Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 1

The Brain Detective with Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan

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  •  02:23 – How Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan’s recent book came about
  • 06:30  – Sweden’s Sleeping Beauties, young girls who lay in bed, eyes closed, for months 
  • 11:16 – The unconscious nature of psychosomatic illness
  • 15:21 – The validity of psychological illness
  • 20:13 – Fine line between control and blame
  • 21:06 – Granny in Ghana and cultural subtleties
  • 28:35 – The language of stress
  • 30:57 – Psychosomatic illness is real – it is not malingering
  • 33:35 – The problem of the mind
  • 38:39 – The pros and cons of diagnostic labels
  • 41:39 – Sienna and psychosomatic seizures
  • 49:11 – Pejorative labels reserved for females – the gender divide
  • 58:45 – The problem with research
  • 01:01 – Misleading and elevated claims – supplements and CBD
  • 01:04 – How labels can make you more disabled
  • 01:07 – Teen suicide and distress expression
  • 01:10 – Psychosomatic illness – learning gone wrong
  • 01:13 – Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan’s tip for surviving and thriving in life



Click Image for links to Suzanne’s books


Guest Bio

Born in Dublin Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan qualified in medicine in 1991 from Trinity College Dublin. She trained in both neurology and clinical neurophysiology and currently works at The National Hospital for Neurology and The Epilepsy Society since 2011.

Her specialists interests are in epilepsy and in improving services for people who suffer with functional neurological disorders. Her first book ‘It’s all in your head, true stories of imaginary illness’ won the Wellcome Book Prize in 2016. The book also won the Royal Society of Biology General Book Prize. Her second book ‘Brainstorm, detective stories from the world of neurology’ uses the manifestations of epilepsy to explain the workings of the human brain. 

In her third book, ‘The Sleeping Beauties and other stories of mystery illness’ Suzanne travels the world to visit communities that have been subject to outbreaks of mystery illness that both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain within the boundaries of medical science.

Over to You

Have you every experienced unexplained illness?
How did you feel when you were told that your symptoms are psychosomatic, ‘all in your head’ or ‘just stress’?

I’ve certainly had this experience and I know it’s made me feel like I’m going mad or imagining things. It’s made me very wary of going to the doctor for fear they think I am a hypochondriac. I also feel like I have to say I work for myself so that they know I’m not looking to pull a sickie.

I’d love to chat with you about the episode, please do share your thoughts, insights or questions in the comments below. 

Tune into Thursday’s booster episode where I’ll be taking a deeper dive into psychosomatic illness and functional neurological disorders.

Don’t forget to share the episode on your social media.


Dr Sabina Brennan 0:01
My name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My favourite books, films and TV shows are mysteries, detective stories and psychological thrillers. As a psychologist I’ve learned not let the psychological inaccuracies that sometimes appear in these books spoil my fiction fun. But I had to do no such thing with Susanna Sullivan’s new book the sleeping beauties. Although Suzanne writes nonfiction, her books are equally if not more fascinating and thrilling than any fiction book I’ve ever read. Suzanne is a detective of sorts, who unravels real life mysteries by delving deep into the brain and the human psyche. Suzanne is a neurologist who drew on her 20 year career seeing 1000s of patients to write her first two books. Her first book, It’s all in your Head, won the Wellcome Prize in 2016. Her second book brainstorm explores the intricacies of the human brain through epilepsy and other seizures. Suzanne has a rare gift for insightful storytelling which makes her third book The Sleeping Beauties, a wonderful journey of discovery, both physically and metaphorically, as she explores some incredible, mysterious, psychosomatic illnesses, and mass hysteria, from children in Sweden who fall asleep for years, high school students in New York with contagious seizures, and several embassy officials with headache and memory loss following assault by non existent Sonic weapons. The stories are absolutely fascinating. But what sets this book apart is the ease with which Suzanne lets the reader inside her own brain as she solves these mysteries, and wrestles with her own prejudices, and the failings of her chosen profession.

Dr Sabina Brennan 2:02
So Suzanne O’Sullivan, I am so delighted and excited to have the opportunity to speak with you. Usually, with my guests, when they’ve written a book, I like to leave reading the book as close as possible to the recording so that it’s fresh in my head. The book is called The Sleeping Beauties.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 2:22

Dr Sabina Brennan 2:23
And it’s very aptly named. And it is a fantastic journey, through the telling of various stories of unusual phenomenon that have occurred, it is the story in a way of the human condition of how society influences the human condition and the role in a way that Western medicine and other cultural aspects influence our behaviour in certain times and in certain contexts. I find it absolutely fascinating. But first, what I would really like if you could just tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up in the career you’re in. And I don’t mean that that sounds like a bad way away ended up in this career, but how you came to be where you are? And actually really what drove you to write this book?

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 3:15
Yeah. So just my own background. Well I’m from Dublin, and I studied medicine in Trinity, and I am now a neurologist at the National Hospital of Neurology in the UK. Now, how did I end up there is .. You know, it wasn’t… I think a lot of people like to think that doctors, you know, have a vocation and that they want to save people and things like that. But you know, when you’re 16 and you’re choosing your university course, I think a lot of us don’t know, what we want to do. So I would say it was very much accidental that I ended up being a doctor because I didn’t have a clear vocation. I’m obviously very pleased that that’s how things worked out for me, because I think medicine’s an amazing career, it offer something for everyone. If you like people, if you don’t like people, if you like stories, or, or if you like small scientific things, then you will find a place in it. What I actually always wanted to be when I was in school was a writer actually. But I do recall that my mother told me that, you know, writing was something you did after you had a proper job. You know but that was, after all the 1980s when people worried about paying mortgages and buying houses, which I suppose they do now, but particularly so then. I spent many, many years as a doctor before I revisited my love of writing, and decided it was time to write a book. And being a doctor. I’m hearing stories all the time. So the obvious place to start was to write about my own patients. So a few years ago, I started writing about my experience of being a doctor and the things my patient’s told me and the things I learned from them. And I loved it. It just opened a whole new world up to me. And I’m now on my third book, which is The Sleeping Beauties, which began with a very…. I’m really fascinated by psychosomatic conditions, I’m really fascinated by how we kind of ignore them and dismiss them and make mistakes about them and how misunderstood they are. And I read this amazing story on a BBC website about these children in Sweden who had fallen asleep into this condition called resignation syndrome, where they fell asleep for months, and some of them even for years at a time. And all of their tests were normal. And their brain scan said they’re not asleep, they’re awake. So this was clearly a psychosomatic condition because it couldn’t be explained by disease. And as a story, the more I learned about the story, the more I I just saw examples of what happens to my patients is how hard it is for people to admit that psychological suffering leads to physical suffering. Because as I read about the story, I discovered all these children had tragic backgrounds. They all were from asylum seeking families, what was happening to them a condition called resignation syndrome was intimately linked to the risk of being deported from Sweden where they all lived. And I thought, Well, here we are, again, we’re giving mystery names, and medical names or medicalising social suffering. And I thought, well, that’s something I need to learn more about. And so The Sleeping Beauties was born.

Dr Sabina Brennan 6:13
Yeah, and it’s fantastic. absolutely fascinating. It’s something that interests me too These girls, these young girls in Sweden, they were in that awful position of being threatened with being sent back

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 6:26

Dr Sabina Brennan 6:27
to terrible situations.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 6:30
What happens is that, you know, the, the two girls I met, originated from Syria, and were asylum seekers in Sweden. And they lived, they arrived in Sweden when they were sort of four or five years old. So that, you know, they’re the li… when I met them, you know, was five or six years after that, the lives they knew in Sweden were the only lives that they knew. And during the time that they’ve been in Sweden, their families were fighting for the right to stay. And then suddenly, at the age of sort of 10, or 11, they’re faced with the prospect of being deported. And they became overwhelmed by this thing that’s called apathy, where they just gradually withdrew from normal life. You know, started out by not eating that much, not talking so much, not communicating, until they get to the point where they go to bed, lie down, close their eyes, and don’t open them again. So I met these two little girls, one of whom, the 10 year old, was, had been in bed for a year and a half, without moving, talking, interacting. She was kept alive with a feeding tube, her mum did physiotherapy. And her sister who was 11 had been like this for six months. And I suppose, So what shocked me, I went to visit these girls with the expectation of being shocked by how sick they were, by the fact that they were being cared for at home, which speaks to our neglect of psychological conditions and speaks to our neglect of people like who are forced immigrants, or asylum seekers, I don’t think we’d allow our own children to lie at home for a year and a half without active medical care. But actually, when I got to Sweden, something shocked me that I wasn’t expecting, which was that everybody was talking about what brain scans they should do on these children to explain their problem. You know, what they wanted me as a neurologist to advise them on what chemicals in the brain were causing them develop resignation syndrome? And I just felt like, surely everyone can see this as a social problem. You know, why did they want me to do a brain scan? You know, everyone should be arguing about the social circumstances that have come together to create this illness? And that was quite shocking to me, because it reminded me for my own patients, well, why would they express their distress about psychological or social issues, if nobody really cares about that aspect of things, or if they’re less sympathy, so it makes sense to express your distress through physical symptoms, because people have more sympathy for that. That’s what was happening with these children, they could only express their distress in the most effective way, which was through physical symptoms. And even then people want to cure them with brain scans. So that was really where this whole sort of idea of trying to understand the social kind of political cultural things that influence the way we express distress and how we interpret our bodily changes and how they shaped what we call illness and what we don’t call illness came about, I’ve now forgotten what question you asked me because I tend to

Dr Sabina Brennan 9:19
It doesn’t matter because your answer is fascinating really. You know, and I think you articulated so well, that you know, what’s screamingly obvious to you. Because clearly you are a doctor that has the blinkers off and is looking at the whole picture. And I think you’ll agree not all doctors do that. By definition. When you’re trained as a doctor, you’re trained to specialise. And unfortunately that specialisation can make it difficult for you to see the wood for the trees. And so your focus on a symptom, obviously looking for a cause but looking for the type of cause that you’re trained to look for. So they expected appealing to you, you know, our children are behaving “abnormally” and I’m waving those fingers, listeners to indicate I’m saying that in inverted commas. They are behaving abnormally in an…. if everything were normal, you know, if their lives were perfectly normal. But they’re behaving in a context, and it’s the context, that is key. And what I love about the book I’m passionate about, you know, the relationship between the brain and behaviour and the lack of understanding that people have of how the brain works, and how it is a dynamic organ that influences our behaviour, but it’s also influenced by our behaviour. And it is looking for patterns. And it is looking for cause and effect, and it’s looking for solutions. And it does that simply through trial and error. And so if those kids try speaking about their psychological issue, and it gets no response, and as we often do with kids will say, Oh, don’t be silly, don’t worry about that this is an adult thing, then, you know, if they try withdrawing, and saying nothing, perhaps then attention…. actually, people start to pay attention. Of course, this is all unconscious. This is not happening in a conscious way. They’re thinking part of the brain actually, isn’t doing this work. You have two parts of the brain and very important parts of the brain that are unconscious and unthinking. But they are absolutely trying to make sense and respond.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 11:16
Yeah, totally. I mean, that’s… it’s always a risk, isn’t it? The minute you start saying, well, this is a more effective way I mean, I said, this is a more effective way of asking for help it sounds to people, as if there’s something deliberate in this but of course, the unconscious part of it is most important. But just going back to a point you made a moment ago about doctors being so specialised Yeah, you know, that’s the problem is I think, general practitioners are actually pretty good at this, I think general practitioners get to know their patients and have more of a sense of the whole picture. But neurologists like myself, you know, someone can come to me with a headache, and I’m well within my rights as a highly specialised doctor, to just prove that they don’t have a brain tumour or a serious brain disease, and then just tell them, well, you don’t have any of the things that I deal with. And now you’re free to go, yeah, it’s very, very easy for us to sort of just focus on one tiny little bit of the body, and rule out our little thing, and then discharge people. And that’s these people fall between stools, because they can’t find anyone who can be responsible for their full care. But then coming to your second point about the sort of unconscious expectations, I mean, what’s very likely happening in these children is that, you know, cultural models of illness, so what we call illness are sort of programmed into our brains from childhood, you know, this happens to your body, it means this, and these sort of things happening to body are acceptable, and these sort of things happening to your body are not acceptable. So some diseases, obviously, you know, objective and nothing to do with anyone’s opinion, if you if you have a particular type of cancer, or diabetes, whether you believe you have it or you don’t, it will make itself known. But there’s also a whole range of illnesses that only exist because we say they’re illnesses. And if we say that a certain level of sadness is depression, that becomes an illness. But another certain level of sadness is not depression, it’s not an illness. And all of that is programmed in our brain. So I grew up with the lexicon of this change in my body is a disease and that change isn’t. And that’s what will have happened to these children. They also have expectations of what happens when you face deportation, you know, and your nervous system overwhelms you, you know, if your belief is that deportation can lead to resignation syndrome, then your body may fulfil that expectation. And it does. So by you know, if you’re in a stressful situation, your physiological changes will occur, your heartbeats faster, your breathing changes, your skin changes, and that happens to all of us. And irrespective of the cause of the stress, we all get those same physical changes. But then what happens is if you happen to be someone who is aware of a condition called resignation syndrome, and you feel those first changes, it’s inevitable that you’ll think oh, well, I think that this first change could be the start of this. And then you start looking for the other symptoms that go with that diagnosis of your expectations. And the more you search for symptoms, and look to see how your body will behave in a certain circumstance, the more that that can actually be played out. And obviously also paying attention to your body will heighten those physiological changes that started the whole thing in the first place. So it’s a sort of a expectation that has inadvertently kind of played out your nervous system is overwhelmed by your expectations. And, you know, that happens to any of us. I mean, we’ve all just had hopefully, vaccinations for COVID. And, you know, the minute you get a vaccination, I always think of it like when I actually although I’m a doctor, and I’m quite happy to inflict pain, I don’t particularly like having inflicted so when I see that needle coming to inject me, I’m already anticipating the pain. Yes, you know, and we’ve all had that. experience where you start feeling the pain before they’ve even put the needle into your arm. You know, there’s so much you mentioned, the sort of unconscious processes, I think we give our brains, we give ourselves too much credit, there’s much more going on at an unconscious level than at a conscious level. And we think we’re completely in control of everything.

Dr Sabina Brennan 15:18

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 15:18
we’re not and we need to accept that.

Dr Sabina Brennan 15:21
I say that all the time. And I tried to make it an empowering way. You know, we, we whoever we are, which is really just….. Well I believe we are our brains. It’s just whatever our brain, the information our brain has taken from various sources, some from within some from society, some from culture, some silly things that people said to us donkey’s years ago, and your brain just aggregates all of that information. And that’s who you think you are, you know, that is your concept. And I think that’s empowering, because you can change those bits of information, and you can become something else. But I also think that we consciously as you just said, we give ourselves our sense of self, too much credit and too much work in a way. And I think in there is a solution to some of these issues around stress and coping is that we don’t give our brain the freedom to find the solutions to figure things out to make life easier for us. Because our brain can do that, because it has access to lots of information from our lived life experience, from books, we’ve read from everything your brain has access to that. Your, you know, unconscious parts of your brain or that access can be reached while you’re asleep. And actually, if we leave some of those stresses, and some of those issues with our brain a solution can, you know, emerge. But I think what is really interesting is, what your book really illustrates very, very well, is that there’s a value system, certainly in Western society that suggests that physical illnesses are somehow more valid than and I’m loathe to use the word psychological illnesses, because I don’t believe that any illnesses is one thing. It’s the result of a confluence of multiple factors and effects. You know, I mean, we have evolutionary processes, we have genetic influences on genetics aren’t determined, and you know, because genes can be switched on and switched off by certain environmental factors, we have our upbringing, we have, you know, our sense of who we are, we have so many factors come into every equation in terms of how we might interpret a signal from our body, there’s regular signals that a lot of people have forgotten to listen to, I frequently talk about loneliness as a signal, just the same as hunger is a signal to eat, loneliness is a signal to get connected, because we need connection as social creatures, but for some reason, we’ve placed a value judgement on loneliness, and said, Oh, that’s not something that people actually should experience. But it is something that we just experience, I mean, every single emotion we experience is valid, you know, you have a thinking brain then to establish whether in this situation, this emotion is appropriate or not. And that appropriateness is determined by lots of factors, social factors, cultural factors, etc. but certain societies, and I can speak mainly about Western society, we have decided that some emotions are bad, and some are good, and some feelings are bad, and some are good. So loneliness is somehow a bad negative feeling. Anger is a bad feeling, no it’s not anger is a feeling that can motivate you to action, if something needs to be changed, if it’s not dealt with, it may come out in appropriately. And that’s where it becomes problematic. But there’s nothing wrong with that feeling. In and of itself,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 18:35
I feel a lot of people like to pathologize those things as well. So just you know, that being a certain amount of anger or sadness has to be an illness or a disease that needs to be treated by a doctor. And but actually other cultures, I think Western medicine has quite a feeling of superiority on this kind of subject. We think we write great journal pieces, and we do brain scans on people and therefore our way is more scientific. And but actually, you know, other cultures often conceptualise disorders, like the problems you’re talking about, like anger, or loneliness, or sadness, as situational rather than being about a personal psychological thing. And you know, that may very well be a much more realistic or a more better way regarding it, it’s less personal, and it gives you an opportunity for change. Whereas I feel that, you know, I hear people now saying to me, oh, you know, my serotonin levels are low or you know, so it’s all got to be located in something that’s nothing to do with you or your life or your decisions or the pressure you put on yourself. it’s to do with your neurotransmitters and your hormones.

Dr Sabina Brennan 19:38
But I think that approach though, shows a lack of understanding of the brain so people get a little bit of knowledge. I’m all for it. You know, My dad always said a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I’m all for having lots of knowledge. And that’s where the danger comes when people talk about serotonin levels, and they’re absolutely right. They influence mood, but they’re not something that happen in a vacuum of your brain. As you know, it doesn’t just happen that your serotonin levels are low or your serotonin levels are high, you have control over that you can go take a run, and it will boost your serotonin levels, you can smile and it can boost your serotonin levels.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 20:13
People sort of like to talk, you know, there’s a bit of a problem between the idea of having kind of control and being blamed. Yes, if you talk too much about a person’s life or their life choices, as a doctor to a patient that can be perceived as blaming someone’s life choices for the situation in which they find themselves. Whereas I personally find those conversations useful because if my life choices are responsible for how I’m feeling, then I can change.

Dr Sabina Brennan 20:41
Yes, like, Yes,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 20:42
I think it’s about control. But I understand that some people think it’s about blaming, but you know, you’ve got certain things you can change in your life. And, you know, it’s, it’s helpful if rather than focusing on neurotransmitters, you focus on the things that you actually have within your grasp to change.

Dr Sabina Brennan 20:58
I just want to jump into one of the stories. And I, you know, it’d be nice to share a couple of the other stories. The one that I want to touch on is the girls in the boarding school.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 21:06
Yeah, so this is an incredible story that was told to me by an anthropologist so this anthropologist went to work in Ghana, where they had set up a boarding school system for children who lived in really remote areas. So there are some places in Ghana where it’s just so remote, that they can’t really educate everyone equally. So for a long time, girls weren’t getting the same level of education as boys. So they set up boarding schools, so the girls could stay until school until the end, which obviously is nothing but a positive change on the surface. And the anthropologist went to study the effect of the educational system on the community. But she hadn’t been in the school very long, when children, girls in particular started disappearing from her class. Now the first time it happened, she was told by the classmates, that granny had come for the girl. And she didn’t really sort of understand what was happening, but was told by teachers if the girl had fallen ill and family had come and taken her back to their village. That was all fine when it was one girl but then girl after girl started disappearing from the class. And this sort of “granny took her” started taking on a kind of an ominous quality because it was repeatedly said, the anthropologist thought in the first instance, that this was going to be something like malaria or a tropical illness. But as the community got to know her a little bit better, they revealed that these girls were having seizures. And what was happening at nighttime in the dormitories is that one girl would have a seizure, and then the seizures would spread through the dormitory really quickly. And that the community attributed this illness to a spirit called Granny. Granny was not a kind of kindly old matriarch of the family, granny was a spirit that the community believed lived in the mountains that came to infect the girls causing them to have seizures. And the only way that they could be cured would be if they were taken back to their villages to be removed from the influence of granny. And that was the cure. Now I think most of us sort of if you live in Ireland, if you live in England, you hear a story about spirits coming down from mountains to, you know, all sounds like very full of superstition. And it all sounds like something which is actually very unlike anything that happened to us, I would have to say that I see young women in particular, but young people in general with seizures like this all the time, seizures that have a psychological cause. We just don’t employ a sort of explanations like Granny, we employ explanations like viruses and toxins, we have our own set of explanations. Now, when I encountered that story, first I had all the things that are prejudices that all Western medical people had. And in fact, the townspeople who were sort of torn between traditional forms of medicine, and Western medicine had gone through the full range of medical tests that we would go through. And in fact, the community had even called in a psychologist to diagnose what was happening to the girls, and she diagnosed mass hysteria. And that really caused absolute ructions in the town. Because as you can imagine, that’s perceived to be a pejorative diagnosis. And it really just alienated the young women from the psychologist and the medical community, and really just reinforced the sickness rather than helping. But what I learned when I then listened to the anthropologist story more was how pejorative the whole reduction of this disorder to being one of ‘the girls didn’t want to be in school, they were stressed, they had seizures, so they should go home’. And that was the cause of the mass hysteria. And that was a formulation that we use to explain that disorder. But actually, when you listen to the story, much more completely, it was a much more subtle thing going on. And that’s why listening to patients and understanding the subtleties is so important. Because if you just say, you’re stressed, that’s why this happening to you. People don’t relate to that explanation. So first of all, these young women came from a very different social structure to ours. So traditionally, in their communities, women stay at home. They don’t learn the way we learn. So we learn By reading books and going to classes and hearing lectures, they learn by embodied learning. So they learn by proximity. So to give an example, if you’re learning to cook through embodied learning, you’re not given a recipe, and you’re not given instructions of how much of stuff to put in, you basically share the space with somebody, and you learn by participating and being with somebody. Traditionally, within these families, men went away, and were the community’s sort of link to the outside world. Women stayed within the village, looked after the village learned through embodied learning. And that was their sort of traditional role. By taking these young women and putting them into the boarding school and expecting them to learn in this type of didactic way, they have been removed from everything that was normal to them. Family connections were made through proximity, not through blood. So the person you live with is your family, not the person who’s your kin by blood. So their family structure had been broken up, their systems of learning had been broken up, their social structure had been broken up, and they were being subjected to learning which neither suited their type of learning, nor would ever be of any use to them in the future. What’s more, they had a much more sort of holistic view of health, they don’t believe that illness is something that kind of comes from within, they think it comes from the outside. So be it from a spirit causing you to get sick or something in the environment causing you to get sick. So it was very natural for them not to look for psychological causes, but to look for things outside themselves that would explain what was happening to them. So really, what this sort of the sickness caused by granny was, it was a way of solving a social problem that made sense to that community. So that when the psychologist came in and just said, well, they’re stressed, it’s hysterical. And you know, this is a psychological problem, it made no sense to this community at all because they did not think about health in that way. And it didn’t take into account in any way, their traditional ways of living their lives. And I realised that for my patients, you know, because this is a doctor’s training, I would often reduce things to psychological or stress, you know, and when you lose the nuance in a story, of course, you will end up with a lot of patients who think you’re not listening to them, because you haven’t understood what they’re trying to tell you. Of course, as a psychologist, you know, you get more of a chance to hear the full range of a person’s story. But as a medical doctor, you tend to hear symptoms, and you lose all of the rest of the story. But it was lovely for me to go around lots of different communities, and understand how much these sort of intricacies of their lives and the nuance in their stories mattered to what was happening to them.

Dr Sabina Brennan 27:38
Yeah, and essentially, it’s that thing as well, that, and I hear it a lot from people, when we’re talking about brain fog, you know, those kinds of symptoms, and they go to the doctor, and they’re concerned, because it’s functional, and it’s actually preventing them from carrying out their jobs, and it’s interfering with their relationships, etc. And they feel that they’re not heard by the doctor, or, and then not being heard. Maybe that, you know, they say, look, it’s likely to be stress. Now, actually, the doctor could be right. You know, it could be stress, but when it’s that general term, and people again tend to think of stress as this sort of ephemeral thing, or, you know, and also something external, but you know, psychological stress, will, I feel I almost want to apologise for saying psychological stress, because people then some, I think that that’s not real, but it’s very real.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 28:24
It is a lot to do with language.

Dr Sabina Brennan 28:25
Oh, a huge

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 28:27
Yeah, I mean, stress isn’t wrong in these instances. But it just what people understand by stress is just so kind of singular and so simple.

Dr Sabina Brennan 28:35
Yeah, I think the problem is, again, it’s language because stress, unfortunately, is used to describe the thing that stresses us, it’s used to describe the physiological response to that threat. So I tend to try and, you know, say maybe that’s the stressor or the threat, if your physiological response, but you also have your psychological stress response, which kicks off the physiological one, whether there is an objective stressor or not. And that’s irrelevant. The fact of the matter is the physiological response is kicked off. And that can have a cascade of events that actually can ultimately manifest physical symptoms. Because if your immune system is lowered by chronic stress, you’re going to catch every bug that’s going or whatever. That’s another thing that your book really touches on, is the language of particular disciplines, medicine, etc. They’re often taken to be real. And essentially, really, they’re just set up as means to efficiently and effectively communicate a set of symptoms or something like that, so that medical professionals can talk to each other in a form of shorthand, but it doesn’t mean that there’s something concrete there, and I think that’s problematic.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 29:40
I see people who have seizures caused by dissociation, and it all sounds very sort of something that happens to other people and, but all of these sort of things are just the normal. And I think it’s helpful to say this to patients since you know, you said that sometimes it’s all too much to cope with. And yes, I get that and we all dissociate. We all have moments when the mind just kind of wanders off, you can take in a bit of information. So in a funny way, these are our protective mechanisms that basically have gone awry. And they’re all physiological things that happened to all of us. But I wish we didn’t have to, you’ve apologised for the word psychological about three times during this conversation

Dr Sabina Brennan 30:17
Well I didn’t apologise. I said, I feel like I know that I will never apologise. But it’s just, I suppose, because in the context of what we’re discussing, that’s what we talk about over and over again, in the book

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 30:28

Dr Sabina Brennan 30:28
it’s that sometimes it’s like, you know, it comes from the doctors, too, that somehow psychosomatic is made up. And you’ve said that repeatedly over the various different groups of people who experienced these phenomenon, where when they were told it was psychosomatic, They said, “I couldn’t act, that”… “why would they act that?”…” Why would they act being asleep for a year and a half?” No, they’re not acting. This is not conscious behaviour, but it’s psychological behaviour. Soma – influencing the body.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 30:57
Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing, you know, we really aren’t. Yeah, we haven’t touched the surface – there are interested positions. But then there’s a whole bunch of other people who the minute you say psychosomatic, they just Yes, they equated with malingering.

Dr Sabina Brennan 31:11

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 31:11
they’ll really struggling to understand the difference between malingering, they also struggle to understand the sort of…. these things feel impossible to people. And it feels impossible that something, you know, that’s purely part of your cognitive psychological mechanisms could stop you walking. But I just say to people, well, you know, you imagine, if I asked you to walk a straight line on the ground, you would have no difficulty doing it, if I asked you to walk exactly the same straight line on top of a very high wall, the entire automatic nature of walking would be disrupted. And all I did was, you know, change your position. So it’s, you really have to just think differently about your body for a moment, and it changes what you do. And any, anyone who plays sports has said this, you know, you try to change something about the way you kick a ball or kick something or hit something with a racket, and the entire automatic motor system becomes an automatic, and you can lose the ability to do something used to be able to do very easily. So I don’t know why people find it so hard to believe these things are possible, because I find that the tiniest change in something I do will have big physical effects, and people just need to recognise it in themselves to appreciate how real it is

Dr Sabina Brennan 32:22
Well, I do think it’s fundamentally I say this over and over again. But like, I mean, you know, people are not educated about how their brain works, they just aren’t people don’t know how their brain works. And because your brain is generally so brilliant, you don’t need to think about it. And it’s only when it begins to malfunction for various reasons. And lots of those reasons that cause malfunctioning of a brain are not sinister, you know, a couple of nights without sleep, will cause malfunction, you know, chronic stress, a poor diet, or lack of, you know, even omega three in your diet, or a B 12 deficiency, you know, so many things will actually cause your brain to malfunction in a way that can be quite scary. And I really think we do need sort of, to, I suppose that’s what I’m passionate about. We need to educate people about the brain. And you refer on and off in the book about the mind. And I suppose in a way, you’re saying similar to me, you know, that how unhelpful it can be. I find it so unhelpful, that I just don’t use it at all. Because I think it’s at the root of the problem, because somehow it’s ephemeral. Whereas I kind of feel if you just talk about the brain and behaviour, we can link them, and you have control with that. But we have centuries of language and you talk about the dualism that occurs,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 33:35
the conversation is always so problematic, isn’t it? Because the minute you talk about the mind, yeah, you are into Descartes. And so yeah, a spiritual mind flitting away from body and things like that. Language is just so limiting for this subject. And it’s quite hard to be understood. I think that I have a slight problem with in neurology, we’re really moving towards talking about everything terms of brains and connections between different parts of your brains and neurotransmitters and scan results. And I know that that sort of moves you away from what you’re expressing concern about, which is Yeah, this sort of what what is the mind is weird, sort of hard to define thing. But I worry that neurology in particular is desperate to cleanse itself of all things psychological. So it’s talking about psychological things, but only in terms of which brain bits activation, which brain bits light up on a scan, when you feel a certain emotion or which neurotransmitter creates certain emotion. And, you know, that’s great in one way because it sort of allows people to understand this is a real biological thing that’s happening. You know, there’s a real biological thing happening in your brain. Every single time you feel something or something happens to your or you’re thinking about chocolate, it doesn’t matter what, but I worry that we are cleansing the humanity out of the discussion that were by always talking about focusing on the brain and trying to sort of avoid talking about the psychosocial aspect of But I think it can go too far. And that’s back to what I was saying earlier, which is then you end up everything being an independent thing happening inside your head that’s outside of your control, whereas the psychosocial aspect of things potentially are within your control. So I like to keep this sort of concept of the mind in the discussion, but it’s very hard to talk about because you’re constantly have to qualify and explain what you mean.

Dr Sabina Brennan 35:25
So I don’t, I’m fascinated by the brain, but I don’t put a full stop there, you see, I’m fascinated by the relationship between the brain and behaviour. So I will always have brain and behaviour and behaviour occurs in a social cultural context. And it is influenced both ways. So for me when I talk about brain and behaviour, actually, if you understand that, you know, obviously eating is a behaviour, walking is a behaviour, everything that we do is a behaviour including thinking, then I think, if you refer to thinking as a behaviour, then that actually makes it easier not to have to invoke the concept of the mind, I think it’s that people forget that thinking is a behaviour and it’s a behaviour that can be changed. And it’s a behaviour that sometimes it’s unconscious, you know, things come in, but you have conscious control over it. So you can change that behaviour, just the same as you can unconsciously pick up something to eat. But actually, you can say, Well, actually, no, that’s not good for me to eat, I can change and work on changing that behaviour. So I think that kind of helps. But it’s interesting. And it’s fascinating. And I think another thing that’s really important and really emerges, I’m also jealous of all the travelling you did,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 36:37
I want to do another book that involves travelling

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 36:40
Can I come with you? can we do we do a neurologist and a psychologist?

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 36:45
I highly recommend going to Kazachstan, or I mean, because I got to travel to places with an interpreter,

Dr Sabina Brennan 36:51

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 36:51
who was a local person. So you can imagine the view of place you got, which is so wildly different than you’d ever get as a tourist. Yeah.

Dr Sabina Brennan 36:57
And you know, that’s what I want to say to people about reading this book. It is like life, it is enjoyable from multiple levels. And that’s why this book, I really, highly recommend it because it has that you know, you’re going on a cultural journey, and you’re travelling with you, you’re learning with you, you’re you’re writing you really, really, really do have a real talent for writing because you know, you don’t get in the way of yourself, you take us there with you, which is really nice. And on top of that, then you have that metacognition, I suppose, where you’re analysing not only the situation that you’re observing, you’re analysing it with the knowledge of a neurologist who’s stepping back and actually being critical of your own discipline and observing it from multiple angles. And then you’re actually analysing your own behaviour and saying, oh, gosh, well, I thought this first and that. So it’s an incredibly enjoyable read, I certainly could talk to you for multiple episodes, but so many things. And I’m trying to kind of hop on and touch on a few bits of the things that really it raises, because I think the book raises very important issues. And I really think it should be recommended reading for doctors. And for medical students. I really do, too. So what you touch on you talk about the diagnostic manual, which has gone through multiple iterations and additions. And you know, folks, this is what psychiatrists and psychologists kind of refer to, and you know, it has the criteria for when you might be diagnosed with depression or diagnosed with, you know, it will be the thing that says….. must be existence for at least six months, or whatever. It’s very categorically based. And we all know that most certainly when it comes to mental health issues are dimensional, and context dependent, it’s very appropriate to feel depressed if you become unemployed. But that doesn’t mean you have to be depressed across your entire life, you can be depressed about that bit and still find joy. But because it’s categorical, what can happen is it can force people to believe that they must act depressed across all of their life and actually perpetuate symptoms.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 38:59
The minute you’re labelled with something, I mean, obviously there you know, it’s important that people understand that, you know, there are types of depression, the features of which you know, severe depression are quite stable and are less necessarily sort of, you know, when I talk about the variability of different presentations of depression, it’s usually around the milder groups.

Dr Sabina Brennan 39:18

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 39:18
where are the controversy lies, but the minute your sadness is labelled as mild depression has that effect that you say, which is you start kind of acting out your expectations of what it means to be depressed, unconsciously,

Dr Sabina Brennan 39:30
Unconsciously, its really important to say that it is unconsciously perhaps if we say, and this is where language I suppose is important. Perhaps if we say you begin behaving in a more depressed fashion,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 39:44
you look out for the things that are associated, you know, like we all did it during the worst parts of the COVID pandemic. You know, if we got a slight feeling woke up in the morning feeling tired. Now I wake up in the morning feeling tired regularly, but for the first month of the first wave of the pandemic, When I woke up feeling tired, I examined myself for the sore throat, cough and fever. And, you know, so that once you have an expectation of illness, then you will start examining yourself and looking for other features of that disorder. It will also affect how other people treat you and how other people respond to you. I have an issue with labels, as they create chronic illness, once you’re a person who suffers with depression, again, I’m doing that (inverted commas”) so people can’t see me but the. So once you’re said to suffer with depression, it can be quite a hard label to get rid of, it’s always you are a person who has depression. And I’m not sure it’s great to conceptualise it that way. But on the other hand, the way you get help, you can’t go to your doctor unless you’ve got an illness. Yeah, but we need the labels in order to access help and support or to get permission to take time off from work. The labels are kind of useful, then and therefore we take them on willingly. But then once we’ve taken them on, I worry about the long term effects of them. So we should have a system where a person can ask for help, without having to take on a diagnostic label of a psycho.

Dr Sabina Brennan 41:07
And I think they should be also or we should also be allowed to ask for answers without that answer having to be a diagnostic label. I mean, my most recent book is called Beating Brain Fog. And I make it very, very clear. I think it’s one of the first things I say in the book is that brain fog is not a disease. It’s not a diagnosis. It’s not a disorder, but it is a signal that something’s amiss. And actually, your patient, Celia was, uh

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 41:32

Dr Sabina Brennan 41:32
, she had problems where she thought she was having epilepsy. But she thought she was having Petit mal What was her name

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 41:39

Dr Sabina Brennan 41:39
Sienna, but Sienna to put this in short Sienna, you know, was a teenager, and she had accumulated a couple of diagnosis, POTS being postural orthostatic. Yes, yes. Basically, where if you stand up, it’s like most of us will have experienced at some point, you stand up to suddenly and feel dizzy, but this is in a much more severe fashion. But anyway, she was having these, I would call them attention lapses. And herself, and her mom had definitely decided that they were Petit Mal. And I suppose this was coming from having maybe read about absences as a form of epilepsy. And they’d been told, no, it wasn’t, and they came to you, and you did an awful lot of tests, etc. But for me as I was listening to that, I was kind of going well, she’s just describing, having difficulty focusing and struggling with kind of keeping up. And so she said she had a sleep disorder. And I’m saying, Well, if she’s not getting enough sleep, that’s going to lead to that during the daytime, if she’s stressed, that’s going to lead to that. And and I think you touched on something very important there, although I don’t think that you particularly used the word stress, that perhaps she had chosen a subject in her university degree that actually, her mother, which I thought was very telling, had described her as this brilliant girl student who was great at everything, and then she’s in university, and she’s struggling to cope. Now. She’s definitely having problems. And they’re very real. This is the whole point. If you lose focus and attention, that’s very real. If you can’t remember things that’s very real, and it’s very debilitating. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s something sinister like epilepsy, it can be very much lifestyle induced, because you need to have good sleep. You said she had limited her diet because she had irritable bowel syndrome. You know, maybe she wasn’t getting enough. I’m going to look at it from that psychological perspective. You were looking at it from a neurological

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 43:34
No I mean, I wouldn’t look at it from a neurological perspective, I would think of it the way you think of it.

Dr Sabina Brennan 43:40

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 43:40
The problem is, I’m a neurologist. So people come to me for neurological explanations. But by the time someone comes to me, the GP and possibly a range of other doctors have already said the things that you’re saying,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 43:53

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 43:53
and people struggle to accept them. Because I think that we live in a society where, you know, if you’re really clever in school, and you’re told that you should expect to get into university and that you will be just as good in university and you’ll be able to achieve things. And you know what, it just doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes we choose the wrong things. And we’re not as good at them as we thought we were or perhaps it’s just not suited to us. And I think that we have this sort of keep trying and you will eventually succeed. And anyone who’s ever written a book will have been told about JK Rowling’s multiple rejections before she finally got her book published. So we’re told, even if you’re rejected, just keep trying, keep trying. But you know what, that’s making some people sick. Because, you know, sometimes if the effort that goes into that success is too much, it can start producing physical symptoms like brain fog, or like palpitations or like many other symptoms, and it can be a very difficult thing. If you’ve got a family behind you saying, You’re definitely good enough for this course. It can be very difficult to say to you Know what I don’t think this course is right for me. You know, that can be a hard thing to say. And in that circumstances, the physical symptoms might be unconsciously employed to have that conversation for you.

Dr Sabina Brennan 45:11
Yeah, I think it’s interesting because it’s so many things going around in my head in terms of…. because you raise so many kind of important issues is that, and that the ability, we seem to live in a society where it’s too difficult to say, ‘Maybe I was wrong.’

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 45:30

Dr Sabina Brennan 45:31
I don’t know what’s wrong with society. I also think, you know, looking objectively, at her mother, her mother was disempowering her, and struck me very much like an Irish mother in a way. And something that we do with our children, is we tend to ignore our children when they’re behaving very well. And we notice them when they’re misbehaving and give them attention when they’re misbehaving. And so actually, it can be reinforcing, you know, the behaviour, I suppose the point I was making with that girl’s mother was that her mother was doing what a lot of us do when we see our children in distress, whether that’s physical illness, or whatever. We give them, we pour out all the love and attention we have, we make them feel extra special. And in fact, there’s nothing wrong, of course, we should look after our children when they’re unwell. But it shouldn’t become something that makes them feel extra special, they should just feel extra special for being who they are. And being encouraged, you know, extra special isn’t it great you’re, well now, and you’re going to be able to play, this, that and the other. But we do this thing where we train people to feel special when they’re ill. And for some people that can kind of become either not a way of life, but a way that they get the attention or the support that they need. Whereas they should be able to get that attention and support by just saying, you know what, I’m struggling with this or this isn’t working out, or I feel confused. And instead, actually, though, if they’re sick, and her mother had taken to actually feeding her,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 47:02
Yeah, it’s always interesting those relationships, isn’t it? Because it’s likely that there’s both parties are benefiting in some way from that.

Dr Sabina Brennan 47:10
Yeah, like a codependency.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 47:12
Yeah, sure that, you know, the mother was had the opportunity to care for a daughter in a way that you don’t get to care for your adult children. And so yeah, there was a dynamic there that was very unhealthy. But people who would perhaps go to a psychologist would be very different to people who come to a neurologist. When you come to a neurologist with these sort of medical complaints, it’s because you are not necessarily open to the more psychological way of explaining your symptoms, and you specifically are looking for more neurological problem. So I would see, you know, a skewed proportion of the community in which people are sort of really looking for biological ways of explaining rather than by a psychosocial ways of explaining their disorders. But the teen years, those years around sort of GCSEs, A Levels and the early years in university, that’s when the vast majority of my patients who have things like seizures, and paralysis and headaches or that have a kind of psychosocial cause they’re the ages that they come to me. And I think it’s the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed, and the inability to just perhaps sit back and look and say, Is there something in my life that if I changed it, that actually that might be the solution? I think I wrote in the book about hearing a woman on the news, talking about being in a job she really hated and how unhappy she was and what a terrible, difficult life she had. And then she got a diagnosis of autism.

Dr Sabina Brennan 48:32
Yes, yes.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 48:34
And as a result of having got the diagnosis of autism, she realised that digital life she chose for her self was the wrong one. So she ditched whatever job she was in, and she found a job that was more suited to her. And it transformed her life. So it all ended very happily, but I just couldn’t stop myself asking why did she need diagnosis

Dr Sabina Brennan 48:51
Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s where we have to look to society that, you know, arguably, we live in a more permissive society than even when I was born. But we also have some of the social constraints are very damaging, and I couldn’t help but think, first of all, can I ask you are the more of your patients female?

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 49:10

Dr Sabina Brennan 49:11
Okay. I also think as well, and obviously we’re talking about things like hysteria, which refers to, you know, the the womb, and there’s all those terrible historic, you know, gosh, frontal lobotomies, all sorts of things done to women, based on them not conforming to what society expects of them. And I think we are very good at learning from experience to certain extent. But we have particularly in Western society, we have a very ethnocentric viewpoint. We think of ourselves as the most advanced group of the species. I would argue that we’ve made an awful lot of mistakes, you know, moving away from community and isolating ourselves in boxes are at the core of many of our mental health issues. We’re social creatures. We need to be in social groups, and we need more of a communal sort of basis, that would help immensely, we’d notice things sooner if people are struggling as well, because you’re seeing people more often, and we can kind of offer help and support each other. I couldn’t help but wonder, when I’m thinking about all the different cases, with the exception of one, most of them were in young children or teens. The one case guys, you have to read the book for this one is set in Havana, and it’s interesting in that it shows how different a response was when this ‘hysteria’ for want of another word, involved, inverted commas, again, intelligent people working in the US embassy in Havana.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 50:43
I mean, basically, it’s an it’s an ongoing story. So if you look in the news now, you will still hear this as ongoing, but it started in the American embassy in Havana, where the embassy had been closed for years. Because of the broken down relationship between the US and Cuba. When the embassy opened up again, there was a lot of suspicion. And a member of the intelligence agency heard a sudden noise one night, and then started getting symptoms like dizziness and sickness. And someone, either him or someone he told this story to. And it might not even be a man because it’s his identity a secret is that this person thought they’ve been attacked by a sonic weapon. And this story of embassy staff being attacked by Sonic weapons spread through the embassy until there was sort of a dozen people who believe they had been attacked by Sonic weapon. Now there’s some very important, you know, medical points to make, which is, sound doesn’t damage the brain. So the other important point to make is no such thing as a sonic weapon has ever existed. And also, there were many, you know, which I won’t go into now, but many, many good reasons why these people were not attacked by a sonic weapon.

Dr Sabina Brennan 51:48
I think he could substitute ‘Sonic weapon for Granny’.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 51:52
Exactly, exactly. But because a reasonable proportion of these were men, but also, as you say, they’re sort of well-off people. They live fortunate lives. They’re educated. People just couldn’t even consider this diagnosis of hysteria for them simply because they were the wrong sort of people. They weren’t young women. It’s really astonishing because I’d seen groups say a school in upstate New York, where there was an outbreak of what they call a mass hysteria, mass psychogenic illness, a school in South America, a school in Ghana. When this problem affects young women, basically, people say things about them like and it’s amazing in the in the 21st century, they say, well, they need a husband. And it’s astonishing. And they

Dr Sabina Brennan 52:36
they’re having too much sex or too little

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 52:38
A fight about a boyfriend or they will pick over the lives for little bits of stresses. But when this disorder affects kind of middle class, kind of fortunate men who work in the embassy in Havana, none of those conversations are had. Those questions aren’t even asked, Could these men be stressed? You know, could this be to do with their lives as diplomats? Had they lived in dangerous places? You know, girls were constantly taught, well, the parents are divorced, or they had a fight with their dad, the diplomats, were they divorced? Well, we’ll never know. Because when it came to men, no one even had that discussion. So it’s absolutely true that women are not always treated very well, by society and by medicine, and that, in the case of the young women, and people were very happy to accept the diagnosis, but presented in a really insulting pejorative way. A case of men, they wouldn’t accept the diagnosis purely because it was too pejorative for men.

Dr Sabina Brennan 53:34
Yeah. And they still haven’t accepted that diagnosis. You know,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 53:38
it’s fascinating actually, because recently, they say that two people were attacked in the Marriott Hotel in London, by the sonic weapon, and that there was people attacked in the White House by the sonic weapon, Sonic weapon, then absolutely everyone who knows anything about weapons or nuerology says doesn’t exist, but the story continues to carry on because it was much more acceptable to think that people were being attacked than to think that people are human, and that these things happen. And people in the embassy were told, if you hear an odd noise, hide behind a wall, you know, you’re being attacked by a sonic weapon. People were being asked to come forward for medical examinations, even if they didn’t feel sick. They were actually invited to examine them

Dr Sabina Brennan 54:18
Invited to be ill and as you said, you set up the whole context and you can enjoy reading it in the book really, in a sense, but these people were in a highly stressful situation that had a historical background and as you just said, Go back to march 2020. And we’re seeing Coronavirus everywhere. You know we are under threat and our brain is just trying to protect us like it really is. It’s doing its job perfectly. There is nothing wrong when a new virus that is deadly appears and could be we know very little about it. It makes perfect sense for your brain to wake up and go. Alright, sore throat. Am I okay? Am I feeling a bit too hot? That makes perfect sense because it is a Your brain in survival mode. And so as you said, and I’ve experienced it myself, you know, when you’re ill, or if you’re having pain, you do become heightened to that. I also think it’s possible that some people experience sensations earlier or sooner than other people do. In other words, they’re part of the tails. So you know, if I press on your arm, you shouldn’t experience pain, but actually, some people do

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 54:18

Dr Sabina Brennan 55:26
And that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them, it just means that they’re on the tail, same as you and I could try and score a goal and never be able to do it. And someone on the tail can just do it every single time doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them. They’re just on a different spectrum across it. And I know certainly, I can bear a lot of pain. But sometimes I experience pain sooner than other people do. Now I have a story. Your brain wants a story that makes sense for you. That’s how your brain works. It tells itself stories that make sense. And because it’s an information gathering machine, and it is looking for patterns, and looking for how to prevent that bad thing happening again, or how to ensure that happening again, it’s literally just looking for patterns. And part of that process is telling stories. So I have a story that was told to me by a doctor, which works for me, which is that the calcium channels in my brain actually respond sooner than they might in somebody else and so. So I might perceive pain sooner. That works for me, I’m fine with that, it doesn’t always happen. I perfectly understand that if I’m not getting enough sleep, if I’m chronically stressed, that those things are when I will feel pain. And that’s actually in a way for me, I just see that that’s a signal for me to kind of take stock and say, Sabina, you’re falling into your normal tendency. And that’s why these things I think it’s very annoying when people see some of those pain perception things as malingering I’m quite the reverse, I work too much. So for me, it’s a little wake up signal that says, actually, you’ve been letting your sleep suffer, you’re being overstressed. You’re taking on far too much. And your body is saying Hold on a second, I’m struggling here, you know, and you get a signal. So that’s the way I work with that. And I always say I have a diagnosis of when I’m talking about some of the things I have, because I don’t own them. I am not someone living with and some of the diagnosis, I’m not even sure if they’re right, or they’re, they’re accurate, but they allow me a common language to talk to other people who may be suffering or experiencing in that way, to actually give them some tools through lifestyle changes that may actually help them to cope with. And I think something that you really touch on is this. And I suppose it’s where the term hypochondria kind of comes from is that and you talk about a girl who lost the ability to walk and you explain it so well. That how in a psychosomatic illness you can lose the ability to walk, it’s not pretending to be paralysed, it is being unable to walk, and having to relearn how to walk, it’s well worth the read, just to kind of understand how that can happen. I think the issue about women is very, very important. And I think women need to be empowered to say what they’re feeling and look for answers, but not always just from doctors from within themselves within their lifestyle. I think another thing you touch on that’s really important is when I studied psychology, I had to take a couple of other subjects in the first year in case you failed psychology so that you could kind of continue your degree. And I took anthropology and philosophy. And I have to say anthropology probably is one of the most eye opening subjects that anyone can take. And I really believe it should be taught in schools, because it opens up your eyes to how our own culture, our own beliefs are as flawed as those that we look down on. And it offers us a way and a sense of being more empathetic.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 58:45
Yeah, it just allows you to see it from you know, because I talked to a lot of anthropologists and in the writing of this book, because they often had studied some of the phenomenon that I was trying to learn about. And it was just a really great way of learning how to see things from other people’s perspective, because you know, I’ve spent my whole life working in Ireland and the UK and in big Western medical teaching hospitals. And you know what, that doesn’t represent most of the world’s view. I mean, most psychological and psychiatric research is done on Western educated people living in industrialised countries and mostly white people. But we then translate that research and we try and force it on other people,

Dr Sabina Brennan 59:23
which is not valid at all.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 59:24
No, and I’m always seeing medical papers to say things like, you know, African American men don’t think this way about depression. And they should kind of think it’s sort of like they have a different way of viewing. I’ve just randomly chose African American man, I just mean people have on whom this research was not done, are being told that they should be adhering to our way of thinking, but their views were never represented at the start.

Dr Sabina Brennan 59:52
But you see I think you’ve touched on and I did an episode on the podcast about this. You’ve touched on the essential flaw in psychology, all of psychological research that have influenced the majority of the accepted principles were all done on men. All done, on men.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:00:11
That’s right,

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:00:12
all done on men and actually, most medical research was done on men and continues to be done on men. And so therefore, from the outset, women are disadvantaged, we are considered ‘less than’, ‘different from’ instead of the norm. So the norm basically is calculated based on what is normal for a white male, and how a white male if you take medicine, how a white male responds to this medication and how it works. So therefore, then women are described usually as and that that applies to us throughout society, oh, she’s a very aggressive woman, or she, you know, whatever. But the point being, you know, if you want to reflect society, the findings of those studies should only be used to find and treat and report about men, the better thing is, you include everybody, you know, males and females. And if they have to be just white Europeans, that’s fine. But then you get your average across males and females, and you look for differences, if there are whatever, but you can only then apply that to white Europeans.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:01:13
That group yeah

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:01:14
you can’t apply it elsewhere. And unfortunately, research investment is not invested in other places. And you touch on this again, also in the book, because possibly there isn’t the same amount of money to be made. Because we put so much faith in medications, things that we can take, injectables, we want that quick solution. And that’s why I’m adamant in my book, because there’s a multi billion dollar industry in supplements to boost your brain health, to boost your memory function, there is absolutely no evidence that any of it works and you don’t need any of it. Your brain, if you eat a healthy Mediterranean diet gets all that it needs. But susceptible people are being screwed over.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:01:54
But at the same time I kind of on the one hand, think oh, well, you know, there’s that shop that’s selling all that I mean, around where I live now, there’s so many new shops opening up to sell nothing but CBD products. And you know, that’s just a money making industry, you know, and I don’t support it, but then I have to sit back and think, well, if it makes you feel better, then you know, there’s value in anything that makes the person feel better.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:02:18
But some of these supplements can be harmful.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:02:20
Oh well, if anything, or if people are being misled with and I certainly think this happens with things like CBD people are being misled with false kind of elevated claims of what is possible. And someone’s making a lot of money out of misleading people into thinking that something is more medicinal than it is. But I did kind of at the end of this book, start thinking, again, with reference to the lady who with the diagnosis of autism changed her career and was in a much happier place. I kind of started thinking at the end, you know, I started off sort of looking down on the need to medicalize to make changes. But by the end of the book, I was sort of thinking, you know what some problems are very hard to work through. And it may be that we need these processes, and that we need, sort of, either expressing things physically, or medicalizing. Sometimes we need those as a way to help us to make the change, which is otherwise very difficult to make.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:03:12
Yeah, no, I totally hear you. I think it’s perfectly valid. I think people need to be heard. And I think that’s one thing that’s problematic, particularly for women, an awful lot of women feel medically gaslit, you know, to use that modern term that somehow what they’re going to their doctor with isn’t real, or it doesn’t exist, if people have taken the step to go and see you, there’s something that’s bothering them that much. And, you know, if they’ve nowhere else to go, well, then you can kind of help. Of course, diagnosis help, they help for multiple reasons, you know, an awful lot of us can catastrophize, particularly when it’s related to things like headache and cognitive function and things we don’t understand tremors, all those sorts of things, you know, you’re going to catastrophize and wonder whether there’s something awful, but that should mean that I suppose the problem is, as you touched on earlier, you can say I can find nothing. So then that makes the person feel awful, because Okay, this sounds like that. I’m imagining things – I’m not. And so I think there’s a bridge there that’s needed to say, look, there isn’t anything on our known symptoms. That doesn’t mean what you’re not experiencing is, you know, so it’s hard to find ways to do that.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:04:19
I think the important thing for me is, so this is no right or wrong. But what you need to decide is, you know, is this diagnosis of depression? Or is this alternative therapy actually making you better?

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:04:30
Or worse

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:04:31
I think a label can make you feel better just by having an explanation but make you more disabled. But if you have a label that is giving you strategies to make your life a better life, then keep that label. But yeah, some people like Sienna who we touched on who was the girl who was basically just struggling with dissociation attentional difficulties when her college course was too difficult.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:04:51

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:04:52
Her label made her disabled because, it sort of,… she was promoted to chronic illness through the label so you just look at what you’re doing. And if what You’re doing isn’t making your life a better quality life. Stick with it as far as

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:05:04
and I think when it comes to things like depression and anxiety, and I think there’s, it’s great that we’re talking more openly about mental health. But I think there’s also a tendency, a worrying tendency where the label is being worn as a badge of honour, and becoming something to be proud of you, of course, you shouldn’t be ashamed of experience or living with depression or anxiety. But it shouldn’t be something that you necessarily go Oh, well, this is me. Yeah, you know, and also, I think, yes, you can be depressed. And again, we’re talking on the earlier realm, I come from a family and people listening know this, you know, my father took to his bed, he had manic depression, he was suicidal. So I understand those depths, there was no communicating with him. And that continued all his life, and it was very cyclical. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking and you are talking about the earlier realms where we’re possibly medicalizing normal experiences, because we’ve decided, and I think that’s one of the things I wanted to get out was that our culture in some way is making us ill, because it’s telling us, we should be happy all the time, we should all look beautiful, we should all have six packs, we should all be able to achieve everything we want. And you touched on that. And I firmly believe keep trying, keep trying, keep, keep practising, you can achieve what you want. However, it’s also important to recognise that when that door keeps closing, you turn and start looking somewhere else,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:06:29
your ambition should not be making you sick. You know, and I mean

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:06:34
it should be bringing you joy and the journey to that success. But I do want to touch on one thing that kept niggling at the back of my head when I was reading this, and it’s that group that are sort of predominantly absent in a way from the book, although there are a few cases. And that’s teenage boys, boys of that same age, and what’s worrying, or what I wondered about and wondered whether you had any thought about, certainly in Western society, we have a huge problem with teen suicide in young boys. And I just wonder whether, you know, for me for a lot of these manifestations, they occurred at time when for the brain or for the mind, or for whatever you want to call it, there seems to be no other option. And there’s almost like a withdrawing from life into this illness, and the parallel for me then in young boys, and withdrawing from life into suicide, because it’s too painful. And again, a cultural and a social issue associated with that, with these issues, these things occurred with girls in groups, girls tend to be more group based in a way where conversations happen, boys may engage in sports, etc. But not in those conversations. I really don’t know what I’m throwing out there. But I’m just wondering whether you kind of thought about those.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:07:07
I just, I mean, I’m no expert at all in suicide or those particular issues. But certainly there is a case that men and women express their distress differently. And that psychosomatic disorders are more common in women. And I think it is, in part because of the place women are in society. But also, there’s more accessibility to women expressing their distress in certain ways where, you know, boys are not encouraged or allowed to express their distress in quite such an open way, sometimes as women. And I think that that’s why men and boys are more likely to be involved in violence, they’re more likely to hurt themselves. So it’s really about how we express and deal with the emotional and troubling things in life. And men and women do it differently, and certainly, at the moment very detrimental for young men.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:08:43
Yeah. Yeah, I think really, for me, the big lesson that comes out from this is that we do need to understand and acknowledge the transitional stage of those teen years when the brain is not fully developed. It’s a very confusing time. Very, very confusing, because, you know, there’s connections that were there yesterday, aren’t there today, things don’t make sense. The word is really strange. You can’t learn from mistakes in the same way that you do as a mature adult. And I think we need to support and acknowledge that more.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:09:15
Actually, I had an odd experience when I was sort of going around the world was Yeah, I mean, you and I both agree that you know this, it’s a difficult time for brain development, both socially and biologically.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:09:26

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:09:26
teens are in a difficult situation. But I was travelling around the world places in South America and North America, Kazakhstan, where I several times encountered people who when children were affected by psychosomatic disorders, you know, the parents were the older people in the family would say, but why would a child develop a psychological problem? My children are happy chil… I’m like, that’s the absolute peak time for it. You know that?

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:09:53

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:09:55
schizophrenia, etc. That’s when they come out during that period.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:09:59
Oh absolutely. And yes, you know, young children. And I mean, really young children are really vulnerable. And you know, the ages two to seven, there’s an awful lot of brain development going on there that if those kids aren’t being stimulated, if they’re not learning how to respond appropriately to stress, they can have … You see, the brain has this fabulous capacity to adapt neuroplasticity. – But unfortunately, and that’s what sort of struck me as well with Sienna, your individual who now is in her late 20s. And it just continues to collect conditions,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:10:29

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:10:29
that when your….. your brain is this incredible capacity to adapt to change, and that is usually really, really positive, you grow new connections and all the rest. But your brain is not infallible. Your brain makes mistakes, it can make mistakes, but what can happen is you can learn a maladaptive response. And so your stress response can be completely maladaptive, unhelpful, and that can then be reinforced. And that just becomes inherent in your behaviour and difficult to eradicate,

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:10:59
I think it’s useful actually to think about all these kind of psychosomatic conditions and things like that, in terms of learning. Because yes, it’s exactly as you say, it’s like we all accept that, you know, I can read a book, I can learn something, or I can get tennis lessons and learn how to play tennis, or we’re all accepting that our brains are able to gradually accumulate new skills. Why is it so hard for us to believe that actually, learning can go in the wrong direction, too? And yes, when you lose the ability to walk, because for some psychosomatic reason, it’s just the learning has gone the wrong way. And now you just need to retrain your body back into the right way again, and I do think it’s useful to think of it that way because it we get away from that sort of airy fairy idea of stress affecting the brain within some sort of hard to explain way

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:11:44
Yeah, no, so that’s what that’s exactly where I come from is, you know, that’s the fundamental capacity are our brains are highly responsive to experience, you know, neuroplasticity, it’s not unique to humans, it exists in other animals. That’s how animals learn and evolve and develop but the human brain seems to be particularly susceptible to environment and experience. But as you said, it can go wrong. Things can be unlearned and relearned. And I think that’s really, really very empowering. And I think it’s fundamentally down to people just not understanding how humans work. That’s what it comes down to. You’ve been absolutely fascinating to talk to. I’m sure my listeners will absolutely love every minute of it. The book is called The Sleeping Beauties by Susanna O’Sullivan, tell us what the name of your other two books are.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:12:34
My first book is called It’s all in your head, which is basically just about my own patients with functional and psychosomatic disorders. And the second book is Brainstorm, which is supposed to teach you about the brain through the stories of people with epilepsy?

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:12:48
Oh, excellent, excellent. I do love that. Because often people say, and I think it’s very funny, that people often say, you know, “they’re made out, it’s all in my head,” and I’m kind of going, but aeverything is in your head.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:13:00
I got in trouble for that title. Because the point is, everything is in your head. But still people

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:13:04
That’s the point I get that, I think that’s exactly, you know, validate, continue, please do continue doing what you’re doing.

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:13:06
Thank you

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:13:10
Because I think, as well as being really interesting to read from all sorts of angles. I think the books are very empowering. And I think that they’ll help a lot of people but any doctors listening, get other doctors to read it, because I think they’re one of the groups of people that actually really, really need to read it.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:13:27
Based on your writings and your experiences as a neurologist, what tip would you give to people about surviving and thriving in life?

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:13:37
Perhaps if they are experiencing what may be psychosomatic illnesses? What tip would you give them?

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:13:42
I think it’s a very difficult thing to do. But I think recognise when the life you’ve chosen for yourself isn’t necessarily the right life and be prepared to make changes. We touched on it before but you know, we make decisions about our lives when we’re like 16, 17, 18. And then, you know, 40 years later, we’re still working with those same decisions. So I think you know, be prepared to say you know, is this the right life for me and change it if you think it isn’t.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:14:10
Such sage advice from Suzanne, you’ve only got one life and it’s silly to waste it pursuing a path that fails to satisfy or even makes you ill? You can change direction, and in doing so may find joy, happiness and reward.

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:14:27
My name is Sabina Brennan, and you’ve been listening to superbrain the podcast for everyone all with a brain. Super brain is a labour of love born of a desire to empower people to use their brain to thrive in life and attain their true potential. Please help me to reach as many people as possible by sharing this episode, or by simply liking or rating the show. Imagine if we could get to a million downloads by word of mouth alone. I believe it’s possible. I believe the great things happen when lots of people do little things. So you really can help to achieve this ambitious dream to get a million downloads. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to Super Brain that helps too. Visit Sabina for additional content, including images and videos related to this episode and a transcript of the show. Follow me on Instagram a @sabinabrennan and on Twitter @sabina_brennan. I am grateful as always, to my exceptional editor Emily Burke, to my fascinating guests and to my listeners. Thank you for tuning in.

Transcribed by




Season 4 of Super Brain kicks off Monday September 6th,

I chat to an impressive group of inspiring and fascinating guests this season

This trailer gives you a little taster of whats in store with short clips from:

S4E1 – The Brain Detective with Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan
🕵️‍♂️ 🧠🕵️‍♂️ 🧠🕵️‍♂️ 🧠🕵️‍♂️ 🧠

S4E2 – Happy Mum – Happy Baby with Melissa Hogenboom

S4E3 – The Visibility Trap Dr Mary McGill


#superbrain #brainfog #brainhealth #mentalhealth #wellness #psychosomatic #chronicpain #allinyourhead #psychological #malingering #mum #mothering #parenthood #pregnancy #baby #socialmedia #selfie #cancelculture #sex #surveillance #neurology #neuroscience #Irishpsychologist #irishneurologist

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 12

The stabilisers are off with PJ Gallagher

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

In this episode I chat to comedian, actor and broadcaster PJ Gallagher 

During this episode we discuss

  • His childhood hero Evil Knievel 
  • His love of anything with two wheels
  • Dicing with death & motor bike racing – as good as it gets
  • Shit shows and standup
  • School
  • Growing up in a ‘mad house’ 
  • Being adopted – taking up someone else’s space
  • Honesty



Watch PJ Gallagher in The Big DIY Challenge

Guest Bio

PJ Gallagher is a much-loved Irish comedian, broadcaster and accomplished actor. He played Principal Walsh in the massively successful television series The Young Offenders on RTÉ and BBC as Principal Walsh. But is probably known most for the hilarious and sometimes outrageous hit TV show Naked Camera and his alter ego Jake Stevens. You can also catch PJ every morning from 6am to 10am on Radio Nova. Most recently he hosts The Big DIY Challenge on RTE

Over to You

If you would like me to take a deeper dive into any of the issues discussed in this episode please do let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoy the Super Brain podcast please take a moment to rate and share it.



PJ Final Mix

Sun, 5/16 5:38PM • 1:09:14


people, fucking, racing, life, day, shit, motorbike, remember, feel, called, grew, stand, brain, house, world, acting, irish, bike, literally, bit


Sabina Brennan, PJ Gallagher


Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to Super brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan, and my guest today is PJ Gallaher, much loved Irish comedian, broadcaster and actor, best known for his role in The Young Offenders. And for his Naked Camera characters taxi driver, ‘Jake Stevens’, and ‘A dirty aul one’ renowned for sexual innuendo.  You might want to turn the volume down on this episode and turn your attention up to keep up with this one, as PJ and I are both very excitable and have a tendency to talk loudly and speak over each other. So there’s your work. And then there’s stuff that people have written about you


PJ Gallagher  00:45



Sabina Brennan  00:45

and the interviews that you’ve done. And one of them jumped out of me. And that was about the motorbikes because I’m always talking about how people can manage stress or you know,


PJ Gallagher  00:55



Sabina Brennan  00:55

reduce anxiety. And people always say to me, oh, what about meditation? What about this? And I say, No, you’ve got to find something that you love, or you absolutely lose yourself, you’re totally in that. That’s meditation, that’s much easier than siting and actually trying to the meditation


PJ Gallagher  01:12



Sabina Brennan  01:12

And that really jumped out at me because I read the article, because you were saying the first time you got on a motorbike,


PJ Gallagher  01:17

The first time we ever was on a bike, I mean, anything to do with two wheels has always been my way out of anything. Like no matter what it was


Sabina Brennan  01:24

So like a push bike as well,


PJ Gallagher  01:25

anything, the first time it was on two wheels ever, as a young fella, like I’ll never forget the first day the stabilizers came off, you know, I’ll never forget it. Like that was a hugely significant day in my life, you know, the day the stabilizers came off. That sense of freedom, like you and I remember me uncle. What a bastard, when I think of it, like, he put 50 pence on the ground and says, if you can pick that up, cycling past, you can keep it and of course, I near killed myself like,


Sabina Brennan  01:48

Oh, you had to be… So read that alright, but I was thinking the same thing about your uncle, you know. Probably trying to keep you diverted for a long time.


PJ Gallagher  01:55

Like, you know he was just fucking with me


Sabina Brennan  01:57

 I think, you know, it was a different time. It was like you used to, like, you know, see kids get hurt for the crack. You know, it was a different time.  You know, I grew up in a time where you know, now it’s kids aren’t allowed in the house. I wasn’t allowed into the house. Ever, Like I wasn’t allowed into the house that was a fact. Like you actually had to… You’d to play outside.


PJ Gallagher  02:12

It wasn’t play, it was like ‘Get the fuck out of the house’.  You know, your ma was busy. Your parents didn’t want you there. You were under their feet. So


Sabina Brennan  02:18

 Yeah, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  02:18

So nine o’clock on a Saturday morning.


Sabina Brennan  02:19

You were out all day


PJ Gallagher  02:20

‘Get out, get the fuck out’?You know, ‘don’t be underneath me feet.’ So you’re eight years old and you have a bike. So if you’re  eight years old and you have a bike and noone gives a shit where you until the streetlights come on. You have got freedom in your life.


Sabina Brennan  02:32



PJ Gallagher  02:33

And then I started watching Evel Knievel videos


Sabina Brennan  02:36

Oh do ya remember?


PJ Gallagher  02:37

Jesus Christ. I was I never I couldn’t believe it,  it’s still, I would say the greatest influence ever. People look at Evel Knievel and they say he’s the most ridiculous, stupid human being on the face of the earth. He actually never even succeeded in anything he did. This is what I loved about every single major job.


Sabina Brennan  02:53

He’s like your man, Eddie, the Eagle. Do you remember the ski guy?


PJ Gallagher  02:56

Yeah… Eddie the Eagle, like could stand up and go home. Evel Knievel can actually try and  actually live like, you know, he never he would like, ‘if I can just live through this next hour, I will be a millionaire’. Like ‘if I can just …’ So I was never about succeeding. He never wanted to succeed. He just wanted to try and stay the fuck alive for the next 10 minutes. And I remember being obsessed with that idea that this person on a bike could get on a bike and do something, which like, literally take his life in his hands. And if he was alive in 10 minutes time, he was gon na live a different life and this ridiculous man with high heels and a cape and a walking cane, all dressed up. And I was obsessed with it. You know, like, I would always jump on the bike if I wanted to get away from the world. Always jump on a bike. And then my old man got cancer. And he was like, obviously very sick’ cause killed him. Ha So you know what I mean I remember then, being, getting on a bike, a motor bike bike I’m like, you know, months later, like this is in the 90s like, And I got on a bike and.. riding down, here in Clontarf, down Hollybrook Road I got on Jason Byrne’s motorbike and went down. Hollybrook road. I’d never been the motorbike before.


Sabina Brennan  04:01



PJ Gallagher  04:02

And I just remember not feeling sad. Like, I wasn’t happy like


Sabina Brennan  04:06

For the first time – yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.


PJ Gallagher  04:11

  But all of a sudden, I had something else I was back on two wheels.


Sabina Brennan  04:16

You can’t ride a motorbike not paying attention, because you’re not going to be alive when


PJ Gallagher  04:21

You can say that but you don’t feel like you’re paying attention there’s something about being in the groove. I think that’s what I loved about racing as well. You’re just get into this place where the only thing that matters, you don’t feel like you’re paying attention at all.  No,  but the only thing that matters is the second in front of your face.


Sabina Brennan  04:36



PJ Gallagher  04:36

that’s all


Sabina Brennan  04:37

No, no, no, you don’t have to actively pay attention. That’s what I’m that’s what I’m always trying to say to people your just doing it


PJ Gallagher  04:43

You’re just trying to stay alive. And I guess that’s what happened with racing. Then ’cause you get when you go from one extreme


Sabina Brennan  04:48

Did you go into racing then?


PJ Gallagher  04:49

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I raced motorbikes for years, then and I always say that they were the best days of my life. In fact, everything else since racing has just been hanging around. It’s not really fun at all. Look, racing was real life like when you’re getting –  leaving a race then on a Sunday, and you genuinely were shitting yourself. Like the fine line between falling off a motorcycle and winning the trophy. The difference that makes You’re like, yeah, like you genuinely could die on a Sunday. Or you could wake up in the morning with a trophy and like the difference that makes your week. Like, you know, that’s all you think about is holy shit, you know?


Sabina Brennan  05:21

So were you wired all the time


PJ Gallagher  05:22

I was wired all the time doing racing. I was wired all the time, but it was… it gave me something to focus on. And that’s all I cared about was racing. I didn’t care about anything else. Now, people say why do you gig, why do you do stand up comedy and everything? To pay for motorbike parts


Sabina Brennan  05:34



PJ Gallagher  05:35

I’ve never liked stand up comedy. Like I think stand up…   like, I wouldn’t go to a stand up gig if you paid me.  I think stand up comedy’s s.. fucking grand, like I only ever did it ’cause I couldn’t do fuck all else, you know. And then…


Sabina Brennan  05:45

But you could race Well like, yeah, but not good enough to make a, like I was good on Irish standards I could win a few races here, but I was never gonna make a full time living out of it. You know, that was the thing. So racing was where I could put my focus into stuff. And then I did a couple of road races and then I had a huge accident in Spain. And that was the end, because I went back to Mondello park briefly and for the first time ever in a race track, I was afraid and when you’re afraid that’s over


PJ Gallagher  06:08

You’re not focused. You’re just afraid, you know?


Sabina Brennan  06:13

Yeah, that’s that’s exactly what I was going to ask you because what’s going through the back of my mind as well. So you’ve  mentioned that the motorbikes and the stand up right, and the motorbike like, my heart is racing at the thought of being on a motorbike like, you know, I be kind of pretty scared about that. But what I find really interesting is you can go that life / death stuff on the motorbike and be excited about it and buzzing, but then you had issues with panic attacks before performing on stage


PJ Gallagher  06:39

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I still hate performing on stage. Yeah. You know, I always have done so that’s why I’m not doing it. You know?


Sabina Brennan  06:45

Yeah. I understand that. Like,


PJ Gallagher  06:48

But I wasn’t afraid to get killed. I didn’t care. It just was always doing something. They loved you. And so I didn’t care. There was a part of me that was afraid of getting injured.


Sabina Brennan  06:57

How old were you ? Are you talking late teens early 20s?


PJ Gallagher  06:59

No, no I was in my 30s


Sabina Brennan  07:00

Oh, really?


PJ Gallagher  07:01

Yeah. Yeah. No it was right into me mid thirties


Sabina Brennan  07:03

Oh, cuz I was gonna say, you know, your brain hadn’t fully kind of developed in and you wouldn’t be able to assess risk properly.


PJ Gallagher  07:08

No I just didn’t care. I just didn’t care.


Sabina Brennan  07:12

Was it that you didn’t care or you needed that buzz?


PJ Gallagher  07:14

I didn’t care  right ok.


Sabina Brennan  07:15



PJ Gallagher  07:15

No, this was what I wanted to do. I didn’t care. When I have low moments. I often think I wish that was the time I was killed, you know, if I have low moments, that’s what I think because those were the best days of my life. Those are the days that, all that mattered was being on the race track, where I had a single absolute driven focus every weekend, where I would stay fit all through the winter where I would get operations all through the winter, and I could bear them all because I knew I was going to get on the race track again in the summer. Where all that my heart was that one second in front of my face, and that one second behind me. Where I could go out to racetracks and people would get hurt on sometimes I would get very badly hurt but I knew I’d be able to get back on the racetrack. So if you die doing that you don’t give a shit. I know it’s hard for people to understand that don’t do it, but I didn’t care about it. And I guess you look at people who’ve never done anything You think grand you don’t get it.  But my attitude at the time was I would much rather die in a fucked up body now then take a body that’s in really good neck into a grave when I’m eighty years old and feel feel like a totally wasted it. That was the attitude I kind of had


Sabina Brennan  08:15

Yeah, yeah, but but it makes me feel sad to think that you think that was the best?


PJ Gallagher  08:19

That was the best


Sabina Brennan  08:20

because you’re really young


PJ Gallagher  08:22

I know but there’s nothing that will ever beat that.


Sabina Brennan  08:24

No, no, no, no, you can’t you can’t you can’t. So I used to think that


PJ Gallagher  08:28

No nothing will ever beat it. Stand up was never.. gave me the high


Sabina Brennan  08:31

I think you’re just not looking hard enough.


PJ Gallagher  08:33

Well no I’m not looking at all.


Sabina Brennan  08:38

Yeah, well then get looking. So I get a lot of what you’re saying. Right? I used to be an actor, I hated theatre acting I trained from the age of eight. in theater, right?


PJ Gallagher  08:48



Sabina Brennan  08:48

I loved film and television because for me it was about figuring out why and that’s why I’m a psychologist and all that was figuring out why would someone do that and what’s going on in their brain and what you know, I’d be figuring out the inner dialogue and and the the challenge for me was getting inside that and making it work and being it you know, making it believable I didn’t care about applause you know, if I didn’t get it right. I don’t give a shit if y’all stand up and give me a standing ovation. I know I didn’t get it right. So for me it was about understanding it, doing it, getting it right performing it over and done, now give me another piece. I had no desire to do night after night. When I was an actor. I thought that was the only thing that would ever give me the buzz.


PJ Gallagher  09:32



Sabina Brennan  09:33

The happiness the… and I mean


PJ Gallagher  09:35

Well, it probably is What else has? What’s filled it for you like,


Sabina Brennan  09:39

Oh yeah, what I do now what I do now has filled it much more. I was always high as a kite when I was acting.


PJ Gallagher  09:46



Sabina Brennan  09:46

really down low when I wasn’t. And it’s hard to for women as actors like there’s much more parts for guys.


PJ Gallagher  09:52

Ah there is yeah, but then most things are a bit more difficult for women when it comes to performance because you’re judged differently as well. So


Sabina Brennan  09:59

yeah, yeah. Yeah, I remember someone saying to me actually one of the writers of the show about work and he just said to me, like, you’re really great actor, whatever. And I said, Yeah, but it’s really tough. I can’t get any work now after this


PJ Gallagher  10:10



Sabina Brennan  10:10

you know? And he said, Yeah, he said, You’re really hard to cast he says, because you’re not really beautiful and you’re not really ugly. And that’s what the parts for women are you know. – but he was right


PJ Gallagher  10:20

Yeah. Well, he’s not right. He’s full of shit. That’s the full of shit attitude that can be accepted as normal.


Sabina Brennan  10:27

Yeah, yeah


PJ Gallagher  10:28

that’s that’s not a standard I’ve ever been held, you know, would be held to. You know, granted, I’m not going to get Tom Cruise fuckin parts in  Hollywood, you know, I’m not going to be the love interest.


Sabina Brennan  10:36

But why not?


PJ Gallagher  10:36

Why not my face is like someone drew a face on a balloon.  Why not?


Sabina Brennan  10:37



PJ Gallagher  10:38

No its not. Doesn’t matter it’s never gonna be an issue. Yeah, for instance, look at these women stand up that are out there. Now. People will look at me and if they don’t like me, they’ll say you’re shaking your head fat bitch or fucking another unfunny slut or it’s you know what? Oh, yeah, no, no, totally, totally different. A call. She’s a stand up. She can’t get a bloke. Oh, yeah, I have never had that. I’ve been called a fucker and a this and a bollocks, grand, but the standard is totally different. it’s the same with acting, it’s the same with performance. It’s different. Like,


Sabina Brennan  11:15

yeah, it is different. And…


PJ Gallagher  11:17

What am I telling you for you know fucking more than I do


Sabina Brennan  11:19

I know, but it’s nice to see guys recognize it as well. You know, that’s kind of good


PJ Gallagher  11:24

Guys sometimes get upset by it because they take an inference out of it that they haven’t worked as hard as they possibly could. You know, sometimes people say, oh, women have to work harder on lads than see that as ‘so you’re saying I haven’t bust my bollocks to get where I am. No, that’s not what they’re saying.


Sabina Brennan  11:39

It’s not a zero sum game. So


PJ Gallagher  11:40

It’s an added layer of shit


Sabina Brennan  11:43

one thing I wanted to ask you about was your new show. I had a listen. I don’t get up at six o’clock in the morning. You obviously have to get up much earlier than six


PJ Gallagher  11:52

Five Yeah, five


Sabina Brennan  11:53

Oh well that’s not too bad. So I was having to listen to it last night. It’s a new show what I was thinking was your four hours on the radio That’s a lot


PJ Gallagher  12:01

It’s not that long


Sabina Brennan  12:02

Well, yeah, you play music though.


PJ Gallagher  12:03

You play music, there’s news there’s all kinds of things happen you know if you add up what I do it adds up to less than a half an hour or spread over four hours I suppose.


Sabina Brennan  12:11

Shss, don’t let them hear you say that


PJ Gallagher  12:14

No I want to do more but they’re very strict about the time that we put into it


Sabina Brennan  12:17

Are they?


PJ Gallagher  12:17

Yeah, cuz they want to get features and music and news and there’s a license Yes. So you have to abide by the terms your license and all as well. You can’t just do what you want to


Sabina Brennan  12:25

do you are you buzzing when you finish that? Like what do you do with that high when you’re just finished? Are do you not have that No I’ve never had that from performance Wow. Oh, no, never  but did you have that from your motorbike racing?


PJ Gallagher  12:39

Yeah, hugely so yeah. Yeah, hugely. Yeah. And but I never had it from performing or anything. Okay, I get a sense of relief when I do shows thank god that’s wasn’t shite or whatever. Yeah, that’s been my motivation in my life is don’t be shit. Never be brilliant. Never be good, never be the best, never be… just don’t be shit has always been my motivation. So when they do shows like the radio show, it’s always just a feeling of thank. Fuck that. I don’t think that wasn’t shit. That’s great. That’s okay, though.


Sabina Brennan  13:06

You’re very hard on yourself.


PJ Gallagher  13:07

Well, I guess I’ll tell you I suppose you have to be don’t you? Are you’d do nothing at all.


Sabina Brennan  13:11



PJ Gallagher  13:11

There’s so many people I see? When I… nothing frustrates me more when I go to a venue  and somebody gets up and they’ve e done the most mediocre set in the world. And they’re like, That was amazing. You’re like, yeah, okay, fair play. You did it again. That’s my compliment to give people when they think they’re…you know well, you did it again. Again,


Sabina Brennan  13:26

I always – how do you do that when people ask you to go to a show – what am I going to say if they’re crap


PJ Gallagher  13:28

 You did it again. Good for you. I mean, and there’s nothing I hate more than when I know when I did a shit show. Or a walk offstage. It was substandard. And someone goes Oh, that was brilliant. Yeah, fuck off. Yeah, so for me,


Sabina Brennan  13:46

Yeah that really annoyed me. Yeah that’s so insincere


PJ Gallagher  13:51

Whenever I did stand up, and whoever I was doing the gigs with be it Joanne McNally, I’ll be it john Lean or any of those those people I will always tell them. This is the last joke I’m going to do this night, when they start this joke, open the back door and start to car. So that I would be able to do it, walk out the back door to open the car and be the first person to the venue. Every single night.


Sabina Brennan  14:12

You couldn’t wait to get away?


PJ Gallagher  14:13

No couldn’t wait to get away.


Sabina Brennan  14:15

So it’s like torture,


PJ Gallagher  14:16

torture, torture.


Sabina Brennan  14:18



PJ Gallagher  14:19

So I mean,


Sabina Brennan  14:20

you must do you know, people listening to this who’d be dying to be stand up or people dying to be actors … are probably kinda going fuckin hell.


PJ Gallagher  14:28

I know


Sabina Brennan  14:29

Maybe because you care less. You see, I think often people get in their way of themselves performing. Because it matters too much. Do you know what I mean? So they kind of


PJ Gallagher  14:37

Yeah, I guess. And I’ve seen people do does. I’m not gonna say names, but I know someone in particular, who does that they torture themselves into ruining their performance.


Sabina Brennan  14:46



PJ Gallagher  14:47

but it’s not that I care less like, hey, like I care too much about the responsibility of it. So when somebody pays in to see your show, for me on a Friday night, it’s Vicar Street. It’s a random Friday in March, whatever. They pay in and straight away I think if I don’t do the best show they’ve ever seen I’ve fucked up their weekend, and nothing will ever make me not feel that, that’s what I feel. I’m like, these fucking people have lives. There’s 1100 of them Vickar Street. So there’s 1100 people out there who need me to have the best show they’ve ever seen, or their hard lives weekend now was fucked. I’ve ruined their weekend.


Sabina Brennan  15:22

I don’t know,


PJ Gallagher  15:23

I can’t help it. It’s exactly how we feel.


Sabina Brennan  15:26

But you can switch that


PJ Gallagher  15:26

So when the show is over, you know, the show has been amazing. And I’ll be honest with you, I think most of mine are I’m very competitive.


Sabina Brennan  15:34



PJ Gallagher  15:34

I think most of them are amazing shows. I don’t enjoy a second of them till I get in the car. And I go to fuck home. And I go to bed. And I’m glad it’s over that;s always the way it’s okay.


Sabina Brennan  15:46

So it’s like you’re punishing yourself. So you’re only taking the negative?


PJ Gallagher  15:50

Well, I’m not only taking the negative I’m getting paid


Sabina Brennan  15:52

No. But you’re not saying that. Actually, those people in the audience, you could have made their weekend and you made them laugh. You gave them something to laugh about for the first time in six months?


PJ Gallagher  16:01

Yeah I know. But you have to do it again then on the Saturday and the Sunday. So let’s see, you know, you can’t


Sabina Brennan  16:05

Ah yeah, you can.


PJ Gallagher  16:06

I don’t think you can


Sabina Brennan  16:08

you can


PJ Gallagher  16:09

It gets worse every year. So I did that show, the RTE show Stage Fright the documentary,


Sabina Brennan  16:15



PJ Gallagher  16:15

And I thought maybe I’d knocked it on the head. But it turned out wI was just rehearsing the show as I was going and I felt it was better. And then I had to start writing a show again. And it just was back to square one.


Sabina Brennan  16:24

This is like the kind of panic attacks before doing it. Is it?


PJ Gallagher  16:27

just a dread of the whole entire experience. So for me, like I’ve only ever been?


Sabina Brennan  16:30

Why? Well, the reason I’m gonna say why do it I presume The answer is for the money


PJ Gallagher  16:34

I’ve always been shit at the things I like doing I’m pretty good at things I have no interest in. See, I’m always saying and it’s this is genuinely very, very true with me. And like I was saying to you Don’t be shit was my motivation. I never wanted to even be brilliant or the best at anything. I was fucking shit at almost everything I put my hand to. So I was terrible in school. Bar English. I was terrible at sports. I wanted to play for the Dubs. I wanted to play sports. I couldn’t catch a ball to save me life. My hands are literally ornamental. I mean my best. You know, I was tired of all these teams. Everything I did. I was told her body was most of them. Can’t do anything else, no that’s it  No.


Sabina Brennan  16:37

What about the acting That doesn’t mean that you were actually terribly


PJ Gallagher  17:15

lost. Oh, no, I was I didn’t care what it was. I just wanted to be good. at something I know that we will stand up. Yeah, I got the validation of it’s fine. You can be good at this.


Sabina Brennan  17:28

Yeah. So can I just explain something to you there then. Because this is the sort of next book I want to write is how we construct who we are and our sense of self right? So your brain makes up who you are right? From all the information that can get everywhere, there’s no independent self, you’ll have some sort to trade your your


PJ Gallagher  17:47

your the story, you tell yourself your


Sabina Brennan  17:48

the stories you tell yourself or the stories that other people tells you. So your brain literally takes information from all over the place through the course of your life. And that becomes who you think you are. Yeah, whatever, would like loads of that information is wrong. And loads of it is outdated. So you’re like you’re operating on a story of yourself from when you were a kid that you were told you were crap, but everything that you did, but


PJ Gallagher  18:12

it wasn’t just I was told it was my experience of it as well.


Sabina Brennan  18:14

Yeah. But what I’m trying to say is like, I’m older than you. So I don’t know how to change much by the time you kind of came along to school, but like, our teachers were in not in the business of boosting your self esteem are telling you you were good. They were in the businesses of keeping you under control. I’m


PJ Gallagher  18:31

telling ya, we’re terrible. Yeah, well, yeah, everything I was half decent, that was seen as disruptive in school. Yeah, you know, on the idea of having to sit down and work is fundamentally not something I am able to do. I can’t do it. For me to do anything productive. I have to be on my feet and moving around. And it’s loud, and it makes noise. And so that was never valued. You know?


Sabina Brennan  18:51

No. And you see, so if you watch kids learn and write toddlers, they explore the world with all of their senses. Everything goes in their mouth, they smell it, they taste it, they roll in it, you know, they just use everything. And that’s how they learn, right? And that’s how all of us learn when we go to school. And we’ve decided we want to control children. And so you tell them cross your arms Don’t, don’t stand don’t sit. And that’s torture for some kids. And actually, it’s just not good for your brain. So basically what happens is, we all turn into these underperforming creatures who really can only learn through hearing and listening and neurone value through that when there’s like all this other stuff. So I’m always trying to encourage people, you know, if you want to improve your memory, if you want to improve how your brain works, take in all of your senses. I guess you don’t know, I’m just calculus.


PJ Gallagher  19:41

Right? So you can’t do that. So I’m just saying just the numbers essentially, and I left school at 16. But I think if I hadn’t left school, I probably would have ended up in jail. So like I know if I had stayed in school, it would have been the road to ruin because I was so miserable in school, like nothing God was ever gonna come out of that situation. You know,


Sabina Brennan  20:00

yeah, so, but that’s the teachers that’s down to the teachers in the school and the system. It is it is because you should be trying to find what someone’s good at. You know, it’s like forcing square pegs into round holes. That’s why when people say to me, like I did really, really well at university, right, and people say, Oh my God, that’s brilliant. I said, No, it’s something I found easy. Actually, it was my training as an actor. I worked in soap, so I had to learn tons of scripts. Yeah, over and over again. I went to uni, it just had to learn tons of stuff and regurgitate it Okay, yeah, I have to be able to understand it and all the rest, but it’s just society just puts a value on that. It doesn’t mean it’s any better than


PJ Gallagher  20:41

Well, it also saves me a lot actually. Because it’s so overvalued with some so I have nephews who play sport and whatever. And this participation level fucking bullshit really gets to me because I went to school with lads who were really challenged when it came to certain subjects in school. If school didn’t suit you the only 20 of us in school and did everything they could do just put wrap a chain around the door and just ignore us. Yeah. And then you will go out and put these lads had a way to prove themselves. Yeah, yeah, playing sport. You could see talents shine and trill and some of these notes when I look back on it now, and I know some of them ended up on drugs or they just you know, nothing ever came up. Yeah. So you don’t give anyone a participation Medal from Max. You know, or science. Yeah. Or Ganesh or even TNR he get the audition you get you pass the test. He gets it or not. And then everyone goes out into a different field. And then it’s not finally to the point are fairplay sure everyone gets to have a game everyone gets it. Yeah, that’s not the way you know, I don’t believe it should be like that. You should be equally as rewarding. I’m like a read that annoys me. And yeah, yeah, I I think there’s just key values here. All right. This is how you fight gets to one stage winner. Here we go. I’m better at yesterday. Yeah. And then you’re told I know, everyone gets emails. Now. This is an important. Yeah, this is all been taken apart. This isn’t the belshe Yeah, Excel.


Sabina Brennan  21:56

What do you see? You do it the other way? Or else you say? Well, actually, you don’t have to get 10 out of 10. In your spelling test. It’s all about taking part.


PJ Gallagher  22:04

It gets 10 deserves to be celebrated.


Sabina Brennan  22:08



PJ Gallagher  22:10

Oh, my gosh, you should be acknowledged. You know, I’m all about winning chess, you know, to play the game, but you shouldn’t like if you play fair bluff if you get something else. Well, congratulations. But the winners.


Sabina Brennan  22:23

I think the thing is, though, everybody’s good at something. It just that the school system doesn’t look for that. Did you grow up in Qatar? Oh, no. I


PJ Gallagher  22:30

grew up Marino and then contact. So because I grew up. You know, I grew up in a in a really strange situation. Yes,


Sabina Brennan  22:35

I do. You said that your house was like a university for comedy. Well, we were part of a social experiment.


PJ Gallagher  22:42

Yeah. So I was adopted for. And then I ended up with me, folks. I was six months in foster care, and fingerless, and then I went to Ruby folks. And then dows became a part of what was a social experiment at the time. What happened was the Eastern Health Board at the time and our wisdom decided that there was going to be this, you know, into the community type of idea. I can’t.


Sabina Brennan  23:03

So the Eastern Health Board for listeners in the UK is like the NHS or a wall. Yeah.


PJ Gallagher  23:10

Yeah, yeah, we have the HSE was like a regional sort of thing. So and so they had this idea that people who had, you know, severe mental illnesses at the time, they report into houses around the country. Now, there was only a handful of places in the country this happened. And just I’ll hop on a handful. I mean, like, five or something. Yeah. So we ended up with six people who had schizophrenia living in their house had schizophrenia. Yeah. So six people who are schizophrenia lived in our house. So it was like mee mee, mee mah, my sister in the dog, and six people with schizophrenia. So I wrote a show about and it’s called mad house because I literally cannot explain it any other way. So I lived almost all of my childhood in this experience. And so was I ever going to be a doctor after that? I don’t think so. Definitely. Definitely. I met a fella recently, but you just mental health talk that Ted formatos disco a great guy, Ted for him. And he used to play for the dogs and he has this mental health night for lads. Right. And I was on having a chat about Tatiana talk with the lads there. And there was a lot that goes I was past that scheme as well. I grew up on that scheme. And he goes, would you ever think of working in the mental health business? Oh, just because he’s a psychiatric nurse. That was I have no idea how you did that. Because I couldn’t get away from a quick enough. Yeah, I’m like, he was like, No, no, he was compelled to stay with us his whole life. I was like, Man, you haven’t. I know how you did that. I couldn’t get away from it quick enough. Like I was just get me out of this. How many years was it like was this years? It was like 14 years or something? Yeah, it was long, like right through my childhood. And I


Sabina Brennan  24:46

presume these people were medicated and they were feel really sorry for them. This is just just the team mental health as


PJ Gallagher  24:53

a ward. Yeah, this is a new war. You know yourself. This wasn’t a phrase when I was growing up in the Do you want mental or your heart health? There was no mental health. So they were seen as mental.


Sabina Brennan  25:05

Yeah, no, it was terrible. We were very, very own PC. And we said, like, as you said, that Madhouse thing just, that’s a very common phrase in Ireland, people say, Oh, we grew up in tomatoes, tomatoes. And it just means you had a chaotic house. It was never intended that way. But that’s the only


PJ Gallagher  25:24

thing we all know.


Sabina Brennan  25:27

We did like I mean, it was awful, like psychiatric institutions were like called mad houses. And


PJ Gallagher  25:34

yeah, we’re terrible on people. And around our role, though, a call that I had was to know Hey, listen, you know, all of the you know, the common term, like very normal terms. Yeah, mine’s a new bar. Yeah, yeah. That was very normal towards a phrase, you know? Yeah. Back in the days where we used to refer to mental illness with the most passive weird way it’s never like, oh, James. Yeah, he’s taken to the bed or his nerves around him is massively suicidal, couldn’t leave the house for it his nerves around like he’s fucking nerves, or I’m celebrating people who had serious problems like buying buying on 40 Colts and Suzie Mossad is famous toggling characters who became part of the fabric of the city we live in. And there are people who are nowadays I would never you would never have somebody walking around. Terrible.


Sabina Brennan  26:21

Yeah, it’s very different world today. It is now and they’re still like,


PJ Gallagher  26:24

I think when it comes to that sort of car you see on this thing, I still worry today because with me, I hear mental health, mental health, mental health, and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s like saying physical health


Sabina Brennan  26:35

  1. Yeah.


PJ Gallagher  26:36

So for people I grew up with, I think would feel very excluded by the mental health thing today, it seems to refer to depression and anxiety, that’s depression, anxiety, things that really are killers. They kill lads. Especially you need to talk about these things. But we focus so much on that. I grew up with fellas who used to see his dead brother in the show. Yeah, start his dead brother was haunting him calling him a bastard and beating them in the sleep used to wake up picking up another like he wanted to get a dog in his fucking stomach, like these people are still completely No, we’re not talking about these people, these people,


Sabina Brennan  27:07

because that’s


PJ Gallagher  27:08

real and Madeline’s are not part of this conversation.


Sabina Brennan  27:12

There’s one issue I have with the way it’s gone. And it speaks exactly to what you’re saying. And that is that depression and anxiety, they run on a continuum. So we can all feel a bit depressed and anxious. And yet, it’s really important to talk about it before it spirals down. What’s happened a little bit is because everybody’s very open about talking about Oh, I’ve dealt with anxiety, or I’ve had panic attacks, or I’ve had the people who are looking at that who have much more severe stuff are kind of going well, no, hold on. I can’t even leave my house. Yeah. Not hard to these people.


PJ Gallagher  27:48

Obviously, completely mad.


Sabina Brennan  27:50

I can’t leave my house. I can’t even go on social media. I wouldn’t even be able to wash my hair and put makeup on


PJ Gallagher  27:56

my pink. Ray. We’re in the Arctic yesterday trying to you know, these are things that remember people genuinely thinking in our house.


Sabina Brennan  28:02

Yeah, well, that’s schizophrenia. So but I mean, eating disorders are in there as well, and personality disorders. And, you know, they’re serious stuff. But I also do think that there’s much more serious clinical depression, you know, where people really literally can’t function. You don’t identify with that sort of more public face of all I’ve lived with depression we all have. It’s a normal human feeling. Do you know what I mean? It doesn’t have to end your life. And that’s why it’s important to talk about it because we can pull ourselves out of it. But I want to talk to you actually about been adopted. So you told all along that you were adopted.


PJ Gallagher  28:37

Oh, yeah, we always knew. I remember finding out where people weren’t coming as a shock. I was in belgrove. I was chatting to a fella called on conference his name, and I was sitting there chatting to him. I can’t remember all the conversations go on. You know, when these significant moments happen in your life, you never know what happened on the laughter Yeah, it’s after so but remember just the moment I became aware that he was still with the parents the hug him. I remember initially thinking the poor bastard like the fucking like they couldn’t find anyone to take him. You know? Cuz me it was like they found your parents and then you grew up with your parent. Yeah, yeah. So whoever sees the story we tell ourselves, just remember that happening?


Sabina Brennan  29:18

Do you think that’s part of where your comedy comes from? Like, you’re a great mimic. Is that a right way to say it? You’re great at imitating people’s voices and all that to just start young?


PJ Gallagher  29:27

Yeah, yeah. Did Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  29:29

Yeah. Yes. It was finding something you were good at that made people laugh.


PJ Gallagher  29:32

Yeah. But again, for all that time, you weren’t good at something that was just causing fucking trouble for people. That was the problem like, Oh, yeah, that would have been the same as saying he’s really good at taking heroin or he’s really good at drinking like it was that destructive in the environment. I was so you were


Sabina Brennan  29:47

giddy. Yeah. You know


PJ Gallagher  29:48

what I mean? Well, yeah. And genuinely, teachers would have hated me and you know why you would hate a damn and I would have hated the confines of the school and they wished I wasn’t there. And,


Sabina Brennan  29:56

you know, when we grew up, like everyone was You have to remember to


PJ Gallagher  30:01

never forget all this you these are the best days your life. Right now. They were awash with 60 I’m like, I’m getting the fuck out. waste. I never looked back. never looked back. I do think it’s probably the day was sheer.


Sabina Brennan  30:21

It’s just the game you have to play. I let you tell this story, but you had a lovely mom and dad growing up, you know real drive to find your birth parents. No, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  30:33

no, not really.


Sabina Brennan  30:34

Did you imagine like, I remember talking to Joanna like, and she was imagining that she was part of this amazing acting dynasty.


PJ Gallagher  30:42

Now we’re very different takes on it. I think because I look back at my childhood and I have no real positive childhood memories. So I look back and I remember being very angry over angry that you were adopted. Yeah. Well, yeah. Angry data was adopted in the world and angry at all the world around me and I remember being very fuckin angry over. I remember at one stage having these talks on find a Monday and I’ll get my own back. That was


Sabina Brennan  31:06

so angry with them. I know.


PJ Gallagher  31:08

Damn. But I grew up every day. I agree with your mom. Yeah. Where are you everyone? Yeah. You’re reaching close to your mom. On we’re very close now. Yeah, yeah. But not always. No, no, he was close to anyone. Okay, okay. No, I misunderstood. Jesus. No, not at all. No comedy until the 90s. It sounds ridiculous. We live in the same house. But we didn’t know each other with each other.


Sabina Brennan  31:34

I don’t think my mother ever knew who I was ever. It wasn’t who you were, you just


PJ Gallagher  31:39

had to behave almost like that. Anyways, I was always in trouble. I was always very rebellious. I was never fit in. And nothing was really expected of me either. You know, so I guess. Yeah, I was just very angry. You know? Yeah. So I’m saying that was angry bird parents, but no more angry than anybody else. So, you know, it’s just full of hate when I was a young fella, you know, I was just so fucking angry all the time. Yesterday, he hated being able to control you know, not having any say in anything in my life. It drove me insane. You


Sabina Brennan  32:07

have to connect with lamsa say, he has this lovely line, because he was angry. And he says anger is just an emotion in search of love. I’m sorry, I’d love but that’s what it was.



Yeah, you know,


Sabina Brennan  32:18

I just think it’s a great way to look at it, you know, that it’s just there was something amiss. And that I mean, I think that’s with any kids that are acting out, or there’s something not right, you need to try and figure out what it is, instead of punishing the anger. You need to find out what’s going on in there. Like, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  32:33

I guess so. But then I wouldn’t let you eat or you know, you wouldn’t have got in even now, I won’t let anyone in. Like that’s never got, that’s not a thing that’s ever gonna happen.


Sabina Brennan  32:41

Why you are too much.


PJ Gallagher  32:43

I just don’t think I could do it now. And because I’m so used to and I don’t think I’ll ever want to do it. Now. It’s just not attaining. For me. I’ve never really felt I fit in with anyone or in any place. So like, for instance, like, a lot of times people say, Oh, you know, do your fucking great the charity work you do. And all right. I never avoid that narrative. Because for me, it’s nothing except trying to justify why I get to get up and breathe every day. And other people don’t. That’s all it is. Because I still feel like a fucking accident. And that’s never gonna go away. That’s just now I know, you can say whatever you


Sabina Brennan  33:18

want, if you man, like an accident, because I


PJ Gallagher  33:22

shouldn’t be here. I’m taking up someone else’s space. No, this is exactly exactly how I feel about myself. I’ll never change. I’ve had all the reasoning for this, though. But I’ll never believe it. And you’ll


Sabina Brennan  33:35

never change unless you decide you want to change. So I’ll never cheat. Yeah.


PJ Gallagher  33:38

So I always feel like that. So when I do charity work, whenever it’s just trying to fit in for a day or a minute or a week. That’s all it is. But trying to feel like you’re maybe contributing something rather than just taking all the time. Yeah. So when I was born, I was given away when I wanted to build a house. Other people have priorities. When I went to school, I was told I was terrible. I didn’t fit in. When I went to work. I wasn’t great. When I had passions for things in life. I couldn’t pull it off. So all these things in my life, I’ve always felt like I’m in the way I’m taking up a space that doesn’t belong to me. That’s always the way it is. It probably comes from being adopted. I don’t fucking know. I can only tell you that’s what I think. Yeah. So when they do these charity things, that’s the motivation behind so it’s selfish in itself. Oh,


Sabina Brennan  34:22

I totally agree. I do loads of pro bono stuff. And I don’t even see that as boasting. It makes me feel good. I don’t believe in altruism. It doesn’t mean you do stuff because it makes you feel good so I just think that’s just being honest. I do stuff because it makes me feel good. I was actually talking to Tom dawn and we were actually talking about doing stuff for free. Right now I’ll give a talk No, it’s fine. You do for free right and I have a fee then for my corporate stuff is how I earn my living costs and other people will ask you and they’ll say someone throws you 50 quid and you feel like it’s much easier to do it for free room that now rounded now either you give me me full Be? Yeah, if you turn around and give me an insulting amount, do you not realize that I just spent 10 hours preparing this via and at least I got the pleasure. Oh, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  35:08

I did it for you. I did


Sabina Brennan  35:10

it for free. You’ve kind of wrecked it. We all do it because we get something out of it or it eases some conscience or it just makes us feel good. It doesn’t matter. It’s benefiting someone else. And doesn’t matter what your motivation is, if someone else is benefiting from it, it’s good. And the thing is, with kindness, if you engage in an act of kindness to someone, you get a benefit, they get a benefit. But if someone witnesses an act of kindness, they’re more likely to engage in an act of kindness. It’s actually really funny. Yeah. Yeah. You know,


PJ Gallagher  35:41

Yeah, I think so. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  35:42

Anyway, so you have overcome so many things. So you got it. You got a sort of genetic form of


PJ Gallagher  35:50

Oh, I got this thing called Reuter syndrome. So hasn’t


Sabina Brennan  35:52

that cleared up for you? Or does it still fly one


PJ Gallagher  35:54

of the lucky ones it cleared, it went, it’s a type of arthritis, and you can get it in your feet and your hands whenever I get pain. I’ll never forget the pain. There. So it’s doing a gig in Cork. And remember, Arianna, Barbara, and the next day be in so much pain. So I still don’t know if that was thinking about what I


Sabina Brennan  36:12

did. That’s it. It can be triggered by


PJ Gallagher  36:16

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Anyway, I went to the doctor, and the doctor said, he was asked me like, you know, is it in your family course adopted? I don’t know. Is that history of heart disease? Or you don’t know, cancer? I don’t know. Like, you start realizing I literally don’t know what I’m made of, but don’t know what I’m made of. Now, I’m not one of these people who says I don’t know who I am. I’ve never that’s never been the challenge for me, thankfully. Yeah, people are not as lucky in their sense of identity. They feel lost. I’m not that person. I just didn’t know what it was made. Oh, yeah. Yeah, exactly. On my unfairness tour has always said, you have to find where you’re from. She says if you are born under a rock in Killarney, I don’t know why you remember that one time. You have to find that rock she goes. And that was what started me looking, wanting to find a selfish reason. Again, it was I just want to find out what is my medical history, like


Sabina Brennan  37:07

what is wishes, if there’s something wrong with that, there’s nothing wrong with that.


PJ Gallagher  37:11

I know. But I knew I


Sabina Brennan  37:15

didn’t need to be qualified as selfish. It just I wanted to the


PJ Gallagher  37:18

same time though, I kind of knew it was gonna disrupt other people’s lives and wants to say I started you can start by what became about something different, very, very quick. It became about Who are these people? And, you know, I want to know who these people are. And it all right. And so why is their lives and hopefully they are okay. And as you get older, you get a bit more understanding about the world. Really? Yeah, it’s not black and white, even though you’re still I still struggle with that. So the genuine desire to find out who they were, as well, as well, I started to mail. And then To be honest, I have a very, very quick for me, you know, I literally went to the adoption agency and sailed down the street and said conference calls and says, I want to do this. They said write a letter. Oh, you already knew I had two brothers and two sisters. You already knew that. Yeah, I knew this for years. I don’t know, at a point. My parents knew enough. To this day. I don’t know. But they told me your brothers and sisters. And one of the things my mom always used to tell me was you really need to find your family because you could be out there on a football pitch or whatever. And you and your product will be punched in the fucking heads off each other. And you’d never know each other exists. So she was a must have no she did not. Yes. She told me your brothers and sisters out there. Like she told me this.


Sabina Brennan  38:27

How did she know? How did she get that information? And you know me, me my never talk with this. Why don’t you ask her?


PJ Gallagher  38:33

I wouldn’t. Why don’t we just don’t talk but ah, ah,


Sabina Brennan  38:37

Look, my parents are gone. Yeah, I can’t ask any questions. And it’s only after they’re gone. You go. I should have asked, I should ask your haftar. She won’t mind. You can always say, look, you don’t have to answer this question. But how do you know I had


PJ Gallagher  38:50

brothers? Yeah. Okay. I’ll ask her today. I don’t really want to know


Sabina Brennan  38:58

this, because I kind of think I have to say when I kind of heard this first that you went looking for your mom, I suppose is what most people tend to do first and in your head, you somehow. I mean, we’re


PJ Gallagher  39:08

still together, like new doctors. Well,


Sabina Brennan  39:10

you knew that earlier. So I thought I think there’s one newspaper article that I read. It just shows you never believe and you read in the press where you talk about your mom was maybe a single mom.


PJ Gallagher  39:19

No, no, that’s not me. No, that wasn’t my story at all. No rice. No, I knew they were together. I knew there was a family


Sabina Brennan  39:25

just that makes it much harder.


PJ Gallagher  39:27

Do you think automated easy teases. Yeah, I think to be honest, my way of finding people as as easy as it can be, because I knew they were all right. I knew they were still together. I knew they had a family, you know


Sabina Brennan  39:39

that they have this family unit and then you were elsewhere. Like not great. I mean, it’s


PJ Gallagher  39:43

still put like every other thing that’s happened to me life I was the black sheep. So whatever, you know, like it’s not


Sabina Brennan  39:49

nobody new. Like that’s a mantle that you’ve assumed in a way because people said all that shy, like, but like you were an infant, and you were the first They were too young. Is that what it was? They gotta


PJ Gallagher  40:02

look, it’s 1970s Yeah, west of Ireland. It just wasn’t attain, you couldn’t do us you weren’t married, it was as simple as that. They were of Good Standing in the community. And I don’t want to tell their story, but it just wasn’t going to be a team. So, you know, the mother and baby homes, let’s face it, they were pretty full. You know, this is how we’re involved. You know? Absolutely. Your social standing. I think people now just don’t understand the social pressures of us. You know, so nude was, but yeah, but then again, best friends are still open, you know, when you start showing like nobody inherited bedspread, like he couldn’t believe that it was a thing. It was so weird. Like, a couple of months ago. You know, all the news came out. I was getting all these text messages for people like you all right, you know, this news and click but this is nothing new to me. Yeah. This is nothing new to me. Like, this has been my story for the last 45 years.


Sabina Brennan  40:51

Yeah, yeah. Yeah,


PJ Gallagher  40:52

I understand. You’re upset. And I was there. And it was like, Don’t focus me on this. There’s people who remembers my sister, but it’s not my memories. I don’t have memories. These are not mine. Like not for me, like older people have memories of it.


Sabina Brennan  41:07

And I think it’s hard for people to understand, like, we were more like commodities are different. Now we kids like


PJ Gallagher  41:14

it’s like, you know, I hear my friends and all that have kids. And they say, oh, why didn’t you never want to have kids and they just didn’t want to have the experience. You know, we only have negativities child, and they’re like, y’all went off. But when you see them, your life is different. And it’s never the same again, again, maybe it is for you. But I’ve seen so many examples to say the opposite that that is just not the truth. I mean, I’m delighted. That’s your truth. Yeah, I really am. Because you and your kids are gonna be very happy to get well like the amount of lads I grew up putting stuff on. pricks to them, they could be aware that their children lived in the same house like it was


Sabina Brennan  41:50

was very different because we weren’t parented like we were given orders and things that you have to do and more time you had to be in it on what to do, but there was no actual parenting. There was no giving you advice on how to navigate the world.


PJ Gallagher  42:03

It was a playdate You see? Honestly, honestly, like there’s no way like to go back to what we said at the start. You weren’t allowed in your own house. make deals and then the like documents the same as she had like, although they weren’t looking after you know, they would that was the way it was the world. That was the one that was Yeah, they were doing as good as anybody else. You can be sure laughs


Sabina Brennan  42:26

Yeah, yeah, that’s why I do think like it’s mad for women again, going back to the women thing like, why mom didn’t have a job. Our job was raising kids, but like,


PJ Gallagher  42:35

we have women got married to have to leave their job.


Sabina Brennan  42:39

So old is your mom that you grew up with shady trees? Right? trade and then is your birth mother much younger? Yeah,


PJ Gallagher  42:46

yeah, go bit younger. Yeah, I couldn’t tell you what he has. But she’s younger. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  42:50

which had been in her teens when she had I think she was 21 maybe something nice okay. Yeah,


PJ Gallagher  42:54

yeah, not sure to be honest. Like I’m


Sabina Brennan  42:57

not curious.


PJ Gallagher  43:00

Yeah, like


Sabina Brennan  43:02

anything I think that


PJ Gallagher  43:04

it’s hard to I can talk about my own experience of these things no problem. Yeah, no problem. This is totally alright to me. There’s no difficulty but I can never really ask anyone else I don’t know what that is for me and me and me my ex we’re still married but you know me x Elaine she’s still my best friend in the world so it’s totally grand but she’s she was so curious used to make me uncomfortable. So me and me various motor on Elaine will be unrelated be like what he and what was it like? Yeah, I tell us I might be like just taking a shirt off. I don’t know why the anxiety of hearing the information used to kill me unsealed I still is somebody who’s not doesn’t volunteer it and they don’t want me to don’t


Sabina Brennan  43:41

make that assumption. No, don’t make that assumption because they could be dying for you to ask and they could be gone. Why is he no interest in it?


PJ Gallagher  43:48

Why does he know you’re probably really


Sabina Brennan  43:50

hopefully THE COMPLETE REVERSE. And so the two he is they’re doing the opposite thing.


PJ Gallagher  43:54

I was living I grew up there. I was born you never spoke?





PJ Gallagher  43:56

So did you do your sister was adopted? Today and tomorrow we’ll all wake up. pretend nothing happened. That was my gift. No matter what happened. You never referred back


Sabina Brennan  44:05

to your sister was adopted as well. She was Yeah. And did you get on with her? Oh,


PJ Gallagher  44:08

you got to know my sister recently, right? We didn’t know each other like we live separate lives. Like I got up and went out. And she


Sabina Brennan  44:16

Yeah, no.


PJ Gallagher  44:18

And there she is Castaway. How she reacted he experienced were the only two people we know that lived his, you know, experiences, you know? And how she reacted like she from the start. She was like, I’m gonna have on she still says a million kids. I’m gonna have a million fucking kids. She goes a million kids. I’m gonna have a million of them. And she got married and she’s three kids and she has a dog. And she’s like, I want more on her husband goes Oh, caught me flew all over the wall. If you ever got pregnant again, I’ll tell him. I’m castrating myself. He’s like unwitnessed is never happening again. And that was her reaction was to run headlong into a family she could make hard on only alone on half that Yeah, where it was like get that for you Yeah I’m still running always gonna be running yeah but


Sabina Brennan  45:04

the thing is when you run you’re always gonna take yourself which way for yourself


PJ Gallagher  45:08

like I realized I had a very strange when we perception was because it was so angry all the time dark when it came to fight or flight I was always fight but I wasn’t I was always fly or you will cut the cord on teams quicker than anyone you know in your life I will caught the car because the car is too much buying if you don’t vary too much. I have never I never fight with people more than once relying gone. Really? Yeah. never fight with people more than once like the social CSRS comes down buying the car to school. The short has come down and that’s it.


Sabina Brennan  45:38

And is it because it hurts too much? or what have you done? No,


PJ Gallagher  45:41

no, you’re done. You know, I


Sabina Brennan  45:45

don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just really interested in like, a lot of what we do is a learned behavior. It just worked that way. So you just said a minute ago in our heads if we had arrived nobody mentioned it again. Never mentioned that, you know, but you were stuck in the same house. So it’s kind of maybe


PJ Gallagher  45:59

that was a valuable piece.


Sabina Brennan  46:00

So now you kind of go off. Always be fighting with Oh God, I


PJ Gallagher  46:04

never thought Oh, I try not to show them you know, oh, no problem grant and that you’ll never hear from me


Sabina Brennan  46:09

again. So you mentioned that you had a fair few injuries from the motorbike. I read somewhere that you have migraine. Or


PJ Gallagher  46:18

Yeah, I haven’t timecard I haven’t had them in year Sealy years. I can’t get to the bottom of why they went away, please. They stay away. Thank God for now, please. Hopefully they never come back again. The pain the agony of them was unbelievable.


Sabina Brennan  46:30

I have chronic daily migraine. So daily. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, no.


PJ Gallagher  46:36

There have been a long time. It’s great. A long time. I’m obviously doing something different. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  46:42

Well, I mean, yeah, there can also be changes in your body as well, like hormones kind of affected. And hormones change. And everybody like yeah, I’m an


PJ Gallagher  46:50

alpha now so different, you know? Things are different. sounds different. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  46:55

Guys have hormonal changes as well. And actually, we just don’t know as much about guys, hormonal changes, because most of the research has been done on women because like, we have crazy just when it comes to hormones, you know, something that really, really annoys me is people say they have migraine when they have a hangover or just


PJ Gallagher  47:13

Yeah, the Irish way is revert to the war. You know what I mean? It’s like somebody was, you know, obsessive compulsive disorder. And someone goes Ah, tell me about I can’t do what humans love to get. Oh, no, you don’t actually cleaning or Yeah, you know, people who have a hangover and say, I’m fucking dying. Jesus, I’m dying. The Irish way is to go. I’m literally starving. No, you’re literally not hungry. It’s the Irish way you deal with things


Sabina Brennan  47:41

I have to say. I think you’re very brave. I just have to tell the listeners about hey, this guest came back.


PJ Gallagher  47:48

Yeah, I was a cost. This was like pretty much it was borderline kidnapping. I was just getting out I just got on the car and I was walking into the house and then you and I go and come here. I’ll do a podcast. I was like, What the heck is this? Like? Yeah, I do a podcast and then she goes on not mental and like as we know the one sign of somebody who’s dangerous and mental is somebody that calls on not mental when they’re at your house to fuck is this and you’re like I do a podcast now don’t and even though it was he said don’t take our minds I’m a neuroscientist. Nothing about this makes sense. Now. I’ve interviewed Joe McNally. Where are we going with this? And then can I have your contact details? Or you can


Sabina Brennan  48:34

I could have been I mean as you said well I didn’t know


PJ Gallagher  48:39

I was like right to ignore this certainly Google this person I was like Oh, she is actually a normal human being normal like let’s be serious I’ve told people where I’m going to be today in case you did turn out to be a crazy person you know the world is aware of of my current location in case I disappear off the face of the earth


Sabina Brennan  49:02

Honest to God I have never done anything like that


PJ Gallagher  49:05

I was walking this is when all crazy people say this is solely out of character. Nothing crazy to say all the time it’s


Sabina Brennan  49:12

not like this I have no problem being described as crazy I’ll happily take out of the ordinary you know, it’s a bit weird to be stopped on the street and people you know, talking about you and stuff.


PJ Gallagher  49:24

Because it’s nearly always notice right? Yeah, they are nearly always notice right? So and stopped and fair of you by a lot of Eagles come here. I’m right in the middle. I’m so glad to match eagles. I’m right in the middle of xiomi movie. And I was like, I don’t know. And he goes Listen, he says I have a big budget right? I’m after buying 12,000 Indian Head massages from China. And I’m selling them all and it’s kind of fun. This movie was like, I can’t believe this conversation. You’ll see mountains athletes and various. So you’re gonna straight away just love this bonkers, right? Yeah, you know, you you Google better than him. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  50:00

knew I went, and then I went, you know what some amazing things have happened in my life through kind of coincidence, it kind of just works that way. So I walked past it and I went, I turned around, that’s the bit you missed. He’s gonna think I’m annoyed. And I went up with that attitude, I could see it on your face. I really felt like I got it. This poor man is actually terrified. He was like,


PJ Gallagher  50:24

well, only because for a brief minute, I talked to her, like, you know, sitting into been for the last couple of days waiting for me to come in. You know, it didn’t seem like it, you know, cuz it didn’t feel like a chance meeting. I was like she’s parked outside the house or something the last three hours for my wife, then you realize we only live down the road now as a girl just decided to be much more normal.


Sabina Brennan  50:46

very normal. to you. You were really, really nice about it. You were very polite. And then you gave me the email address. And I kind of went, I actually had the same thing. I said, I’ll email him, but


PJ Gallagher  50:55

he may not. Here we are. Yeah,


Sabina Brennan  51:00

we are. And I’m delighted. It’s great. So like, yeah, folks, you know, go for it. Sometimes you stick your neck out. You never know what happens. Oh, yes. I did want to talk to you about your new job. How do you find that getting up early in the morning?


PJ Gallagher  51:16

during the day, six and a half years? So you’re not breakfast on another station in the same building for six and a half years? So it’s not so your body’s used to? Um, well, you sweat? Yeah. I mean, 25 years doing gigs at night, and then suddenly, it turns out, you’re a morning person, you know? Yeah, it’s a weird thing to happen, you know. And another chair, like I love it, like I love being on the radio. I love


Sabina Brennan  51:36

you love it more than the stand much more. So it’s a little bit closer to the bike ride. Well, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  51:41

like, I mean, it’s not motorbike racing, but like I love it much more like yeah, like don’t get me wrong when I say nothing’s ever going to be as good as together No, you’ve ever won’t be tough doesn’t mean looks bad. No, I


Sabina Brennan  51:51

know. I know. But I still want that fuzzy stuff, you know? Yeah.


PJ Gallagher  51:55

Those days are gone. So yeah, you’re just gonna have to think about people nowadays everyone thinks they’re supposed to be happy all the time. You know wants to be miserable a lot of the time so we enjoyed the high of the day that’s a fire is a pretty good day, you know, the day is hard. So yeah, hitting tan duck on like, those days are gone. But that’s all I can you know, you reflect on them and you enjoy them in retrospect, and you know, I get my little nostalgia style fills those. Oh, you see, I’m


Sabina Brennan  52:25

not good enough. I don’t like to go and back.


PJ Gallagher  52:27

I You see, I did


Sabina Brennan  52:29

make me sad to see so I think I’m the opposite way.


PJ Gallagher  52:32

So no, I don’t I love walking around all the streets I walked around the 80s and remember and shit like that and race days and you know all the headlines, you will never go back and look at a normal bike racer and again, but I’ll play with it in my head. Like, you know, I remember it that way. You know, and, and when I get on my bike, and I ride my bike up and down the roads every day now, which is a long way from racing. But you know, remember it and go back into my head with it and well you can’t watch other people to know see, I’m not even doing that. Yeah, I can juggle this. I love watching people do things I can’t do. Yeah, or you’re watching football. Love it. Or like Yeah, and I loved watching GAA, mostly Bohemians and I love all that because I was never able to deal with so there’s a great mystery to it to me. Really Yeah, like love that shit. But like a lot like you know, I love watching people play music well to certain gigs. I love going to these things. But anything I feel I can do. I kind of devalued a bit so I don’t want to see anyone doing you know


Sabina Brennan  53:32

I don’t really like watching movies with Irish actors in it.


PJ Gallagher  53:35

Because I Oh yeah, cuz I have a bit of a jealousy. Oh, yeah. Do you know that kind of course but your time for you to detach and you can’t see them in character anymore. You’re seeing them and that’s true Seamus from the Albion kids yourself. Yeah, go on to know what you’re like. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  53:52

I would still feel like that. Like, I would still feel like a failed actor, you know, whereas my husband would be saying to me all the things you’ve achieved and I go Oh, yeah, but it’s a bit the same as you are Yeah, but that’s


PJ Gallagher  54:03

when it’s not acknowledged. Like when you say to yourself, there’s a part of me that feels like a failure


Sabina Brennan  54:07

when people don’t


PJ Gallagher  54:08

know you know, when your conscious wants them to go Yeah, you understand that? Yeah, yeah. It’s about me life as well because I think everyone has these things not everybody


Sabina Brennan  54:16

has the my tank.


PJ Gallagher  54:18

fuckin West definitely looks at himself and says, I should have got more he knows who you are in the world. Oh, yeah. I should have got I should have got more. You know, I let myself down there like everybody so but just infuriates me when I say are children and when people just talk about Yeah, I know where you’re failing on the same with this. Yeah, yeah. Rather than they go No, look at all the things you did get an interest in them now. I’ll do that tomorrow. Today. You’re looking at the shift. We’re looking at the shape today. Let’s look at the shape today. Look at the positive overload


Sabina Brennan  54:49

the time to be the one that I want to look at the shit now you see, I can look at the shit too long because I know a day is all it takes for me. I’d be gone. You No I have to keep doing stuff


PJ Gallagher  55:03

to ship the ship cuz I know you’re just shitting your to ship your ship and you’re everyone’s into ship item I can never do ship to ship fine to me. That’s to pretend positivity sometimes cares me I’m like I use all fucking message is anyone here to tell the truth? Is anyone here gonna tell the truth? Somebody say they feel like a failure because they know he is fucking do you know? That depends on the day but like literally Obama Barack Obama has definitely looks in some sense Should I let myself down and you can list out days and nobody feels like a failure when he was a fucking failure like we all are failures like all of us are as we are known to things and that we succeed and wanting. And this doesn’t mean anything Oh, no, but that makes you successful in this product. No, we’re all fucking let ourselves down all the time. That’s all right. Dreams as well. Get your fucking dreams go your dreams. I’m like a bank account. There’s never as much potential as your tinctorius you can achieve, do you know you can’t you can achieve on if you’re good at it. And your timing is good. And you know, people are you know,


Sabina Brennan  56:08

work hard and you see opportunities.


PJ Gallagher  56:12

A long time, it’s more than that the timing is wrong. If you’re a little bit too early, or you’re a little bit too late, or yet your dreams are fought. Like all your fucking dreams, your dreams, our baggage, your dreams or a story you’re used to let yourself down like, Fuck your dreams, I think more opportunities and things. Things are all right. It’s okay. It’s fucking okay. You know, it’s, I’m not forcing anyone else. You know, that’s I don’t know, the mayor. It sounds very negative when I say it. But I get a lot of comfort out of it. You


Sabina Brennan  56:42

know, I think you’re being what I call sort of accepting on that. And some people see accepting as some negative, but actually, it’s just not the way that is and you know, whatever. But I think the interesting thing is from a brain perspective is the brain is adaptable, right? It can change and respond is constantly changing. Right? Exactly. And that’s called neuroplasticity. And all that means is your brain has the capacity to change with learning. So failing is part of learning and that means your brain is constantly changing, but it’s adaptable. So that means when you learn and when you achieve something right you’re working to achieve it, you get your dopamine hit, you get your reward and then it’s done and it doesn’t have the same value because you’ve achieved it so you have to have something else or you need something else so like that like the minute you written the first book and like the minute that books written I go okay I need to get a third book deal it’s like the album’s are thing you know, and I am the last few months before this come out trying to come up with an idea for my next book. Yeah, and that went number one the week before last brilliant but I’m kind of going a year but it’s only number one in the nonfiction Irish Times charts I’m not oh me. No, but you know, and someone said to me a friend of mine who’s a literary agent she says but nobody can ever take it away from you You are an Irish Times number one bestseller


PJ Gallagher  57:58

that’s what I’d say to you. It is it’s only nonfiction yeah we can you can enjoy that like


Sabina Brennan  58:02

yeah yeah but I mean people think you make loads of money like you know


PJ Gallagher  58:09

never forget your naked camera the first year and like went from being literally a nobody comedian to a person was touring which I said no money. Yeah, homie lead cart. Lead card on a fella goes Bernardi


Sabina Brennan  58:29

you only got paid for the weeks you were on like it’s not like in the UK. Doctors have to sign on in here like you’re on the telly Yeah, I kind of earned six grand this year


PJ Gallagher  58:41

this year the actress who was doing Ferris Ed and like you know on sign and on and on posing for photographs yeah post office and are looking at what is they don’t know like to know whether they’re probably paying their TV licence but he’s like this is the weirdest thing like yeah it’s so minor scratch and I’m only posing for photographs and yeah people are going that’s your your man from Ferris. He was like dislike he’s like Tyrese demoed some testifiers and stuff as the I’m the only one here collected before everyone else is here paying bills I’m here collecting me scratch like walked up Fox. Like the celebrity in Ireland doesn’t mean we’re it’s weird like we’ve been so mad like we’ve celebrity mattress salesman in Ireland. For your celebrity mattress salesman, celebrity chef, celebrity hoteliers star and then we’ve hacked our swear to scratch Oh, they’re the biggest faces Yeah, like it so


Sabina Brennan  59:42

can I ask you this? I remember this when rochas doors was a shop in town. But I remember it This happened so often. I mean, I remember you’ve been doing your ordinary stove like your everyday stuff. I was raising kids and I was looking at something on the shelf and you’re conscious of people walk by I’m sure you get this all the time and then they start to walk back in


PJ Gallagher  1:00:00

Yeah, you got


Sabina Brennan  1:00:02

her and I kind of went like, I’ll just keep what I’m doing.


PJ Gallagher  1:00:05

Oh, she’s much


Sabina Brennan  1:00:06

smaller in real life than she is on the telly, and she’s this and she’s having a conversation. And they’re like this kosha and you kind of feel like


PJ Gallagher  1:00:14

I’m here. Yeah, yeah, I’m not quite recently in hospital. I was in a hospital getting a check of weather consultants. Thankfully not an RA. You know where people go, what’s your name is again. I was there PJ and she goes, now that’s not to me. She goes. Jason Bourne. He goes in fuckin isn’t. That was like really? Okay. Fair enough. Talk you have much different Oh,


Sabina Brennan  1:00:45

definitely. Definitely.


PJ Gallagher  1:00:46

I remember it’s like they know he had like, you know how we got normal stars. Yeah, yeah,


Sabina Brennan  1:00:50

I’m sure you’ve had people like that think they know you? They don’t realize that.


PJ Gallagher  1:00:55

No, you from an aspiring razor. I know you from and you don’t want to go? Oh. I don’t know. Oh, no, wait, wait. You want to pack them Valley family tree years ago there? fella car fondy Oh my god. Why is it? I don’t know. Did you know my God, it’s just these weird conversations. No,


Sabina Brennan  1:01:19

I remember that. Never knew you knew straight away that where they knew you’re from my character wasn’t very glamorous. So I was new. I’m looking shit. If they’re asking me to get recognized. I’m looking shy. And it would be a beautiful morning, say something in the middle of decorating it. And like that, you can’t you cannot turn it. Where do I know you from? And I don’t say What? I’m from Qatar. What school did you go? Because if you turn around, I mean, there’ll be someone like your show naked camera and you begin? Or maybe it’s fair city? No, I don’t watch first. You know,


PJ Gallagher  1:01:51

you just got a friend Eric Lawler who was in fair city, as called by by Carl. He’s a stand up. And he says because a fair city. So first thing is a different thing. Because he’s on La TV. He says that when you have a fair seat, you go into a whole new level. Yeah. Where people just thought he was the character. So yes, he was in Clare Hall Tesco and someone came up to him and goes, you’re some fucking bastard you can Oh, that’s a character in play. And he goes, don’t give a full quality as you’re doing you’re not biased. Like, you can’t can’t even play bread milk. Someone give me shit.


Sabina Brennan  1:02:25

I remember George Clooney. Not talking about myself are Irish actors in the same context, but like he’s a movie star now. But he started in sort of soap and that’s our thing. And like, that’s what he said. He said, when you’re in something like that, you’re in people’s living rooms. Yeah, they think they know you’re whereas when it’s a movie, you know, you’re going to see it and it’s a movie star. And it’s a level. It’s another level. But I remember there was a guy when I was in it. And he was a barman, actually, I think in McCoys, or whatever he was doing. He was up to no good. But we used to go down to the Tesco just down the road. Yeah, TV station. And someone started to beat him over the head with an umbrella. Or whatever you did. with mud. Yeah, it is what was salutely wild rice. Listen, I’ve taken loads of your time. What I do like to end on is to ask after I’d like to ask people to give their sort of advice on surviving and thriving.


PJ Gallagher  1:03:22

give up on your dream. Yeah, I mean, watch what you say. Are you done? I’m divorced parents to give anyone any advice. You know, stay lucky while you can. Stay lucky. Jesus Christ. It’s all you can do a wake up and try and feel lucky. You know what I mean? That’s here is really I’m not even messing. I just mean go with the flow. Like just do you


Sabina Brennan  1:03:49

know, I don’t believe in luck.


PJ Gallagher  1:03:52

I think you don’t believe in luck. I’m made out of the shit like I made.


Sabina Brennan  1:03:57

No, yes. No. You see that is giving away your power on your talent to look and your personality. And the reason people like you


PJ Gallagher  1:04:06

see, this is the things that color gone wrong. Yeah, but the time or the right person and the right so


Sabina Brennan  1:04:12

you were ready. You see, that’s my whole point.


PJ Gallagher  1:04:15

I’m not ready. Now. I’m not even ready for dinner. Are you?


Sabina Brennan  1:04:19

Yeah, you see you’re not seeing yourself from over here. And seeing how much people like you and how much joy people give and I can see why that’s hard for you to take in. Because you felt that grown up. Everything was the reverse. Right. I’ll


PJ Gallagher  1:04:33

give you a different answer. Okay. Be on a straight. Yeah, just a genuine answer. Right. In the last three years, I wouldn’t have given this interview to fucking anyone. We never give it up. Anyone, if Well, obviously, even even people who were attacking me in the front. Thank you know, but I would I don’t mean anyone but I would like if I’m having an interview. I will be honest, like, I wouldn’t have done it three years ago. It’s only last few years. It’s time to realize They call it an act. You know, it was an all bullshit I was sitting down and I was telling people people were asking me questions. What do you prefer? Do you love stand up? Would you love act and more? Little did they know how much I was DNR bullshit about love at all? You know? Yeah. And it’s just so much better to be I don’t I can sit here now and tell you how to ship that I’m not happy about yourself and I never will be. I’m be I’m alright with it. Yeah, that’s the thing you don’t I don’t feel like I need to fix anything anymore. Yeah, you asked me how things are if this is a bad thing, I’ll tell you I’m fucking awful human Are you never would have done it. I understand. Like, if I had to, I was looking after you. You were saying to me, if I was telling you all this crap that was looking after you to try not to make you feel bad. Try to make the journalist feel better. Or going into do radio interviews and trying to make them go have a good show. And that you can do all that just by yourself. I can be miserable and still give according to you, I think now, I can be better. And that serves me better as well. And actually, since I started being honest to people don’t just say Listen, I was laughing, but people say yeah, I can relate to that. Yeah, so be honest. I mean, it sound but be honest. Yeah, love your bullshit. is not bullshit. It’s the same as everyone else. That’s what I’m saying. If you feel like a failure, you are a failure. Fucking fine. Some of my songs to every other fucker in the pack. Don’t you don’t need to carry a bag in your own. We’re all carrying our bags of sacks a shift. We’re all walking around with sacks of shit that we’re never going to get away from. You look at all these certain celebrities now saying I feel better than you therefore I know better than you. And you know, you’re never going to be this glossy version. And so you feel like you can’t get away from Yeah, he’s a sack of shit lawyer bastard. He gets all right. You know, just fucking Be honest. Don’t listen to the sacks of shit who are telling you you can be anything you want to be be happy with who you are, be honest. Just be fucking honest. It will never free you. It will free you have your shit, I promise you, it will set you free. Yeah, you’ll be miserable. Just the same amount, which you’ll get out of it so much quicker. So much quicker. You stop being responsible for everybody else. And you’d be surprised where health comes from. Like, you’d be surprised how much you start making friends who are who will be honest with you back, you know, you lose those people. He’ll tell you what you want to hear. When you’re very honest with people that people will start being very honest with you back. Yeah. So you want to get to your life a little bit better. A little bit of a smile on your face. Or if you’re the type of person like me that when you’re miserable. You want to get wrapped up in your misery. That’s okay. Yeah, that’s actually quite an enjoyable thing to do. While you can enjoy uncomfortable and misery and anger


Sabina Brennan  1:07:26

sometimes, so just be fucking honest. Thanks to PJ for his honesty and I couldn’t agree more with his tip for thriving and surviving. Honesty really is fundamental to healthy relationships. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you go around sharing unsolicited honest opinions with random strangers. Although that would make for a great pj gallaher comedy character. You can catch PJ in his new series, the big DIY challenge currently airing on RTE. And you can catch up on previous episodes on RTE player. Well, I’m sorry to say that’s the last interview for season three. I’ll be taking a much needed break from podcasting to work on my next book and a radio documentary. I hope to spend some time in nature to to look after my mental health. I’ll still be on social media though. So do follow me at Sabina Brennan on Instagram at Sabina underscore Brennan on Twitter. I would welcome any suggestions for topics that you’d like me to cover in the super brain booster episodes. Thanks as always, to Emily Burke, who is more than just an editor and I couldn’t make this series without her. She is my right hand woman. We have amazing guests lined up for season four which will return in September in the interim. If you haven’t already done so please do have a listen to season one and season two. There are some brilliant guests and interviews and booster shots in there. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you have been listening to superbrain the podcast for everyone with a brain

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