I’ve long been a fan of Bryony Gordon. I will often buy The Daily Telegraph just so I can read her articles; I’ve also read all of her books. In fact, her latest book Eat, Drink, Run inspired me to dig out my trainers and try running again. I adore Bryony for her honesty and for how she discusses with humour and honesty the important subject of mental health. I couldn’t wait to see her speaking at the Jersey Festival of Words.
However, there is always a worry that when you get to meet someone or get the opportunity to listen to someone you have admired in “real” life that they won’t quite live up to your high expectations. I only have to think about the time I was on TFI Friday and realised that live television wasn’t quite as much as fun as it seems when you are watching it at home. Then there was the time I queued up for a very long time so that I could get Michael Palin to sign his latest travel book. I wasn’t expecting a Monty Python type greeting but a small smile would have been nice. I can’t bring myself to tell you about the last time I saw Blur perform. They were no longer the band of my youth.
I needn’t have worried about Bryony Gordon. There is no pretence with her. She is always honest and down to earth and that’s why we can all relate to her. On Friday evening I hot-footed it to the Jersey Opera House where Bryony was going to be in conversation with Alexandra Heminsley, author of Running Like a Girl.
It was great to see a fantastic turnout and, despite the event being held on the main stage in the Jersey Opera House, which is a rather large space, the event felt really intimate. You soon forgot that you were in a room with lots of other people as you became so intent on listening to the friendly conversation taking place on the stage.
This was no ordinary conversation though. It was refreshingly honest, insightful, funny and uplifting. At times I had to stop myself from punching the air and shouting yes, and other times I struggled not to get emotional.
Bryony has this brilliant way of dealing with the darkness of mental health. She discusses this very difficult subject with such deftness. She will willingly discuss herself in a way that others might shrink from and that’s why I adore her. She’s not afraid to be honest about her past and ongoing battles.
Listening to Bryony was very raw at times but also very real.
She’s standing up for all of the people battling mental health issues on a daily basis: those who feel they have to be silent, that they have to pretend to be okay.
There were a number of moments that really stood out for me. One of them was when Bryony was discussing exercise and how in the past it was almost another way of demonstrating more self-loathing towards herself. I can totally relate to this because I too have exercised for the wrong reasons. Not to get stronger or mentally healthier but because I want to look a certain way. However, you lose the weight and you still aren’t happy with the way you look because how can you be when you are trapped in that cycle of self-loathing.
Bryony is clearly passionate about the amazing impact exercising can have on our mental health and it has made me determined to try and start exercising again. I need to dig those trainers out. Perhaps I also really need to get over my fear of the sea and try my hand at swimming in the Lido. I was astounded, and also a little in awe, to see that Bryony and Alexandra had risen at 5:30 am so that they could go swimming in the Havre Des Pas on the morning after their talk. I’ve lived here for 5 years and I’ve never even dipped my toes in it!
Bryony openly tackles the taboo that is mental health and made it clear that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. At one point during the conversation, she shared the statistic that one in four people will suffer with a mental health issue at some stage this year. She then asked those in the room to whom that applied to raise their arm. To see all those hands proudly raised was an incredibly moving moment.
We need more people like Bryony Gordon, more people breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health. Like Bryony, we need to keep talking and listening. We need to remember that “it’s normal to feel weird”
Disclaimer – please be aware that the Jersey Festival of Words very kindly gave me my tickets. However, all words are my own!