there’s something about the internet and that space that turns-

Andy Coulson:                   Well, it gives permission and it’s a platform and it allows people to broadcast in a way that they didn’t have before.

Where are you on the impact of technology on young minds? Obviously you’re a mum of a young daughter, where are you on that?

Bryony Gordon:                 I think that in twenty years’ time we’ll look back on the way we used phones and social media in the same way we look back at adverts for smoking. You know?

Andy Coulson:                   Or maybe not wearing a seatbelt?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. I think we’ll be like, “Oh, I cannot believe we all used these devices with absolutely no boundaries.” I have to be really careful myself. I can talk all I want about not giving my daughter a phone, but if I’m on my phone the whole time it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference, you know?

Andy Coulson:                   Because you tell her, “It’s work. I’ve got to do this.”

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, but who cares? That’s what she’s seeing.

Andy Coulson:                   I’ve got to do it, it’s my work.

Bryony Gordon:                 So I really have to be very- but also for my own mental health, if I’m looking down and inwards I’m not in a good place. I want to be looking up and out, because actually the real world is out there and it’s not in my phone, you know?

So I think it has some amazing positives; it has enabled people to- the mainstream media have been forced by social media to use a variety- to basically embrace diversity in a way that they would absolutely not have done were it not for social media. And I think that’s fucking brilliant. So that’s great.

But I think the sort of addictive elements of it, and these things are absolutely designed to be addictive in the same way that cigarettes were, is where we have to be a bit careful. Because the kind of likes and you know, seeing things like how many views a video has got, or- these are all-

Andy Coulson:                   The whole thing is addictive in a way that perhaps other things- even more so than-

Bryony Gordon:                 They’re all working on the same dopamine receptors.

Andy Coulson:                   They are, they are. What do we do about it?

Bryony Gordon:                 I’ve got no idea. I think we talk about it, we keep talking about it, and my daughter is not going to have a phone until she’s in Year 8, and then it will be a dumb phone.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes. Which that idea is getting pace, it’s getting momentum isn’t it?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   If you were your daughter’s age and you’d had the same reactions, which obviously you will have done, for the sake of this argument. You’re having the same experiences, you’re having those same appalling moments as a young girl.

Bryony Gordon:                 Mental health issues.

Andy Coulson:                   Mental health issues. How do you think you would have coped in today’s environment?

Bryony Gordon:                 Well, it’s a difficult one. I think that they are much more educated about mental health.

Andy Coulson:                   So on the one hand you’ve got a higher level of education and awareness, but on the other hand you’ve got a mini computer in your hand that is possibly the most addictive thing that any of us have ever experienced. How would that- I’m just thinking in terms of kids that are going through what you went through now.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. On the one hand they’ll be able to seek out the information about it, but we know there is a lot of very, very, very dark stuff. So I don’t know, I’m not 10. I feel like I’m 10 some days, do you know what I mean? Most days. But I think that there is much more awareness of it. Lots of people come to me, lots of parents come to me and they say, “My child is experiencing OCD, I’m terrified,” and I think, “If you’re getting them help, you’re going to be okay.”

Because I think we need to really- this podcast talks about resilience, right? We need to accept that people will always experience mental health issues. And I cannot protect my child or anyone from experiencing mental health issues, right? These are things that happen in our brain which are often entirely appropriate. My job is to hold my daughter’s hand if those things happen, and let her know that I love her whatever. Completely unconditionally.

So I think that for me it’s about- I’m not sure I’m even answering your question, I can’t even remember what the question was.

Andy Coulson:                   You are, you absolutely are. How does a ten-year-old Bryony today deal with what she was dealing with?

Bryony Gordon:                 We want to protect children, but we can’t. But what we can do is- we spend a lot of time teaching children how to be happy. Actually what we need to do is be teaching children how to be sad, because there are inevitable things. You know, we spend so much time focusing on happiness, and obviously happiness is great; I’m not going to tell you Andy that happiness is overrated, I would love to be happy all the time. But I don’t live in cloud cuckoo land, right? I’m also going to be angry. I’m going to be depressed, I’m going to be sad.

And all of these things are feelings, they’re not failings, you know? And what we need to do more is instil in our children, you know, instead of saying, “Don’t cry, don’t be silly,” sit down and go, “Maybe you do need to have a cry. Shall we talk about why you feel like this?” And this is how we make people resilient. We don’t stop them from feeling what they’re going to feel, we sit there with them through it and allow them to feel these things.

All of my problems in life have come from trying not to feel what I’m feeling. From dismissing my essential human responses to things. All of my problems have come from that.

Andy Coulson:                   So we had Anthony Seldon on, Sir Anthony Seldon..

Bryony Gordon:                 Oh, I love him. He’s a wise man.

Andy Coulson:                   Who is- I think you are absolutely aligned on how we should be approaching this.

Bryony Gordon:                 Didn’t he teach-

Andy Coulson:                   Well, he was the kind of creator of happiness lessons, is how they got branded, but actually they weren’t about happiness they were about resilience. It’s exactly the argument that you have just made, he’s a brilliant man. So you know, there is good stuff going on in schools. Whether there’s enough of it of course is another matter.

Can we just talk very quickly about your work ethic? Because I mentioned it in the intro, and I know you’re going to say to me, “Well, it was another device for me. Work is an outlet for me. As long as I was busy I was able to cope.” But you’ve also just got an unbelievable work ethic, right?

Bryony Gordon:                 I don’t know.

Andy Coulson:                   So where does- well, look at the-

Bryony Gordon:                 A fear of being called lazy. Because when I was drinking and using drugs I was-

Andy Coulson:                   Is it just about that, or is a work ethic- can you also trace your- because your mum’s pretty hardworking too. Is that not just a simpler route from your childhood, seeing a mother who worked very hard, who was- and your dad as well, I’m sure.

Bryony Gordon:                 I think that there is a sense as well that if you’re busy- I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I was talking to someone yesterday because I’ve worked very hard, especially hard over the last couple of months bringing a book out and doing a book tour and everything. And I sort of got to this weekend and I had to run 16 miles with a head cold, and yesterday morning I woke up and was like, not feeling great.

I spoke to someone very wise, a friend of mine, and she said, “You know, sometimes Bryony the challenge is to be still.” And I thought, “Oh yes, that’s true.” The challenge is to do nothing, and to say no. And I people-please a lot, right?

So for me, I think there is an element of workaholism, and if I’m being really successful and if I’m pleasing people at work, then I’m okay. And that works to some extent, but there’s a point where your body goes, “Can we just have a lie-down here please Bryony?” And I think for me it is- I think a lot of us- I grew up with that notion that busyness equals success, and I’m starting to question that a bit now in my forties. Because I do want to lie down a bit more.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes. But you are also driven by productivity aren’t you?

Bryony Gordon:                 Mm. Listen, someone else very wise said to me, “I know balance; I swing past it every day as I go from one extreme to the other.” That’s me, very much so.

Andy Coulson:                   Look, we’re skipping through this but there are other layers that are- and they are- it’s not one to the other, these things are overlapping sometimes in parallel. But bulimia was a significant and difficult part of your life for a period of time as well. Just explain when that emerged and how it developed.

Bryony Gordon:                 So bulimia, I think it was my late teens, my twenties, a lot of my twenties. I think I honestly didn’t see it as particularly unusual, and I actually- the more I think about eating disorders and the more I think about the diet culture that pervades in this country and has done for a long time, and we think we’re getting better at it but it sort of dresses itself up a bit, I think it’s amazing that women- if a woman has ever had a period of eating normally, you know?

Because it’s so- we know that eating disorders are not about weight. They are not weight issues, they are soul issues. But in a world that tells you that you need to look a certain way they are as good a way as any to try and exert some control over a life that feels quite uncontrollable. And I definitely thought if I was smaller I would be more attractive and I would be better.

I knew from a young age, I’d known from a young age, I’d intuited that I liked food and that was not a great thing. It was not good to like food. Everywhere I looked there were people on the cabbage soup diet, the Cambridge diet. There was Jane Fonda and Going for the Burn, these were all really normal things. And I was aware that food was sort of bad, but I really liked it, guess what?

And so yes, that sort of- and I was supposed to look a certain way. I remember from a young age hearing- I remember saying to this woman in my family when I must have been about 14 and I was tiny. I remember going, “Do you think I could do with losing a bit of weight?” and I remember her saying, “Oh, we could all do with losing a bit of weight.” I look back and think God, that was the culture most women my age grew up in. And you know, Rome was not built in a day and it’s very hard to unpick that.

And so yes, bulimia, I think it was just another thing, another way of me trying to take some control.

Andy Coulson:                   And for how long?

Bryony Gordon:                 I’d say a good ten years.

Andy Coulson:                   A decade with bulimia.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, yes.

Andy Coulson:                   Right.

Bryony Gordon:                 I think probably it sort of started to dwindle out as I guess my cocaine use ramped up, I would say. So I think-

Andy Coulson:                   So there’s an overlap with what you’ve described as your decade of chaos, which is the drinking, which is the cocaine, and is the full on kind of, “I’m just going to be someone else to escape from-”

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, and like you know, just sort of seedy- I hesitate to even describe them as romantic relationships, or even relationships.

Andy Coulson:                   You wrote a brilliant book about it.

Bryony Gordon:                 Well, I mean I-

Andy Coulson:                   When did you last read that book?

Bryony Gordon:                 The Wrong Knickers? Oh God, I haven’t read it for ten years.

Andy Coulson:                   You wrote it, put it out there, never went back to it.

Bryony Gordon:                 Never went back to it. I couldn’t.

Andy Coulson:                   Because it is the most astonishing kind of- as an exercise in self-exposure, if I could put it that way. I mean, it’s brilliant and it was a huge success, and I could absolutely see the part it played in your, horrible word, journey. But it’s interesting to me that you haven’t gone back to it at all.

Bryony Gordon:                 No, I would cringe. But also, listen. Every book I’ve written has been about- I wrote that, I literally had a tiny baby in my arms, I signed the contract two weeks after my daughter was born. I thought I was in a different world. I was like, “Well I’m not. I’m safe, I have this nice husband, I have a flat in Clapham, I have a baby, I have a Bugaboo.” You know? And I wanted to let other women who felt a bit chaotic in their twenties feel like there was hope. And for me at the time, hope was a husband and a child. And obviously that has changed, and there’s a kind of cringe element there.

But I thought I was, you know, there was an element of well I was through that so I could write about it. And of course little did I know I wasn’t really through it. I wasn’t through the drinking and the drugging, you know? But yes.

But also it’s just a true reflection of what my twenties- my twenties were awful. They were really chaotic, and I sort of turned them into a- it was a sort of like performance, I’m not going to say performance art, but you know, there was a good way of like, this terrible thing has happened, I’ll turn it into a joke and make people laugh the next day, probably while I’m still high.

Andy Coulson:                   So you write the book, it’s an enormous success. Your profile raises, you’re building a brand for yourself very successfully, but there’s an awful lot of other stuff going on that you’re not talking about, that you’re not writing about.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, the OCD namely.

Andy Coulson:                   Exactly. So how was that impacting you? The fact that you’d kind of got out there, that you knew that there was an awful lot more that a) that you were dealing with, and-

Bryony Gordon:                 But it wasn’t even- I don’t think these are kind of conscious decisions, you know? It didn’t occur to me that anyone would want to read about OCD. Why would anyone want to read about this weird part of me? They don’t want to know about that.

And I remember about six months after the book came out having just a complete- you know, the OCD had come back and it was the worst this time because it was like, “Maybe you’ve hurt your daughter.” I remember being a work, I remember being in the Telegraph offices, and I was drinking. I mean, I wasn’t drinking in the Telegraph offices but I was, you know, my way to deal with it was to open a bottle of wine once my daughter was asleep. So I was kind of perpetually hungover.

I remember just being at my desk and just starting to cry because it was so tormenting. My brain was like, “What if you hurt your child?” and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore,” because this is now not just about me, it’s about someone else. I wrote a column about this type of OCD, and bless The Telegraph for publishing it, you know, because it was, looking back, kind of quite a brave thing to do.

Because I remember thinking I’ll put it down in writing and either the police will come and get me and then it’s just done, do you know what I mean? And they’ll lock me away for the rest of my life. Or they won’t, and other people who have this type of OCD will get in touch and I’ll know I’m not mad, or I am mad but I’m not bad.

And that was what happened; I couldn’t believe it, in droves. Hundreds and hundreds of Telegraph readers messaged saying, “Me too,” and if not OCD then some other form of mental illness. I remember there was this 78-year-old woman who got in touch and said, “I read your column and I realised this is what I’ve had my whole life.”

And I knew then, it’s like the most normal thing in the world to feel weird, but I knew then that that was something I- I mean, I didn’t know that it was going to set me off on this other path, I had no idea. I remember my publishers going, “You should write a book about OCD,” and I was like, “Really?” And I did, and that was that.

Andy Coulson:                   So, before then though, you’ve still got a lot more to get through. As the profile is rising, I think by then I assume you’ve started your charity, you’ve started Mental Health Mates. You’re interviewing Prince Harry, your podcast is flying, but you’re still dealing with OCD but you’re also dealing still with the alcohol.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes.

Andy Coulson:                   Tell me how that- try and give us an idea of when you sort of hit bottom if you like.

Bryony Gordon:                 So, I wrote Mad Girl, I wrote about OCD, and I was kind of really catapulted into this world of mental health activism. And you know, as I was doing that I was realising- as I was meeting people I was realising, your drinking is not normal. You cannot-

Listen. Alcoholism we know is an illness of- most mental illnesses are illnesses of denial. They’re like, “You don’t have this illness, you’re just a dick head,” do you know what I mean? That’s what they say, and that’s where my brain was, you know? It was like, “You’re not an alcoholic, you’re-” And I’d spent a lot of my life trying to prove I wasn’t an alcoholic.

Essentially what it boils down to Andy was there came a point where I was like, it’s just easier to accept I am one, you know?

Andy Coulson:                   But there were some properly dark moments as well, right?

Bryony Gordon:                 Oh there were some really dark moments. I was going- and I knew, I think my career was like that. So I remember, and I’ve written about this, interviewing Prince Harry and then going on this bender. And like, “What just happened?” You know? “What did he just tell me? What’s going on?” And I was taking cocaine and I was telling strangers about this. I remember coming home the next day and my husband being like, “Where the fuck have you been? You are going to destroy your career if you carry on like this.” And I knew that, I knew that.

So while this big thing was happening I was like, “I’m a fraud, I’m a terrible human being,” because I’m talking about openness, about mental health, and yet I’m behaving like an absolute, I don’t know, like an alcoholic.

I remember running the Marathon for Heads Together which was William, Catherine and Harry’s mental health thing, and then quite soon after being like, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this.”

Andy Coulson:                   There was an appalling incident as well at a friend’s 40th birthday right, that you’ve written about?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, where I sort of came to and I was- a man- it was something I shouldn’t have been doing. And I don’t know if I- I wouldn’t have written that book now, talking about that stuff is-

Andy Coulson:                   Of course.

Bryony Gordon:                 But I know it’s helped a lot of other people because this shit happens. Life gets dark, and either we want to help people who find themselves in these kinds of situations and we want to help them move into the light, or we don’t.

So I made a decision to write about that incident, whereby I woke up and came to, and there was a man with his head between my legs. And this man had been giving me cocaine all night, and I was like, “I probably told him that was fine,” and that was how low I’d got, you know?

Andy Coulson:                   Goodness, Bryony.

Bryony Gordon:                 And that knowledge that there were people that knew more about me and what I’d been up to than I did, because I was in blackout or I was high or I was, you know. And that was the sort of- that was where alcoholism and addiction had taken me. And I had this knowledge, like I knew. I’d started going- I’d gone- about two years previously I’d found myself going to an AA meeting in my lunch break. I’d been sitting there and I’d Googled AA. You know, you don’t find yourself in an AA meeting by accident unless you’ve taken a wrong turning to a church choir. And I hadn’t.

But I was like-

Andy Coulson:                   But you weren’t engaging.

Bryony Gordon:                 I was like, no, these people are not like me. I was like, “Who are these weird people that are being kind to me and smiling? They’re happy, they can’t be like me.” So I had this kind of- there’s a saying in recovery where you have a beer full of belly and a head full of recovery and they’re very bad bedfellows. And once you have started going down that route, drinking is just awful. Because you’re like, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this.”

So I had done a fair bit of going to meetings and things, and yes, it was about a week after that 40th birthday party, and then I went out again and just- I knew I had to drink all of the alcohol and take all the drugs in London because it was like, my time was up, basically.

Andy Coulson:                   You were on a proper path to-

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, and I had this crazy night. I wasn’t even, you know, and I again went AWOL. It was not what a mother of a four-year-old should be doing. I remember coming home at about ten in the morning and sitting on the end of my bed and being like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Because if I carry on I’m going to die. I’m either going to die by choosing to take my own life or I’m going to die by choking on my own vomit or something, or falling off a balcony or something pissed.

Andy Coulson:                   You had those thoughts, particularly in relation to taking your own life. You had those thoughts?

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes. Where it was like, this would be a better thing to do. But what was worse was I was going to die by continuing to live in this like fucking groundhog day existence of shame.

I was really lucky, I was really lucky. I got to go to rehab, and I’m really lucky that I’m, touch wood, today still sober. It was the best thing I ever did. The hardest thing.

Andy Coulson:                   Well again, congratulations.

Bryony Gordon:                 Thanks.

Andy Coulson:                   When you released Glorious Rock Bottom in 2020, which is the book about your relationship with alcohol and drugs, did you feel like you’d sort of finally revealed all of yourself to the world?

Bryony Gordon:                 Well, I had at that point yes.

Andy Coulson:                   Obviously the OCD story that’s here in more detail, was that a different- I don’t know. At that point what was your feeling about your degree of openness, I suppose? Because it was again another astonishing story and another astonishing thing to kind of put out there.

Bryony Gordon:                 Yes, but the thing is Andy they’re not that astonishing. These things happen to people all the fucking time.

Andy Coulson:                   I know that, I appreciate it’s not unique.

Bryony Gordon:                 But what’s unique is that I-

Andy Coulson:                   The method of delivery, given what you’re doing for a living and everything else that’s going on, is fascinating, is what it is. It’s incredibly brave, I used that word in the intro and I meant it. It’s incredibly brave, but it’s also complicated and fascinating as to why that’s your sort of method of delivery, if you like.

Bryony Gordon:                 For whatever reason, I don’t feel shame talking about this stuff. In fact it’s how I offload shame. I always remember someone in rehab saying to me, a counsellor, saying, “Shame dies when you expose it to the light,” and that is absolutely true. And for me it’s like I for whatever reason, and I’m sure there’s many reasons. In fact my mum was a journalist, and you know, that this stuff doesn’t feel unusual to me.

And I know that that helps, you know? I know. I just know from my inbox and from the messages I get that this helps people, and that’s all I- people say to me, “What does your husband think? What does your daughter think?” And what I hope my daughter will eventually think is, “Thank God my mum spoke about this dark stuff that-”

I know loads of people go through this. I am not actually that unusual. What I have listed in all of these books is not that unusual, it is quite a- I am not the first alcoholic to- you know, I’m not the first person with obsessive compulsive disorder to have developed alcoholism and addiction as a way to cope with my mental illness, you know? This happens all over the world. This happens to people all of the fucking time.

All of the time Andy, people get into very dark, seedy situations because they’ve been drinking and taking cocaine.

Andy Coulson:                   I’m absolutely aware, and in total agreement with you. My point is the bravery actually, let’s just settle on that word shall we? And I know you’re going to be self-effacing again, so-

Bryony Gordon:                 But it’s okay because I don’t do it anymore.

Andy Coulson:                   So let me finish. The bravery piece is what’s fascinating to me, right? Because that is, given everything that you’ve explained to us in terms of the challenges that you are facing in your own mind, to then say, “Okay, I’m going to get all that out there. I’m going to put all that out there,” is fascinating and is incredibly brave. And we’ll leave it there before you start disagreeing with me.

Bryony Gordon:                 Okay.

Andy Coulson:                   I am skipping through, and I’m doing it with intent to a degree because people need to read this book. But one thing I do want to talk about before we finish is another moment of crisis for you. Towards the end of 2022 you collapse in your kitchen and you later discover that you had an arrhythmia. Tell us what happened, what effect the discovery has had on your outlook.

Bryony Gordon:                 Again, I think the interesting thing about that arrhythmia, it’s a bit like the alopecia. I think it’s a really fascinating way of my body telling me to slow the fuck down, okay?

I realised, like a lot of people during the pandemic I slipped into a depression, you know? And it was the first time I’d experienced a depression and felt that everyone else around me was depressed too. So it was the first time I realised actually it’s appropriate, depression is appropriate, because we’re all locked down, our lives are on hold. And it was the first time I started to think about how a lot of mental health issues, rather than you being a freak for having them, that maybe actually the mad among us are actually the most sane. Their brains are reacting appropriately to things that are happening. Case in point being OCD and mums with newborns. It’s a very elevated way of trying to keep the baby safe.

I think that I- you know, you think, “Ugh, mental health campaigner who can’t-” I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that I was in a bad place with depression and OCD again. And there was binge eating as well, there was all sorts of things, because I think I’d got to this stage where I was like, “I can’t- I need to look like I’m well.” And if I don’t look like I’m well, people are going to be like, “Oh Bryony, we don’t want to read about your mental health issues any more. We’re bored of that, you’ve had that.” As if depression and OCD are like mobile data that have a cap, you know? You’ve reached that.

I think that the arrythmia- this is going to sound really woo woo and whatever, I’ve said weirder things so it’s okay, was really my body’s way of going, “Mate, you’re really not very well. You need to sort of back up a bit and look after yourself.” Because I was really not well. I was very depressed, the OCD had really got its teeth back into me, I was having all these hormonal issues which I now see were early menopause.

And so since then I’ve- you know, the arrythmia was happening all the time back then and it doesn’t happen very often now. The only time it does happen is when I’m going back into my old ways and sort of not looking after myself, taking too much- drinking too much coffee. Taking too much coffee? That’s like the hardest drug I do now, caffeine, and it is a hard drug. When I’m stressing, when I’m sort of getting into that sort of workaholic thing. That’s when it will kind of kick up.

So I guess for me it’s that kind of- I think life is fascinating, it’s a constant journey, without wanting to sound like a sort of X-Factor contestant, of learning.

The reason I wrote this book was because I wanted to show the messiness of recovery, partly. We need neat narratives, don’t we? We like a neat narrative; we like a neat beginning, a middle and an end, and we want our books to be like that too. So I would love it that I’d just written Mad Girl, “I’ve got OCD,” and I’d found a cure for it, and I’d walked off into the sunset and lived happily ever after. Unfortunately life does not fucking work like that, you know?

And that’s what I wanted to show with Mad Woman. And there have been a couple of- some quarters, the usual quarters that have criticised that I have to be unwell to have a successful career, and I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s the opposite. It’s in the constant realising of these strange kind of coping mechanisms that my brain employs, and sort of writing about them and calling them out, that I get well.

Andy Coulson:                   Exactly, exactly.

I’m going to finish by reading one paragraph from your book. So, to set the scene, this is towards the end of the book. We don’t want to give too much away because we want people to go and buy it and read it, which everyone absolutely must do. But you go to a retreat in Haywards Heath and you are dancing. A sematic exercise is I think the way to describe it.

Bryony Gordon:                 I’m glad you picked this.

Andy Coulson:                   Yes, with a group of other women, and you say this.

Objectively I’ve never actually looked madder, but something dawns on me as I watch the other women holler and howl, and it is this: I am not mad. I’ve never been mad. The OCD, the alcoholism, the alopecia, the eating disorders, the depression, the endless fucking anxiety, they were all completely appropriate. They were my brain trying to show me what was wrong with my life. They were a complex response to a very simple truth: that I have never accepted myself as I am.

I think that’s a really important paragraph.

Bryony Gordon:                 I think that’s my favourite paragraph of the whole book, so I’m really glad you chose that.

Andy Coulson:                   Great, that’s good.

Bryony Gordon:                 It sort of sums it up. You don’t need to read any more of it.

Andy Coulson:                   It’s an important paragraph but it’s a very, very important story, and congratulations on the book.

Bryony Gordon:                 Thanks Andy.

Andy Coulson:                   Congratulations on everything that you’ve done. You are amazing.

Bryony Gordon:                 Thanks.

Andy Coulson:                   And thank you for sharing it all with us, Bryony.

Bryony Gordon:                 It’s been a pleasure.

Andy Coulson:                   If you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Bryony, please do give us a rating and a review, it does help enormously. And if you hit ‘subscribe’ wherever you download your podcasts from you will find a lot more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode we’ve recorded on our website,  Thanks so much for joining us.