Bryony Gordon has OCD.
It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.
Once again, my love of memoirs is showing! I recently bought Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl, and I thought it would be a perfect book to review for Disability Diaries.
I’d not read anything by Gordon before, but after this, I might just have to. In this memoir, she talks about her experiences with OCD, which began when she was around 10, if I remember rightly. She convinces herself that she’s dying of AIDs, and that if she keeps repeating phrases such as ‘let me die before my family’, this will save them from untimely accidents. I think this is one of the (many) things that might shock neurotypical people in this book – because I’m so used to the bizarre ways mental illness skews thoughts and actions, this seemed pretty normal to me.
She also talks a lot about how her mental illness led to her drug addiction and a plethora of bad decisions, particularly within relationships. The book ends with Gordon talking about the breakdown she had whilst writing this book. This level of frankness and self-awareness was fantastic to read, because although she ends the book on a positive note, by adding this she really emphasises the fact that although she might be better, her mental illness has not gone away.
This is not a sob story, though. Bryony writes with a wit and verve that I truly appreciated. (For example, she refers to her OCD as Jareth the Goblin King, which made me nearly scream with laughter.) I know that some people won’t agree with me on this, but I love making light of my mental illness. Many of my friends also have mental health issues, and joking about it with them just makes it feel more manageable, and far less taboo. It does sometimes make neurotypical people a bit uneasy, but if it works for us, surely that’s what matters?
Finally, I personally don’t mind the title – Mad Girl. I think that because this is so clearly about Bryony’s personal experiences that she’s entitled to call it whatever the heck she wants. There’s also a literary reference to Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song, which is one of my favourite poems. However, I can totally understand why some people would feel offended by the title, especially with the push to get away from terms like ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’, etc. I would have liked to have seen a discussion of terms like that in the book.
NB: This is my choice for the Diversity Bingo 2017 square ‘MC with an Invisible Disability’.