The mental health activist and writer on why doing the very thing she feared most kept away her inner demons
How did you feel in March when lockdown was first imposed and you realised it could be months before you saw your friends again? Isolated? Lonely? Journalist, author and mental health advocate Bryony Gordon, 40, was the opposite. Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October, she revealed on Rose Gallagher's Beauty From The Heart podcast this week that as someone who suffers from social anxiety, she revelled in the lack of social contact stretching out ahead of her.
"I quite liked that my diary was empty and I didn’t have to see anyone because naturally I’m socially anxious and it appealed to the gremlin in my head because I don’t have to connect with people on a day to day basis," she admitted.
Bryony, who has a seven-year-old daughter, has long been open about her mental health. She has detailed her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, bulimia and alcohol and drug addiction in her Daily Telegraph columns and in her three books including her autobiography Mad Girl and her memoir Glorious Rock Bottom , about her sobriety journey.
Bryony has a fourth book on the way, No Such Thing As Normal, out in January 2021, in which she shares lessons from a lifetime of depression, as well as years of OCD and addiction. "I first opened up [in my column] out of desperation in 2014 because nobody else was," Bryony tells Rose. "Mental illness thrives in a culture of silence; you have to pierce that and get through it. I always thought I was the only person going through it and knowing that someone else is [experiencing the same] is comforting. The only way to get proper treatment for mental illnesses is to talk. Mental illness works by silencing people."
Rates of depression have doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, with almost one in five adults (19.2 per cent) likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic in June 2020 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Bryony reflects on how thankful she is that she is no longer in the grips of addiction during lockdown, saying: "I'm so grateful that I was sober when coronavirus hit, I don't even know if I'd be alive, to be honest, to have experienced it. It surprises me and it still takes my breath away now the difference between my life before and now. I take care of myself and like myself much better now."
In her bid to get people talking in 2016, Bryony set up Mental Health Mates , peer support groups up and down the country. The organisation invites people to meet up, walk and talk (or Zoom) about their mental health struggles without judgement. She was also the first person who Prince Harry spoke with publicly about his mental health when she invited him onto her Mad World podcast in 2017. Afterwards, mental health charities reported a surge in calls.
Despite being an advocate for connection and openness, Bryony is candid about the relief that she felt when lockdown hit because it took the pressure off the need to make social plans. But she acknowledges that it might not have been the best thing for her mental health. "If I don’t want to connect with anyone, I've realised that's when I need to bloody do it. When I want to do it least, I need to do it most," she says.
The revelation came recently when she has a Mental Health Mates event looming. "I was dreading coming face-to-face with people, but after it, I was so energised and I realised that the more connection I have the more energy I have. It wasn't just seeing my mates, I missed the connection of chatting with the guy in the corner shop even, it's all those little interactions."
Rose asked Bryony for her advice for anyone struggling with their mental health. Relatable as ever, Bryony had these tips
Tip 1: Do the opposite of what you instinctively want to do
"Think of depression or anxiety as an alien that’s come in and they don’t want you to get better. So you have to do everything you can to fight it. Do the opposite of what you instinctively want to do. Take it easy but force yourself to do things each day that you don’t want to do, but that you know are good for you. It's a good way to get sorted and take control and connect with other people when you don't want to get out of the house.
Tip 2: Remember uncertainty can bring good things not just bad
"If this year has taught us anything it's that we never know what’s around the corner and just as quickly as something awful can happen, something amazing can too and you need to hold that. Uncertainty can be difficult but it also means you don’t know when the good stuff is going to happen, hold on in there and you can do it.”
Tip 3: Unhappiness is a normal part of being human
"We sometimes feel like a failure when we’re anything but happy but we’re not. We’re just humans going through the normal range of emotions and it’s OK to do that, you don’t have to be energetic and up every day. Just accept you for who you are in all your complicated wonderful glory."
Bryony's Gordon's beauty picks
Bryony shared her top beauty picks with Rose. Before becoming sober she had no self-care routine to speak of, if she'd put makeup on she'd most likely not take it off at bedtime. But now it bookends her day. "At the end of the day I have my routine and it blows my mind that I do all of it!"
Bryony's night time routines includes the Light Salon Boost LED Mask , £395, to make her look perkier and relax her, as well as a shakti mat bed of acupressure nails 15 minutes before bedtime to induce sleep.
Product-wise, Bryony takes her recommendations seriously; "If I see Lily Allen post something I think it must be good, I must get it and that's how I ended up hooked in Dizziak Hydration Wash , £20, which is amazing."
Bryony's daily skin routine
Pixi Glow Tonic, £18
Alpha H Liquid Gold, £33.50
This easy-to-use concealer is a long term favourite of Bryony's, so she was thrilled when the brand contacted her about partnering with Mental Health Mates to create a limited edition version with a pot designed by part of the community, on sale at Space NK. "I genuinely used it before Becca got in touch with me," Bryony says. "You only need a tiny bit of it. It's just the little things you can do to help yourself, little acts of self-care. It means a lot to have a big company partner with us."