Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 7

Life is not a sentence with Amanda Smyth

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  00:37 –


Books by Amanda Smyth


Black Rock

A Kind of Eden

Guest Bio

 Amanda Smyth is Irish Trinidadian, and author of three novels. Her first novel, Black Rock, won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger, was nominated for an NAACP award, short listed for McKitterick Prize, and selected as an Oprah Winfrey Summer Read. Black Rock was chosen as one of Waterstones New Voices, and translated into five languages. Her second novel, A Kind of Eden, set in contemporary Trinidad, was published in 2013 and optioned as a TV series. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in New WritingLondon MagazineThe Times Literary SupplementHarvard Review and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Fortune, her third novel, is based on the tragic Dome fire in Trinidad,1928. Amanda teaches creative writing at Arvon, Skyros, Greece, and Coventry University. She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and daughter. 

 Over to You

I don’t really believe in luck but I do believe in working hard being ready to recognise opportunity and being prepared to take advantage of it. I also acknowledge that some people have the capacity to recognise and take advantage of opportunity even when they do not work hard and are not technically ready,

Amanda’s latest novel, Fortune, is about seeking fortune and taking advantage of fortunate circumstances and the role that chance played in her own life.

Have you ever experienced fortunate circumstances.

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


Dr Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to Super brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. My guest this week is Irish Trinidadian author, Amanda Smith.

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:11

Amanda Smith, thank you so much for joining me on the Super Brain podcast, your most recent novel is called Fortune, which is a really interesting title, the connotations around luck and chance and fortune. But then also, there’s obviously the double play on your book. It’s about making a fortune. And I have to say, I love a book that takes me to another place. Well, this does two things, it takes you to another place in time. So the 1920s, but also it takes you to another place physically to another country, Trinidad. And it’s another culture  very interesting for me reading this book, actually, is the realization about how little I knew about Trinidad. We’ve all heard of Trinidad and Tobago, and I would hear of it in the context of sports or in beauty pageants. But I actually realized reading this, I knew really feck all about the countries. You know, I like a book also where I go and look something up. And that’s really kind of around the flora and fauna you talk about under the shade of the African tulip tree, and it’s lovely to kind of be transported to a place like that, where you can create new images of things. And there’s another insect, actually, that’s relatively early on in the book isn’t there that somebody gets, I don’t know that she gets stung. Does she ingest the insect or goes in her ear…


Amanda Smyth  01:29

down her throat


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:30

down her throat.


Amanda Smyth  01:31



Dr Sabina Brennan  01:32

And very scary


Amanda Smyth  01:34

Jack Spaniards, they’re worse than wasps. They’re a bit like a bee and a wasp, but they’re worse than a wasp. So they’re nasty.


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:39

I had a look at them online. So the book is kind of filled with those, you know, it works on multiple layers, you get transported. And then of course, there is a riveting story. And this podcast on Mondays I love to interview people about surviving and thriving in life. I think it’s kind of relevant to the book and to your own life,  because I think your life and your work and your writing are kind of interlaced and related, but I’ve just going to read a little passage because I think it’s so relevant. It’s just a kind of conversation here, but it’s a to me, it’s a big, kind of, almost existential kind of piece just snuck in there,  and I don’t want to spoil the book, really, in a way but Eddie Wade has returned from the US to Trinidad and is hoping to make his fortune by striking oil. He has no money really. And he needs an investor and he has one of these fortuitous, so here’s where fortune  comes in again. A fortuitous meeting with someone who goes on to become his investor, Tito. So Eddie is sort of speaking here. He’s talking about his father “and they tell me he was on the mountainside when a stone fell next to him. Then the stones fell thicker, one or two were big, too big to be thrown by anyone’s hands. Then he must have seen it was the mountain pitching stones at him. He ran towards the sea bawling for help, ash and steam pouring out, lava trickled down and buried the crops and houses. Volcano came like that, and no one knew it spewed for days. He’ and he being Edie ‘explained how his mother died soon after, because her big heart was torn right. out of her. There was nothing inside to keep her alive. At 55 years old, she fell asleep one evening and didn’t wake up. It occurred to Eddie that he was talking to Tito like he hadn’t talked to anyone in years. It felt good, like putting down a heavy suitcase he’d been carrying. Mother was full of tears, nothing worse than dying when you’re alive. I’m glad in some ways she’s gone.’ And then he kind of goes on to say, ‘Well, no, that’s not really true. A day didn’t pass when he didn’t think about his mother Tito listened and nodded, dying while you’re alive is a terrible thing. A lot of people live like that. He told Eddie, he was brave, you’re a fighter, you’ll do okay? Most people live their lives like a sentence. You know what you want. And I’m sure you’ll get it. And he goes on to say I know what I want. I died twice and talks about that. But I mean, that is just filled for me with such insights that so many people do live their life like a sentence. And there is nothing worse than a living death where you’re not doing that. I do love that line.putting down a heavy suitcase he’d been carrying. And you know, that’s about the importance of sharing and speaking with others, the weight of whatever it is that’s weighing you down instantly becomes lighter. It’s a wonderful piece. I hope I’ve kind of interpreted it.


Amanda Smyth  04:21

Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. And I think that is probably at the core of the book. You know this. It’s about being alive. It’s about reaching for things and in some ways it’s about overreaching because they don’t they go for something bigger than they can handle all of them in their own way. Yeah. over reaching Eddie is very much about feeling alive and being alive and seizing your life and making something of it.


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:44

Yeah, and interesting in that passage. He goes on to explain that he died twice once malaria and the other time…


Amanda Smyth  04:51

 in a plane crash.


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:52

Yes, I knew it was something very dramatic. And I think that’s also really interesting. You know, again, from speaking to people and reading about people who survive and thrive in life. It’s rather unfortunate. I think there are some amazing People that I have come across who have had something devastating happen from the brain injury, to going blind, to tragically losing all family members, to suddenly find a purpose and a meaning. And they grab life by the balls for want of another phrase. And I always think it’s somewhat sad. It’s amazing that people, and they’re the survivors, that’s generally how people survive these terrible things. And as humans, we’re very adaptive, and we have that capacity. But what strikes me is the sadness that we have to wait for something terrible like that to happen.


Amanda Smyth  05:41

Yeah. And we think we have time, we think we have so much time and we don’t we don’t have that time. You know, it’s when something like that happens. And you think, Oh, my God, we don’t have all the time we thought we had and then it’s now we have to seize the day. Seize the day


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:54

Yeah. And I wish I say it over and I’ve said it lots of times, I’m at the age where I’ve lived longer than I’ve left to live. And thankfully, I see that as a positive a little spur  to kind of go, go on girl, you got to go for it. You make the most of it. I just wish we understood that at an earlier point in our lives, that we kind of appreciated what we have. so Fortune Amanda Smyth is a fabulous read. It is set in Trinidad, as I believe Well, your other books are Tobago. Trinidad.


Amanda Smyth  06:22

they’re set in that in that region. Yeah, I put my characters in both places. And it’s a place that I’ve loved and wanted to write about.


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:28

So I should explain then to listeners, you have a very strong connection with Trinidad, your mother was Trinidadian. And I read one of your interviews and you said that  your mum took you to Trinidad for long summers when you were a child. And in one interview I read and I thought it was really quite interesting was that every time you arrive in Trinidad, it’s like coming home, but when you’re there, you still feel like an outsider.


Amanda Smyth  06:56

Yeah, no, that’s very true. I felt like almost as if when I live here. So I think when I was young before I found my tribe, you know, I was living in Yorkshire, which Yorkshire is a wonderful place, but I never felt much of a sense of belonging or I didn’t have any family there or really, friendships grew, but they weren’t people I stayed in touch with. So it was a bit like living in black and white, you now, and then when I arrived in Trinidad, it was Technicolor,


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:22

right? Okay,


Amanda Smyth  07:23

Everything was alive, and everything was lit and everything was saturated with color. And big things seem to come from that place. For me my strong relationships with family and the landscape itself really affected me, I found it, it moved me


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:39

you do write about it, like throughout the book. And there is that sense, in every scene of the country teeming with life, every part of it, the soil the ground, this is around Eddie hopes to find his fortune drilling for oil. So there is not this passive drilling the land, the ground, the earth fights back in certain ways. It’s almost like a tug of war And there’s a lovely weaving of different cultures within Trinidad. So as I said, At the start, I had very little knowledge of Trinidad and so I went and educated myself a little bit more about the indigenous populations which was, I believe, the Caribs and the Arawaks. But now you really have like a third of the population stems from the East Indies, and about a third from African descent, and then the rest very much mixed. And I love that you said a few moments ago that Trinidad is Technicolor, often it’s called the rainbow country because it has such a diversity of demographic cultures, religions, and tell me do they all live harmoniously? No, this is a podcast and you can’t really see faces, but there was a raising of the eyes and an opening of the mouth. But I’m curious and I’m putting my hands up to my ignorance. So I would imagine there’s poverty, economic divides,


Amanda Smyth  09:03

as you know, kind of rich and poor. It is very complicated place because on the surface of things Trinidadians just get on with everybody. You know, they do seem to have a they’re a harmonious people. They are religious people. They have strong faith. For whatever their beliefs are, it is in some ways it’s a very united country in some ways, and in other ways. They’re also very patriotic. So when you get trinnies who live, I call them trinees you know, you get trinees in in England who get together, you know, there’s a real strong connection and bonding. You know, I met a Trinidadian friend this morning, hearing that accent, just getting into that kind of everything is easy, cool, breezy, you know, there is a sense of it being very laid back. And they all kind of laid back people in some ways, but there are….. politically there’s a very strong black leadership, and then a strong Indian leadership.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:03

And so they’d be like, the two majority groups by 33% in each.


Amanda Smyth  10:06

Yeah, and 1%. White, you know, there’s a real mixing now, I think, when I was growing up, there was a sort of the whites probably kept more to themselves. Now, I feel there’s much more of a kind of mixing in of people, but there is a strong, there’s a lot of poverty there to some very wealthy people. There’s a lot of corruption. So you know, I don’t always feel so safe there.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:30

Right. Okay. And you do you actually have written about that in one of your other books..


Amanda Smyth  10:35

A Kind of Eden


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:37

Yes. And it’s… was it a friend of yours, or a relative of yours was attacked?


Amanda Smyth  10:41

Yeah, we have that in our family. So my great grandfather was murdered,


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:45

he was murdered. So that’s what you’ve used for the topic of your first novel, Blackstone, which I like, there’s so many things.  So your first novel was recommended by Oprah as one of her reads, which just is incredible in itself.So that’s incredible endorsement. How did that make you feel? First of all, because this was your first novel,


Amanda Smyth  11:06

that was my first novel, that was it. So it was an Oprah Winfrey summer read,


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:09

thank you.


Amanda Smyth  11:11

It was one of the 25 books you can’t put down for that summer. Which was great. And it was. And it was also at the time it shortlisted for the, you know, outstanding literary work for the NACP, which was things you know, because I’d probably never write that book. Now, for all kinds of reasons. It was a mixed race voice. It’s appropriation.


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:31

 I do find that very, very interesting.  I mean, that’s what writers do, full stop, they appropriate other people’s stories, they have the gift to tell, and even if they do make mistakes, or tell things in a different way that starts a conversation.


Amanda Smyth  11:48

Yeah, I agree with you to a point but i think you know, I’m doing that from a place of privilege. You know, I’m doing a very different place than that and I can in some ways, you know, I used to work as an actor. in terms of inhabiting another character, you know that that’s what you do as an actor, but I can see that I wouldn’t choose to do that in writing a novel from that,


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:07



Amanda Smyth  12:08

if somebody mixed race I don’t think I have any right Actually, I wouldn’t feel good about it. I still stand by the book because I think it’s well written and of its time it was you know, was a strong piece of work. And I felt that I had all the ingredients and the right at that point in my life to write about that because it’s about displacement. It’s about a young woman who didn’t really know where she belonged. It was about the way she used her beauty as a kind of currency, it’s written in the first person so I think that if I wrote that in third person now it would be acceptable,


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:48

right, okay.


Amanda Smyth  12:49

And I got into some discussing this recently with a friend who said that there was a when I wrote A Kind of Eden, you know, the way that I described some of the characters who weren’t white, and you know, I was describing them in a way that wasn’t generous, or I got slated for that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  13:06

 I just wonder how can we explore issues? How can you write about a fiction character, if all your fiction characters have to be politically correct? Because we don’t have a world where everybody is politically correct. So in order to even highlight those issues, you have to have a character who’s not politically correct. You have to have a character who describes people, disingenuously, in this book Fortune, you have people from all callings and walks of life. And if you’re writing from a voice perspective, you have to give that character’s perspective not yours. And you can put caveats in all the time.


Amanda Smyth  13:41

But I think that’s also to do with the reader. I know when I wrote this book, I was very mindful of something that the editor said to me when he initially read it. He liked it. But he said that it’s almost as though I’d written it in a colorblind way, right? Because the characters that weren’t the non whites, so the Grace character who becomes Eddie’s helper, yes, made that a call them a maid at that time, but she was much quieter when I wrote her. And I was also very mindful of, even though I understand and can, I think reasonably well, I can write the dialect. But I wrote it in sort of straight English because I was worried about getting it wrong. So okay, been very careful. And, and he said to me that you have to, and it was very helpful, because it was almost a sort of story where those voices needed to be heard a bit, and I had to do it with some sensitivity. So I wrote the Indian character, the Changi character, I really, I read around some strong Caribbean Indian authors, and tried to kind of really get that, right. It’s a minefield i. So I did get that right, I think in the end, and I was very careful, I was careful with all the black characters that like, I just had to be really sensitive. But what we’re dealing with right now, and there is a conversation to be had, because we’re even talking about that now. You know, that that I got it right? That there’s no controversy here. And I haven’t had any backlash. There’s been no trouble. But you know, even my agent, my own agent said to me, you’re going to have a job getting this published in America, and you probably won’t get it done, because no one will be interested in reading a book about the Caribbean by a white writer. You’re going to struggle. And I expected some even now expected some kind of backlash. And it hasn’t happened.


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:30

It’s interesting I alluded to the fact that your own life story influences your writings and the choice of the subjects that you write about. and your mother was Trinidadian, your father was a jazz musician from Sligo. And you grew up in the UK holidayed a lot in Trinidad. And so that impacts  hugely on your sense of identity. And what I think is interesting is that you spoke about kind of alluding to, you’re talking to your Trinidadian friends that you just met up with how they’re fabulous. And you know, their very particular spirit. And what I was thinking at the time was you were saying that, you know, we have a huge diaspora of Irish people across the globe. And what I found my own siblings left and went to live in the States. And I remember thinking, I literally lived 400 yards from where I grew up, I travelled for work, but I have not. I have not explored the world. My parents are both Irish, I’m going back very long way. I mean, one set of great grandparents did emigrate and spend time, you know, live in Argentina, around the time of the famine, but then they came back, so I’m very Irish, true and true. So that part of my identity I’ve never sort of struggled with and I actually don’t see it as a huge part of my identity. I don’t particularly see myself as an Irish person. I’m more into the humanity of people and connecting with people. It’s easy for me to say because I have no conflict of identity. And what I have found with a lot, and I am generalizing here, so forgive me, but I certainly found it in my own family. But as soon as Irish people move abroad, they become more Irish than the Irish themselves. And it’s a sense of identity comes in, I would imagine that happens with trinidadians, with people, you know, across the globe. And so I was very conscious, sort of going into reading this book of my own biases, my own stereotyping of trinidadians. And I think we all have that. And I think that books like these are fabulous. That’s why I love them. They helped me explore and highlight my own biases that I may not have time to just oh, I read about that culture. But because I’m reading this book, I go, Oh, I didn’t know that. Oh, I must read a little bit more. And I think that does really well. Anyway, talk to me a little bit about your identity. And your rather, I suppose it’s a colorful kind of beginning in life really isn’t. Your mom came to university in


Amanda Smyth  17:57

she came to boarding school in Dublin which people did you know, in those days, you sent your children away. And you may not see them for some time they come back home as


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:08

when are we talking about in terms of your mother having come to boarding school in Ireland?


Amanda Smyth  18:12

I guess she would have come there in 1960.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:16



Amanda Smyth  18:17

So she went to boarding school in Dublin, and I think she was not thriving in Trinidad. I think she was quite naughty. So my grandmother would have wanted her to come here and maybe get the nuns to straighten her out a bit.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:29

Yeah. And obviously, I mean, just the fact that she’s been sent to boarding school. She was from a relatively well-off family.


Amanda Smyth  18:36

I mean, I think they were okay. They weren’t particularly well off. They were okay. But they did travel, you know, so they had enough money to travel. I think my grandfather who worked on the oil refinery in Trinidad, he had a certain number of trips, I think, or passages that was part of his salary was Yes, to England. Every year on the boat on the ship. Yeah. So he would, they would have done that. But then she came to boarding school and she was there. But only in the summers. Could she go home, so she would go with her friend to slideshow during the holidays. And that’s where she met my father. My father who was 10 years older than her.


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:13

Right? And so she was only a teen.


Amanda Smyth  19:16

Yeah. So she was 16, 15, 16 when she met him.


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:20

So he was 25 / 26. Again, something that would be hugely frowned upon now.


Amanda Smyth  19:24

Yeah. And then she married him at 18 and persuaded my grandmother that that was the right thing for her. They came over and they went to Sligo and they saw her get married and wished her well and she stayed in Sligo town, you know, lived above the chemist, her father in law’s shop, and she lived there with my dad. But of course, she started to miss home before the Irish weather got to her.


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:51

I’m not surprised in Sligo


Amanda Smyth  19:54

so she would go home, but you didn’t really just go for a couple of weeks, you know, you go for a few weeks, which were then an entire months. And then she stayed longer and longer, longer. And I think she found you know, she’d had my grandmother would whisk her up, take the children off her and you know, she’d have help at home. So my mom could just go to the beach and go to the pool or


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:14

a young woman again, a young mother, I suppose you know, it wasn’t that unusual to be married at 18 back in the day.


Amanda Smyth  20:22

Sometimes I stop and think that my mother’s missed so many moments of my life, because she went to live there again when I was just 17. So she went back after living in England for a chunk of time. And in fact, her story was Tito’s, you know, I use that in the novel where I describe the shape of the island, you know, being like the tiger skin. That was actually my mother when she was…. I remember. She was living in England. She was quite unhappy here. And she went see a handwriting expert. You know, these people who can interpret your handwriting?


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:54

Yes, yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah,


Amanda Smyth  20:55

let’s see this person. She You know, my mom’s good fun, you know, she’d be up for doing something like that. She went along, and the lady who was interpreting looked at it and said, I cannot get anything from your writing anything at all, apart from this drawing of an apple core. And my mother said, That’s not an apple core. That’s a map of Trinidad.


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:12

Oh my goodness.


Amanda Smyth  21:13

And then you know, so she was always in her to go back, wanting to go back and stay and stay and stay. And so when I was 17, I just turned 17. We were there on holiday and she just didn’t come back.


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:24

So this is something I wanted to ask you. But just to backtrack for our listeners. So your mum met your dad who was a jazz musician at 18. They married obviously she was homesick he was traveling a lot and decided that family life wasn’t for him. So the marriage didn’t work out. So your mom then moved with you and you have a sibling,


Amanda Smyth  21:43

 a brother,


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:43

older brother,


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:44

and over to the UK and so you did the bulk of your growing up in the UK, so she’s only about 25 at this point, and then rather strikingly, as you said, well, all I had read now I understand you went to Trinidad and she didn’t come back. So I had read it as your mum went back to live in Trinidad And so what I wanted to ask you was, did you have a choice in that matter? Was there an option for you to stay in Trinidad? Did you actively choose that you wanted to go back to the UK? What way? Did that work? Clearly your mom in her head, because she was so independent at 16 obviously figured, well, you’re old enough now?


Amanda Smyth  22:20

Yeah, yeah, the baton gets passed on, you know, and it’s right. And I think I was quite grown up. And she had me at 22. So we have a good relationship. We’re like friends,


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:30



Amanda Smyth  22:30

was a young mum and I daughter, so we’d go shopping and do nice things together. And I think I was probably quite grown up for her. Her sister lived in England. So her sister lived in Leeds. And I knew that I wanted to do my A levels at an A level college. So I said to her, I’m going to be going to do that. And I will stay with your sister while I do those A levels. And she was kind of well, you know, I don’t really want to come back. But she didn’t really talk to me about it


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:58

Wow. So you made the decision, and you made the arrangement that you would make you would stay with the aunt who is described as a very liberal and so how did that play out? Did that make you more mature? Or did it make you take advantage?


Amanda Smyth  23:14

I liked having freedom, but I think my aunt was she wasn’t maternal, right? Not particularly nurturing. She’s much more she’s got older she is but you know, she had her own challenges. I mean, she was gay. You know, at that time, that was quite difficult.

Dr Sabina Brennan  23:29


Amanda Smyth  23:30

Yes, When I was young, I remember I was about 13. And when we used to go and see her again, she was only 16 years older than me.


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:30

So would she have gone to boarding school with your mom


Amanda Smyth  23:40

different boarding school


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:41

But did she go to boarding school in the UK?


Amanda Smyth  23:43



Dr Sabina Brennan  23:45

My goodness.


Amanda Smyth  23:46

Yeah. She was a high achiever. And she was my mum’s baby sister. And they were very, very close. So my brother and I, when we were little in Ireland, she would come over from boarding school, and they would just have a nice time. And we were very close to her. You know, I’d see her a lot when we lived in Yorkshire.


Dr Sabina Brennan  24:03

So you were her family when she was so far from Trinidad. So Easter holidays, Christmas holidays, those things were developed and spent? Yes, your mom and you.


Amanda Smyth  24:15

And she was impressive. You know, she rode a motorbike. I mean, she, Ali, she was very fine boned and slim. And so she’s not sort of doesn’t look big and strong. But she’d had a big match. Like, you know, I remember when I was about 13 going to her house one day, and she said, I went into the kitchen, and she one of her friends was there. And it was a very sort of quite hippie dippie kind of liberal. And she was quite political, much more so than my mother, and a real feminist. And this woman was typing in the kitchen. And the woman said to me, what’s your name? And I said, my name is Amanda. And she said, um, what do you want to do when you grow up? And I said, Well, I don’t, I don’t know. But I want to be an actress. Okay? And she looked at me in a sort of shadow must have passed over my face. And I said, but I’m worried that I won’t be very good at it. And she said, Well, if you’re not good at it, you probably won’t want to do it because we tend to not like doing things that we’re not good at.


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:09

That’s very astute. 


Amanda Smyth  25:10

Yeah, it is very astute and she was spot on. Now, that woman was Jeanette Winterson. She was typing up Oranges are Not the Only Fruit.


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:17

Oh my goodness.


Amanda Smyth  25:18

And I didn’t really know who she was at the time. But my aunt had people coming through her house that were interesting, that challenged me, you know, she would always challenge me, which meant that she wasn’t necessarily the kind of mum that would wrap you up in blankets and make you feel safe and yummy. And baking cakes, you know, she would tell me to go and travel and do things and push me to be adventurous. In a sense, she was really good for me and I adored her but I think in those years when I was 17 It was tough not having my mom I didn’t have that safe mommy place. You think when you’re that age that you’re old and you could do anything


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:55

Yeah, but then something happens and the first thing you want I mean all you need is a bout of diarrhea and you want your mom


Amanda Smyth  26:02

You want your mom mum and I think as my aunt thought of me as being sort of more like a friend that when I did I remember once crying you know after Christmas just like you know wish my mum wasn’t so far away because you’d have one phone call, it would be 60 pence a minute to phone Tinidad


Dr Sabina Brennan  26:19

This folks is way before mobile phones and I remember when my own siblings emigrated to the United States You know, it would be a phone call a week and that there was a delay on the line and it was just really impossible to have any sort of meaningful conversation because you kept echoing and talking on top of each other.


Amanda Smyth  26:37

Wait for the letters, the blue Airmail letters I remember once  getting upset and my Aunt said to me, don’t make your mom feel guilty. And I remember thinking but she’s my mom, you know and and now I have a nine year old You know, that I cannot imagine at 16 being that far from her, you know, but because I guess, as you said, you know, my mom had been a far from her mother at 16 and had become a mother very young in 19. She didn’t really see it in that way. And I thought look, you know, I was full of it. You know, I was like, Oh, I’m fine. I’m cool. But actually, I wasn’t.


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:10

So you had this, your mum gone? Did you make 10 contact with your father at all? Or was he just gone out of the picture or it and


Amanda Smyth  27:16

he was nearby? I mean, he was around,


Amanda Smyth  27:19


was he in the UK?


Amanda Smyth  27:20

Yeah. And he lived. I mean, there’s a certain point where we lived about 15 minute walk from each other’s houses, which was great. So he was there, but he was just not a father that, you know, he wasn’t my idea of a good father. You know, he was a rebel. You know, he was a bit of a hippie. He didn’t want responsibilities. Particularly, he was free spirited. You know, it wasn’t even about what he could give me. I remember when I was in my 20s. And I’ve been living in New York for a while I got back to England and I, I called him and I said, I don’t even have keys for your house. You know, I don’t even have a set of keys to get in your house. You know, you haven’t given me a home. Yeah. He sent me the next day keys to his house,

Dr Sabina Brennan  28:04

he probably just never even entered his head,

Amanda Smyth 28:06

never entered his head. But what it meant was that neither myself or my brother had a place that we could feel. And your brother stayed here in the UK. Yeah. So we could go back to that we could leave our stuff. If we went on a trip. Yes. Where we knew we could have Christmas where we knew we could return, you know, where we could you

had no home? inosanto home in that way.


Dr Sabina Brennan  31:40

And when your mother went and stayed in Trinidad, did she live with her family? Or did she have a home there? Or was it ever made clear that this will be your home?


Amanda Smyth  31:49

Yeah, no, she absolutely did. And then, you know, she did meet somebody who she’s still with, you know, who’s she’s been with for 30 years, who she’s happy with? And absolutely, she gave me, she would always always might, her home is my home. There have been periods of time when I’ve gone back and lived with her again, right? Um, I’ve had three years or two years of living back in that place again. But I think when I looked back and said, probably really terrible kind of basic psychology, but I can see where the holes would have been in the early years, that later there’s a price and those holes, I have to go back and fill them however I can. Where I may have slipped through. And you know, you find your tribe, don’t you? You know, at some point, I found my tribe,


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:33

you said that twice. So who is the tribe that you have found now,


Amanda Smyth  32:38

all I think I was quite lucky there when I was 18 / 19, I found a small group of friends that were very, you know, strong, I’m still in touch with them now. And that just when I was doing my levels, and they were very kind of interesting crowd. Then when I moved to London, I then found another group of people, again, through acting and through other things I’ve and those people are still in my life. So I think people who will have a strong connection with them, perhaps who were a bit lost as I was, you know, who had similar precarious beginnings and found their way.


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:13

yeah, do you think that because you lack those foundations, it actually makes you treasure and value and nurture friendships more carefully, than somebody who perhaps has a secure background. And so they become your family, your family are those who you live with. And I know I even have one friend who, every year I say to him, you know, he says, Oh, I will spend Christmas with his family. Now his mom is still alive, and he has siblings, but as a gay man who’s now in his mid to late 60s, where being gay was criminal in his early youth, his family are his other gay friends. And they spend Christmas together because so many of them had families who rejected them, etc. So they have become their family. And I think that’s kind of a really interesting perspective. Personally, I’m completely alienated from my blood relatives, I have absolutely no contact with any blood relatives other than my own children. And that’s good for me. So I do think it’s interesting, you know, when I come across, it’s a choice I wouldn’t have liked to make but it’s a choice that I came to a point in time where I go, okay, for my family, for my health. This is the only way that this can work. And it has worked very well for me. And then there’s other people Lemn Sissay, was a guest on the show. He spent his whole life searching to find out who his mom was. And I had a sister in law whose mom died when she was three and the father didn’t know what to do with the children. So he put them all in a home at school and went to the states to send money back. And I remember her saying to me, I thought there was nothing worse than having no parents and then I met your family however perfectly middle class, you know, from a socio economic perspective, it all seems perfectly fine, but it actually wasn’t. So I think probably books and things like that. And films, they can put forward this myth that everybody has perfect families. And that’s the best way to grow up. Or else they can actually open the door to and provide comfort by sharing those other kinds of stories. And that’s what I love about podcasting is that, while we can chat about your book, we can really explore everything more because I’m always interested why writers write certain things, I want to come back to your acting at some point on what you did until you eventually became a writer. You based your central character, on your great grandfather, who was an investor in the original dome oil well, which really is ultimately a tragedy that this book belongs to. So obviously, that was your mother’s granddad. Yeah. And I’m interested to know, so how far back does your heritage in Trinidad go?


Amanda Smyth  35:58

I think that probably from the about the 1850s. So there would have been a kind of, there was a Scottish contingency. So the Scottish I think that he was from barrack would have come, I think in 1840 or sometime around there. And then my grandmother was Portuguese. So there was some Scottish, Portuguese, French. So my mother’s mother and father, both for Nadia and their parents were Trinidadian, and then I think it would have one was anyway, some came from the Caribbean. And then before that, they came from France, a real mixture, but the character that I based this on was Tito is based on my great grandfather, who they called him Allah, the his nickname was Allah because he thought he was God, you know, he was a real entrepreneur, and he was quite successful, had a supermarket had the hotel, he was a very good business mind. And he did well for himself. But he did put money into this, you know, at the time there all these exploratory


Amanda Smyth  36:58



Amanda Smyth  36:59

down in the south for now, so he put some money in there. And on the night of the dome explosion, he was out of town. So he missed it. So otherwise, he would have been there and he would have died. You know,


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:11

it’s interesting, the evolution of this book,  you wanted to write about an explosion, and you were looking at the seven seven bombings in London, and then your mom told you this story. And so yet again, then you were drawn back.


Amanda Smyth  37:29

Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And she, because her partner, it was his uncle was also very involved in the dome. And there was a connection, then again, they were family members who were lost in the fire. So right.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:44

So this is very close to home. Really? Yeah, there was


Amanda Smyth  37:47

these personal connections, and they’ve been character started to what I don’t know about them, I would then imagine the writer does, you know, you kind of build a story around an idea of somebody and then I start to imbue them with all kinds of characteristics. And then they become real to me, I guess they were. I had a few of them in place. And I was working also on if I had a photograph, which I’ve used in is actually included in the back of this book. Yes, there’s some photos in the back of the book is a woman walking with a man with a white hat and a white suit. So he is my great grandfather, in fact, right. And the woman next to him is his daughter, but I kind of when I was writing it, I imagined him to be Tito. And I imagined her to be ADA. That’s where I began writing the ADA sections from that photograph face.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:35

Yeah, it’s fabulous. You know, and it’s interesting to see that process about how it’s just a little germ of an idea. I mean, I wonder where your idea dries, basically, an explosion came from the nose. That’s the one that just kind of exploded into your consciousness. So you alluded to it there that you had made friends through acting. So you’re 17 1617 you do your a levels. You’re living with an aunt, you’ve no sort of Central home, where do you go to next? What happens next in your life? Because it’s a long way until your first novel?


Amanda Smyth  39:09

Yeah, I mean, I think the other thing that even as I’m talking to you that occurs to me is that it wasn’t even so much what I didn’t have was and sometimes these things aren’t good, but I didn’t have a sort of father figure or strong directive force in my life. I had nobody guiding me particularly so my aunt would sort of trust me that I knew what I was doing and didn’t want to interfere too much. So the age of I did my a levels in English and drama, and then I applied for drama school, and I got in but then I couldn’t get a grant.


Amanda Smyth  39:43

Which drama school.


Amanda Smyth  39:44

It was the academy live and recorded arts. Okay, which I wanted to go to because they did film. It was yes, that did film so


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:53

I joined a theatre company. And I traveled around Europe with them for about a year. And then I joined another theatre company who will becoming an equity company. So they gave me an equity card, which was the big thing


Dr Sabina Brennan  41:07

really important because there’s certain theatre houses etc. and films that you can’t work on unless you are a member of a union. But it’s one of those catch 22 things you can’t become a member of a union till you show that you have worked professionally as an actor. So as a starting actor, I remember they start it’s this dilemma, how do I get this thing you think it’s so huge to get your equity card, and then sure you think all the parts will flow?


Amanda Smyth  41:32

When I look back, I can see that I was quite focused. So I, I left, I was living in Yorkshire that time, and then I moved to London. And then I got bits and pieces. I then met and fell in love with somebody who was a he was much older than me, obviously looking for a father figure. You know, it’s so obvious, you know, and I was looking fro a father figure


Dr Sabina Brennan  41:52

know in hindsight, I presume it’s obvious, not all the time. Yeah. And


Amanda Smyth  41:56

at the time, he was a director, in fact, an underwater filmmaker, director, so he did lots of adverts for Do you remember those sort of British Gas swimming underwater? The baby swimming under? Yes, I do. Remember?


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:08

Yes. Amazing.


Amanda Smyth  42:09

Anyway, so that was his work. And at the time, I was going for lots of castings. I was doing commercials,


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:15

yes, which is bread and butter money for actors basically seeing


Amanda Smyth  42:19

that kind of thing. And then, and then there was a couple of jobs that came in, and he was quite controlling them, and really steered me away from there was a couple of big jobs that came in and I remember not doing them, you know, that I anyway, that’s another story altogether, but a very big character he was you know, and I think at the time, that was another sliding door moment where I was offered a big job, you know, an acting job, a TV job, and I didn’t take it because I thought it would sort of jeopardize the


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:48



Dr Sabina Brennan  42:50

Now you’ve got a taste, which is interesting. Now you’ve got a taste of what it’s like having parents who want to control your life and dictate your life. I think that’s rather interesting that you had this freedom that perhaps you didn’t see as a freedom you saw it as a no, I don’t have any support, I don’t have any. And then you go for this one where Oh my God, I’m totally constrained. And it’s so funny, you know, it’s a form of rebellion.  You know, so after that, then what do you think sort of helped you sort of survive through these kind of years because you’re on your own you don’t really have you’re not totally on your own you have friends I suppose


Amanda Smyth  43:37

I had a very strong network of friends and I lived in Notting Hill gate I lived in a great flat with a friend you know, hardly paid any rent I had a really lovely few years of lots of just fun, great and by then I was sort of single and and then there was a certain point where I did a TV show. It was the bill I remember doing the bill and I did another TV show which is called all in the game. It was a TV drama, and I saw myself and I thought, oh my god, I am terrible. Doing this, I should not be doing this. I need to get some training. So I basically I left London and all my lovely friends and people and I went to New York to train I need to go and do some training. And I did I went and I learned you know I worked with a really good drama teacher and I did get better because I would get the jobs because I look good. But then when it came to doing anything now and again I did it really well but there were times when I just thought I should have gone to drama school Why did nobody tell me you know, everything on in instinct, and sometimes it worked


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:48

and sometimes that work but you do have done so so when I turned on drama school I had already trained from the age of eight with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and I had a qualification as a drama teacher. So I’d been Learning about all of those things for my entire childhood really, and loved it and all the rest, but I want to spend all my time learning more and kind of doing it. And it does help to go to a drama school because that can give you work and jobs can spring from that.


Amanda Smyth  45:17

You get better at your craft. Yes, yes. Unlike writing, you can write without anybody and basically need, you know, a notebook and a pen to write and practice your craft. But with acting, you need to be


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:28

Yeah, yeah, you need to be working. I mean, you can practice scenes and stuff at home. But you learn so much. That’s why I did initially I did an awful lot of student films, to learn my TV craft because I was trained as a theatre actor, which is very different. They’re different skills. So your book is called Fortune. And I know there was something else on page 71 that I wanted to refer back to in the book. I thought it was a very astute comment is about Katherine. And it just says in those early days, she was tough in a way that people who are hurting sometimes can be. And I underlined because it just kind of went Oh, how true is that? And I wonder did life toughen you up early life? Did you know In that, no, it didn’t?


Amanda Smyth  46:13

I don’t think it did. And I don’t think it did. And I think I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve felt most of the people that I’ve had around me, I’ve managed to meet some very lovely people and been loved and been looked after, you know, in friendships and just today I said to somebody that I’m a softy, you know, he’s not hardened. And I know I haven’t hardened. And I’m glad that I yeah, that’s good. I think I’ve got stronger through this. I’m definitely haven’t got hard.


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:46

Yeah, strength and hardness are kind of two different things are just brettler actually. And you know, if that kind of breaks, then what’s behind, you know, whereas stronger, you know, something that can bend and flex with things. But you’ve said you’ve met some really lovely people. And given that the book is called fortune, and talking about chance. And face. You met your husband on a tube?


Amanda Smyth  47:09

I did? Yeah. We’d actually met each other many years before. In fact, when I was with the director, really? Yeah. When I was 24, I was only 24. And he had come to the house to talk to this chapter about working with him because he worked in the business as well. So we met them. And then we saw each other a couple of times after I’d broken up with this man. And you know, we liked each other, but we were offering different things. He went to film school and it was off. I went off to New York, and we lost touch. And it was by chance. I remember I had a hangover, and I was supposed to be at work. It was the 23rd of December and I thought I should get to work but actually my head was pounding and I thought I hadn’t vouching for Waitrose the shop to go for 25 pounds. And I thought I’m going to my answer, Christmas, same art. And I’m going to go and buy some Italian biscuits. I had it in my head that I wanted some Italian biscuits some you know those little round sort of amoretti to do


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:12

you were craving sugar after your hangover.


Amanda Smyth  48:15

So I jumped on the cheap and instead of going to the waitresses that I would usually go to which is in Marlboro, I went to a totally different one in Finchley road. So jumped on the train went up there got my tin of biscuits, a big red tin, ran down to get on the train. And a woman was trying to chat to me, she was kind of annoying. She sort of chatting in my ear. And as the train pulled up, I thought I’m not getting on that train with her because my head is hurting. And I ran down the track down at the end of the train jumped in the last carriage. I looked up and he was there. That’s mad. Yeah, it was mad. And I had a black hat on and I was wearing a black hat with a red question mark on it. So he saw the hat and he saw me and I was wearing a long green. It was a beautiful coat. Actually, it was an emerald green velvet coat. It was quite dramatic. Wow. And he looked at me and he put out his arms. And he said, I’ve looked for you know, yes.


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:09

Oh. Oh my goodness, my heart.


Amanda Smyth  49:15

He doesn’t remember it this way. But this is what I remember. It


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:17

doesn’t matter yourtruth is your truth badly.


Amanda Smyth  49:20

 And then he came over and he gave me a hug. And then he said, we’ve got the train together up till Oxford Circus. And then he gave me his card and he said, Let’s speak later today. And we did and then that was that Really? Wow. How does he remember? He remembers it that I think I looked up and he said Amanda and I said Lee and that’s how he then came to write but he did say I’ve looked for you because he because he knew I’d been acting but I also had a different acting name. Ah rice you’ve been googling me but on on me and that, you know, it’s 2003 I guess you know those, but he had a photograph that he kept with me all those years. Wow. We’ve met And gone for a walk with friends and it was just him a knives this photograph and I also had the same photo. Ah, yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:05

there you go. So interesting. And so now, so you became a mum then at the other end of the scale to your own mum. And was that sort of by design or just the way life panned out that you met and fell in love later than your mom will say, or Yeah,


Amanda Smyth  50:21

I didn’t have even when I was with Lee, I didn’t have any interest in having a child at all right? My mum used to say, Oh, I hope one day you will experience what I experienced. And I think you’d be lovely my life just are Please go away. You know, I had no interest whatsoever. And then when I was 40, I just absolutely made a beeline for boots, and I wanted to buy folic acid. I just thought I have to have a child. It wasn’t even an emotional decision. It was a biological. It took my feet from London. I mean, it was so strong. And I came home with these mum to the tablets and I put them on the kitchen sink. And he came home that day. And he said, Do you think we should have a chat about


Dr Sabina Brennan  51:12

he noticed?


Amanda Smyth  51:15

And then he would have been okay without my thing without having a family. And then I think I was 40. And I thought I have to do this? Well, it was not negotiable. I ended to become a bit of an obsession, I think in the sense that I have a real white coat syndrome. So I was in any sort of medical procedures, I would just get very jittery very nervy around doctors. And I remember I was unpacking something and a box. I can’t remember how long I’ve had it. But I was looking through a box of papers. And I found this card that my aunt had given me the same amount, you know who’s been getting really all this time. And this card said every day. Do something that scares you. Yes, yes. Yeah, never remember that. So I picked up the phone that minute, picked up the phone and I rang the doctor and I said, I’d like to talk to you about fertility. Can I come and see you? And that was that. And within three years. I mean, it took three years I was pregnant, then I knew I wouldn’t have IVF I knew I wouldn’t do anything invasive. And then I was fortunate enough to get pregnant naturally when I was 43. And do you have a


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:18

boy or girl? Yeah. A girl. He’s nine. Wow. Wow. Lovely. I’ve talked to you for so long. Actually, the time just flies by but I can’t leave without because I’ve alluded to it so many times. I can’t leave without finding out when and how you then became a writer.


Amanda Smyth  52:35

Okay, I’ll try and make this quite tight. Yes. Yeah. So after being in New York, I felt quite battered. So I went back to Trinidad, which is what I did every year I go to Trinidad and I’d spend a month with my mum. And she’d always nurture me You know, when I went back she’d always give me the best you know, lots of fruit and really look after me encouraged me to rest. She’s brilliant like that my mom very, very caring and nurturing. So I went back typically to do this again to get fit to get brown to get feeling great. Come back to go for the castings that now I would had some training and a bit more confidence. Anyway, I got there and I was exhausted. And I stayed for a month. And then I delayed my ticket my state another month. And then I delayed my ticket. I said another month. Wow, I was sad. You know, I’d broken up with a boyfriend who was a kind of Irish boyfriend who drives, you know, take me back to Ireland a lot. And I was very, very sad. So I was probably slipping into a depression. And my mom was brilliant cuz she never said a word. She never said, When are you going? Your tickets expiring? Yeah, she just gave me the fruits gave me place to be and I stayed three years did you really, I stayed three years. And it was during that time I started writing. I had a laptop that somebody had given me to write some stories. And I’d always been writing I just started writing a bit more seriously. And around that time there was a guy who was running workshops in Trinidad creative writing workshops. He was a journalist, poet, creative writing teacher, and just a brilliant, brilliant writer. And he was running workshops, and my aunt came for Christmas. And she said, I think you should go to these workshops. There is about writing you should go. And as a gift, I’m going to pay for them v Oh, lovely. So Off you go. So I didn’t really want to do it. I think I was very down in the dumps.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:36

And I asked you what kind of age you were at this point.


Amanda Smyth  54:39

I was not young. I was 28


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:43

at that young 39 Yeah, that’s still very young


Amanda Smyth  54:47

2829 and I went to the workshops and he was a brute. You know, he was a very direct, super smart, you know, he tore apart somebody his work in the group and I came out and I said to my mom, I am Never going again. He was such a brute. And when I went back the following week, and I said to him, whatever home would you give everybody, triple mine? Give me three times as much. So he said, Okay, so I would do the work. And then I would see him before class, and he would go through it. And he became my kind of mentor. Wow. And he sat across from me one day, and he said, Listen, kid, he said, you have the thing. Oh, wow. Now if you have the thing, you must use the thing. But you haven’t been using the thing. So in another few years, you think that you should get married, have a family, get your fancy car, get your matching towels, he said, but you know what you’ll do your mash it up, you’ll do it and your mash it up. And then you’ll get married again, and you’ll have a bigger car and a bigger house, you’ll have more kids. And then when your looks have gone and you’re in your 50s everybody will want to run from you at parties, because you will be annoying and exhausting. So I suggest that you buckle down and you use the thing, and you start working


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:05

very interesting. Now I don’t like what he said about being your 50s and nobody, or what he’s getting at is when I call it finding your joy, you know, you haven’t found your passion. So therefore you really have very little to talk about and you become very your world becomes very small. I do think that’s what a lot of us are suffering from in the pandemic in a way as well as not being able to


Amanda Smyth  56:28

do but the other thing he also gave you was what he said that in his mind. I’m not saying that he was completely right. But he saw me as a sort of wave that I was untethered. You know, I had no home I had no sense of roots and no sense of real belonging. So for him, he said, If you make the stories and your work, the thing that becomes your home Yes, that thing that will make you feel good and safe. It’s not a man it’s not a house. It’s not those things


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:59

from within you. Yeah, I think we found I was going to end by saying you know, what piece of advice would you give people on surviving and thriving in life? I think you’ve just done it there.


Amanda Smyth  57:10

You know, it’s about you know, making bounce strong this your core, isn’t it? I mean, people talk about exercise to get your core strong. But it’s there’s another core, you know, there’s Yeah, absolutely all as the, the central view that it’s not about the things outside, it’s about building that and making that strong so that you can then have your place in the world, you


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:28

have your place within yourself, I say it over and again, you got to lose yourself to find yourself. So I’m sure you lose yourself in your writing. And that’s actually when you’re most connected to yourself. And I think we do tend to look outwards far too much for happiness, and for reasons for living. And yes, having children as a reason for living, but at the end of the day, at the end of your life, there will always just be you. And that’s not a lonely thought. I mean, you can have all the other things. But if you have found something within you within which you connect, that can be a very fulfilling life. Thank you so much for speaking to me. I didn’t even get to talk to you about your wonderful relatives in Sligo. But it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you, Amanda, thank you so much. The novel is fortune by Amanda Smith. I’ve said this before as well. I love when I get to speak to other creative people whose work I’ve never come across before it because it’s wonderful. Then I have a back catalogue. It’s like discovering your own little treasure.



Thank you so much.


Amanda Smyth  58:32

Thank you for having me.

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 6

Heal your hole with Norma Sheahan

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  00:37 – Why heal your hole?
  • 02:45 – Acting is an addiction
  • 07:27 – Acting as therapy
  • 10:41 – Working for nothing
  • 13:19 – memory, learning lines and Shirley Valentine
  • 23:03 – writing a book
  • 27:09 – brain fog
  • 30:15 – habits
  • 32:26 – selling houses
  • 34:53 – breakdowns, itching and fasting
  • 40:43 – studying
  • 45:03 – creative parenting, parental struggles
  • 55:47 – heal your hole test
  • 57:59 – Norma’s wisdom


Norma is appearing in Shirley Valentine at the Gaeity Theatre, Dublin from 11th to 16th October 2021 

Book tickets


Guest Bio


Norma Sheahan, actor, writer, voiceover, and host of the Heal your Hole podcast, she’ll try anything. She’s in Gaiety performing “Shirley Valentine” presently. She’s RADA trained and has performed in most theatres. She won best actress for Enda Walsh’s ‘Bedbound’. Tv roles include The Clinic, Mooneboy, Bridget & Eamon, Damo & Ivor, Dead Still, Holding, Women on the Verge, Can’t cope won’t cope and lots more




 Over to You

Shirley Valentine mis-pronounced the word clitoris incorrectly because she had never heard it said aloud, she’d only read about it in books – and thought it was rather ‘grand’ they way she pronounced it cliTORus.

Do you have any words that you mis-pronounce in public? I have a few to be honest – one of them is vegan and I’ve reached the point where I panic and don’t know which is correct veegan or veygan.

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


(this transcript has been produced by AI and checked by a human  – nonetheless it may contain errors)

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:00

Hello, my name is Sabina Brennan and you are listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with the brain this week’s episode is really really different because myself and Norma Sheehan are kind of combining our podcasts and everybody knows that I usually research my guests in depth and have lots of prepared questions this time I’m going Commando.And myself and Norma are just going to kind of get to know each other talk about all sorts of stuff and this is also going to go out as one of normals podcast episodes which has a fab name


Norma Sheahan  00:37

Yes mine is called Heal your Hole I’m not as experienced as you are now so I let your brain lead the way and if you have any holes that need healing will heal them along the way what my intro is usually


Dr Sabina Brennan  00:49

Welcome to the Heal your Hole podcast with myself Norma Sheahan where we look at all the various holes in your life physical mental, spiritual, emotional, financial, chemical sexual, and we give them all a good seeing to


Dr Sabina Brennan  00:59

our that’s brilliant. I was just about to ask you why Heal your hole? I don’t mean why you should heal your hole Why did you call your podcast heal your hole?


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:06

Well I did Celebrity Ireland’s Fittest Family, and Donacha O’ Callahan was our coach and we won it and we got 10 grand for Arc House Cancer support in Cork. But during the first challenge, I fell on my cocyx and broke it. Yeah, and Donacha said get up off your hole and get on with it. Down the line someone asked me to do a comedy tour and I said I don’t know anything. All I can think of is Heal your hole life this heal your hole idea. And I started it as a one woman show kind of a stand up it was touring, it was selling out because so many people needed their hole healed. And then COVID hit so we were 10 or 20 shows and they were selling really well and a few more sold out. And then I changed it to a podcast once COVID hit and turned the car into a studio with duvets and pillows and mics. And I used to do my voiceovers there anyway. But I started the podcast out there


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:59

it’s just absolutely brilliant. And of course, the way that came out was you needed COVID like a hole in the head. Like literally, everything was just taking off. Now Norma and I know each other because of the excellent Emily Burke who happens to edit both of our podcasts. And we really would be lost without her. She’s an absolute genius. She’s just brilliant to work with


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:19

Not only is she genius here, but she would be the guide of my voice career for many years. She’s always looked out for me, I do voiceovers as well. So I’d be the voice of supermarkets, for the government and fore banks and stuff. And certain people gave me a leg up when I needed.


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:36

Oh that’s fabulous. Well done, Emily, and I can do voiceover work too, Emily.


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:42

You certainly could, have you never done this?


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:45

No, I did always kind of want to do it in my acting days. So this is one thing that I know that you and I have in common is that I used to be an actor, and you still are. So I’m kind of a little bit jealous of you. Because…


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:57

Well, I’m jealous of you. Why? Because it’s an addiction and you’ve got over your addiction and got on with like having a sane life.


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:05

That’s really interesting, because it is kind of an addiction. I’ve never heard it described as that. But the reason I do know of it as an addiction we’re talking about acting as an addiction is that the amount of people that I know who are still in, it’s still doing, it’s still trying to make it and not making it and seeing that as “Well. I never gave up on my dream”. But you know what, sometimes you can go other directions and find different stuff. I mean, I’d be really honest. Like I didn’t go cold turkey and give up on my acting like I worked in TV, and my character got killed off. And it’s really weird here in Ireland, like you’re kind of told after you’ve had a big story ‘well, you won’t work for a while’ because everybody will know who you are with that, which is crazy everywhere else you’d be snapped up to go and work on other stuff. And I just thought I’d do a night course while I was waiting around because the hardest part of being an actor is doing nothing. The acting is the easy part in a way really,


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:00

it’s the acting is like going to a spa for a weekend or whatever. And you get minders, you get whatever. And the thrill of being actually performing is like taking drugs. So it’s trying to get the work is the slog, as you just said,


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:13

Yeah, and the not getting the work, the disappointment. And it’s that one thing you can’t act to yourself at home. I mean you could but then you’re really kind of going mad. You need to have a job somebody needs to employ you at least if you’re a writer, you can continue to write stuff. Acting is just one of those things and that I find that very, very frustrating. But you’re right, it is like a drug, you will get such a high. And even and I never did that much live theater, I preferred film and television. But I did used to get it right through to my fingertips just before I was ready to go on stage. And I remember someone beside me – we were doing a play in a pub somewhere –  mad play. And I was saying oh my god, it’s everywhere. And the girl next to me was waiting to go on stage said ‘Yeah it’s better than sex.’


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:57

And I knew I had the addiction. I wrote essays when I was six or seven When I grow up, I’m going to be an actor. And that’s it, you know, full stop


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:02

Right, Well, I started acting at eight.


Norma Sheahan  05:04

Yeah, yeah. So I was determined, but where I’m blessed is that I can’t not work. So I can’t sit and do nothing.


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:13

I can’t either.


Norma Sheahan  05:14

 You can’t either. So you know, you just basically found different strings to your bow. When you’re on a podcast, you’re acting. When you’re writing your books you’re writing, you know, you’re you’re still researching and creating, you have a creative gene that needs the buzz and the highs and the lows. And even if it’s your book, doing well, or doing good from day to day, it’s still a high as a whole


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:32

Yeah, it’s the same I make animated films, like I have animators, but I write produce and direct them, they’re the creativity, I found a way to blend the science with that creative need, urge, desire, I have to do it. So actually, I don’t feel in a way that I’ve given up on acting, I’m just doing it in a very different way. And I’m doing it in a way that I have control over. Like I give talks, I do a lot of corporate wellness talks that’s performing I’m not standing up on the stage acting as people might think.


Norma Sheahan  06:01

But it is performing way more difficult, you don’t have someone else’s script to perform. It’s your own script or your own.


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:08

So I have to write my own scripts. And these ones are research. They’re grounded in science, that’s great. But actually what I do is translate complex science into easy to understand information. And I hang a few jokes, and I try and find entertainment. My animations are all funny. Well, funny. They’re not funny Haha, in a way, like a stand up show would be


Norma Sheahan  06:26



Dr Sabina Brennan  06:27

Yeah, my first set of films where I got funding to make I actually pitched Could I get funding to make 10 fun films about dementia. Now there’s a pitch. But I said, here’s the thing. We have problems with dementia awareness. Nobody wants to talk about dementia, everybody has their head in the sand. I’m passionate about raising awareness about how you can reduce your risk for dementia. Yet the Alzheimer’s Society sent me films and say ‘Have a look at this and see what you think’. And I didn’t want to watch it. Because I don’t want to be depressed. So my solution was, well hang on, can I make little cartoons where there’s a bit of humor in it, but the message is there. And I did that and they just took off. Just because the topic is serious doesn’t mean that you have to treat it with this reverence, where you can’t laugh. And they worked because people can laugh and cry, and still get the message


Norma Sheahan  07:13

That’s why your podcasts are great as well. Because you know, one week you could be crying listening to it, and it could be so deep and scientific. And another week, PJ Gallaher, has you peeing in your pants, you know, I find with acting as well, but we got sent to drama classes as kids,


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:26

Me too


Norma Sheahan  07:27

I was addicted and hung on to it. Well, my sister did the best of all of us, because she had a stammer and a lisp. And she went from that to having a better job than the other four of us and outearns us all, because what drama gave her was the humiliation of standing up in poetry competitions or in a class or whatever, and delivering blah performing. So she’s able to present herself like you do at your talks in boardrooms and wherever and at trade shows, and I would reckon drama did more for her than probably me.


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:54

But you know what, when I so kind of to give myself permission to kind of try acting full time, I got into the Gaiety School of Acting, unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to go because I had a mortgage at the time, which was kind of tough. At that time, I had two young kids, but I qualified with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to be a drama teacher. So I taught Speech and Drama to kids. Now a lot of the parents came to me and said, Can they do their exams? For people who don’t know you can do exams for Speech and Drama like you do your music exams, You do your grades, and you can qualify, etc, at the end as a teacher or as a performer. And I did those from the age of eight, right up. But that’s not the kind of teacher I wanted to be. And so I said, No, if you want them to do that, send them somewhere else, I’m here to actually build their self confidence, give them the skills to be able to have a conversation or to talk to people in public. And that’s what I was about. It was about fun. And that’s actually obviously then sort of what your sister gained of it. And I had a couple of parents came down and said, You’ve just oh they were so shy, and it’s just kind of transformed them got them out of their hole, their dark hole.


Norma Sheahan  08:58

Got them out of their dark hole, because it is therapeutic. Like a lot of kids who are anxious or have difficulties in certain areas of life. They do art therapy, or music therapy, but acting would be another one. And yeah, I’m delighted that you got a good mix of it. And the  poetry and the boring stuff as well. Like I did those exams too that was good as well because I learned the basics of the breathing and whatever and helped me in life. And then when I went on to drama school in London, you know, do you still do bits of that


Dr Sabina Brennan  09:21

Did you go to Rada?


Norma Sheahan  09:23

I went to Rada.


Dr Sabina Brennan  09:24

Wow. So guys, who don’t really know like RADA is the créme de la créme really.  Oh, I’m so jealous. And did you go full time?


Norma Sheahan  09:32

Yeah, it was three years full time


Dr Sabina Brennan  09:34

Oh my god. Was it heaven? What was it like?


Norma Sheahan  09:38

Well, I mean, just getting through the auditions was tricky because they see 1000s and they pick thirty every year. I don’t know what it is like now but back in the day, they didn’t really focus much on the voice overs or the filming. It was very theatrical, which I thought was not great in that they didn’t prepare us for the real world. We should have had a class and accountancy to manage our  ourselves of businesses. We should have had voice over work. We should have had way more filming work because that’s the way work was going. I mean, I had amazing three years it was like most best therapy ever. But, you came out of it thinking that you could live off theater. And like the people who’ve worked in theater 12 months of the year could not live off theater. It does not pay and you’re not told that. You’re not told that.That you can’t go and have kids and a mortgage and have a life if you’re a theatre actor it’s not possible


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:23

I think it’s different now though, isn’t it?


Norma Sheahan  10:25

No it’s worse isn’t Worse, effing worse


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:29

Worse – oh my god


Norma Sheahan  10:29

I got offered Oh could you do this play for 1000 I was like a jeez whatever


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:33

No, no, I don’t mean the theater. I mean, RADA


Norma Sheahan  10:35

Oh Sorry


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:35

I’m sure RADA do some film acting now


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:38

Oh yeah, theatre Yeah, any sort of performing art Oh yeah.


Norma Sheahan  10:41

I might as well finsih that one. They said 1000 euro and I was thinking jeeze, you know you know whatever I’ll weigh it up see if that covers child care, petrol all the rest of it looks good. Sounds good. No, it was 1000 euro for five weeks work which might be good if you were living at home with mammy and you know after tax whatever that would be. I was just like, Are you asking someone in their 40s to do five weeks work someone that’s been working at a trade for 20 years I was just going I don’t know what to say to you actually I don’t know what to say


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:10

Yeah, yeah. Actually before we started the podcast myself and Emily were just chatting there I mean, the amount of people who expect me to work for nothing, I mean, you think you leave that behind when you’re in acting and you do it at the start right? So I think I was about 32 when I started to act professionally and I was happy enough I had two kids so that same sort of scenario mortgage all the rest and I did a lot of student films and stuff like that and you do those for nothing and then there was this like profit share theater. There was never a profit. So essentially you worked for nothing you paid for your own costumes you know like literally it costs you to work on those shows


Norma Sheahan  11:47

and the films as well doing the short films for people I would still help someone out if they wanted to get a leg up and they wanted to make a short film over a weekend I will turn up and I’ll help them and there’s no money involved and you’ll do it just like you know a favor


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:59



Norma Sheahan  12:00

But if they come back then and ask you to help them with PR and stuff like that you just go look Are you having a laugh now you better send me a picture to post them if you expect me to spend a couple more hours on they’re going to go to this festival that festival the other festival


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:12

Yeah. Yeah,


Norma Sheahan  12:13

sorry you want to go to the festival buy the ticket and pay for your hotel travel as well. Just going hang on No, I gave you a weekend my life.


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:21

I gave you something Yeah, you see and I thought you know, that would change but it’s quite the same. You know, I give talks and those talks take a long time to prepare and I do get paid for them thankfully and I have an agency, I do most of it through an agency because it’s just unbelievable with people they just expect you to do it for nothing. And you kind of go It’s like they think ah well it’sonly an hour and you kind of go well actually no it’s not only an hour it’s been all the years I went to university and it’s all the time that it takes me to put together I do a top class talks and that all takes time and I do a lot of pro bono work


Norma Sheahan  12:54

even just showing washing your face like and getting there


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:57

and putting your makeup on and when you’re doing that you’re not doing anything else. And I do pro bono work exactly like that. And you know, I have a group of charities that are related to dementia, multiple sclerosis, migraine, those kind of things. And I do a lot that way and happy to do that. But like people, I don’t know randomly in some businesses expect you to just show up


Norma Sheahan  13:19

come here speaking of dementia right, and you being all knowing about the brain and stuff like that. I’m doing a show shortly opening in the next couple of days. Shirley Valentine. I have to speak for an hour and 40 minutes and I’m in the middle of rehearsing and learning the lines. Do you have any tips for me because I thought I knew how to learn lines. But there seems to be obviously it’s probably more difficult when you get older. But it seems to be about focusing being in the moment, being in now, getting rid of every distraction, reading it numerous times, listening to it numerous times, then putting it into the mouth numerous times saying that I still get up in rehearsal and it just comes out my hole literally, and it’s to try and stop just seeing it and then it has to be literally in your like you’d say abcdefg hijk lmnop to get the emotions across. I’d forgotten because I hadn’t taken on a part this big with so yeah, you might only have two scenes in a day, you might have nothing The next day, then you might have three scenes The next day, you might have nothing The next day, then you four lines of a day. So your grand so you can fit that. It’s a long time since I’ve done something so gigantic.


Dr Sabina Brennan  14:18

And it’s an amazing play. And if you get a chance go and see it. It’s an in the Gaeity 12 to 16 October


Norma Sheahan  14:25



Dr Sabina Brennan  14:25

Gaeity 12th to 16th October,


Norma Sheahan  14:27

but then it’s going to tour the country anyway. So you have to


Dr Sabina Brennan  14:30

Oh, right. Okay, brilliant. The thing is Shirley Valentine. It’s an incredible part. That was my audition piece for the Gaeity School of acting.


Dr Sabina Brennan  14:40



Dr Sabina Brennan  14:40

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hello wall. She talks to the walls basically doesn’t she? I loved it. It was my dream to get to play Shirley Valentine. I know at the time like that was my audition piece and I would have only been in my 20s you know, 26 – 27 but Willie Russell is a fabulous playwright as well.


Norma Sheahan  14:56

I had a zoom call with him yesterday. He He wrote Blood Brothers as well.


Norma Sheahan  15:02

We zoomed with him because he knew we’re doing in Ireland and he knows that I can’t do the Liverpool accent. I have no intention of boring people. Oh, you’re not doing the Liverpool? No, I’m not. So he’s really happy for it to be set in Cork because that’s like, the biggest city in Ireland. So he came on zoom for two hours to help us. There was about 20 words that he wanted to make Irish.


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:02

That’s right


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:21

 Oh, cool.


Norma Sheahan  15:22

So he’s allowed us to adapt it to.


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:25

Oh that’s brilliant. That’s brilliant. And I can still see her face. The woman who played the part in the film because it is a film folks.


Norma Sheahan  15:33

Pauline ….


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:34

Pauline Collins. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, she’d lovely dimples. And she was just brilliant. And I always remember that line. CliTorUs


Norma Sheahan  15:40

Clitoris. I think it’s nicer that way could even be a name. High ye clitoris, wait till I tell ya clitoris


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:50

She’d only ever read the word. So obviously, she said it out loud is just brilliant. It’s a lovely piece of work. And at the time, it was really very novel. Do you know what I mean?. Because I mean, that was early 80s. Would it have been?


Norma Sheahan  16:01

Late 80s, well mid080s it was all about discovering the clitoris, you know, it wasn’t all wham bam, Thank you, ma’am. And about just finding in your mid 40s that you’re, you know, your kids have moved on, and you’ve got nothing and you’re, you’re institutionalized by the sink and you’re afraid it


Dr Sabina Brennan  16:16

she used to literally be talking to the walls?


Norma Sheahan  16:18

Yeah, yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  16:19

And then she goes to go on a holiday? And she does?


Norma Sheahan  16:21

She does.


Dr Sabina Brennan  16:22

Yeah, that’s it. It’s a fabulous play. Like it really is. And it’s a fabulous part. But I don’t envy you the hour and a half of script, exactly like that. I worked in television and soap. And you might have 16 scenes in a week. But you have time in between scenes to learn your lines and know them. And it is true. Like, you can’t act, you can’t be a character. If you’re looking for lines, the lines have to be there. And then you can be them. There’s nothing worse I don’t know about you, like you know the way sometimes, you know when you’re not getting it because you can hear yourself saying yes, that’s when you’re not in it. I never really was fond of the word you know, in this as an actor you’re performing and I said no, I’m not performing. Someone who sings perform someone who dances performs in a way when you’re an actor you’re being if you’re performing, it’s false. If you’re being you’re in there in it, you don’t always get it is one sometimes you can hear yourself and you kind of know you’re not quite there. And that’s why you have to have the lines.


Norma Sheahan  17:23

Only like some shows you come off and go oh, god tonight was a bit stilted. A bit technical. Yeah. And then other times just go with that just felt great from start to finish.


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:31

Yeah, it does and I suppose that’s the little piece of magic?


Norma Sheahan  17:35

How does the brain work to? I don’t know


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:37

to do that.


Norma Sheahan  17:38

 Like, I’m getting I’m getting there. But like, it’s you know, and I will, it will be perfect. I probably,


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:43

yeah, I suppose I guess what you got to do? Yeah, cuz I mean, I give our long talks. But the thing is, I have the freedom to change lines. And to go with the flow, I don’t have a set script for my talks, I have set topics that I cover, and I have slides and I know what I’m going on to and some of them becomes set because they roll out. And you know, maybe you said the one time you go that really works. And you can kind of say it again. But I have huge freedom. And that’s why I like my talks to be that way that especially if there’s people in the audience, and you can see when people are nodding, and you can see when it’s a moment an ‘aha’ moment for them. And so you’ll give it a little more. And you’ll say yeah, you know what I mean, and so I like to be very free in my talks. And that allows you to improvise, but the thing with theatre and with plays is you can’t you’ve got to stick with the script, I guess the best trick would be to because it’s so long is to break it down into…. and the play is sort of broken down in that way


Norma Sheahan  18:39

you’ve scenes


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:40

Yeah, so it’s probably is to see it nearly as multiple different pieces rather than one long piece. So you do this piece and then your brain can get rid of that piece. And then your brain doesn’t have to think oh, I have to remember, an hour left. Now Actually, I only have to remember this next little five minute segment. And this next little. I’d say that kind of might be a good way for your brain not to get overwhelmed or really for you to get in the way of your brain, thinking you’ll be overwhelmed.


Norma Sheahan  19:08

And I suppose the brain as well, you know, simple thing of going for a walk and getting some air and coming back to it. The brain does get exhausted, doesn’t it


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:17

Oh yeah it gets exhausted, and you have to give it a break. And that’s the same like I’ve done stuff around kids studying for exams, and coming up to Leaving Cert and their kind of studying all day right through to te night. IIt’s pointless. Like it really is pointless because there reaches a point where nothing is going to go in, you are far better off taking a break. And one thing that I often say is actually to take exercises at lunchtime, There’s a natural slump in the afternoon, all of us kind of feel as there’s a dip in our alertness. And one way to counteract that is actually to take exercise at lunchtime. And if you actually take exercise at lunchtime, you can learn better, you can remember more and you can focus better. So like that say if you’re kind of working on and learning and actually if I think about it now I didn’t know about it at the time, but when I used to be learning my scripts for the show, I would learn them at home and learn them and learn them and learn them. And then I would go for a walk. And I would say them in my head. And similarly, I would say them in the shower,


Norma Sheahan  20:11

or driving is a great one as well.


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:13

Yeah, those kinds of things. And I would kind of go through them and that, yeah, I mean, that is it. Yeah, repetition and trusting that your brain knows it. And that you just don’t get in the way because if the stress hormones get released, that will get in the way of you finding the words,


Norma Sheahan  20:30

and it’s not brain surgery, you know, it’s not life or death. It’s close enough, but it’s not. And I do remember when I was studying for the junior cert, I loved studying for the junior cert I, my granny had just died. And I went over to her house. And I put my nine subjects in different corners of the room, and the hall and the kitchen, I made out how many days I’d left, and I was going yeah, that many days, which means that many half hours left before the junior starts. And I put all those tickets into a box. And I go over and I pick a ticket out of the raffle. And that meant I to do 30 minutes of music. And I think I then went to the music. And there was another ticket in there to do something else. Well the excitement.


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:06

Ah, that’s brilliant


Norma Sheahan  21:07

of going through it. And knowing that history was over there by the telly, music was out by the coat stand. And yes, I could visualize everything and did it in little chunks. And yet,


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:20

the chunking is an absolutely brilliant way to do it. So the surprise bit for me there is that you pulled it out of a hat and surprise yourself, which is lovely, I would have that organized brain and I would have had all that organized. And I did it for my sons as well, you know, and I would say right, that’s what you have to do for geography. That’s what’s there for history. You’re going to do that today, because there’s only X number of active days left and I would figure all that out. And but actually, obviously, then that will work really nicely for Shirley Valentine as well just put different parts of it in different parts of the room.


Norma Sheahan  21:50

Actually, sorry, I’ve done a bit of that already. I cut the script up into the 30 something pages. I had the script as well. But I  printed it out, 36 pages or whatever. And I put one in my bra when I’d be going down to, just picking a random page and stick it in my bran and walking down to the shop and back and pull out and have a look Then another one I was going for, someone was driving me somewhere and I took I just didn’t know which page would be just random obviously have to put them back into order.


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:11

Yeah, yeah, yeah,


Norma Sheahan  22:12

like that.


Norma Sheahan  22:13

That’s what I did, actually, a couple of weeks ago was to just get started and get familiarize. And yeah, I’m probably at some point here we go back to Yeah, and


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:20

you’re kind of doing it you kind of know yourself, what works for yourself. It’s just been a while, as you say, since you’ve kind of done and doing a one woman show. That’s Well, in one way I think that’s kind of empowering because you’re totally in control. So you’re not dependent on anyone else’s performance


Norma Sheahan  22:37

inside the door of the cooker or the fridge, I’m going to put a little list. Worst case scenario, I go over for a top up of the wine and I go, Oh, Jesus, there we are. Back we go.


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:45

Yeah, yeah, you could, but sometimes having that then can put you off.


Norma Sheahan  22:49

That’s true. That’s true. That’s true. How many books have you written?


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:53

Two Beating brain fog? Yeah. And 100 days to a younger brain?


Norma Sheahan  22:58

You’re just legend? How do you get your brain over a book? How do you keep the whole book in your head trying to create it?


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:04

Oh, yeah, it’s a bit like that. It’s a bit like what you’re talking about. It’s kind of a bit backwards. First, I suppose you know, there’s a story that you want to tell. And then you know that there’s really important key messages, key points that you have to tell. For me, then it’s again, probably a bit like acting as well. You have to find a way in. So you have to find a way to tell the story. Do you know what I mean? Because, yeah, these are science based books, but you want to tell a story. And I learned like, I think my second book is better than my first book. The first book has all the content, but I didn’t trust myself enough. Whereas this one, I went, Okay, I know how to do this. It’s got more anecdotes, and it’s more casual, has all the science in it. And I think it’s an easier read because of it. But you still have to find a way and you kind of have to find a structure to build it on. So you’ll know that you have to have a structure to the play you’re writing. There has to be highs and lows because if you deliver Shirley Valentine all at one level, it’s the most boring piece of drivel. So part of the story is the highs and the lows and the emotional piece and the humor and all that


Dr Sabina Brennan  24:11

in editor thing because I know you’re seeing some of his scientific push. Still people are going to put your book down and pick up a different book if you don’t grasp them. And like the way when you’re watching a film, if there isn’t a twist or a turn or a hope every four minutes apparently you know people change the channel or turn Wow, wow. You’re involved in your book to keep an


Dr Sabina Brennan  24:28

eye Yeah, but they don’t really do that. So basically, I had to for this one, I needed to find an inn. I knew I’d had to be there. I knew I wanted to write about hormones and brain fog. I knew I need to write about autoimmune disease and pain and brain fog. And then I knew I needed to write about like the lifestyle factors like nutrition and exercise. So that was fine. That was kind of my chapters. But I also knew that I need to tell people what brain fog is. And then I also wanted to empower them so that they understood their own brain fog, not just to say something Oh, I have Brain fog, I wanted to be able to say to them, well look, if you have issues making decisions, that’s actually related to your frontal lobes, your executive function, here’s things that you can do to work on that specific aspect. Or this is exactly what you can say to your doctor so that you’re not just going in with this vague sort of, Oh, my brain doesn’t seem to be doing what it should any more. Well, for me, what I needed to do was find a hook to sort of hang it on. And actually, for me, it came with the art of war. It’s the Art of War by Sue, I think, I knew how to pronounce it when I was doing the audio book. And I included quotes from him. And it’s fabulous. So I have one section, which is knowledge. That’s the first section. So that’s knowledge about the book. And he says, you know, if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you’ll also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. Matt gave me the hook because I was giving them knowledge about the condition, which is the enemy, but knowledge about themselves. What is it about you that is kind of contributing to that and so the four sections, I think in the book, I have to kind of look at them again, our knowledge, power, change, and future. So knowledge is power, and you can change your future. And so I was kind of able to slot them everything in under that, once I kind of had that. And then I suppose as well, people like patterns or brains like patterns. So each chapter follows the same pattern. There’s an anecdote sort of at the beginning about someone’s experience, then there’s a brief explanation, then there’s a bit about what you can do about it. And then people get into that rhythm. I suppose. That’s it, but it’s very different to writing a fiction book, I think it’s more about keeping it accessible so people can see themselves in it. And actually that’s the biggest compliment I’ve got about that book from people emailing them saying to me, I can see myself on every page and I just had a great that’s it


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:09

because the hormone thing with the menopause was it hormone brain fog with menopause more than


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:15

well no right across with hormonal changes, fluctuations or imbalance so you can get brain fog with BMT you can get it during pregnancy baby brain you know post pregnancy


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:25

coming off the boob is a scary one as well.


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:28

Is this I didn’t breastfeed so I actually didn’t know that I know


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:31

it because it’s basically a delayed generally you get postnatal depression yeah it can be held off onto if you suddenly come off the ball when you don’t gradually do it right you just get thrown into this madness and yeah my dear friend who was running around naked throwing plates at people and draw to be okay well don’t up and you know, and luckily she told me her situation just as I was delving into whenever I can


Sabina Brennan  27:55

Yeah, it’s amazing that if you know something is coming, that sounds more like mental health for you know, rather than brain health or brain fog, but I can sort of imagine and see why but it’s just the change and it’s the estrogen job really in menopause, which is really particularly awful, perimenopause and getting there and that’s one key reason I wrote the book because I think so many women because of the age that happens out there may be dealing with parents who have dementia and they may be concerned that they’re getting themselves and I just wanted to kind of get but no this is brain fog. This is something that you can do something about this is absolutely categorically not dementia It is very different. It’s reversible it’s occurring because of x y Zed


Dr Sabina Brennan  28:35

I agree it’s very connected to nutrition as well because I did of course nutrition and I would say my mind is much clearer if I’m having like alkalizing foods and avoiding you know the wheat and dairy and stuff and even a few years ago I did kind of a yeast infection diet and I during the die off period I have a lot of brain fog which I felt was like almost like a mini chemotherapy because


Dr Sabina Brennan  28:55

so what you mean the die off period when you’re coming off yeast,


Dr Sabina Brennan  28:59

what’s called the Candida diet to reduce these so into our fold sugars so I think the body is expelling all this toxins from all the yeast in you to get the right balance back and then you get this die off period where you feel you’re burning a fever and stuff and you get brain fog a lot of brain fog as well. Okay, so no my dream


Sabina Brennan  29:18

no i don’t know i mean i you know, there’s a huge relationship between the Gosh, and your brain. And there’s a huge relationship obviously the fuel for your brain is the food that you eat. So like rubbish in rubbish out. The best evidence is for Mediterranean diet in terms of brain health. So basically lots of colorful fruit and vege oily fish, nuts, olive oil, really healthy diet, no processed foods, and I know myself. That is when I feel the best. That’s fine. I feel the sharpest. That’s when I don’t even have to worry about my waist. And I’ve tons of energy and all the rest. I don’t know why I fall off. It’s sometimes like why do we fall off anything you It’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:00

really I mean, we told that I just went on bisque thing the story and I was, I just felt Yeah, life is tough to be I should have stayed on her feet, I just just went out the window only olive oils may have candles and sponges and all rest of it, and it was the exact time when you needed it. But yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:15

I know and it’s really funny creatures really in that way that we, you see, the thing is, habits never disappear. So bad habits or unhealthy habits never disappear. And it makes sense for habits not to disappear because you don’t want to forget how to tie your shoelaces just because you spend six months in flip flops over the summer you know what I mean? That’s habitual behavior. So it makes sense for them not to disappear so they’re always underneath there and so we would have been certainly my age I’m older than you but would have been brought up with very unhealthy diets actually, to be honest as I was kids loads away bread, cornflakes for breakfast, white bread samples were probably an orange colored cheese for lunch and then dinner was potatoes and a little bit of meat if you got it and most of us hated our vegetables we really had crap diets. So then for us introducing a healthy diet is introducing a new habit a new way of eating and I know I feel great when I do that etc but like that we know that all habits resurface when you have disrupted sleep and when you’re stressed that’s when they resurface and that’s what the last 18 months has been is just chronic stress and it takes work it’s cognitively demanding to introduce a new habit and I think that’s probably it’s so many of us have experienced brain fog during the whole time. It just feels like that it’s just hard it’s just too hard to just do the day to day stuff without having to do that extra work of the diving Of course if we did that it would work out well but you know what I am kind of a little bit with people who say Hold on a second we are dealing with a lot let’s kind of do what we can deal with because I’ve gone up and down now during the pandemic like I’ve gone skinny and heavy and skin well not skinny skinny is is a relative term. But when my book came out like I knew I had to be pinned for that vanity worked there because I knew I was going to be on the telly and so that was fine but then I kind of fell back and gained it again and I sort of been opened down but I also have had other stressors you know one of my kids was seriously ill a couple of months ago um you know this and we should talk about this My house is up for sale


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:26

is it still optimal


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:27

yeah yeah it is still fucking hooks oh no exit podcast I can do that yeah, yeah that running around and I mean my house is always tidy unless I’m madly rushing to put on makeup then I can create the illusion of a bomb explosion in my bedroom in the two minutes but generally speaking it is but when you know someone’s coming to walk around your house and may open your heart press or open you’re saying like you literally can spend hours cleaning and that’s what I’ve been doing anytime people come to view the house


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:58

well you were very lucky because we sold our house in the height of COVID so people were told you will only get one visit right if you put down your deposit you may get another one all the visits were 30 minutes apart so the house can be cleaned. I think they’d wear gloves coming in and so it was very intense


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:14

and did you have to clean out the estate agents do a bit of a recurring what they didn’t


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:17

touch anything and they were given gloves to Yeah, so that was the house was totally aired while they were in there so it was really really clinical but the beauty of that is that it sold in a week wow but yes what I was also told is they have one visit so during that visit they are allowed into the attic they are allowed into everything in the house yeah they’re allowed to open everything which normally on the first visit you could shove stuff into the attic and just yeah the attic had to be sure house as well. So I just was like right, let’s throw our lives away. So I just got rid of so much stuff.


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:48

We got rid of a load of stuff during COVID Yeah, as well. Which was quite therapeutic.


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:53

Yeah, no, it’s still stressful. But I have to say we probably have the easiest sale you could imagine June


Sabina Brennan  33:59

Wow. No, our house went on the market in April. We had Yeah, we won’t talk about the first estate agents we had but needless to say shouldn’t bring anyone in.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:09

Okay, yeah, I’ve had a few dodgy experiences over the year with a woman where we follow with them and we sold it ourselves years ago and they back to us and said oh do you mind if we put a sold sign outside the house for you know what I actually remember going grant Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:24

so they were pretending they sold your house we’re also


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:27

looking at another house and they’re saying we really want to see we really want to see it and they were like no no we can’t get you to see what we want to see this other house and they were selling our house the fella selling our house had both this other house and had pizza Wouldn’t it they were selling the house as well and we wanted to see that house for moving but oh that’s illegal


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:44

I don’t think they’re allowed to do that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:46

But I’m not saying they were the cause Yeah, anyway we


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:48

got another guy in who’s great man. He’s brought loads people in to see the house so


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:53

it’s you know, with all your brain gurus, do you know where to park all that stuff and to prioritize and like not having mental breakdowns.


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:00

Oh god no I had like, as I say to everybody, I’m a human being first like Jesus, I know what to do doesn’t mean I can do it or I do it all the time. At the moment like I’m struggling desperately with my sleep, I give talks on how to promote good sleep. I’m struggling with my own sleep at the moment, but I do know and I’m working on it and I do know that I have to fix that mental health to be honest Actually, I did a podcast on this a couple of weeks ago that I’d been trying and failing with diets lately and that’s not like me like I really determined it’s a bit like that actor thing you know, you can go all focus blinkers on, this is what I’m doing and that’s normally the way I would be with diets and exercise. If I want to lose weight, I could have done in like two weeks exercise three times a day 800 calories and lose a bunch really quickly. And I’ve tried that the last few months and I just keep falling off the wagon you know, and that’s just not like me and it was only when I was doing a piece for one of these booster shots that I realized, you know, I really have had disrupted sleep for the last few months for several reasons. And to cut a long story short, if you have disrupted sleep, you can eat up to 600 more calories the next day. Yeah, and a few other issues like that. So actually what I’ve decided to do now is I’m not focusing on dieting I’m focusing on getting my sleep back on track and if that gets back on track then I should be able to kind of and I started back at the gym yesterday and I should start to be able but I have a problem is I developed a rash sort of last year during COVID I think my brain is allergic to my body Do you know I always get these things like itchy stuff and


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:36

like eczema eczema


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:38

no it’s not like an exam of this this thing is literally just there’s nothing there I’ve had biopsies taken my skin just gets mad he and you can see them there I just aged till I dig a hole in it


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:48

and then that leads and Julie’s wheat and dairy are you off to wheat and dairy?


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:51

Well you know what I am back on the Legion dairy but I go off again But no, this started like April 2020. So I actually was eating quite well then at that point, it’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:00

probably you’re just trying to close your own skin then you’re trying to


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:03

lay down I don’t know what it is I just Yeah, like my husband got his hair cut the other day and he came back and he said can talk to you have to go publish our I get that feeling the itchy hair off me is what he said. And I said Well, welcome to my world because that’s what my body feels like all day, every day at the moment is just either like you’ve been in the attic or you’ve been at the hairdresser’s it’s just mad,


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:24

horrible. I’ve done three day water fast if you just take water, just water, maybe maybe a little bit of Himalayan salt or something like that. And what it does actually is Yes, you’ve got you get the brain fog part of it. But you start to I’ve never been enlightened. But you start to have this amazing awareness and space and your senses go up and your snoring goes down, and your teaching goes away. And your vision improves. And it’s just all these yeast attacking you that are they whatever, whatever is going on in your body, or your body just gets an old hug.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:57

Probably a last hug before you die of starvation. Yeah, no, we’ve gone into another zone, I think Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:03

my friend just don’t up to 14 days. And like, you know, Jesus did 40 days in the desert. And that is a thing. Nobody wants to do that. But apparently you should do a three or a five day one a few times a year. It’s basically stop breaking down sugar and you move into breaking down the free radicals. So you’re breaking down the toxic sells your fat burning. So you’re breaking down the toxic sales. Now it’s not for weight class, because you’ll put it on straightaway back off. Yeah, it’s not it’s not a diet. It’s just for like, it’s like a mini chemo detox.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:30

Yeah, I kind of think we so much junk. And we actually eat too much food. You know, like a lot of these blue zones where people live long and live healthily. And with sharp brains, they tend to eat very little, you know, they just as much as as they need. And we weigh more than we eat.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:49

all the religions have one day fast a week. So that would right, you’d eat your dinner on a Thursday night. And you wouldn’t break the fast breakfast till the morning. So every Friday it would be just water but sure we turned it into fishy and fake. It’s Friday day. And you know, yeah, if he were to be diligent about it, you’d have one day a week where your system would re


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:11

just get a chance to Yeah, I mean, I did the 800 fast. And that’s eating 800 and I’m not advocating any of these. This is just us chatting away here. I did the 800 fast which is Michael Mosley I think it’s I don’t know anyways, he is a doctor and it’s basically you eat 800 calories a day and you try and eat it in a relatively short periods and the longer you can leave between your so and it’s actually quite easy to do. If you eat just healthy basic food. 800 calories is not that small. Oh yeah, it’s 800 calories, and you can have as much green vegetables as you want. So you can really kind of fill up with that. I did it in an advantage relatively pleasant. I didn’t find it that difficult. And so you’d say maybe have your dinner at seven o’clock, and then not eat your breakfast till 11 the next day and so your eating period, and then as you sort of progress through that one then You go into what he calls his five, two. So it’s five days of normal eating two days of 800 fast. And that’s similar


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:07

enough to the Buddhists or the water fasts or whatever. You find what suits you. My husband loves to stone, because he just does intermittent fasting. So he eats between six or seven hours of the day and he fasts for the rest. And yeah, to be


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:18

honest, there’s a lot to be said for not eating late at night, and not drinking late at night. You see, that’s the problem, though, is if you have a couple of games, then they are willpower goals. The frontal lobes are shut down the willpower goals, and you start picking and starting to erase all sorts of stuff. Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:32

I might pick your brain on of teenagers that they haven’t done the junior search. But it’s interesting that your son did medicine that he or he did, yes. And you managed to give him a timetable to get him there.


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:43

So yeah, yeah, we have a podcast we did I actually interviewed this particular song, because which one on another Listen, yeah, he’s dyslexic. And it was season two. Yeah, so Darren was dyslexic, so he never any problems, reading written language was a big issue for him. So thinking and writing at the same time is really, really problematic for him. He also doesn’t see sequences or patterns, he could figure out, you know, what seven times six was, but he couldn’t see the pattern in a timetable, it’s really hard for us to get our heads round, because you can see us and reading a regular clock, or even the seasons, or the months of the year, those kinds of things were really challenging. And this is a really smart kid. So then organization was really challenging for him. And so yeah, by necessity, I kind of stood in and planned out his exams for him, literally, because the school were useless. The schools operate on data and information that’s 2030 years old, they used to kind of be trying to teach him how to spell that wasn’t his issue. It really wasn’t. But anyway, yeah, I organize stuff. I did out exactly what you were talking about doing yourself. I actually got onto the Department of Education website, and figured out because that’s what it used to be available there anyway. And literally, what are they looking for? What are they marking? What are you going to get a job, really the school and the teachers should probably tell the kids and and I would say to right? Okay, in geography, you’re going to have three questions on this subject. And for each of those, we’re looking for 10 points, three of those points have to be about x, y, Zed. And literally, we work together and we worked out answers that spoke to the actual questions, because it’s just a game. I mean, to be honest, it is just a game. Those exam results don’t mean anything other than you’re good at giving the right answers and those results.


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:33

What year did he do the leaving search? Because I think they’re a bit better now they do they do are the exam structure and they show you Well, if you’ve broken that up into three points, you would have got three marks instead of one mark. Right? Okay. So


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:42

it’s a while ago now. Yeah. So that was when he did his junior cert, is Leaving Cert, he went to the Institute, and they were much better they do break it down according to how you study. And so he did that as also their


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:54

places No, as well. It’s to do sort of dare dare stands for something to do with dyslexia where they there’s certain places and each course in college, given to someone who needed nicknames with dyslexia. And so


Sabina Brennan  43:06

yeah, so then he did an undergrad degree in biochemistry and Immunology. And then he did a degree in medicine. And yeah, he’s flying is flying now,


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:15

that is really working the system and it’s working the system. Yeah, I


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:18

mean, that’s what I just said to him. This system doesn’t measure your intelligence level appropriately. But there’s no other way. We can either give up, we can be broken by the system, or we can just play the system. And it was awful. And I was, you know, in a way it was a big strain on our relationship because I couldn’t be mother who was Oh, I know it’s awful sweetheart. Kamera give you a hug. I was mother who was cracking the whip going, if you don’t study this now for the next 20 minutes, will be thrown behind. And like I literally did, like I was in the room, I would send him off and say right, you got to go learn that come back to me with the 10 points. I’ll examine you the 10 points. How did


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:57

you study in college them when you weren’t there to kind of set up while we were there? So


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:01

in college, yeah, he did manage the course was very confusing. So where I helped was looking at the course and breaking it down from him saying, okay, that’s what you need to study. So he was well able, and because he did the sciency ones, you know, a lot of it was learning facts and stuff. So it wasn’t about writing essays and pulling that kind of stuff together. So that kind of did help immensely. I think what people don’t understand when you have something like dyslexia, or other form of learning difficulty is that it is the exhaustion it is the cognitive load


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:32

that you can’t watch so much harder than someone who work three times


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:35

harder than someone else. And so just for him, just listening in the lectures was exhausting. So whilst others would be maybe go to the pub for an hour or two and then come back and do a study. He would come home and have to go to bed for three or four hours and then get up and try and study. That’s what’s not accounted for. Yeah, they might give you 15 minutes extra in an exam because you’re slower writing. But really what it is is you have to work through Four times harder than anybody else.


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:03

You use a lot of creativity and improvisation and acting there within dealing with parenting I find I have to improvise every day in every situation. There’s no manual is there no frickin manual so it’s just constantly coming up with something exhilarating and different. That’s just the I mean my kids a bit older now but just safe. It’s just I don’t know trying to get them to bed at a certain time dangling carrots this that the other. Something will work for a few weeks, a bit of reverse psychology a bit of, I don’t know, something to stimulate the older older years now. And my identical twin girls are Oh my god. Yeah, they’re great. They’re 14 Wow. And wow, in the younger daughter is 11. So there’s two and a bit years. So she’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:45

Gosh, what was that like having twins?


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:49

I didn’t know any better. But it was very hard in that I didn’t get a lot of sleep. And there was no time for googoo Gaga. I love you stuff. So it was just a conveyor belt. So yeah, picked up the one that was either choking or washing themselves or needed burping and you just neglected the one who was happy. It was until I had my third child that I kind of went oh, I actually I think I


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:12

don’t have to put this baby down to pick up the other one. Why


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:16

is this love? Like, oh, yeah, so sorry. It was just friendship. I didn’t know till I had a third one. what it would be like to have a baby.


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:29

Yeah, I can’t imagine. I mean, I my first one was tough. I have a lovely interview with Melissa Hogan boom, this season. She’s Episode Two. She’s written a book called The motherhood complex. Yes, he keeps it out here are fabulous. Because what I loved about that was she was a professional, you know, with BBC science journalist and a great career and really excellent career didn’t great, become pregnant, and had her baby and thought, Oh, this is really hard. This is tough. I’m kind of struggling here and had a second baby and just felt like that she was just firefighting all the time, just trying to keep them alive, trying to stop this one hitting that one trying to how am I going to cook? Like the book really is about how it changes your identity. But I could totally identify with that. Because I would always see myself as a very competent person. I have perfectionist tendencies, which I try to dampen down as often as possible, because it’s just the worst thing. But I thought that I would sail through motherhood, and then sort of be like you they’re saying, like Darren was a challenging baby. And I feel awful saying that, because he throws back at me sometimes like, Oh, yeah, I was a tough baby. But he was he never slept. He cried all the time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:43

You were probably a pain in the hole as well at some certain stages as a mother, like,


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:47

oh god, I was dreadful. dreadful. I put my hands up on that PMT. I mean, I literally could have, I try not to, because guilt serves no purpose. And I have apologized to my kids. But like some of the things, I shouted at them, and did when I was PMT. were two young kids running around the house, or the guilt I feel when I see their faces, you know, but then it got to the point where say, well, Mommy is like this, just go to your room and shut the door. Because essentially, Mommy is


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:16

crazy. I just get out the car and walk along the road a few times. And they’d be annoyed then because you know, they’re late then for where they want to get to, or they’re wondering where their mother is walking, but I’ve just, instead of shouting at them, I remove myself from the situation.


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:28

See, I wish I had that sense. back then.


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:31

I do it for selfish reasons. Because if I have conversation with someone, it takes me up to 48 hours to shake off a comment I make to somebody or a mean thing or whatever. So I’m doing it to be selfish.


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:42

Yeah, but that’s smart. That’s huge self awareness to know to do that, because I would have been like that. My temper would go I would say something. They’re not just the kids, but like, you know, when I was younger, I don’t do it anymore. And then like that, the way you just described it as perfect 48 hours to shake it off. Sometimes it would take me even longer it would just keep going round and round and round in my head. Why did I say that? I shouldn’t have said that. Oh my god and probably the person that you said it was? Yeah, you know, gone over their head humor if


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:13

you careful on the other hand is they know you crack a lot, which I think I’m hilarious. Of course I crack jokes and be a bit cynical with people. Most people know me and don’t take it seriously. But it’s the odd time someone comes back and going. Oh, when I said go f yourself I actually know I was like I might just say something like I forgot for yourself. there literally like she told me to fuck off with myself. Yeah, so I have to be kidding. Obviously to be more extreme than that maybe or something. That’s a RMIT something like or sugar Nutri or the Yogi’s pig in the bladder and I might be saying they think the person is so beautiful. So it’s like yeah, and yeah, I have to be careful there thinking I’m hilarious when I’m, yeah, that’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:51

kind of a funny thing, because that’s kind of an Irish thing. We kind of have that. Well, some of us have that you do yourself down and you slag other people off and Yeah, yeah, maybe not everybody has that kind of thing. I noticed that when you interact with people from other countries cultures or whatever, you kind of have to temporary particularly the language thing, you know, because I’d say fucking this And from that, and some people just don’t use it.


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:14

I was reared on CNT like, you know


Sabina Brennan  50:16

where, you know, that was that was a taboo one. I preserve that for some people. There’s two people I reserve it for,


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:23

I’ll say pointing here, just in case no one has anybody be like my dad would be like all the pointing, careworn start Oh, look at that bond. It wasn’t till I moved to Dublin in London, you realize that it was connected to the vagina. This is like connected to a bad vagina or something. I’m not actually sure what this is connected to.


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:41

Yeah, neither mine really just thought it was it’s a really, really bad word. No, that was a really bad word. My mother actually didn’t use bad language at all. Which was really, actually quite funny. When she got dementia, the language that came out for was off was just brilliant. You gotta go. It was in there all the time. Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  51:01

One of my daughter said, The teachers are wondering why she was getting on. So well, with this particular teacher. All the parents have problems with this teacher. And one of the moms said, Look, why does your daughter get on so well, you know, they’re taking on grace in the classroom. And I asked her, she said, Oh, yeah, whenever that teacher is talking to me, I just do my head, I go, f an F and F and F and F and F and F and F and F and F and H or something I was doing, okay, that’s fine. Just just keep that in your head. Because that was her to when she just now the wave smile going. You’re an F and F and F, and I think you’re an F and and you can FA and she just smile away? Like imagining the person would like clown nose or no clothes. Yeah, yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  51:39

yeah, yeah. I often wonder if it’s linked to being an actor, that kind of thing. Someone said that to me, once God is your emotions are very near the surface. And it’s funny, I’m putting my hand there, you know, kind of on my chest, just under my voice box now. And our emotions are in our amygdala, you know, in the center part of our brain. It’s an unconscious part. But I guess I can access my emotions very easily. I think that helps you, if you want to be an actor. But it also means that as a human being, you feel an awful lot of things a lot more than other people feel them. And that isn’t always a good thing. Yeah, you know, and I would be


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:23

an easily so yeah, that’s probably why I avoid confrontation. If your emotions are here, you would get used to


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:29

  1. Yeah, I mean, I suppose what my mother would have described me maybe as being highly strong, you know, that kind of way, like, so I would have in my youth have had a lot of confrontations. A lot of arguments, a lot of hours, I was the youngest of five, we had a very strict family, Boss, I had this humongous sense of justice, race. No, that is not right. That should not be happening. You should not be doing that. And it didn’t matter. If I saw a guardian or we just call them then like, you know, somebody you shouldn’t approach on the street dropping letter, I would say did you pick that up? Like really, I had no filters, no bars, and you know, I have done it. I’ve done it as an adult. I’ve done it several times. I’ve had my husband pulled me back and say you can’t do that. And I think as I’ve got a bit older, I’ve learned to filter and stop that. But I am sort of fearless when it comes to if I see something wrong happening. I’ll say it. I don’t know what it is, you know. And I mean, I did have a woman in a fast food store nearly jumped over a counter to punch me in the face because I gave out to her for hitting her child. That was one of those where I felt guilt for days afterwards because I felt I had to speak up for the child. She had about four kids. She was only bully and one of them and being horrible. It was horrible to watch. And what was awful was everybody in this fast food place was sitting watching it and saying nothing. And I’m looking at this six year old being his been demoralized, being demeaned. And I actually think a certificate your mom can teach you like that. And I said don’t be doing that. And she says he’s mine. I can fuckin do what I like with them. And I said you cannot. And I said, Listen to me, son, your mom should not be doing that to you. You do not deserve to be treated like that blackout. Who did? I think I was my husband literally dragged me out. She was going to punch me in the face


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:21

your page here because when you said at first, I mean, I didn’t know if it was a tap on the wrist.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:25

Oh, no, she was really beating the child up. Like it was horrible. It was just horrible stuff. And everybody was just ignoring it. And I just said what is that doing to that child?


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:35

What age was the child?


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:36

I’d say about six. Hopefully that child will remember


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:39

that moment. That was


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:41

what I consoled myself with because I also went home thinking Fuck, she’s probably going to beat the shit out of the child when she takes him home.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:48

There is that side of it as well. But she’s doing that anyway. She’s doing that anyway. Is that click something in that child’s brain that went this isn’t okay. Actually. Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:57

Like you see parents. I You lose and as I said you know I’ve done things to my kids no not like that but you know that you regret you’ve shouted at them or or whatever but


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:08

like listen I’m not quite oh my god I’ve thrown my kids onto the site I threw my daughter and her friend over there was really rude to me and I thought they’d walk back to the house which was down the hill the poor girl walked back to her own house miles where to go and find you know, yeah whatever but


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:21

being tell her mother


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:24

her own multiple choices it just but


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:27

there’s another brother could take it really badly.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:29

Aaron No, no, nobody takes me seriously.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:31

Where are you from? Now? What’s your Aaron?


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:33

Aaron? I’m from white church near Blarney in Cork all right okay,


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:36

so that’s why you’re going to set charity Valentine in car Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:40

good. Michigan cork Yeah, we were I was going to do a little test on you to see how brainy you are.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:45

I know I’m not very brainy yeah go on.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:47

Hey, this is a heater hole test. So see how many answers you get right in 30 seconds right oh Jesus now I’m under pressure. Yeah, so no, it’s a word association one and you have to get the right words that are you’ve thought of as well so you have to get the same answer Are you thought of Okay,


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:03

can I not just come up with the first one think of you can so am I meant to come up with the first thing I think of are what I think you might have come up with


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:12

that you think of but it’s more the connect with my answers. So you have to also be able to read my mind because your remaining


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:18

Okay, yeah, I did. I tried to in the mind reading thing on your marks.


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:21

It’s also where I’m gonna say words you say words Association. Ready, steady. Go. ass. Told part. whole key hole nine. Hole blow. Oh, cubby hole pie. Hole peep hole help. Hello worm hole the stone right 30 seconds don’t


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:49

Oh, I was waiting for one that didn’t have hold where I would just say everyone just says hold Do


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:56

they have never done the test before. Just tried it on you


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:02

it’s amazing how many words and and whole you know and I love that idea of heal your whole I thought it was so funny at first when I heard it when Emily told me about it but it’s brilliant the way you put that all together you know and you can just kind of


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:17

it well it’s gonna die data at some point so i’ve i’ve on episode 76 of this stage.


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:22

I yeah, I’ve done 100 and something but I only started at the same time as you now I started on the ninth of March 2020


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:29

Wow. You’ve done more than one a week then.


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:32

I’ve done two a week yeah, but I’ve also taken breaks I do the season and then take a break although between kind of season


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:38

Yeah, but yours actually have information I mean mine is next episode 69 was me talking to people on the street about just having 60 Niners or whether they still


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:45

are brilliant. You know what, like brilliant. Does anyone know that? I remember joke from that that’s what’s come from my mind. What’s the 68 for play? Give me a blowjob and I’ll owe you one


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:57

oh my god I need to write that down.


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:59

Well I like to finish my podcast with my guests and seniors were each other’s guests. I like to finish it with your tip for thriving and or surviving in life. If you have a tip.


Norma Sheahan  58:10

Yeah, like my dad would always say he doesn’t see it actually. Bush got over a few of them can I have to give me a few oh that’s okay.


Dr Sabina Brennan  58:20

Give me a few


Norma Sheahan  58:21

Right okay, well, I see my dad, nothing is a problem. So just say yes, it can be grand and and stop thinking thinking start faking doing so if your brain is in beats just physically do something as he is very physical man. So I guess they’re kind of things I’m sorry another one he said is worrying is like paying interest on a debt you haven’t received are brilliant so I probably just go to him whenever I got to worry or whenever I’m getting stuck in the head or nothing is a problem because if you think something is a problem today there’s always a bigger one room for corridors that are someone else has a worse life than you it’s not really a problem. Yeah, it’s just get on with this lawsuit. The two things that are gonna get you through the next moment. You’re not just get your keys and get your mobile and your passport and whatever it is. Stop worrying about the other 75 things you were meant to bring which or whatever. I don’t know I’ve given you too many there. No Yeah, I


Dr Sabina Brennan  59:13

haven’t. It’s kinda on the one it’s really just do it, isn’t it? It’s like that Nikes


Dr Sabina Brennan  59:17

you know, poke your hole and get up get up off your morning.


Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 5

 Football: A Concussion Delivery System with Michael Kaplen

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  01:48 – Michael’s first brain injury client
  • 03:30 – The invisibility of brain injury
  •  06:08 – Personality Change
  • 09:12 – Explaining invisible symptoms to jurors
  • 17:58 – Lack of treatment and supports
  • 23:00 – Sport and brain injury
  • 26:45 – Heading the ball
  • 28:18 – Children, a special case
  • 33:29 – The consequences of concussion
  • 36:47 – Brain injury – anytime, any place, anywhere
  • 41:26 – The portrayal of brain injury in movies




Visit Michael’ website for the videos, guides and resources he mentioned in this podcast.

Guest Bio

 Michael V. Kaplen is a senior partner in the New York personal injury law firm, De Caro & Kaplen, LLP. His practice focuses on personal injury and medical malpractice with an emphasis on representing individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury and/or other catastrophic injuries. Michael has been selected a New York Super Lawyer for the last 14 years and named as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in New York State by the American Association of Trial Lawyers. Michael has been selected as a Best Lawyer, New York and De Caro & Kaplen has been designated a Best Law Firm by US News & World Report.

Michael is also a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School where he teaches the only course in the nation devoted to traumatic brain injury law. He also chairs the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council. Michael was invited by President Obama to be a participant in the 2014, White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit and serves as a member of the American Academy of Neurology, Concussion Work Group. His views and opinions are often sought by well-known news sources including, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Gannet News Services, the New York Daily News, the National Law Journal, the New York Post, the Huffington Post, ABC News, CBS News, ESPN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC News.

Over to You

Have you or has anyone close to you experienced ongoing symptoms following a concussion. What do you think about children playing contact sports where there is a risk of concussion. Do you think heading the ball in soccer should be allowed? Balancing out the benefits of playing team sports, including the physical fitness and social benefits what would be the best way to protect players brains from concussion and the associated consequences.

I really would love to hear your thoughts.

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


Dr 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 this week is Michael Kaplan, a lawyer, but not just any old lawyer, Michael is quite literally a super lawyer. And that is a fact. He has been selected a New York super lawyer for the last 14 years and named as one of the top 100 trial lawyers in New York State by the American Association of trial lawyers. Michael has been selected as a best lawyer in New York, and De Caro and Kaplan has been designated a best law firm by US News and World Report. To be perfectly honest, folks, I could fill an entire podcast, just listing Michaels accolades and achievements. But I’d rather talk to Michael about his work because it is work that is very close to my own heart. Michael focuses on representing individuals who have sustained a traumatic or acquired brain injury, including concussion because of course, if you have listened to one of my booster episodes, on concussion, you will know that concussion is actually a traumatic brain injury. Michael, you were invited by President Obama to be a participant in the 2014, White House, ‘Healthy kids and safe sports concussion summit. And I want to talk to you about that in this podcast, because children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to concussion, because they have developing brains. And I personally believe we really have a duty of care to protect them. But first, I’d like to learn a little bit about you, Michael Kaplan, the person as opposed to Michael Kaplan, the lawyer, I’m also keen to learn how you came to specialize in representing people with brain injury. But first, tell us a little bit about you.


Michael Kaplen  01:48

So Michael, Kaplan, the person and Michael Kaplan, the lawyer kind of all mixed together, because what I do is really a 24, seven day a week job. And I take great pleasure in representing my clients, many of whom, as you said, who have sustained traumatic brain injury. We have a firm in New York with a nationwide presence as well, we have been involved in representing individuals of brain injury for the last 40 years. And it’s interesting how we got involved in this, it was really, by accident, because one of our clients was in an accident, a car crash. And he sustained many physical injuries as a result of that, and was hospitalised for a good deal of time. But when he got out of the hospital, he made a good recovery from those physical injuries. He went back to work and went back to trying to live his life. And he encountered problems both at home on the personal level and at work, people at work didn’t want too much to do with him. Because his personality had changed. His boss didn’t want to give him new assignments to do, because he just couldn’t handle the work. And he was on the verge of being fired from his job. At home his family commented that he just wasn’t the same person anymore, that he would be forgetful, he would have memory problems. Because he would even walk out of the house in the middle of winter and forget to take his coat. And he was a very, really nice man.


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:25

Can I just ask you there? How many years ago was that?


Michael Kaplen  03:28

This is about going about 25 years ago?


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:30

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, it still happens today. Here. You know, the focus is so much on the physical and physical recovery, forgetting, of course, that the brain is a physical part of your body, but it is so hugely ignored. And I’ve heard so many stories like that, going back where people put it down to almost saying, he turned into a nasty person after that accident, no, his brain is malfunctioning. You know, and by the sounds of that individual, there must have been I would imagine some frontal lobe injuries because he couldn’t access his past behaviors. And actually, to be honest, he sounds like he was very severely debilitated. And the funny thing is, you will get much more support and financial personal and sort of in terms of equipment, etc. If you have a physical injury, which might be far less debilitating,


Michael Kaplen  04:20

you’re absolutely correct, because the brain injury is invisible. You can’t see it and people. The population in general is trained to look at an individual and assess the disability just by looking at visual clues. But a person with a brain injury doesn’t need a wheelchair. They don’t need a walker. They’re not drooling, they look fine, they sound fine, but they have an injury that has affected every aspect of their lives. And this is the most frustrating part of this injury both to my client, who we’re talking about, and to any person with a brain injury because people just don’t understand what is happening to that individual and They’re told, unfortunately, that they’re making this up, get over it get on with your life Come on. And when they say at three o’clock in the afternoon, that their battery has just run out of steam, and they can’t do it anymore. People just don’t understand. And when they’re sitting at the Thanksgiving Day table, and they put their head down, and they say they have to leave the room, because there’s just too much going on at the same time conversations and noise and bright lights, and they just can’t handle it. And they have to walk away, people look at them, like their eyeballs.


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:32



Michael Kaplen  05:32

but they’re not. They’re really, really suffering. And that is really the tragedy of traumatic brain injury. And that’s the greatest problem I think that survivors face when it comes to traumatic brain injury, the fact that nobody understands their problem. Now we’ve created some videos on our website to assist people in understanding this injury and helping them explain it to other people. And I really do suggest that some of your listeners go on our website and look at these videos, to have a better understanding of what it’s like to live with a traumatic brain injury,


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:08



Dr Sabina Brennan  06:08

I will certainly share a link to those videos. I remember speaking to one woman and she was in her 90s caring for her son, who was I think, coming up to 60. Now who had acquired a brain injury in his 20s in a car accident, and she looked after him all her life, her husband had died. And it was getting increasingly difficult. And of course, she was worrying what would happen to him afterwards. And I said, Well, you must get someone in to help you. You know, you can’t be doing all this and looking after and she said, but I’ve tried. But she said ‘I can’t bear it’. She said, ‘I’ve had carers come in and slap him because he’s being rude or telling him to behave himself’. You know, if he has an injury he has no control or the neurons, the connections are broken between certain areas that you and I use to inhibit our behavior or not engage, and I came across another woman. And I don’t know if you’ve come across this in some of your clients, but another woman, her husband had acquired a brain injury. And he became completely disinhibited and disinhibited sexually. Because I think what people don’t realize is we learn those behaviors, we learn what is appropriate. within society, a two and three year old child can strip off their clothes, if they felt like it. They get told Actually, no, you can’t do that. And they’ll reach out and touch things. And they could touch a woman’s breast to see what it feels like. And they learn No, you can’t do that. But if that part of your brain is damaged, you will revert to those disinhibited behaviors. And this woman used to walk around with her husband, and she actually had a card and a sign and said, My husband’s not a pervert, he’s had a brain injury


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:15

Sound likes one of my clients does this,


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:44

it’s very, very difficult. It


Michael Kaplen  07:46

really does sound like a client that I had. Because you know, when you get an injury to the temporal lobe of your brain, you lose your brakes. That’s what it is saying the most inappropriate thing doing the most inappropriate thing. This gentleman would actually touch woman’s breast. Yeah. And he didn’t understand that that was inappropriate, he would go under a table to peek under a woman’s dress. And he would do inappropriate things, unfortunately, in his home with his wife who couldn’t sleep in the same room with him anymore. And it was just an untenable environment. Because he had severe behavioral issues, frontal lobe and temporal lobe problems with great disinhibition and he had no break, you know, the brain is the most complicated computer in the world.


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:32



Michael Kaplen  08:33

And that’s what we’re dealing with, with a brain injury. And as I say, in my class, at George Washington University Law School, to my students who are learning about brain injury, and how to represent individuals with a brain injury, you shake it, you break it. And that’s what happens. But what I also tell them is, remember when you were a child, and your mother asked you to go buy a box of eggs for her, but my mom told me, make sure you open that box and look at the eggs. Because Same thing with the brain that the outside that skull is pretty thick, but it doesn’t prevent an injury to the inside of my brain.


Dr Sabina Brennan  09:12

And I’m kind of hopeful in a way that the brain fog that’s been associated with long COVID is shining a little spotlight on an area that I’ve been working in, that’s been in the dark. And the reason I wrote my most recent book, Beating Brain Fog, was to shine that light. And as it happens, I was actually writing it when COVID began, and straightaway, and it wasn’t any great science to say that people are going to experience brain fog after COVID. Before long COVID became a thing because it happens after any viral illness or after sepsis or whatever your brain has experienced an insult and assault. And I’m sure some of your brain injuries also have come from something during surgery as deprivation of oxygen for a period of time or whatever. But the brain is very vulnerable. And I think what people don’t realize people think when they hear fatigue Which is dreadful, a physical fatigue is really tiring, they think you just need to sleep. But the problem with mental fatigue is, as you described, that individual who is at dinner, his brain cannot cope with the noise, there’s too much sensory information, your brain is just too tired, and it needs to restore its batteries, etc. And it’s those subtle things that can really, really impair the quality of life for someone. And that must be challenging for you in terms of a lawyer and you’re seeking, I presume, compensation or supports or whatever, in a courtroom. How do you go about it? Do you use your videos? Do you just explain what happens I noticed as well with you, you’re a graduate of the Marquette University of neuro anatomical dissection of the human brain and spinal cord. But you know what I mean, I think that has to be critical if you’re going to represent your clients properly, that you actually have an understanding of how the brain works.


Michael Kaplen  10:54

Well, it was a fascinating course that I took at Marquette University. And I was one of the fortunate only lawyers ever to take this course. Because it’s not a course for attorneys. It’s the course for people in the medical field to introduce them to the brain, and all the different functions of the brain, and you actually spend days dissecting the brain. And you realize when you’re doing that this organ that weighs three pounds, controls every aspect of who we are, our emotions, our behavior, our feelings, our actions. It is an amazing organ that we still don’t understand. And I doubt we’ll ever fully understand. Now, how do you go about explaining all of this in a courtroom, to a jury, what happens to a person with a brain injury? Well, it’s very complicated. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of different kinds of witnesses and a lot of different types of exhibits. To explain that, we need to do a show and tell to a jury, we need to show the brain, we need to explain the lobes of the brain, we need to explain through expert witnesses, how their brain functions, and we need to display that as well with visual images. Sometimes we use computer animations to do that, as well, we need the assistance of witnesses who are in a field of neurology and neuro psychology, and neuro radiology at times to objectively show the injury that a person has. But CAT scans, MRI scans are, for the most part, incapable of showing the injury.


Dr Sabina Brennan  12:29

I think that’s it, what struck me there, and my listeners will be used to me saying this, but you said, you know, your brain is involved in pretty much everything that you do, which is very true. But I mean, what I actually say is you are your brain, and that’s it full stop. At the end of the day, you are your brain, it is the sum total of your experiences, your genetics, you know how the brain evolved and adapted. And so the things that we call a personality is actually the data that your brain has collected, and the information that it has learned, translated into how you behave in any given circumstance. And that’s patterns of behavior. And basically what happens and what is disrupted, when someone has the kind of injury where they have behavioral change, and personality changes, that pattern is no longer there, they have no access, or else the pathway to that pattern is gone. And so people see it as a personality change. And because we think we kind of give more power to our sense of self than to our brain, it’s complex thing to talk about. But at the end of the day, your brain creates your sense of self. And so you are your brain, I can imagine it’s hard to explain that kind of thing to a jury, or I don’t know, if there’s juries involved in the kind of cases that you do,


Michael Kaplen  13:44

there are juries involved and you raise some interesting points. So when you say you are your brain, I’m gonna steal that line,


Dr Sabina Brennan  13:53

if you can, if it helps people understand what it is that a brain injury means you fire ahead,


Michael Kaplen  14:01

because we call that legal research. But what I like to say is, this is not something that I’ve come up with this is what professionals neuro psychologist in the field, have told me, it’s really a death case, when a person has a brain injury, they’ve died and they’ve become a new person. And until they can accept this new person that they are, they can’t move on in their lives. In regard to rehabilitation. rehabilitation will never be successful for a person with a brain injury until they can accept the new person that they are. And of course, you raise so many different issues. We could spend days talking about it. Brain fog and COVID-19, which is a really important issue that people have to understand people make a physical recovery from COVID-19 and they now are encountering long term neurological problems as a result of that. And hopefully, while this is not a good thing for anybody, but hopefully it will shed more light on this invisible entry of brain injury and lead our government to devote more resources to this injury and provide more support for people with a brain injury because tragically, the ability of individuals with a brain injury to get proper care and support is lacking. It’s lacking from the time they get a brain injury when we talked about concussions, because of concussion is a brain injury to getting a diagnosis. Because still, there are many people, even in the medical profession who don’t understand that concussion is a brain injury. Understand it, you can’t let a child return to play before that brain injury, he knows they need help in school, if they’re going back to the classroom, it’s just not a sports issue. It’s a classroom issue as well. It’s a knife issue, I would say yes, and and if they’re a victim of domestic violence, unfortunately, and get a brain injury, and we know that 90% of victims of intimate and domestic violence, According to the Centers for Disease Control, will have a brain injury. And nobody understands that injury and nobody diagnosis that injury in these women and that screen for that injury. So they don’t get proper treatment for that injury. And we have cases of people leaving the hospital and the doctor will hug them and they’ll kiss the doctor for saving their child’s life. And they don’t know what they’re in for. Because nobody tells them what’s going to happen after they leave that hospital. And if they try to find a rehabilitation center for the level one their child, their husband, their wife, they’ll find that these centers really are lacking in proper facilities. They don’t exist all over the country, it’s difficult for people to get there, when they need help. They’re very expensive, and our government doesn’t pay for it. Insurance companies are fighting about that. They’ll say, Well, you could go to a rehab center for three weeks, and they say it’s like a broken bone. And after three weeks, while they haven’t made any recovery, they’re the same place. So go here, because this is the brain doesn’t take three weeks. Yeah, yeah. So we have all these fights that we have and legal issues that we’re fighting about with with a brain injury, you say, Well, how do you go about proving that in quit? And my answer is the best test for brain injury is life. I bring people in to court who know my clients before the injury, and know my client now to look at the jury to explain to the jury the differences that they perceive in my client, which is the best way to explain it, how my client is going about their daily life in the problems that they’re having. Because that’s the effect of the brain injury. It’s not the injury itself. It’s how it affects the person. That’s important to me, as an attorney representing people with a brain injury,


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:58

I think, you know, you’ve raised all the points, I do want to just track back to one thing that you said, and just to clarify that not all brain injuries will give rise to full personality change, you know, so, so just to clarify that when you said earlier, you know, people need to accept that they’re a new person. But I think another thing that people don’t realize, and it speaks to some of what you said is that the brain is incredibly plastic. And it does have the capacity to adapt to change, and to recruit other areas to compensate for areas that have been damaged. And if you actually have a brain injury, and you are fortunate enough to get rehabilitation, the occupational therapist, you know, because obviously a brain injury can also lead to paralysis, etc, lead to a physical injury in a way you’re almost better off if your brain injury leads to a physical injury, because then it’s diagnosed, that you have a brain injury and your cognitive consequences. I think where we have the real issue is when the brain injury doesn’t affect the motor cortex, or your visual cortex is not affecting your sight or your ability to move or walk. But it is affecting your ability to be human in a sense, because it is our cognitive functions that set us apart from our closest relatives. It is that capacity to make decisions to disinhibit behavior to engage in social behaviors appropriately within context, our memory function, you know, without memory, again, who we are it becomes something different, and our ability to learn and learn new things. But I think one of the issues I don’t know how it is in the US, but certainly our neurological services in Ireland are absolutely appalling. They are understaffed in terms of neurologists with hospital say, having two neurologists, when they work out, they need eight, you know, that kind of level. But on top of that, we have a terrible situation. I don’t know whether you have it in the States. But basically, for example, if you’re in a car accident and you sustain a brain injury, you’re taken to an acute hospital, right? But basically, in our country, that person stays in that hospital once their life supported or their life is saved or whatever, and assuming that they have an injury that requires them to stay in hospital, they stay there until there is a place for them in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Now that could take six, nine months. And what you have done to that individual and that six to nine months is actually created a lifelong injury that perhaps had they had an immediate brain health plan, you know, a rehab plan put in place immediately with people who understand where the injury is, when rest is needed, when work is needed, that person could have made a much better recovery. So what we’re actually doing is costing insurance companies costing the state much more money by leaving people languishing without treatment, because those people, if they’d had treatment, might be able to reintegrate into the workforce might be able to actually learn new ways to be social, or whatever, depending on their injury, but you leave them languishing and you don’t give them number one, they might be just lucky to get rehab, a lot of people don’t get it at all, and you’re actually making that person’s brain injury worse. It’s no different actually, in a way to my mind. And I don’t mind be controversial, but it’s no different than kicking someone in the head when they’ve already sustained a brain injury. Because that’s what you’re doing.


Michael Kaplen  21:16

You’re right, you raise many, many important issues that tragically are not just in Ireland where you are. But in the United States in Europe throughout the world, people are not getting the treatment that they need for a brain injury, either because they can’t access that treatment. It’s just not available. It’s limited in quantity, and in quality and in duration and these are real problems. You raised another issue when you talk about the brain healing, something called plasticity. Yes, but it’s a very dangerous concept. Because you talked about I know you’re passionate about children with a brain injury. It’s a very interesting concept with children. Because when a child gets a brain injury at a very early age, they need to grow into that brain injury, what the problems are not going to be apparent right away for that child. If you would take a two or three year old child, they haven’t learned how to read, they haven’t learned how to write, they haven’t learned arithmetic, yet. They’re still learning social skills. And they have to grow into all of these things. And you might not realize the problems that they have until they get older. So a child might fall and hit their head and a mother might pick up the child and say oh, you’ll find it’s just a bump on the head of booboo. And later on, unfortunately, that bump on the head could cause all kinds of problems. So it’s very different when it comes to children, then it comes to adults when we’re talking about a brain injury. And children need a lot of different kinds of supports than an adult. And again, unfortunately, that rehabilitation just really doesn’t exist.


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:00

I do want to move on to sport because we have talked about the kind of injuries. And I want to particularly come back to that point that you’ve just made. But the kind of injuries that we’ve been talking about frequently are accidents or the consequence of an act of violence, you know, car accident, or falling or whatever. And what fascinates me and frustrates me is that we have learned from when accidents happen, in that we develop car seatbelts, we introduced laws around wearing seatbelts to prevent these things, wearing helmets, when you’re riding a motorcycle, wearing reflective clothing. In fact, actually my first book was about brain health. And it’s talking about things like sleep and stress. But actually in the very first chapter, I say, Well hold on, here’s practical tips about how you keep your brain healthy, you know, wear a seatbelt drive safely. Don’t drink and drive, don’t text and drive wear properly fitting helmets, be seen when you’re out. Don’t stand on unstable chairs, remove tripping hazards around the home. If you have young kids, make sure windows can’t be opened by curious little hands, and so on and so on. And we have lots of those. We’ve accepted those things in society that we need to take care and precautions to prevent injuries and especially around the head, people are aware of that. However, there seems to be just a, I don’t know a disconnect when it comes to sport. We seem to be much slower to learn from mistakes, to learn from what injuries in sport can give rise to and you have one and I’m going to quote you and I think it’s a fantastic quote. And of course you’re referring to football, we would put in front of that American football and in the UK, they would say football and we would say well they mean soccer and then we have football which is Gaelic football. Anyway, most of them are contact sports, which is the point about things like concussion and brain injury. You don’t have to be hit in the head. You can be you know, a force to the body. But the quote that I love from you is that football is a concussion delivery. system. And that’s exactly what it is. And whatever about an adult making a choice, I think there’s two things, I think plenty of adults make choices that they want to play contact sports, there’s a big difference between making a choice to do that and making an informed choice to do that, that’s one thing. And then there is the other thing that I touched on, which is the duty of care to children who can’t, or uh, you know, don’t have the maturity of understanding to be making an informed choice, and parents making that choice on their behalf to do things like you know, in Europe rugby is what gets the most bad press when it comes to concussion. In the US, I think it’s American football. But actually, soccer is actually much more detrimental. And you’re more likely to sustain a brain injury, you’re actually heading a ball at speed repeatedly and repeatedly doing it over time. And we’ve seen that with a lot of soccer players getting to the age now where there’s an increased incidence of developing dementia,


Michael Kaplen  26:06

we could spend a lot of time talking about soccer and heading a ball, I have a video cast that we tried to do every week, that’s part of our website called the Brain Injury Insider. your viewers could watch that by going to our website, where we’ve discussed some of these issues when it comes to soccer, and heading a ball. In fact, I’m preparing a new one on recent rule changes in the EU, for soccer leagues about heading a ball. And it’s my opinion, and I’m quite honest and upfront about it. Let’s talk about children, children should not be allowed to head a ball, period. End of story


Dr Sabina Brennan  26:44

totally with you.


Michael Kaplen  26:45

As you said, football is a concussion delivery system. It doesn’t matter if it’s American football, or international football, which we call soccer is still a concussion delivery system and heading a ball is something that does repetitive head trauma causes all kinds of problems. It doesn’t have to lead to the level of concussion. And we do kind of stupid things. Let’s put it bluntly, we haven’t, we make rules that make no sense when it comes to that we say in the US now Well, you could only had the ball 20 times I’m making up a number now. And after that, you can’t head it and we come up with this number from the oh children under 14, can’t head a ball but children over 14, can. You think the brain is any different and the head is any different? It’s not. So we make these arbitrary rules about heading a ball, without really coming to grips with the fact that this is not a good idea. This is not safe, this is not good for the brain. You could enjoy soccer and have a great time on the field, with your friends, with your teammates, learn the social skills that are important.


Dr Sabina Brennan  28:00

Yeah, all all important and the physical activity,


Michael Kaplen  28:03

and do everything that you can without heading the damn ball. Yeah, it’s not necessary to have a good time to head the ball. Children in the US, it’s not necessary to engage in tackle football to have a good time to play tag football.


Dr Sabina Brennan  28:18

And tag rugby, I think is another thing you just say, hold that thought. But the reason why children’s brains are so vulnerable, and adult brain is vulnerable to but that’s entirely different. But and also, that’s something I want to push out is. So the child’s brain is developing. And as you said it’s learning skills and depending on where an injury is, but also so you’re thinking 14 arbitrary, you know, oh, yeah, well, first of all, not all kids are the same size. And this is a size issue. The neck muscles are not fully developed in children. Similarly in females, females are much more susceptible, because they don’t have the same strong neck muscles that men do. Because with brain injury, it’s not just about the force of the injury, it is about the shock to the brain within the brain. So it’s like a reverberation. If you think someone kind of inside a washing machine, it’s a bit kind of like that, but the damage can kind of come from that. But the thing is, when you hit puberty, the human brain goes through a really, really important period of development. And that period of development, that whole brain is transforming. There’s two periods of growth that are really critical. One is just in infancy and then the other is from puberty, which what surprises a lot of people up until about the age 24/25. So legally, we would see people as adults, I don’t know at 18 or whatever. But actually when it comes to the brain, you don’t have an adult brain until you’re 25 and you also don’t have when it comes to frontal lobe function. Basically the brain restructures itself from the back to the front, from puberty to the age of 24/25. The last part to be restructured is your frontal lobes as a young person without a brain injury, you do not have the capacity to assess risk, because that part of your brain isn’t fully developed. So once legally, we say someone has the capacity to assess risk and make decisions, actually, organically, you don’t fully have that capacity. And that will differ across people. One of the things that I do want to say is about children and adolescents being at risk. And when it comes to sport, and ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ all those things, you know, we have these things, I think parents and coaches have to assume a greater responsibility here that their child’s brain is much more important than winning any game. But that when kids recover in a lot of injuries, there isn’t actually loss of consciousness, you can still have a bad concussion, even without being unconscious. There’s kind of no real relationship there. But I think in terms of the consequences of a concussion, or multiple concussions, people often don’t make this connection, a child can sustain a concussion or whatever, get over to whatever, and then suddenly starts getting into trouble in school, you know, has problems with attention, lack of concentration, planning, organizing, solving problems, that can come across as a child acting out, or a child has been difficult, or a child being bold, because you didn’t used to be like that. So now you’re just being ‘bold’, in inverted commas. But actually, these are the consequences of a concussion. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that. And these are huge consequences, because they affect learning. And they’ll affect the person’s progression through school, they may even have a language impairment or have difficulty understanding things, as well as then impacting on their mood in the sense of they can become depressed, they can have affective disorders, depressed or more anxiety, or manage stress inappropriately. And these are huge things that have long term effects for the rest of their lives. And I feel very strongly I would be a, I suppose you’d call me a brain health advocate. But we’ve looked after physical health for years. And there’s been a whole movement in recent decades about mental health. And that’s great, but actually fundamental, you know, the primary health we should be looking after his brain health, because if you live a brain healthy lifestyle, if you consider your brain health, and you look after that, your mental health and your physical health actually automatically follow because you’re getting enough sleep, you’re getting enough exercise, you’re engaging socially, all those kinds of things. And I don’t know what we need to do to, you know, someone said to me, once I was talking about what I wanted to do, and they said, Sabina, you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re an evangelist. But that’s kind of a bit what I feel is like that we have to get this message out there. And for me, that’s why I was drawn to you for for an interview, in that you’re someone who’s advocating on behalf of people who have these utterly life changing injuries and experiences and not to the extent I think people are aware that you can have a brain injury and we all know of that child who had a brain injury, who ends up living in a home or an adult where they can no longer function, and they’re in a chair and a wheelchair and all that. And you know, everybody knows that extent. But I think the problem is that actually, some of the other injuries are incredibly debilitating. And that’s the issue.


Michael Kaplen  33:29

So I think this would be a good time to just discuss with your listeners, all different types of injuries that can happen. The consequences of a concussion. There are physical consequences, sleep disorders, sensitivity to light and sound, headaches, dizziness, vestibular problems that can develop cognitive problems that can develop memory problems, concentration problems, multitasking, doing more than one thing. At the same time. There are behavioral issues that we’ve talked about, disinhibition doing the most inappropriate thing or saying the most inappropriate thing or acting out inappropriately. And there there are these emotional issues that you’ve also touched upon depression and anxiety that are hallmarks of concussion or brain injury. And a person doesn’t have to have every one of these injuries. Everybody’s brain will be affected differently by a concussion or any other type of brain injury. And as the medical profession likes to say, when you see one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury, exactly. Everybody’s brain injury is different.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:47

That’s the thing. Broadly speaking, our brains are similar, but because your brain is constantly changing, and is shaped by your life experiences, no two brains are the same. Every single person’s brain is unique. That’s why it’s important to live a brain healthy life is that you can build resilience. And that resilience can actually really help you were you to sustain an injury, you may do better, because we know two people could sustain identical injuries, and one will have severe cognitive issues or other impairments. And the other might have minimal impairment. And that’s because their brain actually is in a, you know, it’s like you have a better prognosis, if you’ve been healthy before you go into surgery than if you’re overweight and a smoker, etc. It’s the same, but in a healthy brain, at the core of that resilience is this thing neuroplasticity. And it’s an inherent property of the brain, but you need to support it to be able for your brain to do it. And learning is the key and challenging yourself and engaging in new activities. And so if you’ve been doing that all your life, you’re pushing yourself, you’re pushing your brain beyond its capacity at any point. And so then your brain can, it recruits other areas of the brain to help in the activity you’re engaging in. And that’s to, you know, get to the next level of your console game or study for an exam that you’re pushing yourself, whatever. So then if you sustain a brain injury, and you’ve been doing that, your brain already knows how to recruit other areas to compensate. Whereas an individual who hasn’t been doing that, when they if they’re fortunate enough to get rehab, what the people engaging in rehab will be doing is to try and train a new area of the brain to compensate for the permanently damaged part of the brain. But you have to work up to that, whereas a healthy brain will already kind of be engaging in that. And that’s why none of us ever know that’s why I feel strongly about this. None of us ever know when we might sustain a brain injury.


Michael Kaplen  36:47

That’s true. And I want to give a shout out to the Brain Injury Association of America. My partner is the chairman, woman of the board of directors of the Brain Injury Association of America, shout out to Carol, and the Brain Injury Association of America has a slogan that they use brain injury anytime, anywhere, any place.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:10

That was the martini ad was  Martini anytime, anyplace anywhere. Yeah.


Michael Kaplen  37:15

Which is very true. Yeah, of course, a brain injury can happen to anyone. No one is immune from a brain injury. And it could happen in all different aspects of one’s life from a fall, which is a large cause of brain injuries in children and adults. It could happen from vehicle accidents, it could happen from an object falling on you. It could happen from pedestrians being struck by a car, it could happen as a result of violence, domestic violence, or other type of violence can happen from toxic substances. And it could happen unfortunately for medical neglect as well. Brain injuries can happen anytime, anywhere, any place. And it’s important that people get the support and assistance that they need. They could go to my website, They could go to the website of the Brain Injury Association of America to get information about brain injury, I’m sure. In Ireland, you have other groups like headway?


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:14

Yes, absolutely. We have Headway and we have the Neurological Alliance of Ireland and we have various different organisations. But yeah, I think it’s hard for people, it’s hard for families. Brain Injury doesn’t just affect one brain. It affects many brains and the relationships because as you described, our husbands can become something different. Likewise, wives, children, all the rest. I wanted to ask you again, just coming to that children. So 2014, you were part of the Obama initiative around sports injury concussion. We’re now 2021. We’ve had a different president in between I will reserve comment, but you’ll know. He’s not a president that I have respect for


Michael Kaplen  38:56

I have not reserved comments if you’ll see about one of our former presidents and the shocking things that he has said about brain injuries and particularly servicemembers who have brain injuries it Pooh poohing the headaches that they sustained. And the other emotional trauma that they sustained as a result of sustaining a concussion on the battlefield. It’s disgraceful.


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:20

Oh, it is appalling. But what can you expect from a man who mocks people who are disabled. What you just said about people who have sustained concussions, brain injuries as a consequence of war, the headache issue alone to just have a headache, I wrote about it in my recent book, because if you have a headache, if you have a migraine, if you have a severe brain pain, you know, your brain can’t function, the focus is on your headache. So it’s much more than a headache when it’s those kinds of severe headaches. But those people are also dealing for the most part with post traumatic stress disorder, with stress as a consequence of being in combat and stress impairs your brain function. as well, so there’s so many like it’s a complex issue and those complex issues should be in the realm of people who understand those advising, which is I assume what Obama had been doing when he called that group together.


Michael Kaplen  40:17

I think the purpose of that summit was to raise attention about the dangers of concussion and brain injury in sports, that create awareness of that, on the part of parents on the part of the military, on the part of the medical profession itself. Because we have faced an epidemic of concussions in the United States, there were 3.5 million individuals each year, who seek some type of emergency department treatment for concussions and other types of brain injury. And that doesn’t count all the people who never get to the emergency department, who might go to a family physician where it’s not recorded, or go to no one will go to no one will go to an urgent care facility, or in the armed forces, because these concussions are not recorded. The problem is far greater than that. And it’s a problem that deserves the attention of governments, public health officials, and all of us to understand and tackle this health crisis and epidemic. So


Dr Sabina Brennan  41:26

There seems to be, certainly to me, you know, over the years, there does seem to be an increased awareness. I like I do think people are talking and there’s a greater awareness and things like movies, you know, I mean, when these things start to seep into entertainment, and that kind of thing. That’s good. That’s positive, because


Michael Kaplen  41:45

it’s good, but it’s bad. And I’ll tell you why. Okay, good. Yeah. Because we learn from watching movies and television. And unfortunately, many times the way a brain injury or a head injury is depicted in these movies, creates the wrong impression of what’s happening. And I go back to my childhood, we’re watching The Three Stooges, Moe, Larry and curly, they used to get hit in the head over time, and they nothing happened. And you watch cartoons, like the Road Runner, who runs into things all the time without problems, and you watch other popular movies. And part of what I do in my class in law school is we show some of these clips of what the public is exposed to about brain injury. And it’s amazing. The misinformation that’s conveyed to people about brain injury, that it’s no big deal. There’s a movie that we talked about called Regarding Henry, it’s about that movie it’s with,


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:49

was it Harrison Ford?


Michael Kaplen  42:50

Yes, Harrison Ford,


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:51

I don’t know where that came from, isn’t the brain brilliant.


Michael Kaplen  42:54

And Harrison Ford, unfortunately, gets shot in the head in a grocery store. And now his wife is sitting in the doctor’s office. And the doctor, the neurosurgeon is explaining the injury to her. And the doctor says, In the movie, your husband was very lucky. The bullet only affected his temporal lobe only only affected is tempora lobe – of give me a break. You know. So getting a bullet in the brain, it only affects your temporal lobe is no big deal. That’s the impression that walk away from that? Well, that’s anything but true. So when we talk about movies depicting brain injuries, it’s a good thing. And it’s a bad thing, if it’s not depicted properly.


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:43

Okay, I agree with you totally on that. What I was referring to though, was movies like Concussion, movies that are actually aiming,


Michael Kaplen  43:50

But the movie Concussion, the name of the movie has nothing to do with the facts in the movie, they’re not talking about a Concussion. About is an injury called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy)


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:03

Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yeah, that is different. It is related to multiple concussions and associated then with dementia.


Michael Kaplen  44:11

Right? So the name of the movie and what you’re seeing the right is not accurate, though. I think every one of your listeners should watch the movie, because they could take away a lot of useful and important informations about the dangers of repetitive trauma in sports and why this has to be taken seriously by everybody.


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:29

Yeah, but I take your point. You watch people in movies, you know, and they get punched and hit on the head and all the rest and they come back in the sequel and they’re still perfect and so perfect. Yeah, there is that but I’ve often thought that in terms of we need to raise awareness, and we need to put responsibility on parents and coaches etc. Sorry, we have a duty of care. You don’t bring kids into the world without actually realizing that you have a duty of care to them. And I think schools Hold a huge responsibility. I don’t know what the culture is like with you. But school rugby in Ireland, you know like it’s Oh, this school against this school and there’s much more a stake than just a game. And people are tempted to put kids back on when they shouldn’t or kids pretending they’re fine when they’re not and all the rest. We need something in place to ensure that people have the best interests of the Children at Play. I think when it comes to sport, certainly team sport, I do want to point out that it’s not always team sports as well. A lot of brain injuries come from trampolining. But when it comes to team sports, and a lot of this comes down to money, I think in that these teams sports this huge amounts of money, billions being made out of them. And number one, there’s the issue of people don’t want games toned down, you know, by removing heading the ball or removing scrums or whatever the case would be in American football. But at the end of the day, these are human lives, I often think about it myself. So you were mentioning movies. So if we talk movie language, you know, another great movie was Gladiator, with Russell Crowe, an incredible movie and incredibly sad movie. And we think that we have progressed in time over these Romans that used to go to an arena to watch people fight a lion or gladiators fight each other to the death. But it’s no different. It’s just slower. You’re just paying someone a lot of money to sustain what could be life changing injuries. I mean, I’m very proud, we just got a gold medal. young female boxer just won a gold medal. But like, at the end of the day, when you’re sustaining repeated trauma to a head, you don’t get away scot free, you just don’t


Michael Kaplen  46:48

No. And when the goal in boxing is to knock someone out, knock them unconscious, you have to wonder whether or not this is really a sport, or it is what you call it being in an arena and watching gladiators kill him. It is no different.


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:04

It’s no different, we would stop and obviously Unfortunately, some boxers have died. They put in safety issues, and no there’s a count and whatever. But the person is still sustained brain injury. In fact, I would love for the word concussion to be removed from the lexicon altogether. And just call it what it is, which is a mild traumatic brain injury or just a traumatic because mild is a misnomer as well.


Michael Kaplen  47:28

Yeah, no, I was just gonna say Sabina, there’s nothing mild about a mild brain injury. It’s a terrible, terrible word, or description to use about brain injury. It’s only mild if it’s someone else’s brain. And


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:42

that’s a really, really good point. I think we need more research as well. I think we need more education, not just about brain injury, but just about how the brain itself just works just for people to kind of understand that. I’m very excited that you actually have these videos on your website, do check out my website, On the bottom of it, I have tons of resources, I use animation as a means to explain how the brain works, you are more than welcome to use if there are of any value to you, and you can link them on your website, I’ll certainly check yours. There’s only so much you can do and only so much I can do as individuals, you can only reach certain amount of audiences. When you have a tool like that, like an animation or a little video, hundreds of 1000s of people can see them. And clearly we’ve been talking about these kinds of ways because what you want to do is to help people to survive a brain injury with the resources necessary to do so. But I like to ask my guests for their personal tip about surviving and or thriving in life. Would you have anything that you would like to share?


Michael Kaplen  48:46

Well, since we’re talking about a brain injury today, let’s stay on that topic. And shed this remind that the best cure for brain injury is prevention. Absolutely.


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:59

Absolutely. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you have been listening to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. Super brain is a labor of love born of a desire to empower people to use their brain to thrive in life and attain their true potential. You can now go ad free on forward slash superbrain. For the price of a coffee. Please help me reach as many people as possible by sharing this episode. Imagine if we could get to a million downloads by word of mouth alone. I believe it is possible. I believe that great things happen when lots of people do little things. Visit Sabina for the Super brain blog with full transcripts, links and the like. Follow me on Instagram at Sabina Brennan and on Twitter at Sabina underscore brand and tune in on Thursday for another booster shot from me and on Monday for another fascinating interview with an inspiring guest. Thank you for listening

#braininjury, #brain, #people, #concussion, #injury, #problems, #head

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 4

 Selfie-taking and self-esteem with Dr Mary McGill

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  01:01 – Dehumanisation and the darker side of humanity
  • 03:52  – Social media exposes our biases
  • 07:07 – Social media is designed to distort
  • 10:31 – The Kardashian Industrial Complex
  • 16:53 – The Instagram Look
  • 20:29 – Selfie-taking, self-esteem, mood and body shame
  • 24:00 – The girlfriend gaze
  • 27:02 – Censoring the female form
  • 33:37 – Cancel Culture
  • 38:11 – Stoicism



The Visibility Trap by Dr Mary McGill

Guest Bio


Dr Mary McGill is a media studies lecturer and journalist based in Ireland. Described by the Sunday Business Post as “essential reading”, her first book, The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media, was published by New Island Books in July 2021. Her research explores the complex ways young women engage with selfie-practices and how the rise of social media is changing the way we see ourselves online and beyond. She is a former Hardiman Scholar at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a regular contributor and writer in the Irish media.




Over to You

Do you admire the Kardashians? Were you aware that social media knowingly gives more visibility to thin white female forms? Would you like to see more diverse body types on social media.

What do you think of cancel culture? Do you think we could create more balanced, more empathetic platforms for social interaction with opportunities for more social integration across cultures and with holders of opposing opinions.

I really would love to hear your thoughts.

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


Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan. And thank you so much for tuning in to part two of my conversation with Dr. Mary McGill. If you haven’t yet listened to last week’s episode, I suggest you press pause, go back, have a listen. And then come back and listen to this part two of my conversation with my fascinating guest, Dr. Mary McGill, author of The Visibility Trap – sexism, surveillance and social media.


Sabina Brennan  00:36

I had another guest on in season one. And she was publicly shamed in social media A journalist because she wrote a piece about ‘how do we find the balance between fat shaming and encouraging people to lose weight for health benefits and whatever?’. But before she knew it, she was vilified globally, lost a job, all the rest. And you have plenty of stories in the book about those things.


Mary McGill  01:01

One thing I always try on an individual level, knowing how these technologies operate. I mean, I think what you’re describing there is various processes of dehumanisation, Dehumanisation, not just directed at other people, but dehumanisation of yourself. Because when you fail to recognise somebody else’s humanity, you’re actually diminishing your own. And I think very often, we’re not encouraged to have humility in these spaces, we’re encouraged to go out all guns blazing. And I think that doesn’t leave room for reflection that doesn’t leave room for nuances. And sometimes I’ll be honest with you, it kind of scares me because if history tells us anything, it is that people can do terrible things when they believe that they are right. You know, how do you know that what you’re saying is correct. If you can’t, even on a very basic level, even privately, engage honestly, with counter opinions, and look it, if those counter opinions are abhorrent that’s gonna be pretty obvious. But the counter opinions are, of course, that I’m talking about are the ones that actually will give you pause for thought. Or God, dare I say it make you change your mind?


Sabina Brennan  02:06



Mary McGill  02:07

So I think that that space for reflection and thought and dialogue, in theory, these should be flourishing like never before


Mary McGill  02:17

But that is not what that what happened and whatever our perspectives that value that principle, we all should be concerned about that, right? Because we know human history tells us that that shutting down and that bad faith, and that, you know, kind of binary thinking with other human beings is profoundly dangerous. And when I’m thinking about the darker side of all of this, I mean, that is what I’m very, very worried about, but it is stirring up forces that never quite go away. And that by the way, can I just say are not about ‘us and them’, every human being has darkness in them. And we don’t like talking about that, right? Because otherwise, how could horrible things have happened are happening now and happen throughout time, you know, the human mind and the human heart are complicated things. And of course, these technologies understand that, but again, and to go back to what I said earlier on, very often, instead of operating from a place that would temper down on those instincts and boost better instincts, they seem to trade on whatever instinct is going because all attention is engagement, engagement can be created, converted into a metric, which in turn, can be converted into cash. So it doesn’t matter if that engagement or attention is destroying someone’s life or destroying democracy, it’s all the same, because it all goes into the same cash pile. I think that is, if you want to call it an experiment, shall we say, I think we’re beginning to see now that we need to take the temperature down and to rethink. And I think that, of course, involves governments and laws, but it also involves us as individuals and how we approach these spaces.


Sabina Brennan  02:17



Sabina Brennan  03:52

And I think, you know, as I’m thinking and talking through this, which is really what I love about the podcast medium is that I can read this book, and I have questions and things that I want to talk to you about and ask you questions. But what I’m loving particularly about this chat is I’m getting ideas from talking to you. This is what social media should have been and was intended for and was for a while, you know, collaboration ideas, exploring thoughts, thinking through Why is that happening? And I do particularly like podcasting for that because it’s a longer duration, you actually get to engage with people and explore and get to know people and get to discuss and you know, back and forth. You don’t always have to agree with each other but you can kind of explore, we have multiple biases, okay. Basically, when we talk about bias, people tend to think about racism and sexism, etc. Look, we have biases about ourselves, we have biases about absolutely every single thing. Essentially, all they are are the brain’s heuristics. So they’re just shortcuts. So the thinking brain uses the most energy so your brain is constantly trying to find ways to limit the use in a way…. to maximise the efficiency. So anything that we can give to the unconscious brain to do is helpful. It frees up the conscious brain for actually doing the things that allowed us evolve, inventing stuff, and engaging with people writing books, making art, literature, all those fabulous things that make us human. It’s like the reverse of evolution, that’s kind of what we’re at risk of happening here is because the social media and again, I’m thinking this off the cuff sort of thing, that social media is bypassing our rational thinking brain and operating on that. So it’s exposing our biases, our heuristics. And whilst they’re always there, in another situation, you have a chance to slow down and think rationally, because that keyboard is at the tip of your finger, you can go straight from that thought to that and expose those biases without realising that they are just heuristics and that your brain can be wrong, your brain does not see a reality, what you interpret as the reality is just that. It is your brain’s interpretation based on the data it has available. Now we all know that social media actually manipulates the data that is available to you. So you get biased data. So biased incoming data on top of internal biases means that you’re going to see a completely different reality to somebody else.So your and my reality and view of the world when it comes to gender or sexism is going to be entirely different to someone who is a sexist, or a racist or whatever. And they are going to believe that they are just as right and accurate, in the same way that we believe that we’re right and accurate. I think perhaps that’s why maybe social media has changed so rapidly recently, is that you used to be able to see everything and that’s access to data. But then social media decided it better and decided to feed us stuff it knows we like so then all you’re doing is creating bigots, racists, sexists.


Mary McGill  07:07

Yeah, I think what social media does, is distort. And I think that that distortion is often something that we’re not particularly aware of, because these are technologies that are frictionless to us. And they feel quite organic in our hands, right? I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen toddlers with iPods. And it almost seems kind of intuitive, right? I think on our behalf, there’s kind of an almost unthinking presumption that what manifests on our screen simply is right, we’re not encouraged to look.


Sabina Brennan  07:41

To think critically


Mary McGill  07:44

Yeah, And to consider what is going on, what are all the calculations that lead to you seeing your version of quote, unquote, online reality, or me seeing my version, quote, unquote, of online reality. And of course, that can be used in lots of ways, some people will become visible because of it, a lot of lot more people will be denied visibility online because of it. It’s also a convenient way for material that you would find annoying somehow making its way into your timeline. And of course, our minds are primed for negativity and will be drawn to the annoying thing, you know, and will dwell on that probably more than the most positive thing. But surely, that’s not a good… I mean, if if something’s been placed there just to get your attention, because attention is the most important thing, but it’s actually annoying you and just generally, you know, not really what you want to see, but it’s capturing your attention, nonetheless. Why do that? Well, because it creates attention, right, and the more attention is good attention is the metric that matters, right? So I think these technologies are designed to distort they are designed to amplify and amplify is another type of distortion. So it can feel like we’ll say, if you look, for example, at one of the studies that looked at the way ads on Facebook were used during the 2016 presidential election, what they found in one case was that the ad spend on this particular I think was pro Trump ads was about $100,000. Actually, not that much really in the grand scale of things, this misleading information, but that material had been shared over 100 million times on Facebook. That this is the issue, right? This is the amplification feeding into distortion, right? So you don’t actually need that many bad actors for them to have an outsized effect in these spaces, You know. And the vast majority of social media content quite often is produced by people. A small group of people in comparison to actually the amount of people who have an account, but the small group of people are just heavily online. So they’re the ones producing the vast majority of the content. But if you go to these platforms, and you assume that by logging on, you are getting some unfiltered version of reality or what people are thinking and feeling. I mean, you’re getting a slice of It, maybe something but you’re not getting the whole picture. And I think now more than ever, we need a broader sense of what people are thinking or feeling. And we need to be very careful about kind of falling into the distortions that Social Media presents. Because you know, when you’re in that space, the world has been distorted, you’re being distorted. You know, you just need to just be careful with it.


Sabina Brennan  10:26

There’s so many interesting chapters, there’s another one on influence, which just has incredible stuff in it.


Mary McGill  10:31

So what I write about in the book is something I call the Kardashian Industrial Complex. And it looks at the way the Kardashians have kind of… the surveillance that was inherent with a reality TV where they first made their splash in terms of the entertainment industry, but of course is inbuilt in social media. They understood and were very good at being responsive to that change. This notion of celebrity is ‘access all areas’, which happened there to a degree in programming from the 90s with the advent of reality television. But of course, it has kicked up a number of gears now with social media, and they embrace the surveillance, right, they commodify every aspect of their lives. They let cameras in,you know, everywhere, they were prophetic, and their ability to spot the earning power of something like Instagram, I mean, Instagram, when it started, I was purely, you know, photographs. And we didn’t have the notion of influencers as selling things to Instagram. You know, the Kardashians are one of the people who really understood the economic power of these platforms. They’ve also devised lifestyles and products, where the products are, you know, help to kind of deal with the spotlight of social media. So the makeup stuff and the underwear stuff, and the detoxes. And all of these things. You know, this is about achieving a certain look in this hyper visual culture where women are expected to want to be seen and to want to showcase their lives on these platforms. The Kardashian Industrial Complex, there’s not really much dissent involved, like the assumption is that this is what smart 21st century  women do. They reproduce themselves in this way, they’re glossy, they’re in control. their femininity is something that they almost approach as like a brand. It’s something they do for themselves, or they do for their friends, almost as part of their career, their whole outlook. And when you talk to some young women about the Kardashians, they find them hugely inspiring for that reason, the fact that they are entrepreneurs, and they have managed to create this empire. And in the book, I’m really careful not to, although I’m very critical of them, I do take them seriously.


Sabina Brennan  12:30

No, absolutely.


Mary McGill  12:31

I think there’s a real snobbery, particularly when it comes perhaps to things that are seen as feminine, even though things like the fashion and beauty industry are worth billions upon billions, just the sport is but sports, you know…. we just get these double standards everywhere. Yeah. So the Kardashian phenomenon, it’s interesting in terms of how the media has changed over the last 20 years, it’s fascinating in terms of how consumption has changed over the last 20 years, it’s fascinating in terms of how celebrity has changed over the last 20 years, they have taken the visibility that is inherent to the media landscape. And they have built a brand around embracing that visibility, and this idea that you can take it and you can meet it and you can make yourself wealthy from it and make yourself desirable from it. And that you can be in control. And of course, that word quote unquote, empowered. And indeed for people at the very top of the food chain like the Kardashians, and you know, there are lots of other very, very successful influencer of that mould. Even though there are lots of different types of different ways of being an influencer. I’m talking about a very specific type of influencer in this respect. And they do of course, they’ve done incredibly well, from this new marketplace.


Sabina Brennan  13:42

If you measure that success by how much money they’ve made. I do think that is another cultural thing is that success does appear to be measured by how much money you have, so that you can purchase the lifestyle that they have. But in between all of that when you look at it, relationships aren’t working out. You know, for them, they still make money if they go for a divorce, you know, because that’s even more money coming in. But at the end of the day, I think what gets forgotten as well is aspiring to be like the Kardashians. Do you really want you know, in a way, it must be exhausting doing what they’re doing. They’re ‘on’ all the time.


Mary McGill  14:18

Well, I think they’re very savvy with like, everything that happens, the heartbreak, the divorces, everything else, everything gets absorbed into the brand and makes them even more relatable.


Sabina Brennan  14:26



Mary McGill  14:27

and this is no mean feat because these people are multimillionaires. So the idea of being relatable is that they do manage to a certain degree make that appeal to the very many people who follow them. My real sympathy lies with the people who don’t have anything like those resources, who are believing in this notion of this new economy that does work out for some people, just as it always has worked out for some people, but those people are generally you know, the one in the million, but you have, you know, people who desire to be content creators or influencers without that notoriety to back them up for those kinds of resources. They are working so hard. One young woman I interviewed for the book she said, you know, you’re your own everything your your writer, your manager, editor, everything. And I think again in being snooty and making assumptions about influencers and content creators and so on, completely ignores the reality of the work often work that is done by women because it tends to be in female dominated space. This is a new marketplace that has evolved, it has none of the security, none of the benefits of previous types of employment. And the vast majority people who are trying to make their way in it are not the Kardashians. So when the Kardashians are held up as this kind of visibility that these are what influencers are, you’re like, no, that’s a particular type. Yeah. But there’s a whole other world and worlds out there of people who are working so hard with very little support in a role that’s misunderstood a lot of the time. And it’s not easy.


Sabina Brennan  15:56

I would identify hugely with it I wouldn’t see myself as an influencer. But I am working in that gig economy. And in that way, and I suppose Yes, in some ways, I’m trying to have influence in a very different way, I’m not trying to influence you to buy makeup, I’m trying to influence you to take good care of your brain health and learn how to understand your brain health. And then of course, there are ways you know, I need to eat and make a living as well. But I understand you are everything. The thing and I think you pointed out in a way. And while they have done incredible things, they have not done these things alone, and they did not start from a baseline that you and I are at. They started from incredibly rich and public families. So you know, they will have teams of people posting this stuff and suggesting what needs to be done. And that’s kind of a deception. That’s dangerous. I think there’s a few things as well like that you touch on I think also in that chapter. And I do think that the Kardashian KIC.


Mary McGill  16:50

Yeah, Kardashian Industrial Complex. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  16:53

But you talk about face tune, and all these various devices that people now have access to to create their public filtered image, which then actually results in, as you said, the Instagram look. So essentially, you’re making yourself more like others more the same. This uniformed vision, but that has huge knock on effects. In terms of like imposter syndrome, you know, you’re not really the person you’re presenting, wishing that You looked like you know…. Going to get plastic surgery to look like your face-tuned image of yourself, your self esteem, your depression, your not wanting to go online, unless you look your best, all those things that all of us experience, but they are very real detrimental effects. But the whole point is that the solutions that are being provided, are for, as you point out, problems that have been created by the solution providers. And so essentially, there’s just this roundabout that you’re on that actually, if we could just all step off it they go out of business. Like we are feeding the monster, and then giving the monster our money. That’s what I like about books like this. And I know people hate that word empowerment, but I don’t know of a good replacement. But knowledge is power. And if you understand these things, and I really do urge people to get the book, it really makes you think about how implicitly complicit you are in this terrible cycle


Mary McGill  18:18

that is really not good for women. When you begin to look at the literature, and you know, yourself this literature, hey, there’s still so much we don’t know, right? We’re still kind of digging through this material. But what’s really striking when it comes to comparison, culture, and fragmentation, and all of these things, is I suppose, perhaps, specificity. And what I mean by that is how we use these technologies matters. And what we bring to them matters. Because not everybody is going to feel the need for validation through something like a selfie. So why are some people more prone to needing that validation? Or perhaps in certain times, perhaps when they’re a bit younger, perhaps when they’re, you know, things are being tough, or whatever the case may be, I know that people can kind of take it or leave it. And I have seen this myself, just in research. And we’ll say talking with young women, that some people seem to have a kind of a natural ability to…, not that they’re not affected, but they’re better at realising it. Or been like ‘that made me feel bad. So I’m not going to do any more’  or ‘that made me feel bad. o I’m not going to use this platform’. But I like this platform. And I use it this way. So that’s what I’m going to do. For some people it seems to be that made me feel bad, but it also made me feel good. So I’m just going to keep doing it in the hope that it’s going to make me feel because the feeling good is worth about even though the bad is really bad. And I actually don’t like it at all.


Sabina Brennan  19:45

But that’s exactly how abusive relationships work,


Mary McGill  19:49

right? Yes, yes, yeah.


Sabina Brennan  19:51

If you’re in an abusive relationship, if that abuser is constantly bad to you, you may actually have a chance of surviving However, it’s the occasional good that they do to you, I’m so sorry …it’s only, cause I love you. And here’s this, this, this and this. And it’s that good moment that keeps the female, usually the female trapped in that abusive relationship. And now Yeah, that, again, is just understanding how human behaviour works and how human behaviour is reinforced. It’s intermittent reinforcement, and is one of the most difficult types of behaviour to disrupt.


Mary McGill  20:29

Yes, and that does not surprise me, that does not surprise me, at least, because when you go to the literature that we have on we’ll say, ‘selfie taking’ on body shame, and low self esteem and things like that, very often, the researchers will make a point of saying, you know, we find this, but one factor would be that people who present with these tendencies, they are more prone to compare themselves with others, right? So that the technology then is tapping into that vulnerability, you get this kind of, I suppose, feedback or loop effect, right? So when the technology might not necessarily have caused that vulnerability, it is certainly exploiting that vulnerability.


Sabina Brennan  21:09

Yes. And that’s awful.


Mary McGill  21:11

It’s awful. It is. Often when people when you work in this area, they’re like, does it cause is it caused? And you’re like, you know, maybe we’re too fixated on cause right?


Sabina Brennan  21:19

Oh, yeah, yeah,


Mary McGill  21:20

maybe what we need to be asking … I mean that that’s such a, you know, oh, it makes this happen. And you’re like, oh I dunno…. to say that conclusively about anything? It’s a big question to ask.


Sabina Brennan  21:31

Yeah, you really can’t, when it comes to the human condition, and the human brain and behaviour, singular causes really aren’t at play. They just aren’t, it is multiple causes, but also multiple contexts. So in one context, something happened might lead to something detrimental in another context, it won’t, even as a female, you know, we have to acknowledge the role that our brain and our body plays in terms of our behaviour and our vulnerabilities. Knowledge is power. It really is.


Mary McGill  22:02

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the things I wanted to do with the brook and say in reference to, you know, research on the selfie, just having that self awareness to catch yourself, you know, there’s interesting research on the impacts of mood, depending on the type of selfie practice that you engage in. So if you’re taking selfies that are light hearted, that involve food, or you know, nice, sunsets or humorous, and if those are the type of selfies that you’re consuming as well, they’re probably not going to have a negative impact on your mood or your self-esteem. However, if you are taking the type of selfies and oriented around beauty practices, where there’s a high degree of self surveillance, and there’s a high degree of you know, judgment and being critical of other people selfies as well, and you are someone who was prone to comparison, then that is probably not going to do you a whole lot of good. But if you know that, and if you know, you can be like oh, you know, and you have the self awareness to catch yourself in the mood where you’re reaching for that… you’re looking at. And if that’s all it takes, to make you put your phone down or get a bit of distance. So that’s just not so much in your head. That I mean, I would be delighted with that. Because these technologies have overtaken our ability to build the kind of shorthand or common sense around them when it comes to use a lot of the time, unless you have the good fortune to be, you know, in academia or in research or wherever the case may be a lot of these ideas, they need to be hitting the people who they’re researching.


Sabina Brennan  23:30

They really do. Oh, yeah. And that’s one of the reasons I do what I do is that academia encourages publication in academic journals. And that’s why I love that you published your PhD, but then you publish this book for everyone else. And I almost feel that that actually should be almost a requirement in a way. I do feel it should be a requirement that research is made accessible, watching yourself watching other people trying to figure out how should I be How should I look? And actually, you have some line and I can’t remember where you actually evoke The Handmaiden.


Mary McGill  24:00

Oh, yeah, no, that’s a British researcher Alison Winch. Yeah, she talks about the girlfriend gaze being this kind of very female, very critical gaze. Being that the male gaze is Handmaiden.


Sabina Brennan  24:11

Yes, yes.


Mary McGill  24:12

And it is certainly in certain respects online in these very female spaces. Which Instagram can tend to be It is more grounded as a female gaze


Sabina Brennan  24:20

it’s other female. Yeah, yeah. And I have to say, like my experience across my life, and these are some of the things that I would feel uncomfortable saying, and but at least I can kind of qualify myself if we do it here that, in my experience, females are the ones who appear more critical of other females. Or it can feel like that whether it’s true or not, but it can certainly feel like that. Certainly, as a schoolgirl, and you do…. and I think that’s very relevant. You do speak of social media as being the schoolgirl. That place where you are trying to discover who you are, and you’re looking at other people and going Oh, do I want to be like her? Oh, actually, everybody seems to really like her but okay. I’ll kind of ignore the fact that she’s bitchy. But I’d like to look like her, you know. And it is that space where you are kind of vulnerable. And when it comes to perfect bodies, I don’t think that men, I think a new generation may be different those who’ve grown up with the Internet, and they’re subjected to porn and just all these perfect bodies, but certainly in my generation, and before that, men are less critical of the female form and are excited by or aroused by the female form. Even if it has cellulite, or an extra few pounds, it’s much more organic than the eight pack and the looking perfect. That’s certainly what it was. When I was there. I don’t know whether it’s actually changed, it could change. That’s where I get fearful. But I definitely assume it impacts on women and how they feel and how they would feel undressing in front of people and all the rest. Anyway, tell us a little bit about the Bodies chapter and what the social media actually does.


Mary McGill  26:01

Yes, one of the things that is a big selling point for something like Instagram, if you go to its about page is it’ll tell you that, you know, you can create yourself on your self expression, values, be seen all this good stuff that really appeals to us as human beings, because we’re like, oh, yeah, I like the idea of being seen. And like the idea of creating myself, This all sounds like a lot of fun. We love to look as human beings, we’re very visually driven. We love images. And so you know, that’s all to the good. And in practice, though, not everybody gets to be seen in the same way. And that’s what the bodies chapter looks at, you know, so the likes of the Kardashians will get a high degree of visibility always, even when they come very, very close to breaking the terms of service. For people who don’t have that kind of following or for people who were challenging, we’ll say, traditional understandings of the female body just as an example, they will find themselves quite often censored, they may have their account taken away from them, they may have their images taken down.


Sabina Brennan  27:02

There’s two fantastic examples. If you can explain the image that you’re referring to with Kim Kardashian, what she was attempting to emulate. Yeah, and then there are a couple of them that come to mind. So there’s the woman with the bikini.


Mary McGill  27:13

Yeah, yeah.


Sabina Brennan  27:14

And then also, there’s one about… and this is where moderators come in, they’re really striking stories.


Mary McGill  27:21

They really are. As soon as last summer Noam, I hope I’m pronouncing her name correctly, she’s a very high profile and black British body positivity activist, caught up a series of images very beautiful images of herself on Instagram, and she was holding her chest with her arms, but there was no sign of the dreaded female nipple, which is not permitted on Instagram. Just so you know, for anybody who’s thinking about getting their nips out on Instagram. If you’re a woman,


Sabina Brennan  27:48

if you’re a woman, if you’re a man, you can have your nipples.


Mary McGill  27:51

Yeah, exactly. So this was an image I think I described in the book is kind of one of quite self acceptance and contemplation. It was very nicely done. aesthetically very beautiful. But it was taken down. It was taken down repeatedly over and over again. And both the blogger and the photographer who took it were just aghast, as were the people who were following what was happening online. Because highly sexual images of slim, Caucasian women are all over Instagram, and they are not removed and


Sabina Brennan  28:21

I get them.


Mary McGill  28:23

I know, yeah, we all get them and you kind of like us.  So around the same time that this was playing out, Kylie Jenner had put up an image of herself and were also topless, whether I’m across her chest, it was deliberately provocative. You know, it was a very sexualised image.


Sabina Brennan  28:37

Yeah. Whereas the other one was a celebration just of, you know,


Mary McGill  28:41

body confidence


Sabina Brennan  28:42

no innuendo nothing. It’s just, you know, I’m sitting here and this is how I look, this is me and I’m okay. Yeah,


Mary McGill  28:50

this is me. And, you know, an important image because we’re not used to seeing women, particularly not used to seeing women outside this stifling normal, skinny whiteness embracing themselves like that. So Kylie Jenner was not even a thing, you know, everything else. But because this blogger had such a following, she was able to kind of draw attention to the fact that she had been… her  images had been taken down and it became a thing and the newspapers in the UK picked it up, it became an international news story. And eventually, I think Instagram, the images were reinstated, they then changed their moderation policy to kind of add a bit of nuance around the fact that just because a woman is holding a breast does not necessarily mean that it’s sexual, right.


Sabina Brennan  29:30

I think what it was was that, for some people who aren’t aware, and that’s a whole other podcast, talk about it, as well as there are people who moderate content and you know, they can be moderating violent content, obscene content, etc. Not a very nice job, but they have rules and guidelines. So the rule in this instance, the reason hers was taken down was that apparently, you can embrace your breasts to hide them and to be you could describe it in so many different ways. Sexual, provocative, coquettish, or actually just playing Yeah, abiding by the rules, I can’t show my nipples on Instagram. The reason hers was taken down was apparently, if you move your arms to hold your breasts in a way that looks like you’re squeezing them, that is considered sexual. And of course, if this woman actually is different to, like, it’s an awful lot harder to wrap your arms around the size 42 bust or a 40 bust, than it is around the 32 bust without squeezing or whatever. But that was the judgment. And they changed that. And I think as you pointed to there, that woman had a big enough following and profile to highlight that issue. But most of us are unaware that we are being fed just one body type, and it is white


Mary McGill  30:42

 and also just as well, just to say, yeah, and also the strength of character and the bravery. Because Yeah, not everybody has that energy within them to fight that was taking energy out of her career, you know, that was taking energy out of her, you know, day to day to live her life. And she did get support. And she had … she had, you know, a sizeable platform, and she did make change and all the rest of us. But throughout the book, you’re constantly meeting people who have had to fight because they have found themselves at the sharp end of these technologies. That’s not a situation ideally, women should be finding themselves in, but they are.


Sabina Brennan  31:16

But I think it shows us it’s back to gosh, you know, in some ways, even across my lifespan, things have changed and moved on. And you know, you didn’t used to be able to talk publicly about your periods or anything like that. And things have moved on. But then in other ways, they’ve moved backwards or done full circles, but basically as Lisa McInerney said, different perfumes, same shit. Basically, it is that there is one acceptable type of female body. And there’s one story in there where that really made a jump out to me. And that was someone showed a photograph of herself in her bikini with some of her pubes escaping out


Mary McGill  31:55

Ah yes


Sabina Brennan  31:56

  and it was taken down.


Mary McGill  31:59

Petra Collins.  it was just a picture. I’m I say if it’s her


Sabina Brennan  32:03

horrific reasons behind it


Mary McGill  32:03

 When I say it was a picture of her crotch, I don’t mean that in any sexual way whatsoever. It was just, she’s an artist, you know, she was. So it was it was a picture of her in actually very sensible blue knickers that has to be said there was nothing remotely sexual about it. But it showed just along the trim of her knickers, it showed pubic hair,


Sabina Brennan  32:22

which is where pubic hair resides.


Mary McGill  32:25

I mean, shock and horror. There you go. And it caused… you know, again, was taken down, her account was closed. And yet these images of bodies that are far more sexualised, with far less clothing  are allowed to circulate and are given such a high degree of visibility. And it’s like, what is so shocking about pubic hair? And specifically pubic hair that’s on a woman’s body? Right? You know, there’s almost like, these technologies are so progressive, or that’s what they sell themselves as, but the cultural ideas that inform them


Sabina Brennan  32:57

Oh Yeah,


Mary McGill  32:58

still have this Puritanism in them.


Sabina Brennan  33:00

Yeah, absolutely.


Mary McGill  33:01

Like, you’re free to represent yourself. But actually, you’re only free to represent yourself within quite defined parameters that can be very tricky to interpret. There’s not a whole lot of transparency until you find yourself up against them. Again, and again, in the Bodies chapter you hear from women who were like, and then you know, this was said to them you know…  So this idea, again, to go back to that notion of control, they have control, the platform’s have control, absolutely, they will give you a degree of control, but your control will never ever, ever supersede theirs, they have the ultimate say,


Sabina Brennan  33:37

I think in one way it can. And that is you have control to step back and walk away from it. And that’s very hard to do. And it’s something that I’m going to kind of wrestle with, I suppose I have been doing it in more recent years in that I tend to limit my interaction on social media, actually, to my work or stuff that’s relevant, and then maybe my dogs. So it’s kind of pretty innocuous, because I’ve realised that actually, it’s not the right place or forum for the kind of nuanced, intelligent conversation. And I have to say, so we’ve been talking here about how, in a way, women are impacted by social media, but I think also and it’s a trend that I don’t like either, is that then it’s not just men who engage in the nasty, unfiltered behaviour. And I think this is problematic because I think it puts the cause of women backwards, is women behaving in that cancel culture that refusing to have a conversation, refusing to try and find some way forwards just the finger point, they are witch hunts, and I think what has made them even worse is they’re witch hunts of women, by women. And that seems like a particularly nasty form of witch hunting, But I do believe they are our modern day witch hunts. We have not not changed and it’s now become that place where There was the public stocks for the public shaming, etc. That’s it. But at least back then, if you were publicly shamed, you could leave and go to another village, this is global, there is nowhere to go and hide from these kinds of public shaming. It’s pretty horrific. And such a shame, because it could be this incredible tool. And it is an incredible tool. And I’ve had lots of very positive things come out of my use of social media. I think a lot of people are aware, because it’s very obvious that they are being listened to and watched by the technology itself, I keep getting a picture of actually this chair that I’m sitting on. I googled something and saw oh look that chair, my chair back again, and every time I log on, now, I’m just getting that chair, and it comes up because I clicked it. And obviously didn’t say no cookies, or whatever. So we know that our behaviour is being monitored in that way. But I don’t believe that. And I think people understand that opinions and certain posts are being filtered. But I don’t believe that women understand that the type of women that you see, in terms of body type and visual and ethnicity. I don’t believe that people realise that that is being manipulated. And I think that was one of the kind of big scary bits from the book. It’s not a horror story. It’s a very empowering book to use that phrase again. But if you can think of another way to say that I’m all ears. It’s fantastic. Thank you so much. Thank you, Sabina, anyone listening, get the book. It’s full of this fascinating stuff It’s called The Visibility Trap, sexism, surveillance and social media. And it’s by Mary McGill. And she just says Mary McGill, as opposed to Dr. Mary McGill. Or Mary McGill. PhD. The way I look at those letters that I have after my name is they’re just and I think, that’s all they really mean is they point to the fact that actually, you know, you have studied this, you’re just not randomly. And I think that’s another knock on effect. It has bled into publishing, influencers are being asked to write books, because of their following because it means sales. But that’s another form of filtering. That doesn’t happen that should happen is that when you filter through, anybody is allowed to give advice or say stuff. And often that involves the purchase of, for example, in my case, I’m looking at people advising people to buy supplements that are great for memory, or there’s no scientific research to say that, and yet they’re allowed kind of put that there anyway, you see, we could talk forever, because there’s just so many things and so much there. Do you have plans to write another book?


Mary McGill  37:41

I would like to you


Sabina Brennan  37:42

I know you’ve only just done this. Yeah, yeah. But you’d like the process?


Mary McGill  37:46

Yes. Yes, I do. I would like to Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I


Sabina Brennan  37:49

think even with this, even some of the topics within this could be expanded. But I also think there’s going to be more and more and I’m sure there was more bits that you would have liked to put in, you couldn’t put it in in terms of, you know, page numbers, etc. So I like to finish by asking my guests to offer a tip on surviving and are thriving in life.


Mary McGill  38:11

Oh, gosh, tip for surviving and are thriving in life. I have found myself over the last while ehh returning to a lot of very old things. And by old I mean, in terms of human history of human civilisation. I’m very interested in the stoic, stoic philosophy. And I would recommend anybody if they I think we live in a highly emotional age. And there’s nothing wrong with emotion. And but how you deal with it is really important. And I think the stoics offer some really interesting ways of thinking about the role of emotion in our lives. And I think over the last year, a way of thinking and a book that I have found a lot of wisdom and confidence in is a book from 1945 by a man called Albert Camus  It’s called The Plague. And bear with me. The plague is set  in Algiers in a town where there is an outbreak of the bubonic plague. And it follows a doctor who remains in the town to treat patients. So it works really powerfully as a narrative. But Camus also developed the notion of the plague as part of his philosophy, which is called absurdism, right, that the absurdity of life, which sounds nihilistic, but it’s not at all. And Camus says about The Plague, is that plagues force us to see the fragility of life, but fragility is all around us all the time. We’re just really good at distracting ourselves from that and thinking that we’re the ones in control, when the reality is that life can end or be turned upside down at any point and that is the metaphor of The plague. And at one stage, one of the doctors assisting him asked him, you know, how do you cope with that? Like, how do you cope with all this suffering and you know, and he just says, “You know, I do my work. And we go through it.” And I think that’s what we do with human beings, there is no way but through that you just kind of have to accept the plague as a condition of our existence, and go through,


Sabina Brennan  40:26

I totally hear what you’re saying, and obviously it will resonate for people because we’re living through it another plague. But it’s interesting what you say about the stoics and emotions, you know, I think it’s probably that the pendulum has swung too far. One way, so there’s this stoic, putting on the brave face thing. And you know, for years, we’ve heard about, oh, you, you’re not in touch with your emotions, get in touch with your emotions. But now, I think it’s probably swung too far the other way. And it’s not always good to let your emotions rule your behaviour. In fact, you know, in a way, emotions are the results of your thinking as well. And I suppose really, in a sense, what you’re saying is just do it, just live it, you have much more control and much less control than you think. So the big stuff, an awful lot of it, we have no control over it. So you just have to live through it but actually how you live through it, and how you respond to it. And what you do on a day to day level, you have huge amounts of control, huge amounts of control. And that’s how you think how you behave. And even how you feel you have much more control, those things don’t just happen, your brain and you and your behaviour are making things happen. And so you know, if they’re not working, you can switch them up and change. That’s fascinating. I may have a little look at that book. It’s always nice to get those kinds of tips, but the main book to consider folks is The Visibility Trap. It’s a fantastic read. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you’ve been listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. Super brain is a labor 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 that 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 for additional content, including images and videos related to this episode and a transcript of the show. Follow me on Instagram @SabinaBrennan and on Twitter at @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.


people, book, images, women, instagram, social media, brain, influencers, visibility, female, technologies, Kardashians, life, plague, thinking, encouraged, terms, body, selfie, changed

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 3

The Visibility Trap with Dr Mary McGill

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  00:23 – Mary talks about how she came to write The Visibility Trap
  • 02:30 – Gender-based abuse online
  • 07:24 – Frankenstein – the need for moral and ethical checks
  • 13:44 – Surveillance and self-monitoring 
  • 27:12 – Visibility and exposure
  • 33:04 – The female form 
  • 36:00 – Plundering life in search of novelty
  • 37:35 – Judgement is a spectacle on social media
  • 39:38 – Filters



The Visibility Trap by Dr Mary McGill

Guest Bio


Dr Mary McGill is a media studies lecturer and journalist based in Ireland. Described by the Sunday Business Post as “essential reading”, her first book, The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media, was published by New Island Books in July 2021. Her research explores the complex ways young women engage with selfie-practices and how the rise of social media is changing the way we see ourselves online and beyond. She is a former Hardiman Scholar at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a regular contributor and writer in the Irish media.




Over to You

What kind of selfies do you take? Do you feel judged on social media or do you find yourself judging others? Do you self-censor on social media or do you go live and unfiltered

Tune into Thursday’s booster episode where I’ll be taking a look at lockdown weight gain.

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


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 this week is Dr. Mary McGill, a digital culture researcher, journalist and author of The Visibility Trap, a feminist guide to navigating self representation on social media. So you are Dr. Mary?


Mary McGill  00:23

Yeah, yes, I am. And again, oh Sabina, it was so funny. It’s been such a mad year. So basically, I had my Viva on March 4 2020. Viva, for people who don’t know is where you defend your PhD. And it’s pretty hair raising. Thankfully, mine went well. So I became a doctor. And but literally a week later, we went into lockdown. So it’s been, I don’t know how it feels for you. But for me, it’s felt like this constant sense of suspended animation, like you’re working, and you’re doing things, a lot of which you would normally do, but the circumstances are completely changed. And then you know, you write a book and it comes out. And it’s all I’m a doctor


Sabina Brennan  01:00



Mary McGill  01:01

Virtual, yeah I’m a doctor and I have a book and kind of none of it feels real.


Sabina Brennan  01:05



Mary McGill  01:05

So yeah, it’s been kind of wild. But I love doing events like this, because it helps make it feel that much more tangible. So yes, I am a doctor, doctor Mary McGill.


Sabina Brennan  01:14

Like, it is amazing that you literally did your Viva and published a book, which means then you were also writing the book, while you were doing your PhD. I mean, your PhD feeds into this book,


Mary McGill  01:25

It does, as you know, yourself a PhD is a very specific piece of work is for a very specific audience, which is the academia, has to meet various standards, all of which I love, because I’m a big nerd. And I really thrive in that environment. But when you’re kind of working in an area, like Media Studies, or indeed psychology, you know, you’re very often dealing with phenomena that are so current. And so in the process of researching my PhD, I was constantly coming across stuff that wasn’t quite right for that particular project, but certainly spoke to wider issues in the culture that I was observing, you know, through my work. And as a journalist as well, the obvious thing to do was to be like, Let’s keep this material when you have some breathing space –  hello, lockdown – And let’s put it all together and see what we get, ironically enough, sadly enough, that big shift to digital that was already well underway over the last 10 to 15 years.


Sabina Brennan  02:17



Mary McGill  02:17

But yeah, really accelerated from March 2020. And a lot of ways intensified the things that I wanted to write in the book, but then those things just took on a further life of their own once we entered this world,


Sabina Brennan  02:30

and one thing really jumps out to me that you said, and I will talk in more detail, but you had some facts somewhere in this amazing book, which is called The Visibility Trap, sexism, surveillance, and social media. And it is an absolute must read for anyone who’s on social media, but particularly women on social media. And I think men also to understand how differently social media impacts on women compared to men. But you did have one, and I’m sure you remember it, and I may state it slightly inaccurately. But that really surprised me. That was during the COVID-induced lockdown, incidences of online image-based sexual abuse of women increased in Europe.


Mary McGill  03:10

Oh, yeah.


Sabina Brennan  03:11

That’s incredible.


Mary McGill  03:13

Yeah, it is incredible. And you can extrapolate from that as well. Because that trend, image-based sexual abuse is obviously a part of it.  But If we just say, gender-based abuse, that takes place online or digital gender-based abuse, I mean, that across the globe, you know, this is not confined to any particular country or culture. This is a result of the shift to online living that happened from March 2020. And when it comes to image-based abuse, what’s particularly heinous about that is that even the threat of it can be absolutely devastating. So no images even need to be shared, necessarily. It’s just the fact that somebody has them and they have that control over you.


Sabina Brennan  03:51

So we’re talking about really sharing images that are meant for private consumption, Or, in fact, images that have been taken without the consent of the individual, or whatever, various forms, but they are images that are being shared without the person’s consent. But then also there is the issue of whether people then share their own images, and then someone reuses it. But anyway, it’s a very scary phenomenon. And as you just said there, the threat of that, because people do, particularly when it comes to romantic relationships, and I have done a podcast episode on Love, sex and the brain, you know, and essentially, when you’re in the throes of lust and love the very early stages, the brain switches off your frontal lobe. So you don’t think rationally, your ability to assess risk is reduced. Your decision making is compromised. I mean, love really is blind, and you are viewing that person through rose tinted glasses. They’re not just psychological phenomenon. They’re actually physiological, neurological changes that take place in your brain. And so you very easily, could feel that it’s very appropriate in that private context that the person is someone that you may be going to spend a long time with, and you’re madly in love with and you share images that are meant for that individual’s total and sole consumption, and then things change. And then actually, your frontal lobe may kick in, and you kind of go, Oh, this guy really isn’t for me. And oh, my God, he now has those images. And then there’s also the fear, then, you know, it’s like another form of emotional blackmail, in terms of ending relationships. Now, people actually have… people might in the past have made empty threats, of  “I’ll ruined your life” – ” you’ll never work here again”, or whatever. But actually, now I have images that could completely destroy your life. So it’s very, very scary.


Mary McGill  05:39

It is


Sabina Brennan  05:40

And would you agree, just when you were talking there about, you said, it transcends culture and country and borders and boundaries. And I mean, really, literally, we’re just kind of came to my mind is, the internet is another country that we all belong to, and it has its own culture, but culture that has evolved without any checks and balances in place, I feel very strongly that we need ethics, we need an ethical monitoring of the internet and new technology in a broader sense. Because for me, the internet and I use this word purposely, the internet exploded into our world, whatever, 31 years ago, or 32 years ago, and even the individual who invented it, would see that it is being used in ways that was not intended and has actually called for…., and acknowledged that it impacts more negatively on women and disempowers them and he wants it to be a space that’s free and available for all.  Then we have this culture within people who can develop these programs and softwares and have all those tools did stuff just because they could and I’m all for it, just do it. But without thinking about unintended consequences, as well as having dubious intended consequences. And I liken it to and that’s why I use the term explosion. It’s like the person who split the atom, nobody thought that the atom bomb was going to come from it and cause the devastation that it has and world changing effects. And I feel the same as here and I feel more of us need to speak up and say no, there has to be ethics, independent bodies put in and it’s not about censorship, it’s about actually exploring intended and unintended consequences and seeing how they could impact on the users.


Mary McGill  07:24

Yeah, at the end of the book, I write about a very old book called Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which is a fantastic read on many levels. But when we talk about technologies  it’s kind of a shorthand, people often reach for it. And there’s varying interpretations of what Shelley was trying to say in that book. For me, the big takeaway is you have, you know, Victor Frankenstein, who creates the so called monster who wasn’t a monster to begin with, you know, he’s ultimately rejected by his father and, and leads a lonely existence and ends up doing all kinds of horrible things, particularly when it comes to Victor and Victor ends up destroying his own life through his own creation. And the challenge, I think, in that what Shelley was getting at, and don’t forget, she was alive, you know, in the 1800s, during the time in history, when the kind of modern world as we experienced it today was was basically the seeds for that were being sown right through technology and advancements and science and so on. But, you know, this is kind of a moral question there. But the responsibility of creation, like what are we going to create, how are we going to respond to that. Our ability to create is a magnificent thing. But it is bound to, you know, society, to the individual to our responsibility to each other, and of course, to the planet. And that raises all kinds of moral and ethical questions because if Victor Frankenstein had actually, while he was following his ego to create this being, he did this entirely on his own and, and with all this passion, and and he was working through grief and lots of difficult emotions as well. If he’d other people around him, who maybe would have said, “Is this the best idea, Victor?, if he’d had those conversationswith other people if he’d maybe thought ahead and tried to project? What it would be like for this being in the world or what his relationship would have been to this being and so on, perhaps we wouldn’t have had the tragic tale. Probably not as good as story, mind you, but we would have had the tragic tale that it ended up being. And I think those questions about the responsibility of creation, you know, not going blindly into it, having the humility to ask, What am I creating? What are the possible outcomes? Should I get somebody else’s advice about this, you know, and so on into the kind of questions really, the philosophers ask and ethicists asked, and if I could click my fingers in the morning, you know, and go back 10 or 15 years, I would love to have seen a situation where long before these products ever got into our hands or got into our phones. They were trialed at the design stage, not just by engineers, who, mean wellare just designing products.


Sabina Brennan  09:50

Yeah, but they’re just looking at whether it does what it’s meant to do, as opposed to the impact that it can have on human beings who are going to use it.


Mary McGill  09:59

Exactly. And so what you want ideally, is if these technologies have enough good stuff in them that we want to keep them around, and not forgetting, you know that, it feels like they’ve been here quite a long time and the grand scale of things they really haven’t, you need to get to a place where you have. long before that they are unleashed, you have people in that system that can temperate it,  that bring a range of perspectives, everything from you know, as he said, ethics, psychology, media policy, all of these things. Of course, in children’s welfare, all of these things, so that when these products finally get into the marketplace, they’re built in such a way that the potential harms are…., you can never completely remove risk, and they’ll always be an element of personal responsibility, but the capacity for harm is greatly reduced. And along with that, then you need a kind of a change in cultural approach to how we understand the role of these technologies,


Sabina Brennan  10:58

Essentially, you know, how our brain has evolved over millions of years is what has given us this advantage and the ability to produce things like the internet. But throughout that evolutionary history, the tools that we have created, shape our brains, so always everything that we do, and that’s what I’m passionate about sort of explaining to people. Your brain is the master controller in the sense of your behavior. So is your behavior, your behavior shapes your brain, so it’s a bi directional relationship. So for me, I mean, I’m a massive user of the internet. And I cannot imagine writing books without being able to access journal articles online. And there’s incredible benefits to it. But it is the unintended consequences, and the failure to acknowledge that this tool, this internet, that social media is changing human beings, not just I mean, I know we’re aware of things like the psychological impact, and people actually being driven to suicide, Caroline Flack, in a way comes to mind, you know, obviously, she had other issues kind of going on. But you know, these things contribute in terrible ways and destroy people’s lives in very real ways. So what is it doing to us as a species? How is that kind of changing? That that kind of stuff has to be considered. And, like, I think it’s kind of crazy that it’s not, we do not allow medication to be produced without it going through so many clinical trials. And yes, and I do think this comes from the failure to understand actually how the human brain is influenced by behavior, and how the human brain functions. And you do touch on various amounts of these things in terms of our need for social approval, you know, to be part of a group, like, as you said, the internet’s only around for maybe whatever, it is not even a second in the history of humanity, and our brain has evolved to need social contact to need social approval, we must make sure that we abide by the social rules within our group or environment, because if we don’t, we risk being ostracized, and humans do not do well, in isolation, And again, being isolated changes how your brain functions, etc. So our ancient brain is operating and following those instincts of “I must be part of this group”. But these aren’t groups, you’re actually really part of, they don’t exist. However, the impact of them could ostracize you in a way that is much bigger than being ostracized from the actual group within which you live physically, it actually has these tentacles that can reach in and cause you to lose your job and lose your mental health and well being in so many ways. It’s phenomenal.


Sabina Brennan  13:44

Sexism, surveillance, and social media is that tagline to the visibility trap. So I would love to talk to you, first of all, the title of the book, and then to actually talk about surveillance. I mean, surveillance is a concept that prior to my going to university, I only thought of it in terms of security and surveillance cameras. Then when you study psychology, you understand surveillance in a very different way. And it can include self monitoring, and all those kinds of things. So I’d like us to sort of talk about that in very real and concrete terms. And the book does that guy’s like, it’s grounded in very solid research and science that crosses multiple disciplines. That’s what’s very nice,


Sabina Brennan  14:19

you don’t just sort of stay within your own discipline, the research is from multiple disciplines, but it’s told in a very accessible way and very real way in that you will be able to relate it to what you’re actually doing on social media. And while you’re doing it. So I want to start at the outset of the book you do invoke philosopher Michel Foucault, the French philosopher who actually really in a way said that visibility is a trap. Would you explain because you do it very well in the book, historian and where it comes from prison, and that observation, and another lovely new word panopticism. Mary is going to tell us


Mary McGill  14:19



Mary McGill  14:57

Yes, I’m going to go for it and Sabina for being so enthusiastic, it’s just so lovely. So panopticism, yes, Foucault was taking an idea that had been developed by the Victorian social reformer Jeremy Bentham, essentially a design for an ideal prison. And what made this prison ideal was how effective it was in terms of surveillance. So at it’s center, you had a tower, where the guards could look into the cells, which circled the tower. And from the tower, they could see directly into any cell at any given time. And what this, in theory, would produce in the prisoners is a sense that, because they were never sure if and when they were being watched, they behaved at all times as if they were being watched at all times. I think Foucault writes that it’s like being in a cage, that is its own kind of like theater stage that has great visuals in that particular chapter, the chapter is called Panopticism, you don’t have to make a massive leap from those ideas to the nature of platform capitalism. And the way that social media works. We are part of the allure of these platforms is that we get to be visible, right, we get to be seen by other people far outside our normal network of people. And we in turn, get to see things we wouldn’t otherwise see. We get to share ideas, we get to talk and we get to watch as well, which is a big appeal. But the problem is that all of this visibility, up until this point has been sold to us very much as a net good. As something that we can use to thrive, the positives are always weigh out the negatives. So we’ve got to a point now in a culture where we are beginning to reassess those assumptions. And when you think about surveillance, as you said, quite rightly, we normally associated with George Orwell, the notion of Big Brother, it’s usually the state, or companies, corporations, or the police that are involved in surveillance. But there’s another type of surveillance now that has arisen because of the way that we use technology, and particularly social media, usually referred to as social surveillance. So people look at each other in life all the time. And there may be, you know, a degree of surveillance involved in that. But this kind of mainstreaming of surveillance is with precendent. I mean, we are watching and being watched as individuals in ways that used to be reserved, really for the most visible people in the culture. Soreally politicians and celebrities. Now everybody who has a social media platform is engaging to a greater or lesser extent, in some form of image management, you know, for want of a better word, we’re pre empting how other people see us, we’re taking those ideas that the platform’s put forward of what a popular person is, or a good person is, and we’re tailoring our self representations, so as to benefit from this visibility out, of course, at all times to avoid the trap. Because this is very on certain terrain, Sabina, as much as we can enjoy visibility, it can also be a very difficult thing to navigate, particularly when you’re trying to reproduce yourself and represent yourself in a way that meets the criteria for whatever platform or culture you’re involved in, or want to appeal to, or maybe doesn’t feel representative of who you are. And yet these representations are taken increasingly, as who we are, right, your LinkedIn is who you are, your Twitter profile is who you are. And I know as a psychologist, you’re going ‘Of course it isn’t’. And I’ve been as a media theorist and cultural scholar, I’m going ‘Of course it isn’t’. However, we have grown up in a world where most people don’t have access to the education that enables them to navigate these spaces with the awareness that a representation is a representation. It’s always qualified, it’s always constructive. It’s always in negotiation, it is not the real thing. And even when people and a lot of people who spend a lot of time online and I kept myself one of them, and I have the benefit of research and education in this area, even when you know, there’s a difference between intellectually knowing and emotionally knowing. And these technologies engage our emotion in ways that…. people don’t passively consume media. And people think, oh, you just sit down, you watch the television, and there’s nothing going on there. When you actually talk to people about the way we consume media in general, you know, it can be quite more complicated than assumptions would lead you to believe. But this is a whole other world, right? So you can know that you’re navigating a space that is ‘a hall of mirrors and is not real’, quote unquote. But on an emotional level, it can still take a significant toll because it taps into something I think you know, what you were saying earlier on about wanting to connect and wanting to be seen. I mean, I always talk about earliest ancestors painted their hands on the walls of caves and we can still see I was, you know, and I always think of technology as any tool that allows human beings to kind of master their environment. And I think there’s something profound and beautiful in our long standing desire to want to represent ourselves and leave a mark and say ‘I was here,’ I think that’s a beautiful thing. But I think we’ve entered a space now where we’re so used to seeing representations. And at the same time, not being equipped to be like, we’ve entered this world of images, but we need to remain rooted in something more solid, and more secure than that.


Sabina Brennan  20:35

There’s so many things come to mind when I listen to you speak. And while I was reading the book, and I think it’s one of those books that people can kind of come back to again, and again.  And there’s a couple of things. So our desire to be seen, just in terms of an individual, like anybody who’s had a mother, you know, look at me, Mommy, look at me, Mommy, look at me, Mommy, lookwhat I’m doing your mommy, look at me mommy,


Sabina Brennan  20:54

You know, I’m a firm believer that all of these things have, they’ve survived because they serve a purpose. So it is very important for an infant to remind their mother that they’re there. Because they need to be fed, they need constant interaction for their brain to develop, because those early years are hugely important, like babies have more brain cells than adults. But in order for the really well working, healthy brain to develop, they have to have the interaction and learn how to be human. So that’s one thing that kind of jumps to mind. And then another thing that comes to mind from childhood, the equivalent having grown up without any of these things, was that sense. And I have a real strong memory of this being in one of the cubicle toilets in primary school. And we must have just had a catechism lesson. So for anyone listening, who’s not in Ireland, in holy Catholic Ireland, when I grew up catechism, which is the study of Catholicism, you had a class of it every single morning from primary school to –  talk about brainwashing. That’s a whole other area. –  But we obviously just had a lessons about that God can always see what you’re doing. So for me, that was probably my first experience of surveillance. And I remember sitting there and going, Oh, is Holy God, watching me now? Is Holy God watching me now, That’s a terrible thing to do to children. I mean, certainly growing up in a strongly Catholic family, it was a case of Oh is Holy God watching me now. And I think that’s what really comes through from evoking the panoptimism, that prison analogy, it’s really true, because what we have done is created a prison. And people talk about saying, Well, I’m going to go offline for a while or online. But even when you’re not online, your brain is thinking, like, you go for a walk, and you go, that would make a fabulous photo for social media. It’s there. It’s everywhere. Oh, I’d love to take a selfie now, but I can’t I see it, I’ve put my hands up here, I will see it here. Like I’ve been talking to a social media person, I’m now working the gig economy, the university, my research can no longer take place. As you know, as a researcher, you get funding to do X amount of research. And my latest project was for four years, and it can’t happen. And so I am fully now working in the gig economy. And so I need to find ways to earn a living to keep a roof over my head as everyone does. And so you kind of go, Okay, I need to really build my social media presence, but at least I’m very focused to know Okay, well, I want to get more corporate wellness talks. I want to get more people to buy my books, more people to listen to my podcast. So I kind of know, right, I have to have a focus. But like, one of the things and I talking to someone is that they say, Oh, you need more visibility. And I said, Well, no, I share my this and I put quotes up and I do that. No, you your face needs more visibility they need whoever they are, need to see you regularly need to put up three reels a week of you sharing your brain health tips. Now, for me, that’s fine. I could do 100 reels a week on that, or I could write up so many things to say, but I haven’t been doing it. And I’ll tell you why. And I’m being very honest here is because I would have to put my face on. And I feel I would have to put my best face forward, I’ve gained a bit of weight because of COVID. I don’t particularly want to have that out there that every time I look at it, I go Oh god, look, that’s where I had the extra six kilos. And I’m not yet in that space where I feel I can go and do it bare faced Having said that, I had just re read one of your chapters this morning. And I said okay, I won’t put the full makeup. I put a little bit of tinted moisturizer and some lipstick and a little bit of eye makeup and kind of left it at that. You see the problem is with now you see you’re seeing yourself all the time on social media. So yeah, we have this tendency to judge. So even as you said, even though I know these things, and I know these traps, the way I put it is I am a human being first and foremost before I am any of those other things a psychologist or a neuroscientist and while you made that distinction between the emotions and sort of our thinking and the brain evolved, we really kind of have three interlinked brains. So the oldest from an evolutionary perspective is the reptilian brain that keeps us alive, breathing, digesting stuff you don’t have to think about the next to evolve is the limbic system, which is often referred to as the emotional brain, because that’s where it handles our emotions. But it is unconscious. That’s the key, it evolved to manage fight or flight. That’s one of its primary things, but also learning and memory occurs there in a very unconscious way. Then we have our thinking brain, which is the brain that a lot of us think about as being our brain. And that’s where things and misnomers that we decide to do things, we don’t always decide to do them sometimes that decision making is retrospective, we are already, if you look at neurons firing, we’re already moving to do something before the message reaches our conscious brain where you say, Oh, I’m going to do this, your brain has access to billions of bits of data, it processes millions of bits of data every second, but you only consciously process by 30 or 40 bits. So that unconscious brain, it’s not just emotional, I think that’s the distinction I would make. Because learning and memory happens in there too. So you learning about how the world works. But it is unconscious behavior, that you do have the capacity to override. That’s really what’s important. But it is shaping an awful lot of our behaviors. And the thing is where I feel the biggest inequity comes is that the people who have developed social media, and the internet and all those things, they understand how that part of your brain works. And they manipulate us very well. That’s when the inequity occurs, because most people do not understand that. And that, for me is one of my passions is to help people understand that. So that you realize actually, okay, and also just because I’m doing that unconsciously, doesn’t mean I have no choice I do. But I need to understand what and why and why factors are influencing why I’m doing that. And if you understand that, then you might actually realize, Oh, actually, I don’t need social media to do that. Actually, social media is what’s making me feel anxious and depressed.


Mary McGill  27:12

It’s interesting isn’t that you know, when you’re when you’re talking about the advice that you received to make yourself visible. And I think what gets lost in well meant advice like that is something that is inherent to visibility is exposure. And exposure can be a very ambivalent experience, something else that’s critical to surveillance and why surveillance is useful, and compelling, and sometimes very dangerous is the issue of control. Right? So those prisoners, the guard wasn’t inside their door, right? He wasn’t there with the baton and getting ready to give them a whack. But nevertheless, they felt his presence, whether or not it was there. So this was a very…. This is what for Foucault was arguing about in relation to the way that citizens and other institutions were beginning to control their citizens. So away from the guillotine away from the Stocks, to a type of control where the citizen actually enacts it on themselves, in anticipation of getting in trouble.


Sabina Brennan  28:14

Yeah, yeah.


Mary McGill  28:14

And so on social media, this notion of visibility, you cannot make yourself visible without some degree of vulnerability, and judgment, because these places are absolutely riven with invitations to judge both yourself and other people, and often in a way that is very reactive, and not at all kind of, you know, reflective or thoughtful or anything like that. But what you get with control is and control is very closely tied to visibility, certain narratives of control, we’re told that these technologies give us more control over our image than ever before. And in certain respects, that is true, they do. But they also remove control in ways that are absolutely terrifying. Because while you watch the television, the television wasn’t watching, you. And it didn’t have the capacity to turn around and input or take what you had inputted into it, and distributed across the world in seconds. Yeah. And that’s the reality of what social media and the internet today can do. And so you get this real, kind of, I suppose, push pull effect, we’re on the one hand, yes, visibility, if you’re a self employed person, I’m a journalist, and of course, you’re going to share your work, you’re going to share things that you’re interested in, that makes total sense. But in amongst all that sharing are, you know, significant elements that you cannot control, that are kind of unknowable. And that may come back at you and this notion of the trap again, in ways that you could never have anticipated. And when they do, and the book has so many examples of this. We have allowed these technologies to get so far ahead of us that when these downsides happen, and they happen to women in very specific ways. There’s often nowhere to turn. Yeah. And the culture has not advanced to the point where instead of having sympathy for people who find themselves in these horrendous situations, the enticement, the the the expectation is still that you would judge.


Sabina Brennan  30:04



Mary McGill  30:05

Rather than be like, how have we let this happen that I mean, we must be better than this.


Sabina Brennan  30:09

I think the control thing and the prison thing, you use a quote, I think it’s from Lisa McInerney, when she’s talking about I think it’s the incident in Slane which was, for listeners, which was at a concert where somebody filmed a girl engaging in a sexual act with a male, and it was all over social media, etc. And she was judged. And then there was this panic when it was discovered, she was actually under 18. And, you know, sort of pulled back and all the rest, but the immediate thing was blaming the female. And anyway, aside from everything that’s wrong about that, there is the judgment, and people making judgments. And I think that’s important to understand that, like, our brain constantly makes judgments, you know, it is making patterns. It’s constantly figuring out where does that belong? How do I feel about that? What if? and those stories and those judgments an awful lot of them are embedded from our childhood. So I mean, I remember writing before about a piece that actually Rosin Ingle had written in the paper, and it was during the abortion referendum, and I was trying to get across a message. And I think sometimes actually, what I said was misunderstood, as can easily happen. But the point I was making was, I supported the campaign I supported RosIn’s article that she had written about But one line in her article, she had said she was divorced, okay, now, I think divorce is fabulous, and should be allowed. However, I was brought up in a Catholic family, where divorce had negative connotations. And while I had self awareness when I was reading that article, that when I read that I went, ‘Oh, she was a divorcee’ like that, that had something that I had been brainwashed in right back. And the letter that I’d written to the newspaper was, we need to be careful of our implicit biases that we’re not aware of. Now, I think some people took it up that I was judging her because she was divorced or whatever. The truth of the matter was, I had an implicit bias, but at least I was able to recognize that and override it and the reason I wrote the letter was to say beware of your implicit biases. There’s so many of them that we don’t realize that we have the Lisa McInerney, in response to that lovely line, she said, ‘different perfumes, same shit’. And she was bringing the analogy to social media, compared to religious control of women. And the thing is, women have been controlled for millennia, using various means. And I see religion as a way to do that. It’s that self control you self-monitor what you should be allowed to do what you shouldn’t be allowed do. And I do think your chapter in particular around the surveillance is very interesting. We watch ourselves, we watch others, while technology watches all of us and the internet never forgets. And it is the thought that was just you know, your writing is fabulous. And saying those sorts of things really kind of strikes home. And there’s a good few stories in the book. For example, those that one Miranda, is it the school teacher,


Mary McGill  33:03

Lauren Miranda


Sabina Brennan  33:04

yeah, did a selfie of herself topless, sunbathing, very innocuous one or whatever. And some pupil in the school found it parents got wind of it –  long story short, she was sacked and lost her job, because she took a photo years ago of herself with consent. And there’s that whole thing as you said, nipples aren’t allowed. And I think that’s the problem, in that nobody wants a conversation anymore. People just want to cancel other people and virtue signaling. But I just believe that this is how we affect change. And we moved from black and white to nuance. But since then we have moved to a bifurcation to just black and white, you’re either with us or against us. And if it’s on one single opinion, that means you as a person as an individual ceases to exist, because you have one opinion that differs from another person. And that has impacted on my behavior, in that I feel very passionate about a lot of things. I no longer engage on Twitter about things that are controversial, that I feel strongly about, because I know that you can’t get that subtlety that is so important for change to happen. That does not come across on Twitter, even if you do people will just pick out the first phrase without the a qualifying phrase or something like that. And so I have stopped which means then that you have this not only do you have an echo chamber, but you have a chamber that is missing some very important strong views that people have self-censored. I’ve never felt more censored in my life. Since I’ve had the freedom to reach millions of people online. There’s a wonderful piece in the book where it’s the body positive movement and you’re talking about the body positivity movement and fat excess And basically, that took off. And the people who sort of instigated that movement feel that what it’s seen as now has nothing to do with the reason that they set the movement up. So most people think that body positivity and fat acceptance is about, you know, be comfortable in who you are, love who you are, accept yourself. But actually, it was about highlighting the barriers that exist to people of different shapes, and sizes, which has a purpose, to affect change. But now it’s been diluted into this thing that actually won’t affect change and can actually be detrimental to some people, you have a fantastic way to really illustrate some of these very important factors that I think are lost. There’s a lot of people think they’re doing good. And they’re repeating these really nice phrases and saying, but they’re not living it or even actually understanding it,


Mary McGill  36:00

it has to do, a lot of the time, with the nature of the platform’s themselves, because we don’t think of them when we’re using them as businesses, but they are a business. This is fundamentally what they do. And capitalism has a long history, because it relies on novelty for growth, it’s always looking for something new. So we’ll take things that people are interested in. And people are very interested in social movements. And it will take elements of them. And it will repackage them usually by removing the politics and making them far more palatable for a general audience or consumer. And that will then come to stand for whatever had been this probably quite radical movement. So you get this really watered down version in the mainstream, and social media plays into and intensifies those trends. Because, it, probably more than any other form of media before is so reliant on novelty, because it relies on content, it never closes, it needs new stuff all the time. So it’s constantly plundering all kinds of areas of life in order to drum up something that’s new, something that captures human attention, for however long it manages to do that. And so these platforms as well, you know, in how they kind of neuter, social movements sometimes, because there is space there, I think, definitely to do good work. But they’re also you know, you were talking about judgment earlier on. I lots of time prior to social media, people judge, as they say, all the time. But there was often a kind of an unspoken process or an internal process of a very virtual process, and may be quite intimate process only known to the individual or people close,


Sabina Brennan  37:35



Mary McGill  37:35

whatever. Now, judgment is a spectacle. He is hardwired into platforms themselves in terms of what you like, or share, or of course don’t like it, or don’t share this example. People are talking about their opinions all the time, the endless discourse that occurred, I mean, for me, now, I’m like, what…  there’s the event, or the product, whether it’s a film or television show, or whatever the case may be, and then there is the endless discourse that just goes on and on, about or, or about events, or news or so on. Judgment is something that is the type of content itself. So yes, it’s encouraged, because we judgie and judgie and judgie and, but the thing is, we enter into these spaces, we’re both judging and being judged. And that can be light and superficial and fun. But it can also be absolutely terrifying, and confusing, and stressful, really stressful. And also judgmental behavior is often critical behavior. And it’s not particularly kind behavior. And it’s the type of behavior that actually isolates people rather than building communities or Coalition’s or a sense of reciprocity, even with people who you disagree with. And so by fostering our natural inclination to judge and in some cases, not just fostering it, like, literally shovelling coal into the fire, when you think of outrage and everything else, these platforms, they might not cause these impulses, but they certainly exacerbate them. I always think that rather than appealing to the angels of our better nature, they appeal to the angels of our worse. Now, what would it look like if we had a technology or different types of technologies that tried to do the opposite? You know, I mean, you know, I’m not for censorship or anything like that, but just technologies that had developed with an awareness…. that aren’t reliant on exploiting the worst parts of humanity in order to make a profit.


Sabina Brennan  39:28

But here’s the really interesting thing. This just occurred me so forgive me as I’m just articulating this straight away. So our brain has evolved. It is an information processing machine. That is what it does, it requires data. Your brain has evolved the frontal lobes here, which are a filter system, okay. And I think it’s so funny, and this literally has just occurred to me. So social media, Instagram in particular, we have this whole issue of creating an approved version of ourselves. And I say approved rather than An improved version of ourselves using filters. But what then the likes of Twitter do is actually remove the filters that our brain has evolved to preserve us, right, we have those filters, so that you don’t turn around and tell your best friend, God, you look really fat and ugly at the moment, or your hair is terrible, or whatever. And forgive my you know, if that’s sort of an Non-PC comment, but that actually is the point of your filtering system, you will have those thoughts and make those judgments. But your frontal lobe says, Don’t say that, that will ruin your relationship or find another way to say it, if you’re concerned about somebody’s health, or find a different way to deal with it, maybe suggest hair colors or…, you know, in a very different way. And so we have this amazing system that preserves our relationships, and generally serves us very well. And the filter is gone. And it’s like, we go straight from the thoughts onto the keyboard. And we bypass our rational thinking brain, and that’s not good, you’re actually sort of regressing to a previous form of being human that we evolved out of. Sorry, that just kind of came to me, but it is true. We’re unfiltered in our responses. And we need to filter again and start thinking about other people, because empathy and those things are just out the window. People say such nasty stuff. But I guess where my fear is going to now is that people, certainly when there are groups, I don’t think it happens when there’s individuals. But now when there are groups who go from online to offline, they, in the comfort of the group feel comfortable, engaging in hate speech, or whatever. And I think that’s where we’re in trouble. And that’s what we saw with the storming of the White House and horrible actions. That’s what scares me is that that online…, that is changing human behavior, human behavior that has served as well. So engaging in unfiltered behavior. And it’s very easy to turn around and say to people, oh, they’re uneducated, or they’re this or that. And we do know that there’s certain correlations in terms of who will believe in fake news and who will be victims of conspiracy theory, believing them, etc. But putting all that down to lack of education or lack of intelligence is incorrect, I believe anyway, a lot of it is permissiveness. And the switching off of those filters, because those people did have filters in past because they kind of behaved as humans. So it’s very scary. I want to move on. But there’s just so much to talk about this book that I think we actually need two episodes so I’m going to leave you lovely listeners to get your head around what we’ve spoken about so far, on social media. Are you shocked? Surprised? Maybe you knew it all already? Whatever. I’d really love to hear your thoughts. And do Tune in next week and listen to myself and Mary continue our conversation about social media, including discussing its puritanical attitude to the female body in some, but not other circumstances. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you’ve been listening to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain.


Sabina Brennan  43:13

Super brain is a labor 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 that 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 for additional content, including images and videos related to this episode and a transcript of the show. Follow me on Instagram @SabinaBrennan and on Twitter at @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.


#people #brain #socialmedia #visibility #surveillance #book #technologies #images #love #working #evolved #filters #culture  #judge #world #social #thinking #platform

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 2

Happy Mum, Happy Baby with Melissa Hogenboom

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  01:14 – Identity
  • 04:59 – How pregnancy changes people’s perception of you
  • 08:01 – Workplace discrimination in pregnancy
  • 14:40 – Parenting comes from doing not gender
  • 18:17 – The construct of mothering across cultures and time
  • 20:55 – We are spending more time parenting than previous generations
  • 21:37 – Why Melissa wrote The Motherhood Complex
  • 27:13 – David Attenborough and pregnancy
  • 29:52 – Pregnancy, pressure and perfectionism
  • 32:48 – Impact of chronic stress on foetus and baby
  • 35:21 – Neuroplasticity, brain fog and pregnancy
  • 40:58 – The pill changes everything including your brain
  • 44:31 – Holland and Happy children
  • 50:00 – White noise
  • 52:10 – When your parenting is parroted
  • 54:48 – Melissa’s tip for thriving and surviving as a parent



Melissa’s Book


Guest Bio

Melissa Hogenboom is an award-winning science journalist and editor at the BBC with a track record of finding original, interesting stories that appeal to a mass audience. Currently she is the editor of the video documentary site BBC Reel, which she launched in 2018.

In over 10 years at the BBC she has written hundreds of articles and produced and reported for television and radio. She is passionate about telling evidence-based stories for a general audience. She reports and commissions exclusive and often experimental stories, from going troll hunting in Iceland, to searching for her cosmic twin in a parallel Universe, to tracing the footsteps of the world’s last Neanderthals.

Melissa is interested in telling stories that reflect how and why we change. This approach has led her to look at how music is helping her father’s dementia and how it may be key to understanding the brain, to investigating the subtle biases that exist in our education system, to understanding whether or not we are in truly in control of our own decisions.

Her journalism has been recognised by multiple awards, including the Webbys, the Kavli AAAS Science awards, the Telly Awards, The Lovie Awards, the Drum Awards and the British Association of Science Journalism awards. She is also a New America/Jacob’s foundation fellow of the Learning Science Exchange, a first-of-its-kind prestigious fellowship launched to spark new ideas and breakthrough approaches for communicating the insights of early learning.

During this episode Melissa spoke about this career-defining interview with Sir David Attenborough, recalling how she felt as a colleague told Sir David that she was pregnant

This photo was taken during that BBC’s Earth Live interview





Over to You

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 Super Brain Booster Shot

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


Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the Super Brain podcast. My guest this week is Melissa Hogenboom. She’s an award winning science journalist, filmmaker, and editor at the BBC. She makes and commissions films and writes articles as well as reporting and producing for television and radio on a range of topics, including human evolution, psychology and neuroscience. Her journalism has been recognised by multiple awards, including The Webbys, the Drum Awards, Kavli, AAA Science Awards, the Telly Awards, and the British Association of Science Journalism Awards. She is also a new America Learning Science Exchange Fellow. The Motherhood Complex is her very first book,

Melissa Hogenboom  00:45

indeed it is,

Sabina Brennan  00:47

I have read that from the inside cover of your book from the bio of your book, and congratulations on your many achievements, particularly writing your first book, that’s a big undertaking. But since your book is about identity, about how our sense of self changes, particularly through motherhood, I want to begin by asking you, who is Melissa Hogenboom?

Melissa Hogenboom  01:14

Well, when I set out to write the book, I think that was a question on the forefront of my mind too. And when I became a mother, I suddenly turned into Melissa Hogenboom journalist, the BBC journalist who was, you know, ambitious, career-orientated, work was my primary identity, I’d say I was always, you know, keen to get ahead. When you’re a journalist or a content creator, as you know, you live and breathe, the topics you write or report about. But then when I became a mother, that identity overtook whether I wanted it to, or not for various reasons that I explore in the book. So I’d say, now, four years into motherhood, I am much more comfortable being Melissa, the journalist and mother, whereas when I first became a mother, I felt this clash of identities. So I felt like one was overtaking the other. So that was when I had this kind of existential questioning of who I was, I guess, if you want to put it on grand terms.


Sabina Brennan  02:10

So why do you think it is that motherhood impacts so heavily on our identity or our sense of identity,


Melissa Hogenboom  02:14

Motherhood impacts us in such a momentous way, because overnight, everything changes, like obviously, you have nine months of pregnancy to get used to the idea. And there’s already significant biological change and physical change that really starts to feel…. some people take to it, some people find it quite intrusive to have this kind of embodied new bump, which can shows their impending changes, especially if how they change doesn’t live up to the socially constructed ideal. But I think one of the main reasons it feels so stark is because there’s so many expectations that come with motherhood. And so you’re going into a situation where you have your own idea of, you might have your own idea, some, some people like, if you’re anything like me, you come home from the hospital, you think what am I doing next with this tiny baby. But  alongside of that, there’s all these ideas of what to do, how to feed your child, what kind of childcare to send them to, how much to work, whether to work, and a lot of these ideals and expectations clash with your own ones. And it’s really hard to constantly feel that tug of judgement, expectation and then internalised guilt, at the same time as just getting on with the job of being a parent. So I think that’s one of the key reasons. It’s lots of interlinked reasons that so heavily impacts upon our sense of self.


Sabina Brennan  03:41

Yeah. And it’s interesting for me when you answered first, who you were, you know, and you describe who you are, who you were, when you were writing the book, and you gave that in a singular, you know, in a sense that I’m the science journalist, or whatever, that was kind of your defining identity, and then motherhood kind of encroaches on that. And of course, you do acknowledge that by the time we become mothers, we have multiple identities. You know, we’re sisters and friends, and we’re someone who wears x type of clothing, or, you know, we have so many identities that sort of blend together. But I think probably what you’re saying and what I certainly, having become a mother myself also, that this is the biggie, you know, this is a kind of a big defining one, I have to say, now, I don’t know whether you were married at the time or whatever. But I find that one a big one, too, I found going from being single to being married. Different. And I certainly found that and probably from the sense of, I felt less seen, I felt I became somewhat invisible. I felt at that point that people looked at me differently. And I think from reading you in that sense, you were saying, you know that becoming pregnant. I know that I wrote right up to where you said something about being frail and pregnant or pregnant as a human being viewed as frail and I kind of wrote “why not strong?”


Melissa Hogenboom  04:59

So I felt like I had to constantly not let pregnancy change me. So very early on, I made the decision not to tell work until I was, I think, 18 weeks. It wasn’t showing. So I was able to do that. And I was kind of in the, had, this defiant attitude of, I’m not going to let this change me, I’m still able to do my work as well as anyone else. And I didn’t want anyone to think of me differently. And I didn’t realise that at the time because I hadn’t read the literature. But once you start reading the sociological literature on this, you see that as soon as you become pregnant, you’re seen differently in the workplace. And obviously, this is a generalisation. It doesn’t necessarily apply to every single workplace. But you’re seen as suddenly less committed, less ambitious, that you have other things you’re going to put first that you’re suddenly more family orientated. One sociologist literally said that you are seen as leaky and vulnerable.


Sabina Brennan  05:54



Melissa Hogenboom  05:55

oh, we do – leaky –  physically, later on, we do become vulnerable. And that we’re,  one researcher said women are open, vulnerable and leaky. So we’re, we feel sick, later you know, our breasts might start leaking the waters eventually,


Sabina Brennan  06:10



Melissa Hogenboom  06:10

you’re kind of showcasing  your vulnerability by this physical presence.


Sabina Brennan  06:15

It’s horrible description.


Melissa Hogenboom  06:17

It’s a horrible description. But it kind of, they tie it back to the idea that women are working in a workplace designed by men for men. And so often in the workplace, women will act more typically male, I say that in quote marks, for those listening, to get ahead, because the traits we associate with masculinity are seen as the ones that lead you to ambitious or powerful leadership careers. So there’s, there’s even studies that show that when women become pregnant, they emphasise these kind of more stereotypically masculine traits, so that they don’t give in to this feminine identity. And it’s because of these assumptions. And it’s also why women often hide their pregnancy for quite a long time, because they intrinsically know that they’re going to be seen slightly differently. When a journalist friend who understands all these processes at play literally said, I’m going to wait as long as possible, because I might not get assigned the same stories once they realise I’m pregnant. And I’m like, That’s shocking. She’s like, Yeah, but it just is how it is. That’s just how it is. And it shouldn’t be like that. And so I didn’t want those processes to affect me. And then as soon as I did say, I was pregnant, my colleagues, rightly so I would say, you know, told me to rest when I needed to, and take it easy, but I didn’t want to take it easy. But looking back, I was tired, I was able to function as well as I was before, but it was exhausting. And I’d come home feeling literally jetlag at some of the time.


Sabina Brennan  07:37

Nothing left.


Melissa Hogenboom  07:38

Exactly. So I think it is okay to understand that, you know, there’s these momentous physical changes happening that make you exhausted, you’re literally producing food for something growing inside of you. So it’s okay to get into that and understand that you can still function and still have the same commitments and ambitions and still be the same, albeit slightly physically altered version of the


Sabina Brennan  08:01

Yeah, you know, it’s fascinating for me reading the book, as I’m kind of at the other end, mine have grown and flown the nest, but reading the book brought back so many things for when I was at your stage, and when I you know, I was pregnant and, and having babies. So like that, like you I didn’t tell people until I was 18 weeks pregnant. I was very proud that I didn’t show that I had a flat tummy I continued playing, I played soccer was my sport, you continued running, I actually played in a soccer final when I was four and a half months pregnant. You know, I was while I checked with my doctor, and you know, you’ve always been doing it, keep on doing it, it’s okay. But it’s just occurred to me, as you were just saying that you may be treated differently in terms of the assignments you might be given as a journalist. And these are biases. And whilst we’ve moved on, in terms of political correctness, and in terms of trying to ensure gender equality in the workplace, when we had a grade system, and I worked in a life insurance company at the time, and we had a grade system when I was grade four, and then grade five as the highest. And then you became a head of department. And I was next up pretty much to get the grade five, you had to do interviews, but you were still kind of in the running unless you were a poor at your job. Do you know what I mean? You were kind of well, it should be you or so and so that will get it. And I actually remember going for that job interview. And I had already said that I was pregnant, didn’t know this job was going to be coming up and I went for that job interview. And while I was in the interview, they more or less said you’re the perfect candidate for the job. But unfortunately, we need someone to start immediately. And there’s a backlog already and we just couldn’t deal with you being on maternity leave for this position. Now that would be unheard of now,


Melissa Hogenboom  09:41

It definitely is illegal now, but it happens. There’s an organisation that outlines just how many discrimination cases there are. And often they’re subtle, because like if on paper, you’re a perfect candidate, but so is someone else. Who are they going to pick? Not the pregnant person, quite likely and they’ve even done those kind of CV studies where fictional job applicants applied for real jobs, and the callback rates, if you indicated you were a parent were significantly lower for mothers, not for fathers. And the only thing that was listed on the CV was that the parent was a member of a PTA, so parent teacher organisation, so it was a really subtle thing


Melissa Hogenboom  10:21

, and also mothers, if they were offered, interview or then job were given lower pay as well. So it just shows that it’s not an overt bias, necessarily, sometimes it is. But even when it’s not, there’s these subtle kind of ideas about what mothers do. And it ties in to these socially constructed ideal worker norms is what sociologists call it, the fact that we’re expected to put work first rather than our family. And if your work expects overtime every single night, the carer cannot do that. And if the carer is most likely to be the mother, the main carer which it often is the case, then it’s the mothers who have to leave work early and sacrifice their career.


Sabina Brennan  10:42



Sabina Brennan  11:01

Yeah, I think overtly, things have changed in that people know what they’re not allowed to say and do but covertly it still happens in much more subtle ways. You know, it beggars belief. I don’t know if you saw that on I think it was on the BBC, the two women who developed the AstraZeneca vaccine were asked how they balanced their career and their home life


Melissa Hogenboom  11:20

Exactly, You’d never ask a man you’ve never ask a man that


Sabina Brennan  11:20



Melissa Hogenboom  11:22



Sabina Brennan  11:25

Oh, yeah,


Melissa Hogenboom  11:26

also you’d call a mother, a working mother, but you wouldn’t say working father, a worker?  it just shows the contradiction.


Sabina Brennan  11:34

Yeah, yeah. But just going back to my instinctive, you know, reading that where it says frailty, and you’re viewed as frail and less able. But actually, in fact, being pregnant is a sign of strength. The baby book that I bought, at the time, it was about what’s happening, this baby inside me and I do remember around tiredness, because until you become pregnant, you have no idea, the tiredness that you do feel in those first few months. And I had always thought pre pregnancy that you feel tired, because of the bump as you get further along. But it’s actually the earlier stages where the real fatigue kicks in. And I remembe that book described it as it’s okay to feel tired, you are doing the equivalent every day of climbing a mountain in growing and creating this baby. And I know that certainly allowed me feel it, which is terrible ‘allowed me feel okay’ about being tired,


Melissa Hogenboom  11:37



Sabina Brennan  12:10

But what I just don’t understand is that having children is an essential part of being human, of our species. And like, why do we not account for that in how workplaces are set up having say, worked in science myself, where you get funding to do a research project, and you have funding specifically for just the team members that you have. And there’s a push to have, you know, gender equality, and a push to have more women, particularly, you know, in science, and then having a situation where that’s the only money you have, and then one of the team goes on maternity leave. Now, at least when it was my time back then when I didn’t get the job, we only had 12 weeks maternity leave, we could be gone for a matter of weeks. But now it’s kind of up to a year or whatever. So that can completely destroy or derail a project and you’ve no way out of it. And so having been in that situation. I understand that from the people working on the team perspective and for small companies. But, rather than that being an issue you have to deal with, that then goes against women, why can we not factor these things in? In terms of there has to be funding, there has to be cover, there has to be allowance or it just beggars belief to me, you know, and the same with childcare, it should be available And I think if you’re in a workplace having childcare within the workplace, is a fantastic option. It means that if a child is unwell, a parent can go over for a few minutes, and then come back to work. If that’s all it takes.


Melissa Hogenboom  14:10

depends which parent’s work place to the child goes to you, right?


Sabina Brennan  14:13

That’s true.


Melissa Hogenboom  14:14

Yeah, yeah, these are really important points you bring up and it again, ties back to, like, who designed the workplace? Who puts the policies in place? Why is there such a low take up of shared parental leave? There’s lots of reasons why that happens. I mean, in the UK, it was like it’s hovering at the one or 2%, maybe a little bit more in recent times. And of course, if the higher earner isn’t going to have a salary as high as they would if they were working and the higher earner usually it’s the man for lots of reasons. Of course, they’re not going to take time off. And then add in the fact that men who have who have taken time off have reported feeling judged by it and I’m like, Okay, well just leave it all to the woman then. So it’s constantly reinforced from all levels that childcare is a mother’s domain, even though we know that there’s huge benefits when both couples whatever shape the family is, that it helps for them and the child, in turn, even like from basic biological functions, like the more present you are, the more lived experience you have with your child, the more beneficial hormones your brain is creating, as you’ll know, as a neuroscientist


Sabina Brennan  15:20

yeah, you’ll get more oxytocin. You know, I love that study, I’ve quoted that study myself, where it’s same sex couples, parenting, you know, and your brain adapts from doing, you know, your behaviour shapes your brain. And you know, that applies across the board, you learn how to be a carer. And I mean, really, it is only in more recent times that this sole responsibility of parenting falls on the mother. Because if you go back in time, you couldn’t afford to have a fit strong young woman sitting at home minding babies, when she could be out hunting or gathering or doing whatever. And I do think part of it as well is interesting. It’s something that I’ve said and this is kind of slightly a sidetrack, but it’s still around societal and the influences of society is that I often think that we sort of took a wrong turning somewhere that we’ve taken many wrong turnings as a species, but one particular one jumps out of me. And that’s that we measure in Western society anyway, we measure success by how big a box we can isolate ourselves in. But we’re social creatures. And we don’t do well in isolation, actually, and being a mother in isolation is very challenging. I mean, I was a mother at home alone in a time before there was mobile phones or internet. And my first baby was a really challenging baby, cried all the time and just never slept. And I would have moments where I had to kind of put him in the middle of the bed and go “please stop crying, please stop crying’ Because I was afraid that I might go somewhere, thankfully, I never did. But I mean, I remember on occasion, having to pick up the landline and ring, my husband who wasn’t really allowed take phone calls in work like this is a whole different [time], and say, I can’t, you know, you talk about your stress texts. But that, for me, I was, you know, ‘I cant’, you’re going to have to come home, I can’t cope today with the crying.’ Now, if you go back to how our societies used to be set up, where we lived in a communal basis, that saying, you know, it takes a village to raise a child, but it absolutely does. And the thing is that if you live in a group setting and children are raised, that cuts out loads of problematic issues, where if one mother is actually not very well or can’t cope, or whatever, the child still gets parented, that still happens in some cultures. And I remember speaking to somebody, I gave a talk, I think down in Cork about brain health, and then was talking to the organisers, and they had helped set up an agricultural college way out in Brazil. So were way out from major cities or whatever. But he said, everybody had babies with them. So if teenage boys went to play soccer with their friends, they would carry the baby down, and that baby would be with them or the granny or whatever. Yeah, I do think part of that is, and certainly when you’re talking about this identity of motherhood, I do think it’s it quite? Well, we know it’s influenced by society and culture. It’s relatively modern, in the evolution of our species.


Melissa Hogenboom  18:17

Yeah, absolutely. Like we’ve gone from these nuclear family norms now where we are conditioned to believe that we have to do everything and we, it means both parents obviously, but then this falls more to the one who is at home or who works less. And the one who takes parental leave or maternity leave. So that’s usually the woman and all these behaviours are subtly reinforced over time. And it’s why women take on most of the mental load. So this is the thinking and the organising, and the planning and anticipating the needs, which is all mental work, and it’s invisible. And there’s lots of evidence to show women do most of it. We’ve lost our village, there’s no easy solution to that, because a lot of us live further away from our family. Some have argued that childcare is the new village. So you’ve got these additional parents or figures who are raising your children in childcare and which is great for the well being for the parents and for the child to get something slightly different. And if when you look at research done on traditional societies, or hunter gatherer tribes, you can see very different ways of parenting. So there’s one that I really loved reading about the Aqua tribe. So the hunter gatherers in the Central African Republic, they looked at the split of child caring, and the men were doing just as much if not more than the woman, the woman would take the babies on hunts, or would just leave them behind with a man it was the men that would get up in the night and rock the babies to sleep. And this was a real you know, status symbol. Men would even occasionally give their baby a nipple to suckle on, just for a comforting thing. And it just shows that the ideal mother, perfectionist ways of child rearing is a Western construct that sets us up for more stress.


Sabina Brennan  19:58

Oh, absolutely.


Melissa Hogenboom  19:59

More failure. And of course, mothers are more stressed and stretched than they’ve ever been before. And it makes us less happy.


Sabina Brennan  20:05

Yeah. And it’s, it’s a form of oppression really. And I’m sure that’s not a popular thing to say, you know, because we’ve revered motherhood, I do think some of that comes from religious contexts, which I find rather interesting. Actually, always, when I’m preparing and researching to talk to a guest, I always kind of, I don’t know, it’s probably an instinctive thing, I always look for commonalities, you know, things that we share in common, or whatever. And I was really quite surprised to discover that your family, your parents come from a Catholic village in the Netherlands. And so very, very similar to the kind of Catholic Ireland that I would have grown up in.


Melissa Hogenboom  20:42

But it was literally a village in my dad’s age, you know, they slept to two a bed in this tiny house, and there was 11 kids with the oldest ones watching the youngest ones. And because mum didn’t have much time to like, mother,


Sabina Brennan  20:54



Melissa Hogenboom  20:55

I mean, of course, that was mothering, then it was just a different, like, we think of motherhood now as something all encompassing, and we’re doing everything all the time and sending our kids to extracurricular activities, or constantly playing with them and enriching them. Whereas, you know, my father would say there just literally wasn’t the time. And so it’s no surprise that when you look at like data for how much time parents spend with their children, a generation ago, parents spent less time with their children than they do now. Even though there was more children.


Sabina Brennan  21:23

I just want to ask you, you know, writing a book is a very, very big undertaking, had you always wanted to write a book? And was it just that this became the now I have the thing I want to write about? Or had you other ideas? And


Melissa Hogenboom  21:37

Yeah it was a strange evolution. So I’ve always wanted to write a book, I had an agent for a few years, we were brainstorming book ideas. And when I had my first, I was like, we agreed on an idea. And I’m… because I’ve covered sciences, like write one or more, write something scientific, but I just never felt passionate enough. And the first the first time, actually, I just had my first baby. I was like, can’t possibly write a book, when I’ve got a new baby. And then when I had my second, two years later, it was one moment in a horrible sing and rhyme time session at the library. I literally went to it because anything was better than staying at home and trying to deal with the two screaming at the same time, because you know, literally makes your brain go into fight or flight response, as you said, So I was like right, what can I go to I went to one of his library sessions that I managed to avoid the first time around because they’re awful. But I went because it would entertain my toddler. And then I met another mum there who had the same age gap and the new baby and a toddler, the same age, so a two year old and newborn. And I was like, oh, how are you finding? And she’s like, great, you know, it’s much easier this time around, because I know I’m doing Yeah, it’s really nice. And then she goes, how are you finding? And I’m like, it’s absolutely terrible. It’s awful. And I said it quite like matter of fact, like, I wasn’t struggling with any mental health issues, but I was very stressed. And I did not enjoy the time because it was constantly like running around, trying to prevent them hurting each other, or the toddler hurting the baby anyway. And she looked at me like I was like, how can you say that? How can you be experiencing that? And I was like, Why is no one writing about this?


Sabina Brennan  22:42



Melissa Hogenboom  22:43

Why is noone talking about how it affects you not just like, there’s a lot written about mental health. And there’s a lot written about child rearing and tips and tricks. And I was like, I need to write about this because I didn’t read those prescriptive advice books precisely because they’re full of conflicting advice. So when I decided to write about it, and I was like, I need to explore if there’s any science to back up this identity change I’m feeling I found out there was. I felt very conflicted to be writing about the identity that I didn’t want to consume me. So that was a bit of a strange reckoning. And I almost felt like when I explained what I was writing about, I was like, I’m writing about the science of identity change, I’d almost hid the fact that I was writing about motherhood. Because motherhood is a topic that isn’t necessarily seen as serious It’s seen as a feminine, girly womanly thing. But it’s absolutely serious. And it’s seen as like an everyday ordinary event. But I tried to argue in the book that it’s extraordinary, the changes we go through, so we need to write about it and validate how we’re experiencing. So actually, writing the book has definitely empowered me to feel like I’m now writing a monthly parenting column for my team at the BBC, I love to talk about it. Now I want to you know, write a follow up book. And so I feel having written it, it’s kind of taken me on this journey, where it’s helped me mould my identities together, which has actually been really cathartic. So now I absolutely realise I can be both career driven, ambitious women, and I can be a mother and the two don’t always have to align, and that’s fine. And sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But by understanding why and how I changed, it actually really empowered me to kind of appreciate the struggle and the joy at the same time.


Sabina Brennan  24:53

It’s a very empowering book. I think, number one, the first thing you said that, you know, for anyone listening, if you do want to write a book, it is really, really important that you write about something that you’re passionate about, it’s a tough process and being passionate about something. And something that you’re naturally curious about if it’s a nonfiction book, you know, because there’s really exciting and really insightful information in this book. And whilst it’s the motherhood complex, I mean, I think it’s a book that any woman should read. I mean, men should read too, but you know, I’m not sure they’re going to pick it up and read it. Maybe they will to try and understand what’s going through.


Melissa Hogenboom  25:25

Quite a few men have read it, actually.


Sabina Brennan  25:27

Yeah, yeah. I will put my hands up there that I was probably making a very gendered statement.


Melissa Hogenboom  25:33

I assumed the same Honestly, I thought the same. But then yeah, I think having… writing about an experience I was living in certainly made it easier to do, because I was living, what I was finding out, I was like literally uncovering what was going on. At the time, it was happening


Sabina Brennan  25:49

Yeah. And I think that will be very exciting for readers, whether you’ve never had a baby, whether you’re wondering whether you should have a baby, whether you’re going through motherhood, whether, like me, you’ve been through it, and it’s a long time ago, I firmly believe and it’s what I do is, you know, I explain how the brain works to help people understand themselves better. And I just think that’s empowering. If I understand why I’m feeling something, or why this is happening to me, I then feel okay, I can either accept that, okay, or I actually have a route to change it or to do whatever. And I think it’s really important as well, you know, I mean, it does cover a huge amount around societal expectation, and those kinds of things. And I think that’s important for people to realise that, you know, these are just new constructs. These are just new notions. These haven’t been around forever more, which, certainly, in my younger days, I would have thought that that’s always the way it has been. So it’s fascinating from that perspective, what I wanted to talk to you about as well, and I won’t miss this. There’s one lovely anecdote in your book, you said, you know, just even in pregnancy, are you worried about being taken less seriously in your job, and you eventually said that you had become pregnant and on the day that you announced that you had this mega interview with Sir David Attenborough, who sounded like he was the most wonderful individual in the circumstances.


Melissa Hogenboom  27:13

Amazingly, you bring this up because I sent him a copy of my book, The week before it was out. And three days later, in the post, I got a handwritten note from him saying thank you for my book, congrats, and all the best luck, wonderful. So it’s because I wrote him a little note saying you’re featured in chapter one. The reason why that was the day I told my team was because my team was split between Bristol and London, and I was like, it’d be nice to tell them in person. Because otherwise it’d just be over the phone. This was pre the days when zoom was, you know, normal. So we had this big session, and I was like, okay, it’s 18 weeks by now, I’m, I’m probably going to start showing soon. I’ve got all these doctor’s appointments it’d be nice to tell them in person. And everyone was very congratulatory, you know, parents on my team, nobody batted an eyelid really. So this internal struggle I was having with telling was definitely, partly in my own head, partly because of some of the reasons we discussed regarding how you’re then seen. And my colleague at the time, I guess, he was perhaps a bit nervous and wasn’t sure what to say to Sir David, I don’t know what was going on in his mind. But one of the first things he told him was Oh, and she’s pregnant, by the way. So David was like, Oh, well, well don’t lose her. You know, she’s really good. And he probably knew I was nervous and was being very complimentary. And that way that he just is super charming. But um, it just sat very uncomfortably with me. So I enjoyed the compliment. But I didn’t want the fact that I was pregnant suddenly, to be a talking point. And I was there to interview a national hero. And I was super nervous. It was live, there was no pre recording


Sabina Brennan  28:40

Oh really,


Melissa Hogenboom  28:41

it was live for our social media audience. So we had like a super small crew, he was… allowed us to do it in his home, because we didn’t have a big camera crew. And so it was, you know, a career defining moment. And so it was like this perfectly symbolic of one of the reasons I wrote the book, because was that personal identity intruding on huge career, proud moment for me. And so that was a nice way to write it. And if my colleague listens to this, or reads it, you know, it was absolutely nothing that he did wrong. He was just sharing some really nice news. But it was that internal


Sabina Brennan  29:14

it would have been just at the forefront of his mind,


Melissa Hogenboom  29:16



Sabina Brennan  29:16

because he basically has been told, you know,


Melissa Hogenboom  29:18



Melissa Hogenboom  29:19

he was excited. He was excited for me. He’s recently become a parent. He was excited for me and was happy to share it. And I was happy to share it. And so but because it was that specific moment, it felt quite jarring.


Sabina Brennan  29:30

yeah I think we have this sense in our head. And it comes from well, gosh, everything that we have in our head, everything that we think is subject to multiple influences, our own experiences, whatever but we do have this thing that there’s somehow an either or, or that like what goes through my head when you say, you know, this career defining moment, and it’s almost you can hear people saying, …


Melissa Hogenboom  29:30



Sabina Brennan  29:52

you know, oh, she’s brilliant. She’s doing so well. She’s at the peak, and then she went and got pregnant. You know, it’s like almost you’ve put a spanner in the works you were doing so well. And that’s terrible. And that’s awful then I think at a time, as you said earlier, and you alluded to earlier, and you talk about in the book, at a time when you actually do need to rest, for your own health and for the health of your baby. And at a time, when you may also be dealing with things like nausea and other various things. You call it mum brain, brain fog. And I’ll talk to you a bit more about that later on. Because obviously, I’ve written a book called Beating Brain Fog, so and that is of interest to me. But at that point, many of us feel compelled to work even harder, and to show that this is not having any impact. Whereas actually, we should be empowered to say, I’m really good. In order for me to continue to be as excellent as I am, I need to sleep a little longer than I used to. And I need to do x y, z. And actually, to be honest, now that I know things that I know from neuroscience, actually, if we didn’t take those risks, and if we did listen to our body, we would be able to work in the same way, I think we actually try and push ourselves to do more, you know, that ‘proving’ and I think time and again, what comes up in your book is around the issue around perfectionism. And I was certainly brought up to think that perfectionism was a good thing. And it is definitely not a good thing from any perspective. It’s not good for your mental health. It’s also not good for your efficiency and your effectiveness in whatever role or job you play. But I think when it comes down to those particularly early stages of motherhood, I mean, I remember, I can’t even remember why I was at the doctor. But I remember the doctor saying to me, you know, Sabina, your house doesn’t have to be spotless. You’re raising a baby sort of thing, but it is that sort of, I don’t know what everything to be, you know?


Sabina Brennan  31:47

there’s definitely that Super Mom thing and I think when you’re pregnant, I think it’s being pregnant is so all consuming, because there’s so much going on in your body, and you’re kind of getting your head around this. But then trying to balance that with your identity, because your thoughts and your feelings are overtaken by that. There’s one other thing around that. And I think it was in that chapter around pregnancy. And it’s a very, very important point that you brought up. And I just want to say it aloud for the readers that all this stress that we put ourselves through when we’re pregnant, or even in the early stages of motherhood is not good for your baby. And you write about it in the book, the impact of stress on the unborn child is quite substantial.


Melissa Hogenboom  32:30

We’re talking about prolonged stress. If someone’s a little bit stressed, that’s part of everyday life, but definitely prolonged stress.


Sabina Brennan  32:37

Yes. And I say that time and again, you know, in my podcast, and in my books, there’s nothing wrong with stress, we need stress, it’s the thing that motivates us to achieve our goals, etc. But poorly managed chronic stress.


Melissa Hogenboom  32:48

Exactly. We’re talking Yeah, there’s links between if there’s prolonged stress, or depression in the mother, it’s more likely to result in infants that have mental health issues and stress as well. If mothers are really stressed, and if that results in postnatal depression, they actually respond differently to their infants cries, their brain is activated in different ways to a way that they’re not quite as in tune with their infants, and then the infant’s pick up on that. So there’s all these kind of links that the mother and the baby’s brain are meant to work in tandem, together, they listen to each other, the mother’s brain during pregnancy changes significantly and in a lasting way, in a way that helps her bond with her baby. And then hormones give her a good kickstart. And then exposure and experience kicks in, which is when you know, all partners biological or otherwise can experience beneficial brain changes. So obviously, if there’s a process at play that’s affecting that, it’s going to affect the brain in a time for the infant when it’s literally moulding itself to the environment. So it’s also important to note, as you probably mention, all the time, the brain is plastic, the brain can constantly change. So it’s recognising that that’s really important. And then this kind of comes back down to what you were saying about the village. If you have support, if the mother or isn’t doing well mentally, and the father steps in, that can actually mitigate some of these negative effects. So having that support is not only important for the mother’s well being and happiness, and obviously the whoever she’s living with or her partner, but also for the child in a lasting way. So it just goes to show once again that reaching out for support and help is so important. If you feel you need it. I think it’s critical.


Sabina Brennan  34:29

Yeah, it is critical and


Sabina Brennan  34:30

 it isn’t. It’s not about failure. It’s about understanding that you need support to do whatever, or to get over a particular period. And anyway, I don’t believe that parenting is a singular job. You know, it’s a 24 hour a day sort of thing really in the initial stages. So it’s something that requires more than one person so you’re not incapable if you are alone and you’re struggling. No, it just means you really need more people to help.


Melissa Hogenboom  34:31



Sabina Brennan  34:46

It’s more fun with paper.


Sabina Brennan  34:56



Melissa Hogenboom  34:57

like I have so much more fun if I’ve got friends around in the afternoon. Even If my kids are acting up and shouting or screaming, it’s like, it’s easier to deal with it, you have this extra buffer and it ties into a lot of research, we know about what makes you happy social connections are literally how we evolved and are so important for our well being. And it’s the same when we’re parenting if we have supportive friends, family, people around us, that buffers us from this stress, it’s hugely beneficial.


Sabina Brennan  35:21

Absolutely. And you know, the thing is, you mentioned that the brain is plastic. So that  neuroplasticity just describes the brain’s ability to change with learning. And those beneficial changes around bonding, etc, that you talked about releases of oxytocin that help you to be a better parents, you know, that’s your brain adapting to the new situation and to learning. And also I think prioritising the bonding over some other functions, which I’ve come back to talk about in terms of the brain fog. But I think it’s also important to remember that as much as the brain can be adaptive, it can also be maladaptive. So this is, I think, where things like when chronic stress gets out of control, basically, what can happen is that a developing child or developing infant actually learns maladaptive ways to respond to stress, their stress response kicks off sooner than it should, or even doesn’t kick off when it should. So that’s as important, to kind of watch, out for and I think that’s where those things kick in. And obviously, if a pregnant woman is chronically stressed, and there’s cortisol and adrenaline circulating, they are going to impact on the baby. So talking again about what you refer to as mum brain and in fact, you actually say the myth of mum brain. And this is the one point I would argue if and I would say that it’s not a myth, brain fog very, definitely exists. I think that possibly, we hear it spoken about in a sort of a derogatory way, in a sense, and we do that ourselves, Oh, God, I’ve pregnancy brain or I’ve, you know, and this happens in other periods of life as well, not just that, but I think that perhaps, it’s talked about without actually acknowledging the other changes that happen


Melissa Hogenboom  37:04

Yeah, that’s exactly uh,


Sabina Brennan  37:05

You know, that the brain actually is focusing in another area. I think that and you do, of course, allude to this, you sort of point to all the various factors that contribute to brain fog, of course, so many of those are associated with pregnancy. So the disrupted sleep, the stress, in addition, you could have an iron deficiency, perhaps you’re not eating properly because or regularly, because of the infant, perhaps you’re not getting out to get the exercise that you used to get. Furthermore, you’re not actually most probably. And I think that’s the hardest thing about being at home minding children, in a way is that you’re not getting the adult mental stimulation. Now, every one of those factors that I have listed, all contribute to brain fog. So they are kind of come together really around motherhood. But then on top of that, you do have the hormonal changes. And we tend to think of oestrogen and testosterone as our sex hormones. But they’re involved in very many other of our activities. And you actually have a lot of oestrogen receptors, in the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. So I think on top of that, and that the combination of those things can give rise to brain fog. So if you’re actually getting your sleep and eating healthily and exercising, you may have minimal impact from the hormonal issue. But however, unfortunately, we tend to have a a  chaotic kind of life and time. And we see that also like in PMT, you know, before you have your period, we often see signs of brain fog. But for me, certainly, that would manifest in my spatial navigation. So I would become more clumsy. And you know, and that’s a symptom of brain fog. But a lot of people won’t link to it. But I kind of write all about that, you know, in my book, and around pregnancy, as well as a whole chapter kind of on the influence of hormones on it.


Melissa Hogenboom  38:52

I think it’s more that the mom brain is used in a derogatory way. So obviously, there’s studies that show cognitive decline. But the cognitive decline that it’s being measured is not necessarily the brain regions that you’re using during motherhood. And so there’s other research that shows these these optimised areas in terms of empathy and emotional regulation. And so I think it’s not helpful that it’s, of course, it’s it’s important to understand that there’s times that, you know, memory might be a bit more vulnerable, but putting it as a light way of poking fun at pregnant women and mothers that they’ve become stupider. And that’s what my issue is with the term of mum brain


Sabina Brennan  39:32

Yeah, I use an umbrella term and I just referto brain fog because it affects so much more. And but actually, if you were to use a clinical term, you would use cognitive dysfunction. And I would use that rather than cognitive decline because the inference from cognitive decline we use that term with ageing, because it’s as if it’s progressive. However, with brain fog and with cognitive dysfunction, it is most generally temporary, and there’s lots of other factors that would feed into it, you know, it’s associated with various autoimmune disease, also associated with depression and anxiety, you know, so you kind of have multiple factors. And in addition, as you said, a lot of women take on the mental tasks, the planning the organisation, they’re all executive function skills, and they can really be disrupted. And that can add to a mental fatigue. And fatigue is very different to physical fatigue. And when you are mentally fatigued, you actually have a distorted perception of your own endurance levels. So you think you are less capable of doing some things. So I just think it helps people, if you can understand those things, you say, Oh, that’s what’s going on. Okay, right. I really do prioritise my sleep, I really do need to kind of eat regularly, you also speak about the pill. And I’d love you to kind of talk about that. I think a lot of people listening may be unaware that the pill has an impact on brain function,


Melissa Hogenboom  40:58

yeah, the pill changes many things in the brain. And it’s very subtle. And I’ve talked to friends who are on the pill, who understand this. And it’s important to know that, you know, for whatever reason, you’re on the pill, some people go on it, because it helps regulate their mood, according to a friend of mine. And so it’s a personal decision, right. But there’s studies to show that you’re attracted to different people, when you’re on the pill versus off the pill, the way you process emotions, and certain tasks are different for pill users and non pill users. And if you’re ovulating, you have as you alluded to fluctuations in your cycle times when you’re processing, is slightly different. And you describe slight brain fog before your menstrual cycle, when you’re in the pill, all those hormonal changes are evened out, they’re gone, you don’t get those natural fluctuations. And so you might process emotions differently, you might process certain stories differently. So it’s really important to understand that there are different processes that your brain goes through naturally. And when you’re on the pill, those are gone. And I thought it was interesting as when I was learning all about the pill in my undergraduate degree. But shortly after that, I went off the pill because it scared me.


Sabina Brennan  42:06



Melissa Hogenboom  42:07

And about half year later, I met my husband. And I like to think if I’d been on the pill would I have been as attracted to him. I mean, the results are small, they’re really, really small. But you know, even the way we smell our partners is affected when we’re on the pill versus off it.


Sabina Brennan  42:19

See, the thing is, I think people don’t really realise the influence that hormones have. So basically, your brain controls pretty much everything, it’s bi directional, your behaviour influences your brain and the chemical messages of your brain are neurotransmitters, a lot of people will have heard of things like dopamine and serotonin and all that. But then your hormones are the other chemical messengers. And the thing is, so while neurotransmitters are involved in the immediate actions, that you take hormones, their responsibility… you’ve  hormone receptors for lots of different hormones almost all over your body. And so the responsibility of hormones is to ensure that your entire body is on the same page about whatever it is. And so our hormones play a huge role in absolutely everything that we do. And you were talking about the pill. If you’re naturally cycling, when you ovulate, you find different people attractive than when you’re not ovulating. So your point is there, even as you know yourself as well, though your libido changes across your cycle. And I think sometimes we kind of lost touch with some of those things Whilst the pill and birth control is hugely liberating for women, I think it’s also incredibly important that people actually realise the influence that it is having on your brain and your body. And moving from one pill to another – and I’ve taken a lot of your time, so I’m conscious of it. But you have a chapter called Happy Baby, Happy Mother. When I read that chapter. I said, No, I want to switch that around ‘happy mother, happy baby’. Putting yourself first is not selfish. It’s sensible. It really is. And so flipping that around, but your book for people listening, it’s a combination. So there’s lots of science in it, but it’s told in a really, really accessible way, but also you tell your own story throughout it. So it’s a really enjoyable read, just in case people think because we’re just talking the science part. You know, this is interesting. It’s a really enjoyable read. But you actually talk about your own childhood in this chapter. And I think you said that your brother if I’m right, said he wished there was a pill that you could take so that you could stay children forever.


Melissa Hogenboom  44:24



Sabina Brennan  44:24

that said to me, I said, Oh, my God, you had must have just had a lovely childhood. I don’t think I could say that about my childhood.


Melissa Hogenboom  44:31

Yeah, we had a quite idyllic upbringing. We were like, We lived on this island called Texel off the north coast of Holland. You could cycle around in a day you were 10 minute walk from the beach. We’d go to the beach every day. And it’s that time where we could play every day and we were playing outside it was pre screen times obviously, often entertain each other. So we were quite content children. It wasn’t, obviously when we were young it was super stressful for our parents as well for similar reasons, but it It led me to think about how different cultural ways of bringing up children is because I grew up in the Netherlands and I know that it’s often been dubbed one of…. the country were the happiest children in the world. It always scores high on happiness, indexes. And so I wanted understand what it is specifically about the way families raised their children, and how that differs. And so I spoke to a few happiness researchers and they said, there’s this key emphasis on not achieving the top. So in the UK, and in the US specifically, it’s quite an individualistic culture, where being the top is the best, you know, parents buy toys that advance their children cognitively, when you know, as a neuroscientist, the whole world activates and stimulates your brain, you don’t need specific toys.


Sabina Brennan  45:47

And that applies to adults too. So buying brain training, brain training games, is really kind of a waste of money, you should just be out experiencing the world.


Melissa Hogenboom  45:56

Absolutely. And because it’s a cultural norm, where being average is accepted and fine. In fact, it’s seen as you know, faux pas to boast or like to talk about the best grades you get in that school, rather than saying, you know, you got an A or B, you say, I passed, and that’s congratulated, you don’t talk about all great, it’s a pass fail culture. Obviously, there are leanings towards a more individualistic style of intensive parenting there. But on the whole, there is less of that kind of competitive nature. And Dutch children sleep more than other children, Dutch parents sleep more,


Sabina Brennan  46:30

yes. And they’re happier than US children, and they’re easier to soothe. They smile more, they laugh more, they cuddle more. That was brand new information for me, you know, I wasn’t kind of aware, you know, and you have another chapter called the secret of success. And really it is that the Dutch have it, they have its sewn up. I mean, I remember when I was studying undergrad psychology and understanding different cultures, you know, and I really feel we really do need to teach anthropology in primary school. And, you know, let kids understand that the ethnocentric perspective that we have and broaden their horizons. But I remember kind of learning about Japanese cultures and their babies were quieter, and kind of cried less, but I hadn’t, I know, wasn’t aware about this thing in the Netherlands. And I love this idea. But given that you grew up in the Netherlands, and there’s this greater focus on average, but certainly reading your book, you would definitely come across as having perfectionist tendencies.


Melissa Hogenboom  47:27

I only lived there till I was six.


Sabina Brennan  47:29

Oh right….Your parents with you


Melissa Hogenboom  47:33

the culture


Sabina Brennan  47:33

Oh the culture changed, of course,


Melissa Hogenboom  47:35

The culture changed


Sabina Brennan  47:37

actually how did that fit and feel, was that very strange?


Melissa Hogenboom  47:40

Well, I was young enough that it was an exciting move. And you know, I learned English within a couple of months because the brain at that age, just absorbs language


Sabina Brennan  47:48

is plastic


Melissa Hogenboom  47:49

exactly. And then I went to quite, lets say a liberal hippyish school of… it’s called a Steiner Waldorf school where the emphasis is on play. And, again, it’s not academic successes isn’t emphasised, but then, you know, I guess I’ve just always had this natural ambition, I don’t know where it came from, could be cultural related, it could just be something myself. And it could also be the job I ended up in, right? I ended up in journalism, where everything is very competitive. And you have to constantly strive for achieving a certain measure of success and success in quote marks. Because otherwise, you might not get ahead. I think that kind of pressure also.


Sabina Brennan  48:29

But I think it’s entirely different, if that matches with inherent, the satisfaction that you feel. So if you have a natural curiosity for something, you know, it enhances learning, but you get intrinsic satisfaction out of it, as well as the external rewards. Does that make sense?


Melissa Hogenboom  48:46

Yeah, and maybe from your schooling where the focus is on play. There’s so many fascinating chapters in this. I mean, I really just touched the tip of the iceberg. You call one of the chapters techno?


Melissa Hogenboom  48:46

I think so. I think I understand the difference between success and happiness and ambition. But I also think like talking about perfectionism, I do have those influences of trying to do the best for my children. But I’ve also constantly got, like, my mother’s voice in my brain, telling me, you know, you don’t need to stimulate your children, they don’t need to stimulate activities, just take them outside, let them play, you don’t need to constantly play with them, you know, they need to learn to play by themselves that will help them and you later on, and it turns out research backs that up, the more you like, get too involved with their play, the more they lose the creative way of doing it themselves, and you’re actually interfering with their imagination in some way. Obviously, there’s a balance as with all these things, so I still think I have when it comes to parenting, I do still have that cultural influence, I’d say from my mother a lot in terms of the fact that I’m okay with essentially letting my children learn things for themselves and not getting too involved and not trying to encourage my daughter to start learning to read before she needs to and those sorts of things are still left over Luckily, from my Dutch upbringing


Melissa Hogenboom  50:00

technoference te


Sabina Brennan  50:02

and I thought there was just one interesting anecdote in terms of the white noise. Yeah. One discovery that you made.


Melissa Hogenboom  50:10

Yeah, I had one of those dream sheep things that pleased the baby’s heartrate. And it’s meant to … plays the baby that womb sound and it’s meant to help the baby sleep. And then we had white noise on our phones that we put beside our baby, our firstborn’s ear when she’d nap, because it instantly helped switch her off. And then I was at this conference, and I was speaking to this quite well known neuroscientist called Nina Krauss. And she studies like auditory processing, and music, music and learning language. I was interviewing her about something slightly unrelated. And she talked about how exhausting noise is in our life and I think a lot of us have recognised that now we’re working from home a lot of the time, we have less interference, like every time there’s noise in the background, right? A part of your brain is processing that noise. And I said, Oh, that makes me a bit concerned. What about white noise made? My first was then nine months old? I think she’s like, Oh, yeah, the white noise is completely terrible, you know, you’re essentially teaching your baby that noise is meaningless, because you’re assigning them this noise in their environment that isn’t giving them any meaning about the world. It’s just blank white noise. And as well as that she says that these apps are often too loud for their fragile ears. And I was like, Oh, no, that’s instantly something to feel guilty. Now.


Sabina Brennan  51:20

I know. I know. And that chapter on guilt guys. Yeah. It’ll resonate with so many people. And when I was reading some of those things, some of my old guilts came back from when mine were kids you know, I have to keep trying to say to myself over and over again, it’s one of those lines I trot out. But guilt serves no purpose. You either learn from the experience, and you don’t do it again. But the actual feelings of guilt, they have no function, but they have impact. And I think kind of letting them go. It’s a learning curve. Look, you know, the thing is, you’re very early in your journey on parenting. I let you know that no matter how perfect you are, and how hard you try, you will still screw your children up in some shape, make or form


Melissa Hogenboom  52:04

Oh great, yay


Sabina Brennan  52:05

But. That’s what creates humans, isn’t it?


Melissa Hogenboom  52:10

Your point is you can’t mould people into how you expect them to be right. I’ll tell you one, anecdote you’ll enjoy. So I was having a particularly stressful afternoon I was I think my husband was working or away for whatever reason I was trying to cook my like then one and a half year old was trying to touch everything, you know, at risk of burning himself. And he was like, he got every chair, comes and stands right next to me. And I was like, I’d shout at him to get away because it was dangerous for him. It was messing myself up and I was just feeling very stressed. Like they were they’re constantly in my ears and shouting. And so my then three and a half year old goes, Mommy, I know that you’re stressed right now, but you have to say sorry, like, parrots cause she knows when you say you scream. You say sorry after you scream or you shout when she was parroting what I told her before. Because when I lose my temper, sometimes I would say I’m really sorry, son. And mommy’s just a little bit stressed right now. Because when you scream, scream, it makes me stressed. So let’s try and not scream. So I try and explain to her what I’m doing. And then to hear that parroted back at me. I was like, oh no, what have I done?


Sabina Brennan  53:10

I know, I know. I know. I remember when we got our youngest. You know, they’re sitting in the chair and you could get this thing that suctioned done in front of them. That was a steering wheel of the car. And it had gears on it had a horn in it, whatever, you know, that you could be, you know, and he was only a tot of the obviously wasn’t even speaking properly. In the car. First journey. We’re both sitting there and vroom… your you know, he’s making the steering wheel noise and then he hits the horn and goes fucky ejit, fucky ejit


Melissa Hogenboom  53:38

Oh no


Sabina Brennan  53:40

Which was clearly what he thought you said when you beep the horn. Yes, they do parrot they learn an awful lot of stuff. You have to be very careful. I remember speaking to a teacher once in primary school, and he they said, Look, there’s no greater entertainment than what four and five year olds tell you about what goes on at home. And you know, they’re kind of full of it. Thank you so much, Melissa, this has just been fascinating talking to you, your book, The Motherhood Complex. The story of our changing lives is a fantastic read, go get yourself a copy. And I think it’s amazing that you’ve written a book, while you do have young children, you know, it’s challenging to kind of get that focus. But I firmly believe if you want something done, ask a busy woman is a phrase I heard years ago. And I think it’s very true


Melissa Hogenboom  54:26

True yeah


Sabina Brennan  54:26

you kind of make the time for it. So I just want to leave with you know, this podcast is about surviving and thriving in life. And this book is definitely going to be sort of very helpful. I mean, it really does kind of touch on surviving and thriving through motherhood. But in any sense, or in any way, is there any tips that you would like to share with the listeners about surviving and or thriving in life?


Melissa Hogenboom  54:48

I think to thrive as a parent, we have to learn to remember to put ourselves first and this is important for our own happiness and that for our children, if we’re neglect ourselves, What message does that give to our children? Right? If we don’t put ourselves first, it will continue the cycle and they will learn that that is what you do as a parent. Whereas, if you’re less happy in the process your children might be too. So put yourself first find what makes you tick and find a way to get some downtime in however way you can.


Sabina Brennan  55:19

I think that’s a fantastic tip. I totally agree with you on that. There’s like I said, Happy Mother’s make happy babies,


Sabina Brennan  55:26

you know, they really do. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you’ve been listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone 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 that 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 superbrain that helps too.  Visit For additional content, including images and videos related to this episode and a transcript of the show. Follow me on Instagram @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.


Melissa Hogenboom  55:26



Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 1

The Brain Detective with Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan

Become a Patron

Become a Patron!

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts



  •  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

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

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 11

Your body is an instrument not an ornament with Anna Geary

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

In this episode I chat to the effervescent Anna Geary about 

During this episode we discuss

  • Scrolling social media and self-sabotaging
  • Body Image
  • Tenacity and hard work
  • The importance of failing
  • Anna’s new documentary for RTE on why girls drop out of sport
  • Why the language we use matters
  • Dancing with the stars
  • Retiring at 27


BodyWhys have lots of valuable resources on body image 

Guest Bio

Anna Geary is an athlete. Not just any old athlete, but one of the most decorated players in the history of Camogie. Competing at the highest level she has four all Ireland wins to her name. Anna not only excelled at this tough sport, she was the Cork Rose and gracefully danced her way to the final of Dancing with the Stars. She has become a much loved household name with a broadcasting career as a sports pundit and as a coach on Ireland’s fittest family. To say that Anna is very glamorous to boot is an understatement. Anna is also a qualified performance coach who shares her wisdom and workouts on Instagram, as @AnnaGCork, you gotta check her out.

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.



Sabina Brennan 0:00
Hello and welcome to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan, and my guest this week is Wonder Woman. Well, at least the very closest thing to wonder woman that I know. Anna Geary is an athlete. Not just any old athletes, but one of the most decorated players in the history of Camogie. Competing at the highest level she has four all Ireland wins to her name. For those of you listening outside Ireland Camogie involves sticks, helmet and a hard ball that travels at about 100 miles an hour. It terrifies the bejesus out of me as a kid. But Anna not only excelled at this tough sport, she gracefully danced her way to the final of Dancing with the Stars. She has become a much loved household name with a broadcasting career that spans sports punditing, if that’s verb, to coaching on Ireland’s fittest family. To say that Anna is very glamorous to boot is an understatement. Anna is also a qualified performance coach who shares her wisdom and workouts on Instagram, as @AnnaGCork, you gotta check her out. She’s absolutely fab online. And actually, very welcome Anna. And thank you very much for joining me today for Super Brain you’re a perfect guest, because you’re like, you’ve always been like a superhero. Okay, so what I really want to kind of talk about actually is what you do on Instagram. Because whilst there are like, you just scroll through Instagram, and there’s tons of people doing fitness stuff, and wellness stuff. And what I love about you, is about what you’re doing with the fitness stuff is; You do the fitness stuff. You set little challenges for people. You work out yourself, but you very much underscore that this is about being healthy and being fit. And you also do a lot of posts around body image and body positivity. That’s something that you very consciously decided to do?

Anna Geary 2:04
Yeah, like Sabina I think with the world of social media. Now, for anyone that’s on it, the vast majority of people are affected by it in some way, either in a positive way, but equally in a negative way. And I think sometimes we go on to social media, and we’re scrolling. And I myself am guilty of this. What are we looking for? Like, you know, why are you scrolling? You know, and if we are in bad form or not feeling good about ourselves, we often find ourselves gravitating towards things that are going to end up self-sabotaging, and we’re going to actually end up feeling worse. Because if you’re not feeling great about where you are in your body shape, maybe your jeans are a little bit tight. Hands up there, I’ve been that person in the last 12 months. And you’re looking at someone that maybe is in the shape of their life, because maybe then we’re caught for time in the last 12 months, they’ve allowed themselves in lockedown to maybe set themselves up in a healthy regime. We’re comparing ourselves to people that aren’t in the same life or environment as we are.

Sabina Brennan 2:58
I just saw that the other day like I don’t know if you follow on on Instagram, and they have nice stuf fand interesting and you know, it’s light stuff and…, I’ve noticed lately, they’re showing and there was literally one before I came on here, Eva Longoria I think it was does this amazing trampoline routine while on a Yacht. You know, like, seriously, seriously, you know, like I’m struggling to do my work out

Anna Geary 3:24
Very like us – yeah, yeah

Sabina Brennan 3:25
… and I’m looking at a 46 year old and she’s not only trampolining a complex routine, but it’s on the yacht. But also, what’s really actually is starting to niggle me is, in lockdown actually it’s happened, because for a lot of celebrities, they have nothing to do you know, and so they’re doing these reveals so and so so and so 56 reveals her eight pack on Instagram, and you kinda go, okay, could you please just show me so and so so and so actually doesn’t have an eight pack? She’s fit, she’s healthy. She’s in the right weight. And do you know what? Fair Play to her.

Anna Geary 3:57
You’re right in saying that, like, a few months back, I started asking people around body image and I said when you think about the word fit, what picture do you conjure up in your head? And I asked him to be really honest. And you know, we did different polls and questions and I said, does fit for you mean skinny? Does fit for you mean strong? Does fit for you mean, you know, a healthy person was a little bit of exercise and what does it mean? And the vast majority have said that when they think of a fit person, they think of skinny they think of abs, they think of, you know being really no lean, no extra body fat and like that’s not realistic. It’s not a realistic portrayal of what anybody male or female is meant to look like. And unfortunately, we’re bombarded whether it’s in tabloids, whether it’s in social media online, we’re bombarded with this perfect body that probably less than 1% of people have and also what people don’t realize is like you might get yourself into the shape of your life, but it’s a very short term pain because it’s not sustainable. Like there’s no way you could maintain sculpted 12 months a year, because we’re not designed to be like that. I think for me, you made a valid point. What I wanted social media to be is a place of like normality. And a place where people can strive to make improvements. And I’m all about that, because I think sometimes, we’re nearly looking at people saying, “Look at her there, and she’s trying to lose a bit of weight or trying to get fitter or trying to get stronger. An we’re nearly repremanding people

Sabina Brennan 5:25
Yeah, I think that’s a very, I don’t know, whether it’s very Irish thing or,

Anna Geary 5:28
iI think it’s a general thing

Sabina Brennan 5:30
you know, go for it, go for whatever you want to go for. Like, I’m not against that. And I really do admire people who worke that hard. And I talk about like, in one of my books, I talk about Ernestine and, I can never remember her name.. But she took up bodybuilding at 56, she made the Guinness Book of Records at 82, as the oldest bodybuilder, she has an eight pack, she’s a personal trainer, she trains other people, she’s amazing, I admire that I do aspire to have nice muscle tone myself, not just for looks, it’s really, really important. It’s really important for your brain health, physical exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your brain out. So I’m always pushing it. From that perspective, aerobic exercise is critical, but so too, is building muscle mass. So it is important, I’m not anti that. And a lot of people think you lose muscle mass with age No, you don’t lose it with disuse. And there’s every reason for you to try and regain that muscle mass, it’s really good for you from a health perspective. And it also will help protect you from falling. And that’s really important in later life, because once you have one fall in later life, that makes it more likely you’ll have more falls, and that actually increases your risk of developing dementia. Yeah, it’s absolutely critical.

Anna Geary 6:45
I think that’s one thing as well from when as you get older, so when you move from your 20s, your 30s, to your 40s, you start to understand that fitness isn’t about how good you look in a swimsuit, or how good you look in the little black dress. It is about the functional movement, it is about your mood and your energy and your sleep, and all

Sabina Brennan 7:05
and your bone density as a woman, when you get older, you really need the strength

Anna Geary 7:09
of your brain, like you know, your memory, your concentration, all of these things,

Sabina Brennan 7:13

Anna Geary 7:14
Yeah and I suppose that’s what I’ve tried to put across and you know, in social media is that our health shouldn’t be just attached to what size jeans we are or what we weigh on the scales. To be honest our value can’t be attached to that, because our bodies are designed to fluctuate, whether it’s that time of the month for a woman, or whether it’s, you know whether or not you’re in

Sabina Brennan 7:34
winter time. Yeah.

Anna Geary 7:36
So you know, your cortisol levels, if you’re really stressed are going to be a lot puffier, you’re probably going to weigh more. So if you attach yourself to a size or a weight, it really can be detrimental. So it is about feeling good to yourself. I’m all about that, like looking good is one thing, but feeling good is so much better. And like some of the messages that I’ve got from people around them saying, “I might have put on weight this year. But doing your classes made me realize that my body isn’t just about how it looks. And I feel great that I couldn’t do a press up before and now I half can. You know, and I love that because I just think there’s so many negative connotations attached to exercise because it is inadvertently connected to how we look. But if we remove that, like think about young people, when they’re rolling down the hill, or jumping around the place, they’re in a bouncy castle. It should be enjoyed and I think if you can enjoy the process nearly, then you’ll get all the benefits but you won’t have this, “oh, I’ve got to do it” attitude. Like I’m encouraging to have “I get to do it” That’s the attitude I should have.

Sabina Brennan 8:35
I’m kind of screwed up a bit in that way as well. Now, you know, I mean, my sense of self worth has always been linked to my size. I know it’s very hard not to grow up in this society. Without that. I am a real all or nothing person when it comes to everything that I do. I don’t see any point to doing something unless you’re going to do it like 100% I would just really go for it. But I also am very good at that. And I remember I played basketball in school. I’m only five foot one and a half but I was good at basketball..

Anna Geary 9:05
You had the tenacity. I’d say

Sabina Brennan 9:07
I had the tenacity. That’s what it was I was that fighter. You know, No, you are not taking this ball off me and I don’t care if you’re taller, I’m going to duck and get round and get the ball.

Anna Geary 9:16
I would have picked you on my team for sure.

Sabina Brennan 9:19
When it comes to pro sports on sometimes I’m looking at soccer we would be I’ve been a soccer family rather than a ga family. But I sometimes look and watch players playing at the highest level and they’re lazy and I’m going “You’re getting feckin’ half a million a week run for the feckin’ ball will ya. Run back and defend – will ya!

Anna Geary 9:41
I know

Sabina Brennan 9:41
You know. I just I just don’t get that you have all this amazing skill, but then you got to work hard as well. And that just really annoys me when they don’t do that. I just…

Anna Geary 9:51
Well one of the greatest things I think what a coach of mine when I was in second level school said to me “hard work can beat talent, if talent won’t work”, and it’s something that has stuck with me, like it started from sport, but it worked in my education and in my career afterwards that I was okay. I might not be the most talented person on the team or for if I’m going for a job, but I will be the person that works hard. Because I think, you know, if you think what you said there, but your 5ft 1in when you’re doing something you would you want someone in the trenches with you, you want someone, when you’re doing something, whether it’s on a team or on a group project, in college, or in you know, on a team and in work, you want someone that’s going to do the hard work, do the stuff you don’t want to do, but you know, you have to do. And that is one of the greatest things that I have learned from sport is that sometimes you just, in order to be successful, you have to put in the groundwork, you know, and it’s something that has never left me and long after sport and my performance careers ended. It’s kind of something now that as I move into the media world, and I’m, you know, going up against people that are far more experienced than I am, it’s bringing that work ethic, you know, and that energy, that high level energy, I think it’s so vital. Like when I graduated from college, and we’ll get to that in a while I worked in recruitment for a while. And one of the things that I learned from recruitment is that your energy will introduce you before you open your mouth, before you tell everybody how brilliant you are, or all of the degrees, you have, or all the experience. It’s your energy, and we control our energy 100%. Yeah, you get out of bed in the morning. No matter what’s going on your life you make the decision of what kind of energy you’re going to bring to yourself, to people to your work. And if that is backed by your work ethic, it’s amazing the impact that you can have on people.

Sabina Brennan 11:43
Yeah, no, absolutely. So I do this myself, and I say it to people, you do it a lot naturally. First thing you do when you open your eyes, this is non negotiable. First thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning is smile. Yeah. And it just set your before you’ve had a chance to think this is going to be a crappy day, before you’ve had the chance to think that you did something shitty yesterday or you failed in something else. Just smile because it actually releases feel good hormones. And it just kind of sets you off on that. I also think it gives you that real sense of control. Now I’m actually in control of this day.

Anna Geary 12:16
And it’s very hard to be in a bad mood and smile at the same time.

Sabina Brennan 12:19
Yeah, but you can smile when you’re in a bad mood. Like often people think smiling is reactive, but it’s not. Just fake it till you make it really works with smiling. Eh yeah, I’m so with you on so many of those things. You know, if you have talent and you work hard, you increase the likelihood that you will succeed, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will succeed. But your hard work, you can’t underestimate. I always say that they’ll put that on my gravestone, you know, either ‘At least she tried’ or ‘she gave it her best shot’. You know, that kind of way.

Anna Geary 12:51
Again, I suppose it’s even back to some of the things that I’ve learned from sports. And like the idea that even though working as a performance coach, and working in mindset, because I learned from sport that like you can be marking a player that’s just as skillful as you are maybe more skillful than you. But if you can out work her, and you can say – like that idea that, you know, it’s hard to beat somebody that never gives up. And you have that. And I suppose it’s even relinquishing the fear of failure. When you think about young kids, whatever, no matter what they’re doing, we tell them that no matter what, you know, just try your best. And even if they fail it doesn’t matter, go again, but somehow that that changes as we become adults. And we become so afraid of failure, and so afraid to try new things for fear. It’s seen as a weakness. Because if you go for a job and don’t get a promotion, or you go to get your place in a team or try a new workout, and if you don’t do it well, the first time Ah well you must be weak at it And I just think it’s so …

Sabina Brennan 13:46
yeah, no failure, I don’t know where or when it got this negative connotation. But it is essential to learning

Anna Geary 13:53

Sabina Brennan 13:54
cannot learn, we learn through trial and error. And it would be far better that we do that. And I mean, error in the sense that says, if we take the sports analogy, and you’re, you know, standing in front of a goal to try and teach someone or to try and learn how to score a goal, right, you learn how to do that through trial and error. And that’s the mark of a good coach. You know, they understand that. It’s shaping our behavior, and that’s how your brain learns. The way I see it is, there’s nothing wrong with failure. The only thing wrong with failure is if you see it as the end result, rather than part of the journey.

Anna Geary 14:26
We’re nearly a weakness driven society now. So if you look at like, you know, even the exam results, right? What do people naturally gravitate towards? What are the ones that you failed in? What are the ones that you only barely scraped, and we won’t look at the ones that we got the top rgrade in and it’s the same with sport, we’re constantly… If I said to you, ‘I want you to go away now and improve’. You would presume I mean, your weaknesses, but we forget that you can also improve your strength, you can take your strengths from good to great. So …. kind of reminded me of that, that with a team and like it’s the same in a work environment. Everybody brings different strengths to the table. So there’s no point comparing yourself to your corner forwards or your midfielder, because you don’t have the same skills as them. And if you all have the same skills, it would be no good. So it’s like reminding yourself at times that, you know what I might’nt be great at XYZ, but I bring something else. And we’re nearly afraid to acknowledge that,

Sabina Brennan 15:20
but it’s that thing of, you know, and I say to people in terms of say, if people are recovering from Long COVID, and they have brain fog, as consequences and physical fatigue and mental fatigue, and I’m saying to them, you know, it has to be baby steps, it has to be baby steps, your body’s been through this terrible virus, etc. You cannot compare your physical levels of activity, to before you were ill, you’ve got to compare to where you are today. And then tomorrow, you’ve made a tiny improvement. You can’t keep saying, oh, but I used to be able to run 10k. And now I can only walk to the hall. Okay, but let’s see, can you walk two feet further than the hall tomorrow? That’s progress. And if you keep focusing just on that 10k, and the ‘how far you have to go’, you’re never going to get there. It’s a recipe for failure. It’s focusing on yourself as the benchmark. You set that initial goal. You know where you’re going, and then you forget about it. And you focus on the little steps of that journey.

Anna Geary 16:21
Yeah, like we do that, like if I was with a sports team, and we’d set our end goal and maybe to win the title at the end of the year. What if you’re in the middle of January, and it’s wet, and it’s rainy, and you’ve muck up to your knees. That seems like a very far away possibility. So by setting those little milestones like that idea, what did they say? What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time?

Sabina Brennan 16:40
Yeah, yeah exactly.

Anna Geary 16:42
Steps because they keep you on track. And then if you are wavering, or you’re struggling, knowing that you’re just that little bit away from the small milestone, it’s amazing the satisfaction

Sabina Brennan 16:52
the satisfaction. Yeah, yeah, ’cause having to wait for reward from that long term goal is too far. You have to have rewards along the way

So tell me, we’re always a sporty child. I’ve seen this lovely photo on your Instagram, you have posted a little while ago of you as a kid, but you can really see your face. And it’s that big smile. And I mean that in the nice, big smiley face. Or you can just see, happy child. Is that true? Were you really happy child,

Anna Geary 17:18
You know what, I was very energetic child, Sabina, and that, that hasn’t really changed. Like my mom said. I never wants to go to bed when I was younger, and I’m still the same. I still don’t want to go to bed, the fear of missing out. And I think that energy’s been great. I grew up on a farm. My dad was a farmer, my mother was a teacher. My dad is like sports mad, like, absolutely sports, mad, loves it. So I was always destined to be put into sport. But then again, they never knew my ability, they never knew what kind of a player I was going to become. And I wasn’t put into to win medals or Captain teams or win All Irelands, I was really put into it for the social inclusion, you know, to be confident, self-esteem. To kind of express myself properly, to work off that excess energy is more of it as well. And I think that was brilliant. Because from a young age, there was never that pressure there. Now as I got older, and as I got better, I suppose that pressure came from coaches

Sabina Brennan 18:10
so potential was there. How did you… and I would imagine, and I highly recommend, you know, if people have kids, we always said that with ours into sport, into sport. It’s essential for girls, and we have a huge problem that girls aren’t involved enough in sport, or they give it up too early. And that’s a big problem.

Anna Geary 18:29
I’m actually, I’m doing a TV documentary at the moment around that exact thing. Why did girls drop out of sport, and for me, it’s changed my perception of it as well. I’m a very competitive person. Like one of the most competitive people you could probably meet, like, if we are playing tiddlywinks, or you know, I want to win. But it made me reframe sport and success and what it is. It’s not about winning titles. It’s about it’s about getting the same number of girls back in the gates The following year, and keeping that enjoyment going. And, you know, it’s definitely something that I realized I’ve a real passion for because of what I’ve learned from sports and like, I have learned what I’ve learned from sport, regardless of the All Ireland medals and the titles I’ve won, I’ve learned the life skills because I’ve been in it. I’ve experienced the setbacks, I’ve learned how to cope with failure, I’ve learned how to cope with not being the best, you know, with losing, with winning, learning to work with people that might not necessarily be people I like, but have to respect them because we have a collective goal, even empathy. All of these things, you learn them from sports, but I think the reality is that again, go back to the negative connotations attached to sport that parents may have because of a negative experience that they had. It’s like the opportunities that are there in sports, regardless of ability, but what you learn at any level, to me, it’s a no brainer. Excuse the pun to get involved.

Sabina Brennan 19:51
It’s just positive life skills, transferable life skills, everything you’ve talked about there is about life, so I’d be really interested now to see that documentary to see kind of what comes out

Anna Geary 20:02
It was eye opening for me for sure,

Sabina Brennan 20:03
I would imagine a lot of it is around body image. And I think that’s why I sort of half jokingly introduced you as Wonder Woman. But I think you’re a very important role model. And that’s why I also put in actually in the intro, that you’re very glamorous, because I think they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be feminine, and glamorous and pretty and a real hard sports woman, if you want, Do you know they’re not and I think there can be some of that, because part of it is labeling. ‘Oh, she’s a sporty type. She’s a sporty girl, you know, oh, she’s a real pretty girl. She’s a girly girl. She’s a bit of a tomboy.’ And so they have much wider connotations. And I’m fascinated, anyone listening to the podcast knows, I’m fascinated with the concept of self and how the brain creates self and how we create self. And really, it’s just a made up story. And you can change that story however you want. But a lot of that story that you tell about yourself and who you are comes from what other people have said to you. And frequently, it can be something like that, that somebody said to you as a child, oh, you’re a real girly girl. And so you just do the ‘girly, girl’ stuff. And it can work positively. You know, somebody probably said to you somewhere along the line, or she’s a brilliant trier. She never gives up. I suspect somebody said that to me too. And I kind of went, yeah, I like that one. I’m taking that one on. And that’s who I am. I don’t mean that I consciously did. But it was a positive reinforcer. But unfortunately, for every positive reinforcer, there’s negative ones. And, yeah, that’s something that I’m sure you are as well, in terms of your performance coaching. And that side of things is to try and get people to question where they get their notions about themselves. And for the most part, those things are untrue. And you know, you could be 30 years of age, and you’re holding on to something that was said 25 years ago, and you’re letting it limit your life.

Anna Geary 22:01
Yeah, and it is, to me, I think language has a massive part to play in. You know, how we see ourselves, like you said, the stories we tell ourselves, and even that word sporty? Like, what is it like even the word sport, I think sometimes can have negative connotations attached to it now, because people think it’s elite. You know, it has to be a pressure environment, it has to be intense. You know, it has to mean commitment and discipline, things that not everybody wants to be a part of. So like that word, because people have attached ideals to the word sport, that that’s why people think, Oh, I’m not sporty, or that’s not for me, because that’s what they associate with it. It’s the same I suppose. I… when I was younger, I would never have considered myself to be either a ‘girly-girl’ or a tomboy. But I think as I grew up, I realized, I love high heels. I mean, I love fake tan, I love dressing up, I was always the girl in my friendship group where we could meet for something and they’d go “oh where are you off to?” And I say, ‘nowhere’, like, I have all these clothes, why wouldn’t I wear them even now, I’m like I’ll be damned I am going on, I want to wear some of my clothes that I haven’t worn them and so long. So I always would have dressed up because again, I love you know, fashion and shopping and something that my mom used do with me. So on a Friday evening, we’d go like to the shopping center, we’d go browsing, and it was like almost like a mindfulness experience with a switch-off for my mom. So again, like you know, that confirmation bias what you see others do you start to mimic so

Sabina Brennan 23:32
Yeah yeah

Anna Geary 23:32
So I started doing that switch off. And I realized, Oh, I love how fashion makes me feel. And if you want to be glam, and I started wearing clothes, and then I suppose it was again, going back to the whole idea that I could be both I could be a fierce athlete on the pitch and be really determined and make sure that nobody got that ball off me without a fight. But equally then afterwards in the changing room, I could change into a dress and pair high heels going out the door. And I think that is really important that girls need to know that you can be both you can be one or the other if you so wish. But you also can be both simultaneously. And it is really important that we see that but also even how we describe sports people. Tearing down the stereotypes, and valuing people not just as the player they are but the person they are as well. Sometimes people forget there’s a person behind the player. So it is kind of to make sure that what you’re saying about the player is fair, and it’s the truth because although you often see like Twitter and these these such talk, things being said, Your uh, you know that that player didn’t intentionally grow to have a bad game. They didn’t decide they’re gonna like mess up for an own goal. So why then we go to the extremes of slashing them and crucifying them because that’s someone’s child, someone’s sister, someone’s wife, or husband. I think we need to make sure that we remember that language is really powerful and also the language that we tell ourselves if we talk to ourselves more than we talk to anybody else.

Sabina Brennan 24:55
Yeah, we do yeah

Anna Geary 24:55
And you never talk to your friends the same way you talk to yourself because you wouldn’t have any friends because we can be cruel to ourselves – whether its how we look, how we perform at work. I’m a bad mom I’m a bad dad Dad, how was the house clean? I never remember to defrost the chicken. Like whatever it is we always just cutting ourselves down with the language that we use. And I think we can only switch that and do nothing else. I think we’d have a lot more positivity in the way that we see ourselves.

Sabina Brennan 25:21
Yeah, no,, that’s very true.

Anna Geary 25:22
Don’t get me wrong. I used to get in trouble with referees all the time, because I still have earrings in and they’d be like, I had a little bit of a scar on, part of my pre-game ritual was always to put tan on because I felt great. I mean, I’m from a small rural village in North Cork, I can assure you, you know, we don’t get more sun than anyone else. But like, the color of my skin would have said otherwise. It is all about, like, doing what makes you feel good. But then not being berated for it one way or another. Whether you wear fake tan, or glamorous or you’re not, you know, and I think it’s just we like to put people in boxes. You know, we all do, we like to like, that’s her, she’s the sporty one. She’s the intelligent one. She’s the reliable one. You know, he’s the dependable person, whatever it is. And I really welcome seeing people changing things up and doing things differently.

Sabina Brennan 26:13
Yeah, Feck the stereotypes, question the stereotypes, and just do what you enjoy. That’s what’s really important, I think when it comes to sport, but it’s hard, it’s going to be a challenge for girls. Because ultimately, it’s having a really negative effect on girls physical and mental health.

Anna Geary 26:28
Yeah, well it is because I suppose there’s long term benefits to staying in sports and even the team environment, your friends, if the social aspect of sports like when I think about the opportunities that are you have been privy to because of sports, and I’ve got to travel, I went to Luxembourg in 2008, during my degree on work placement, and I went to the GAA club to join in not too loud, we could play but I knew was going to be a support structure. For me, it was going to help me find a house. You know, I was in a foreign country where English was the third language, you know, and I only had even certificate proficiency in French. So I needed allies. And it was amazing. Having that network of people through sport, they didn’t know me from Adam, but because I played for it was the cheese one of our own lessons of after. And I think that, for me is a really important thing that sport brings is that you might not know anybody. But if you go into university, say, and you go down to a local sports club, immediately you’ve got connections, you’ve got people that are like minded that are going to help you and I think we overlook the importance of those things. Absolutely. The physical benefits are there, you know, the mental benefits, put the social benefits, I think of sport, to me are some of the most important things that you learn.

Sabina Brennan 27:39
Yeah, and I think that’s what a lot of people are missing. With the pandemic and lockdown. You know, we were talking about teenage girls, but I think, you know, sport for teenage boys is hugely critical, you know, they suddenly have this upsurge of testosterone in their system, and that can come with the tendency towards aggression. And what better, more positive way to channel that then through physical Sport and Exercise and, you know, in an appropriate way, like it’s really brilliant, I want to kind of move on to your time on Dancing with the Stars. And I’ve just been looking back at some clips, and I’m just looking, oh, my God, your back your arms, your muscles. You were really just, oh my god. Amazing.

Anna Geary 28:25
My life. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 28:27
I mean, the shape of your life,

Anna Geary 28:28
I played top level sport for 12 years, and I was in better shape.

Sabina Brennan 28:33
That’s what I was gonna say to you. So that came from the dancing, where were you actually working in the gym, as well as the dancing so that you could dance better? One of the things I love about when I’m actually doing weights, you know, when I’m being in my good self, in terms of exercise, is I feel stronger, I feel sturdier in my body. You know, obviously, my clothes fit better. But I love that. It’s very hard to describe, you just suddenly flip into the hole. Yeah, I feel sturdy and strong. So you would have already been in pretty good shape. But what point of your career was that? Were you still playing,

Anna Geary 29:07
though I had retired from top level sport with the intercounty team, say in 2015. But I was still playing morgy at club level. And so this was January 2018, when I did it, so it was still a few years on from it. And obviously your muscle is there, you know, and I still had the good core strength and I still had built up a lot of muscle. Both one of the reasons why actually I said yes to dance with the stars. There was two reasons I said yes. One was because I missed the challenge. And that was one of the brilliant things were playing with cork was that every time you went out and played a game, you know what, there was always a risk that you weren’t going to come out the right side, but your opponent was going to beat you and I missed that challenge of every week having to stand there and produce the goods. And the second reason why I did it was to do with body image because I felt I would have loved role models that looked like me when I was growing up. And it was I’m five foot five It was a sprint. When I was younger, I played kimochi for years. So I’m very muscular and very athletic in my frame, I’m very curvy as well. So a very small waist and I caused my quads and my glutes from playing sport for years, I’d be much stronger. And it wasn’t like I wanted to show younger girls, but women in general that like, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to a body. And I’m not better or worse than anyone else. But I’ll be damned if I don’t be proud of the body I have, because I worked hard to get it. It isn’t your typical that you’ll see that motor muscle. And as you said, like my back muscle, and I remember my dance partner call. He’s actually one of the cast now instructing. And he turned around and he was just like, we had to do this pose where I was leaning forward, and he was catching my hands behind me. So my back was really on show. And he was like, Oh, my God, you have so much muscle. And my fear genuinely was that he wouldn’t be able to lift me because I was I was strong, you know. And I did, I weighed a lot because of the most. And it was a genuine concern to me. He was like, don’t worry about it. Like, that’s my job. You just worry about getting out there. And I’m, I’m worried about holding you up there. But it was brilliant. Because the messages that I got from people, the sense of worth, they had to go, I had a woman messaged me saying that her daughter had been rowing. And I’d given it off because she felt that her shoulders were getting too big. And she didn’t want to look, you know, this idea, again, the stereotype of masculine. So she gave up when she was very good. And she watched one of my dances and turned her mom’s like, Oh my god, she’s got back muscles like me, and the funnel in which he wanted to go back training. And I said, Oh, you know, nothing else in this. Like, if I’m fueling people’s ambition to look whatever way they can because their sport, it’s like the idea that you’re looking at what your body can do, rather than focusing on how it looks. You know what that is? Yeah, it’s an instrument, not an ornament. I think that’s the kind of message that I wish, you know, that I had more of when I was in my late teens, early 20s. I was like, you know, if I can help people, well, then maybe that’s gonna help me too, because I’m not gonna lie. Like, there was some weeks I was in wardrobe department freaking out at the costumes that they wanted me to wear. Because it was taking me out of my comfort zone. I was like, Oh, God, that I’m sure or that’s too low, or that’s your revealing. And it was just kind of, like letting go of the body insecurities. And because I was was was, I’ll be honest, I was comparing myself to my fellow contestants, the professional dancers, but oh, my God, I don’t look like them. But now you’re back. Right? And no joke. When I say, Christ Anna, you were in the shape of your life. And there was times you felt so insecure about your body. That made me realize this, it doesn’t matter what shape we’re all in, we’re still going to find something to be insecure about. And while I was busy looking at one of the girls, that was five foot 11, her legs have dry balls. She was looking at me going, Oh, I wish I had our core. I wish I had her arms. So we’re all looking what everyone else has. So it’s kind of they’re like, geez, you know, what we may as well just accept we have the body we have, I’m never gonna have long legs. I’ve worked for five, what I can work on other aspects of myself. And again, this goes back to that sense of improvement. You know, you can improve that there’s no embarrassment to feel you want to improve yourself. It’s just about you need to be realistic in what you can do. Because I think if we set our expectations too high, that’s where we’re then in danger of failing them and feeling crap, because we’ve expected ourselves to get to a body size or body shape that’s just realistically unattainable and exhausting. Like, yeah, dancing for 10 hours a day, Sabina, there was no way I’m going to look like that again, because I was dancing. I mean, let me tell you, if you hold your hands out by your sides, and do nothing, don’t lift weights, just hold them up by your sides for 60 minutes alone every single day, you’ll feel the tone. And so I suppose I had to be realistic with myself afterwards when it all ended. I mean, even when I found my body shape changing again, I was like, Oh, no, I want

Sabina Brennan 33:53
to hang on to that spelt

Anna Geary 33:54
and toned body. But I realized if it’s not attainable, no, it was still hard to do, because everything ended with a bang. But now I look back and be like this person calling you didn’t really appreciate the condition that you’ve got your body into at the time. And I think we’re all guilty of that at various stages in our lives. So now I start telling myself if I’m having days now, maybe I’m doing an Instagram Live. And I’m like, all, you know, I’m feeling a little bit bloated, or I’m feeling a little bit, you know, not at my leanest. Why would your 70 year old self say to you right now, she’d probably kick you up the app and say I would kill to have your body like get out there and be proud of it. So that’s kind of something that I do to get myself anxious of feeling the way I do. And sometimes there’s days when my seven year old self would say put on your gym gear, go for a walk, you know, again, go back to it’s not I’ve got to do something it’s I get to we get to exercise we get to move like when we’re 70 8090 we’re relying on our younger selves to have ourselves in the best condition possible when we’re that age. So it’s that’s how I start thinking about things to pull myself out of roles when I’m feeling a little bit net myself.

Sabina Brennan 35:00
Yeah, as you just said, They’re dancing with the stars ended suddenly. And so you had how many months with this fabulous community and on TV and and prior to that, four months? Yeah. Four months of challenging yourself achieving, being in the spotlight looking beautiful having people to

Anna Geary 35:22
know, but you know what I mean, running around in sequence.

Sabina Brennan 35:28
And then it’s suddenly gone.

Anna Geary 35:31
And ripped out from underneath me, like a lot of people will say, oh, did you find it hurts when you you got all the way to the final. And as a driven person that you lost, losing didn’t actually matter, and I can’t

Sabina Brennan 35:46
get you lost. You’re a finalist, like you, you won so many things, only one person can win the title. But everybody who takes part can win, where it’s very much for me, it

Anna Geary 35:57
was a big challenge,

Sabina Brennan 35:59
you’re gonna win it,

Anna Geary 36:00
what you don’t want. It’s funny. I never thought about the final. Because I was like, there’s so much that’s out of my control, because obviously, you can dance your heart out. But if you don’t get voted through, well, then it doesn’t matter. But I genuinely just kept going back to those milestones was week after week. Every Sunday was my milestone, if I got to that Sunday, it was like I rewarded myself. And you know, congratulations on my seven, I got you through another week. Because for me, the reward was getting to stay in that environment for another week and getting to dance as my job. You know, I was just 10 hours a day. And it was fun, like exhausting, but absolutely gray crap, I made some brilliant friends that I’m really close with now and that I feel like no one on my life. So we had a really good gang as well, that year, we socialize together afterwards. And we’d be in no to each other’s dress rehearsal giving each other sneak peeks. And it was really good supportive environment. Even though we were all really competitive, we want to stay in, it wasn’t at anyone else’s expense, you wanted to win, but in a weird way, you didn’t want to see anyone else go home. So you know, it was a really good environment to be in. But when it ended, I wasn’t prepared for that. And I’ll take people back a little bit just to give a quick backstory. So back in 2015, I would have made a lot of decisions. So I would have decided to retire from playing top level sport. I was 27 at the time and Captain so we just want the already to 2014 it was quite unusual.

Sabina Brennan 37:22
Can I just ask you that? Why did you decide to retire at 27? though? It’s

Anna Geary 37:27
a great question. And I think for me, I am much like you I’m an all or nothing mentality. And if I like if I’m in something, I give absolutely everything of myself. And around that time I’d gone back to qualify as a performance and mindset coach, and I suppose we had to delve into kind of our values and what we stood for and what we wanted out of life really big questions. And I started to realize that that idea of surviving or thriving, like was I surviving or thriving, and I felt while I was thriving in sport, I was only surviving in my job and not like not that what I was doing wasn’t great. It just wasn’t a great career for me. So I started to realize if I don’t change this, I’m going to drift. And I don’t want to drift to a point where I look back 10 years into going I really should have made changes a few years ago. So I knew I wanted to change career, I went back study again. And what I realized is I can’t do both. I can’t give everything off myself a top level sport, and then give everything off myself to forge a new career. Because we all know we’re starting a new career, you’re at the bottom rung of the ladder you’re doing doing sociable hours, you’re doing the things that no one else wants to do. And I didn’t want to be the player that was missing training in the lead up to big games because I had to fulfill commitments to work on it. Okay, if I can’t do both, well, then the guilt wouldn’t have allowed me to have half our stuff. So that okay, no, I had stepped back. So I made that decision when I stepped back that it was someone else’s turn to give everything off themselves to the jersey, and then I threw myself into work. So even though I retired from cork at that time, I had the promise and the prospect of a new career to kind of keep me interested, keep me excited, keep me distracted. Because when you make a big transition in your life and you leave something, it’s really important to fill that gap with something else because that’s where then you go down the wrong road and maybe you use other crutches like alcohol or gambling as your as to fill the gap. So I had this idea of working hard towards a new career to distract me. But then we don’t think with the stairs, I didn’t have anything else to fill the gap. So like that we adjust our lives adjuster put us in, in a pandemic, we build new habits, we you know, kind of our brain gets used to certain routines. And I was used to the routine six, seven days a week of getting up every morning and from morning to night dancing and suddenly finished the road was pulled out from underneath me and it was over and everyone else went back to normal life. You know, with their jobs, the protesters flew back and flew back to all their various different homes all over the world. And people had told me that you’ll be exhausted now accidentally You should take some time off. And I listened to them. And you know what, if ever, there was a time that I should have listened to my gosh, because I know me more better than anyone else does, I should have filled that gap with something else. But I didn’t. And I took time off. Or I remember my boyfriend at the time, my no husband and I went on a holiday after downstairs, worst holiday ever the poor devil, I was just in the depths of despondency, like I was like, Oh, you shouldn’t be done right now. And instead, I should have filled it with something else and new work project or something to just distracted me in that transition period out of it. So if anybody’s listening and you’re, you have something coming up a big change, like it’s then you need to throw yourself into something else. Because otherwise you’re alone with your thoughts. And we all know being alone, our thoughts when we’re not feeling our best, isn’t isn’t a good thing, or it’s not advisable. And like I had a brilliant time. And ultimately, that’s what it was about, I come off this wonderful experience. And I was looking and searching for something else to fill us. And it’s only now I realize I should have done something to distract myself in the in the immediate aftermath of us. So I will never be back again. And I think just to say, it made me realize as well that like, when you’re listening, we often will if we would be decision to make, or if we’re looking, we looked at everybody else for their advice and their opinion. And we forget to ask ourselves, because ultimately, it’s your life. If you’re involved. Nobody knows you better than you. And I learned that the hard way that time when I never made that mistake again. So it’s Yeah, it’s just sometimes the breaks need to be better timed, rather than in the immediate aftermath of something.

Sabina Brennan 41:36
Yeah, no, I totally agree. When you’re an actor, you learn that, you know, you get a gig you get, you know, and you join this whole new family. And it’s all about that, and it’s all consuming, and you’re the character and all that. And then it’s like that it’s happened, it’s just gone. And then you don’t know whether you’re ever going to get work again, that could be your last gig ever.

Anna Geary 41:54
How do you How did you cope with that?

Sabina Brennan 41:57
That’s very well. Not very well, to be perfectly honest. And it is a form of grief, I think when you finish, I know it sounds awful. But I’m quite happy to say that, like, you know, when you’re doing something that is all consuming for you that you love, when that stops, that’s a grief, it’s a loss, and your body has to have and your brain has to have time to adjust. And just stopping and thinking and thinking about loss doesn’t help you move forward and keeps you kind of stuck behind. And I do think you know, it really is critical. And I know you’ll hear people talk about, you know, in the mindfulness space about, oh, there’s an awful lot of buisiness do you know, and there is sometimes we do that. But in some moments, the being busy is really, really useful to, to carry you through to a space where you can start to deal with. And I also think it helps, I think one of the reasons it works is it helps put what you’ve just done or finished in perspective, that it is something and now you can have something else. And so I do that I actually tend on your bit the same, like we’re not friends, we don’t know each other. But I can just see by all the pies you have fingers in, you have things on rolling, there’s always sort of something going and I’m the same, you know, I have several kind of projects on the go. And sometimes it can feel like you’re spinning too many plates. Yeah. But I would much rather than have nothing to do. I can’t cope with the nothing to do. I just can’t and it sends me navel gazing. And is this what it’s all about. So that works for me. And I think for different people, different strokes for different folks. And you know, if it doesn’t work for you, well, then that’s absolutely fine. Some people who probably gave you the advice about being exhausted, they may just have needed to sleep for two weeks. And that works fine for them. It is about getting to know your body and your needs and your emotions and kind of how you cope with things.

Anna Geary 43:47
And even having a support structure as well though, is really important that those one or two people that you can call upon to be truly yourself. You know what I mean? Like that isn’t that you don’t have to put up the front. And you don’t have to pretend you’re fine. Because like you just said, I suppose in the grander scheme of things, like dancing with the stars, in many people’s eyes was just a to, like, Get over yourself. But like you just said it became my life for four months, everything revolved right. And I think my friends and family were sick of me talking about it, because, you know, I was dreaming in steps. I was dreaming Charleston and jive. And I had one or two friends that I could really confide in to say, I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, but I’m feeling in this lull. And I miss it. You know, being able to even acknowledge that to somebody and not feel judged and not feel that you have to pretend to be a certain way. That is really important. And if you only have one person that you can go to. And what I would say to people is be that person for someone else to you know, yeah. Have you ever actually said to your friends, you know what, I know you’ve got the job and the kids and the care and the house and your life looks perfect. But you know what if your life isn’t perfect, you can always pick up the phone to me and tell me that You’re looking at the four walls of your bedroom and you’re really hated and you want to kill you know your dog because it keeps backing during zoom meetings, but I will be that person for you. I think that’s a really valuable part of friendship. We don’t tell our friends that enough. And sometimes then people don’t know where to turn to when they are having a crap day because they allow you to have a crap day. Well, we all have crap days, and

Sabina Brennan 45:20
it’s all relative, you know, yes, people will always be dying. But like if your cat dies, that’s your cat dying? Do you know, it’s important to do you know, and I think what you’ve said, is really valuable. And it’s part of what you know, because people could look at you and go, Oh, my god, she’s good at everything she does, and blah, blah, blah, but you’re a human being underneath it all that has all those same sort of feelings as everybody else. And I did read in an interview where you said, Kevin, he was your boyfriend

Anna Geary 45:46
at the time.

Sabina Brennan 45:47
Yeah. But he saw the loneliness in you. And he knew how much it meant to you. And it is a loss. It’s definitely a grief. And one thing that kind of jumped out of me, I kind of remember when I was an actor like that, you know, anytime I acted or had, you know, had a storyline, it was like that Dancing with the Stars every time. Wow. And I remember having a conversation with a friend one time as well. And I remember saying, Well, what I do is so bloody frivolous, you know, it’s not meaningful, like, like to be doing something that sort of helps people or has meaning. But what that person said to me, again, a bit like you, it really struck a chord with me, and she said, what you do something very important, and I send it out, I’m an actor, I’m in the soap or whatever. And you said, Yeah, and that matters to people’s lives at home, you give them something that they can watch, and enjoy and switch off from their stress. So you are doing something that’s meaningful, and that matters. And so it is sort of the same, I think, you know, we’re dancing with the stars with all of those things. I think people who have never worked in television, and I think what social media feeds into it, you know, are dreadfully critical. They forget that it’s a human being there and say awful things about the size of people or you know, that I mean, it’s incredibly hurtful. But there is this sense that somehow I don’t know, when a person there are not a real person there

Anna Geary 47:11
on Well, I found I did find that even during Dancing with the Stars, I made a very conscious decision in that I was okay, this is my experience, it’s a once in a lifetime chance. I don’t want that to be like Mars by negativity, you know, and I have no problem with nobody being constructive, critical. Like I’ve grown up in the world of sports, it’s parent, yes, it’s great. But if somebody wants to be nasty, just because you know, they’re in a bad headspace, and they want to comment on how you’re looking in an old fish or, you know, whatever it is, I don’t need that. I don’t want that in my face, you know, you can back off. So one of my friends used to take charge of my phone and the live show day. So he would be just if there was any negative comments, delete them block people that were unnecessary. And again, I have no problem with somebody. And I said that it was like, if somebody has a critique, leave it there, I want to see that. Because maybe I can tweak it or improve myself. But I think what if somebody is just being nasty, for the sake fish, absolutely, go ahead and delete it. And it was the best thing ever that I did, because I wasn’t exposed to it, then

Sabina Brennan 48:14
that is a super super decision. Because as you touched on earlier, as human beings, we’re primed to the negative. And there’s good reason for that. But we have to remind ourselves that we will always notice the negative before the positive. So we have to make a very conscious effort to work on looking for the positive. And I always try and say, Look, if you say something negative about yourself to yourself in your head, don’t allow yourself say something negative till you said five positives to yourself, because you really need even that amount to counteract the negativity that you will

Anna Geary 48:45
have. But 100 positive messages come in, and you’ll see the one negative

Sabina Brennan 48:51
still see the negative that

Anna Geary 48:52
will be the one you’re looking at and go oh God, do I sound like that? Do I Do I look like that?

Sabina Brennan 48:58
So you know, I think you were so right, just not to view it. Because exactly that, and also it would have just stuck in your head. And instead of performing being in the moment of your dancing, you would have been thinking of that nasty thing. And so that would actually impact on your performance. And I think you did a super wise thing to just get rid of us. And actually, there’s another thing you’ve just reminded I listened to a little bit of a live you did the other night and you were talking briefly about meditation. You were saying you like the little one minute one zero.


I’m the same I can’t really do that kind of meditation meditation. But the thing is, and that’s what I frequently try to explain to people probably they’re sick of me saying it but I think you’re a prime example of it is dancing on that show was meditation or anything where you are fully in the moment doing what you’re doing is meditation.

Anna Geary 49:51
That’s why I love exercise because it is mindful for me because if you’re lifting a weight, or doing a burpee, or do you have to be focusing on what you’re doing You will fall over you will hate yourself of something or you hurt you. So you have to switch off from your toe. I can’t be thinking about putting the benzos if I’m they’re trying to do away,

Sabina Brennan 50:08
you have to be spent. Am I pushing them out? And that that’s super I can’t do burpees though. Oh, awful, awful, awful thing.

Anna Geary 50:17
That’s full body overall body.

Sabina Brennan 50:19
Day. Oh, God. Yeah, no, I have to get back at my all or nothing thing now is, yeah, like I knew my book was coming out and I knew I’d be doing TV and having photographs taken and all the rest. And so I like everybody else, my weight has just gone up and down over this pandemic, you know, and I got in shape I was walking every day. But then here’s what happens me then. So I’m all in I’m in good shape. And I’m feeling really good. And you know, the clothes are fitting, and it’s really nice. And the thing then that I’ve been preparing for, which was to say this book launch means that I am pulled in all directions, like every minute of every day for about four or five weeks, and I can’t fit in the workout. And then suddenly, I’m going on No, I have to start all over.

Anna Geary 51:03
But you know what that is about revising expectations. And I when I work with clients as well around mindset, it’s kind of around building a habit that’s sustainable. So doing five minutes every day is better than doing 20 minutes one day and then not doing it for another week. So I have a strive for five. So I’m like if you could pick five minutes with a lapse in between work meetings, first thing in the morning on your lunch, break, five minutes of exercise, pick five exercises, 60 seconds for each exercise, it’s done. And if you were to do that three times a day, four times a day, that’s 20 minutes of exercise, right? It doesn’t always have to be sweaty, I think, again, sometimes people say, well, in order for me to be working hard, I need to be sweating. You could be doing like I break things down for people in such a way. So if you have three cups of coffee during the day, and you’re buying kettle three times, and every time you do that,

Sabina Brennan 51:52
I’ve seen that one, she has a lovely little video.

Anna Geary 51:54
Yeah. And if you do that, that save you do 30 squats, right 30 squats a day. So every time you boil the kettle, that’s 10 squats, 30 squats a day in a week, that’s over 200 squats in a month, that’s over 800 squats, if I told you to do 800 squats in a month off the battery, but I never do that. But if I told you with just 10 squats, every 10 Press ups or 10 runs up and down the stairs, every single time you’re boiling the kettle, it’s far more achievable. So that’s a big thing with us when it comes to exercise is reevaluating our expectations. So if you were to say, right, on the days, I’m really busy, I’m going to do five minutes. And if I can get in, you know that various stage in the day, great. But if I only do five, well, you’re still gonna be feeling better about yourself, you’re still going to get physical effects, the mental effects, and you’re keeping the habit going, because that’s the problem, it’s when we break that habit. It’s the habit acting on over again, thinking about it is always worse than doing it. So doing as I say people doing five minutes is better than doing no matter.

Sabina Brennan 52:54
And I do have that I keep one set of small weights in my bedroom over by my dresser because I have a little six minute arm workout. And I often do that just passing by and kind of go there they are right do that. Yeah. And I always feel much better for it. I just wanted to say, obviously you absolutely adored Dancing with the Stars, what would be your ideal job now? Like it’s very clear that you love what you are doing and all the things you’re doing. But if it was all just to come together and work for it, what would it be? Would it be in television presenting? Would it be in? Oh, that’s

Anna Geary 53:28
it’s a really good question. Because there’s loads of different aspects to it. Like I suppose what I love about my job is that it’s central around people. And I really feed off people’s energy. And I know that and I love the even though I’m someone that loves being organized and loves routine, and love certainty to a point which you know, the world of media does not give you at all, as well as the benefits of working with people at way that certainty. You know, and I love the dynamic relationships that you have loads of different people on set. And I love TV broadcasting but I think radio broadcasting is something so intimate about it. And and as you’re removing that extra pressure of what you’re wearing, how you’re looking, and I love that medium, I’ve grown up with the radio always being on in our house and things can really connect with people on radio. So I love that and I love my role as a speaker as well. I love being able to feel that I can come into a group of people or into a workplace and talk to them about something and have a lasting impact and and not like them the feeling reenergized for like four hours. That’s it, then the next day they forget about it. But being able to kind of equip them with tips like to better their health and their mindset and practical ways they can improve their lives. So I would love to be someone that can combine both that I could speak nationally and internationally about ways to feel better. And then like that Radio TV broadcasting because like when I think back, it was back in 2015. Not that long ago, I was working in an office environment, you know, nine to half five and I’m not telling people to just, you know objects and leave their jobs. But what I’m saying is beyond the bone Three of what people would think if I leave a pensionable job and a stable career was this life now where I don’t have any Sunday dread, I don’t drag on back to my job after holidays, because I’m doing something that I see. And not just that I love, but that I feel, I can actually contribute to, you know, that I’m using my strengths. Now, in the role that I was in, I just didn’t feel that I was getting the best out of myself. And we all want to feel that we’re getting the best out of ourselves. So like, I love talking clearly. The fact that I get paid for it many different levels. I’m like teaching and I’m just like, you know, the teachers when I was growing up that you reprimand me for talking in class, and I’m like, now who’s laughing? You know, and it’s wonderful to feel that I can do that every single person that’s listening here has something that they’re good at, that you Yes. And it’s just about finding a way to bring that into your career in some way, shape, or form. And if you do, you’ll feel all the better for us, you know, and you would feel all the better from being around you as well. Because Yeah, I would always say people are two types of people, you’re either an energy drain, or you’re an energy train. And depending on your life circumstances, we can kind of you know, flip between both. But if you can, more often than not be that train, be that person that encourages people that drives people on that lifts people up and that you do for yourself as well, you’ll live a little bit better, like your your house won’t change your job career might change, you know, the actual physical things might change. But if you can make yourself feel a little bit better, it means your life is going to be that little bit better, because you’re going to go through it, looking at things in a more positive way. Rather than feeling Oh, is it only Tuesday roll on the weekend? That’s not a Well, yeah,

Sabina Brennan 56:42
I mean, that’s just That’s no way to live. And I did that I did that for 15 years, I worked in a job. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, and a lot of people are doing that. And we can’t all kind of give up. But a lot of people love the jobs that you and I didn’t like me, and for a lot of people, what we do would be their idea of how, like, people say that to me. Oh my god, what are you terrified going on the telly? No, we can’t wait for that. I’m like,

Anna Geary 57:11
don’t tell them but I do it for free.

Sabina Brennan 57:14
Don’t tell you to do it for free? What are we just thinking back to what you said? Like he only get one bite of that cherry? So you know, we spend so much of our time working? really do look at it and see, is there any way you can make it better? Or is there other aspects of your life where you can get that balls that we happen to get out of our jobs, because not everybody is going to get it at their job, but you might make your enjoyable by getting it out of a hobby or sport or you know, something else?

Anna Geary 57:43
And everyone listening should do that, like you should, okay, because it’s very hard. And I often do this exercise with groups of adults and you just see them squirm and cower in a corner of like, Okay, if, you know, if I went to read through and said, you know, name a weakness for me, you know, the bathroom? They go, I give you five, you know, yeah. Then you ask them, what’s your strength? Yeah. And everyone’s like, I don’t want to be the person. And that’s one of two reasons. Number one, some people might never really acknowledged what they’re good at before. And that’s the mindset of language. But also, it’s the fact that you’re terrified of judgment, like who is he or she to say that about themselves, they know like that, like, even that one loves herself is seen as a negative, it’s seen as an insult, you know, this notions concept.

Sabina Brennan 58:26
And then it’s self help. You’re saying, you got to learn to love yourself. And the same person saying that it’s gonna look at your own look at ourselves, looking in the mirror, think she’s great.

Anna Geary 58:37
She loves herself. So it is and I would say if you if you wrote down everything that you were good at the top of my list, when I did that exercise, it was talking, talking to people, they were the two things that are really similar to what can I do to find myself moving towards a job or a coffee or whatever, where I was talking and with people and I find myself where I am no, no, things change, people change. But ultimately, I think it is about doing that and forgetting the judgment of people. That’s why your support structure is so important. And know we can cut people out of our lives that are negative sometimes because they might be your boss or a family member.

Sabina Brennan 59:11
But it’s about number one, and you can ultimately if it gets too bad. Yeah. What’s the point of self preservation? Yeah. Surround yourself with positive people. And that doesn’t mean surround yourself with as often you know, people will talk about celebrities. Oh, they’ve Yes, man all around them, you know, tell them how brilliant they are touch. That’s not what that is. You know, people that you can trust are people who will keep an eye on you and who will say, you know, that’s not good for you, or that’s not really you, Anna, or you’re a little bit rude to them. You know, that’s people who loves you. They’ve got your back. They’re saying it because they know Yeah,

Anna Geary 59:47
I’ve a great story, actually very quick one about my dad. So about your support structure, like your support structure isn’t always people that encourage you and tell you, you’re great until you’re marvelous. Sometimes you do need your support structure to give you the perspective or pull you back and say hang on there and I was second, you need to come back down to earth. So back in 2010, we were out of the big finals, so I had a chance to do some radio commentary on radio one. And for any of your UK listeners, Niala. Murthy is one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. And I had an opportunity to do a call commentary with him and Radio One, he’s actually that probably was the impetus for me wanting to get into TV and radio broadcasts. I loved the balls that came from live energy. To me, it was the same as working out with the pitch and all that and finally day, and I remember being up there and I was just like, he was one of my heroes. I was just so nervous, but so excited. And he was so engaging and welcoming. And I remember I met my dad the next day after the match. And because I’d come down late the night before and the train and I said what you think, you know, desperate for that? validation? Joy, Dad, what did you think? And my dad was reading the newspaper. And he was like, yeah, you know, it did well, but I, you know, I wanted more. And I was like, probing and I said, Well, yeah, what was your favorite parts? But what did you did you think I made a really good comment. And he paused and I remember him looking at me dead certain dog. He said, Did you hear about me all my heart like, no, no wash. He was like, Johann Murthy just announced his retirement. And I was like, wow. And my immediate reaction was to feed it with smoke. And while I was one of the last people to do a live broadcast with the new halmer, high tech, and instead my Dad, I’m security, knowing this was going on in my head said, Imagine that man has given decades to broadcasting and an hour with you when he decides to call it a day.

Absolutely disgusted

that my dad would say that. I don’t remember being quite annoying. Just nothing to do me. No, I was quite young at the time. But now I look back and realize he was just bringing him back down to earth. You know, he’s like, no, wait on the job well done. But it was only one gig like, Don’t get too carried away with yourself. And I laugh now. And he still tells me to the day that he didn’t do that. But I remember he did. It was a great lesson. You know, you can’t be the Irish as well to be pulling you back down.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:03
Yeah, sometimes they trample all over you and they don’t like people get you know, that’s

Anna Geary 1:02:07
not always a good thing. But not always a good one.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:10
But I think it’s something that I kind of learned a while ago. And I kind of pass it on as well that if you were going to believe all the good things that are said about you, you have to believe all the bad things that are said about it in the press, if that’s it as well. So actually, really, what you do is you work to reach the standards where you feel you’ve attained what and actually really, then what others think, doesn’t matter. That’s very hard. But you do you know, you have to find that balance. And it’s a dangerous route, if you do go too far down that of taking the praise, because then it’s a very hard argument with yourself then about the negativity. I’m all for it. Like I mean, you know, I’m all for criticisms. That’s how we learn. It’s important. But I just think social media has done this thing that allows people to just be plain nasty, which is really nice. And that’s something that you’ve achieved, you know, is that you’ve always come across as this really, really good natured. You’re competitive?

Anna Geary 1:03:09
Well, the way I see competitiveness as well is and I remember I was actually asked this during dance with the stairs. They said, Oh, she’s, she’s the competitive one. And I was like, I started going through the list of the people that were all doing nothing for stairs. And I was like, she’s, you know, a very good businesswoman, you know, top class, comedian, and Olympian, I was like, hang on, say, What am I the competitive one, just cuz I’m a woman playing sport. So I think it’s like, we again go back to language. And I challenged the radio presenter at the time, and I just said to him do have kids. And he was like, Yeah, I have two young girls. And I said, Oh, interesting. I was like that, would you not want them to grow up to be driven and ambitious, and to go after their goals. And to give it the best that they have is, of course, they wouldn’t say, well, that, to me is being competitive. I think I’m not ruthless. I think some of my best friends are opponents on varying teams that I’ve played against over the years that were great pals. But once we crossed that white line, I’m going to do everything I can to be as driven as I can to move towards my goals. And I think you’re right, like, being competitive, shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. It’s just once you’re not ruthless, and like the difference between being assertive as a man and maybe being a bitch, as a woman, again, we just need to, we need to be very careful with the language that we use, because it does have an impact. It does have a lasting effect. And I would be quite conscious of that you even if you meet somebody, and they’ve lost a lot of weight, how you speak to them, is really important. Do you say to them, you look great, you look really healthy? Or do you say, Oh my god, you look so skinny, you know, and then I’m sitting there going, Oh, looking good means looking skinny, and that’s what they hear. Or that could be a trigger for them. You don’t know what anybody else is going through. So we do need to be a little bit more mindful of how we speak to people and it’s easy to go out. That’s just so PC it’s not because the way it was long gone isn’t always the best way either. Like I’m not about being overly PC at all, but we just we need to be mindful of the language that Use because it can have an effect and it can have a lasting effect on people.

Sabina Brennan 1:05:05
And I think it’s a fine balance. You know, I said at the start there, you know, you’re very much about body positive body image, but it’s about body fish. So I do think that’s a fine balance, you know, I

Anna Geary 1:05:16
mean, it is not good for any organ in your body for you to be overweight and unfit. So I think there’s often a confusion, that being positive about body image is sort of permissive to accepting a body that actually really is very, very unhealthy. There are two different things, and I think it can get confused. And one final point, actually, and that Sabina as well as when it comes to body positivity, and we see this movement on social media now. And I’m kind of unsure about it if I’m honest, because I’m all about people saying, I love my body, and you have to love your body, and love every part of your body because it’s yours. I slightly disagree with that. I think it’s about body acceptance, rather than body positivity, because you’re not going to love every part of your body. And that’s okay, expecting everybody to love all of their body, it’s a very tall order, whereas expecting them or ask them to accept it. And then knowing what parts they can improve. And then knowing what parts that you know, that is just what it is. That’s really important, too. Because sometimes we’re seeing no everyone’s sitting in a way that makes them look like they have roles. And you know what, I don’t care and I’m a real woman, and I’ve stretched maximize cellulite. Let’s be honest, if you didn’t think they were a big deal, why you highlighting them in a social media post? Like that, almost what you’re saying isn’t exactly what you’re showing?

Sabina Brennan 1:06:32
Yeah, yeah, I agree with you. And actually, what you’ve just sort of touched on as a form of therapy for change. So acceptance and Commitment Therapy. And so it’s about accepting where you are now and then committing to change. Nice, you know, my weight goes up and down. But uh, but I am really aware that it’s something that really impacts on your health and even your risk for developing dementia, midlife obesity in you makes you more likely to develop dementia in later life. So

Anna Geary 1:06:57
and I suppose is trying to undo some of the damage as well that social media and online and magazines that have been happening for decades, it’s not like that just social media came along. And suddenly, people became conscious of their bodies like this has been happening. When we opened magazines, and down to the years, there’s always been this pressure to look a certain way and obviously down through the centuries, that look. Yeah, but and culturally, it changed. Yeah, exactly. So it does depend. But I think I do welcome the type of movement where people are taking the glass off the filters of social media. You know, this is me, and I have a little bit of eggs, man, I have a little bit of dry skin or say loader strict wreck and normalizing the things that are normal. But I just think we need to not take it to the other extreme then and that nearly there I say instead of fat shaming, your fit, shaming, you know, and we don’t want to do that either. And like he said, ultimately, for me, somebody that has a real respect for my body in terms of functionally how it helps me. And also I want to live till I’m 70 at, you know, 90,

Sabina Brennan 1:08:02
yeah, I don’t want to just live till then I want to live well to them, and you need your body to support you to them. And thank you so much, Anna, it’s been absolutely fabulous talking with you. Before you go, I just want to ask you, you’ve given loads of tips and advice on it throughout. And I really do say urge anybody who’s on Instagram go follow energy cork, I’m going to start doing those little five a day ones as well, it’s a great

Anna Geary 1:08:29
way to do I put them off Actually, I have reels for people. So I do a 345 reel, the five exercises. And again, you just do 60 seconds for each one. And again, it’s all about mixing things up, try new exercises, because then your body and your mind and Doctor complacent. And again, it’s about being present. Because if you’re doing any new movement, you have to really focus on what you’re doing. And that means then you’re stepping away from whatever stress you had in work or in family. So you’re getting a triple whammy with exercise and I’m such an advocate for it. But when you do the kind of exercise you’re talking about, you’re getting the benefit of the exercise itself. The fitness from if you’re your body, your cardiovascular health and your brain. But your brain is also being challenged because it’s having to learn a new and that’s so learning is key to keeping your brain healthy because it promotes neuroplasticity exercise on its own actually

Sabina Brennan 1:09:13
releases chemicals that actually make it easier for neuroplasticity to occur. So there’s a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic factor BDNF. It’s like Miracle Gro for the brain. So it actually makes your brain more fertile for growing new connections. So stimulating your brain and learning new things stimulate neuroplasticity, the physical exercise is making the garden fertile the brain garden and you can grow and you want more connections and denser connections in your brain to stay healthy. But also when you exercise, you get a release of serotonin and you get that release of feel good hormones. And then on top of that, it’s a great stress buster. It also helps you to sleep better, which is really, really critical for your brain. It’s just an absolute all rounder certainly for me from a brain perspective. So

Anna Geary 1:09:59
It is not just about your body is an instrument, not an ornament, instruments, not an ornament. Yeah, and it’s about what you do with this. And just remember for everybody that there’s an exercise that you’re that you enjoy, you don’t have to do something that you don’t enjoy. There’s so much out there now. And there’s so much online as well, that you just find the even if right, I challenge anybody, if you don’t like exercise, put your favorite song on. Yeah, and dance for five minutes non stop without taking a break, you will be sweating by the end of that five minutes, because you will have moved your body. And movement is movement. And if you do something you enjoy, you’re far more likely to go back to it again and again.

Sabina Brennan 1:10:37
So if you were to pick one, one tip for people, what would it be? Okay,

Anna Geary 1:10:41
I suppose it would follow on from what we were talking about no breaking down goals. Everybody has got goals. And sometimes I would say to people, like are you a goal setter, or you will go getter. So if you want to be a goal getter, it is about looking at your day and breaking it down and saying how can I build working towards that goal into my day. So your day, 1440 minutes, if you were to make 1% improvements towards your goal 1% of your day is just in the rain, 15 minutes. So if you were only to dedicate 15 minutes every day, 1% of your day, you can have the 99% to do whatever you want. 1% of your day goes towards whatever goal you have, in a year, that’s over 90 hours, 90 hours to work towards the goal is worth learning a new language learning to bake getting Fisher, I think sometimes we overwhelm ourselves, we feel we need the hour, we need, you know, 15 minutes, just 1% your day. And I find when I’m struggling to work towards the goal that I have telling myself it’s only 1% of my day me it makes it more realistic. And if you can be consistent and dedicating that 1% putting 90 hours towards anything is going to make it a hell of a lot easier to achieve that goal. So that’s what I would say is break it up into realistic milestones. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. And just take it day by day. And it’s like climbing a mountain you might not have got to the top straightaway. But if you look back down, you’ll realize just how far you’ve come and that can give you a boost to like that progress can be motivating. It’s not just about hitting the end goal. It’s about focusing on the progress well to give you the boost.

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 9

Difficult Decisions with Mark Cagney

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

In this episode I take a deep dive into the life and brain of one of Ireland’s most respected broadcasters, Mark Cagney. In this the first of a two-parter, we talk about , running away from home, family rifts, the tragic loss of his young wife and making difficult decisions. 

During this episode we discuss

  • His life growing up in Cork
  • Running away from home as a teen
  • Family rifts
  • The tragic loss of his young wife Anne when he was 34


Bereavement Support

Guest Bio

Mark Cagney is one if Ireland’s most respected broadcaster best known for presenting Ireland AM for twenty years

Over to You

If Mark’s story resonated with you in any way please let me know in the comments below.

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


S3:E9 Mark Cagney Transcript

Sabina Brennan 00:51

We couldn’t call each other friends we don’t know each other, actually, really the

occasions we’ve met is I’m normally in the chair that you’re in. So you’ve interviewed me a

few times on a few occasions for Ireland AM. TV show that you led for 20 years. And then

more recently, you’ve interviewed me on the radio on Newstalk. But remotely, because

we’re in lockdown. Your voice is unique. You have a wonderful voice for radio, I remember

back, I’m of that age. I remember pirate radio stations. For listeners who are quite young

here, you might not be aware, but sort of when I was growing up, you had the boring sort

of RTE, the national radio station. And then you could tune into radio Luxembourg, for the

charts to hear some pop music. And then there was suddenly this explosion of pirate radio

stations, which was, it just was so anarchic. At the time, it was just really, really exciting to

be hearing this, it just felt so new. And this is back at a time where we didn’t have internet,

we, Ireland was very much a small island, nobody came to do pop concerts here. You

know everything we ate up everything that Well, I certainly did, in terms of music from

magazines, or you know, other channels. And this was really new, and you were one of the


Mark Cagney 02:19

Yeah, it’s an interesting, culturally, the country is so different, it may as well be another

planet, Sabina, it’s very hard to explain. I mean It’s hard to explain to our kids now what

life was like before smartphones, to explain to them what it was like before satellites and

multi channel TV. It’s like trying to explain to somebody who has never seen a black and

white photograph what it actually is, but without being able to show them. If you were a

child of the 50s, as I was born in ’56. Obviously, I didn’t live through the birth of rock and

roll. But I would have been aware of it. And more importantly, I would have been aware of

the effects of what it did, culturally to kids, it was a total rebellion, against their norms, in

terms of the music, in terms of the fashion that went with it in terms of the literature and

the writing that went with it as well. So we thought about the world and our place in the

world in a totally different way to the way that our parents would have and our parents

would have had their lives pretty well mapped out for them by their parents and our

parents, parents were Victorian, would have been born in the late 1900 (sic), early part of

the century. And again, even with the benefit of history it’s very hard for us to understand

what that would have been like but Ireland, and I suppose the world, but also later than

most other parts of it because we are basically a rock, a remote rock off the west coast of

Europe,. Technicolor came to us quite late. And we were getting it in dribs and drabs. We

were getting it in magazines. We were getting it in radio stations, like Luxembourg or radio

North Sea and it would waft in and out and depending what the weather was, you might

get it or not. So you read about this Technicolor world of youth and music and fashion and

all that went with it. You had very few physical examples of it. So I came from, I came up

through that generation, then obviously, people on the east coast of Ireland had BBC and

a bear in mind that

Sabina Brennan 04:14

We had. So I was born in ’62. So a few years, you know, but it’s around the same sort

because as you say, it was kind of slow, slow happening, a slow boil in Ireland. And

growing up, we could get HTV,

Mark Cagney 04:27

which was Harlock. Yeah, and it was Welsh. Welsh TV

Sabina Brennan 04:31

It was ITV but we could just pick up the Welsh TV and I was the youngest of five. So I had

to stand with the rabbit’s ears to try and get them. You know, because people got it

through aerials or whatever. And

Mark Cagney 04:43

Try explaining that to kids now

Sabina Brennan 04:44

it’s pretty incredible to see the insular way we grew up and you were very much, So like. I

totally identify with what you’re saying. So my parents generations My dad was 42 when I

was born, so he was born in 1921. They were of their generation, which was was that they

were just lucky to be alive. And they were lucky to have a job. And they just followed that.

They didn’t question. They didn’t think outside the box as to how their life was to be lived. I

don’t think they realized there was choice or

Mark Cagney 05:17

as I get older, I do realize that I did have this conver.., these conversations. My father,

eventually, they had exactly the same questioning and rebellious feelings that we did. But

they had no context in which to express them. You know, my father was a jazz musician,

and he grew up

Sabina Brennan 05:33

Wow, I didn’t know that. That was he was a professional musician. I know. He did other the

things as well. He was, also he was in UCC, electric electronics, etc, etc. He was a brilliant

Mercurial man, smartest man I’ve ever met bar, his father, my grandfather, a mind that

was like Quicksilver and almost impossible to pin down, he could put his, turn his hand to

anything, had his papers as a mechanic because he wanted to be able to fix cars properly.

Also got his papers as a welder. So he had two trades, right, as well as having gone to

college to do electronics. But he was actually a musician first and foremost. And rock and

roll used to be called the devil’s music, but in actual fact the first devil his music was jazz.

He was every bit as rebellious and his generation had they had all the same rebellious

feelings and thoughts. They didn’t want what has gone before, but they didn’t have either

the outlet or the conditioning. I think we’re conditioned in another way. Well, they were

conditioned not to question

Mark Cagney 06:27

when we were as well. But I have to say, Well, my father was quite, you know, he was a

very, we had very bohemian house give you an example of how he.. things were, right. I

lived at the top Patrick Hill in Cork? Yeah. And all my friends lived, you know, kind of

halfway down the hill. And we were lucky because we had these two huge playing pitches,

open green spaces. So during long summer evenings, the pitches would be full of before

with all the local lads, would be playing football, some would be playing Gaelic, some

playing soccer, some playing hurling, whatever. And at eight o’clock on a summer’s

evening, I’d have to go in. Yeah, no, it wouldn’t get dark until nine half nine, but I would

have to go in and he would come out, and he would call me and which is mortifying. I

would go home, grumbling and, and mortified, embarrassed, because like they all be

going ha ha in to bed early. But as soon as I got home, that was grand I was in. And then I

could stay up until 12 o’clock. I could go and play records I could read. We had in those

days were television was still very primitive, and black and white. But you know, you could

do all of that. But it was just that. ‘My castle and my rules’.

Sabina Brennan 07:30

I wanted to go back to the music thing, because again, as I do with all my guests, I’ve

been doing as much stalking of you as I can. And I did know that your father was a

musician. I didn’t know that it was the jazz but

Mark Cagney 07:39

when he started out as a jazz musician, he was a purist. Right. And, you know, jazz was the

rock and roll of its day. And he did very well with it. He moved up to Dublin, played with

some big bands up there. Real jazz, like Duke Ellington type jazz, almost symphonic jazz.

And then, you know, Basie and the swing bands came in. And he really loved that because

he was a rhythm player. He was primarily guitar and bass. And he was not interested,

although he knew everything, pretty much that there was to know about what he needed

to play the way he did. But he was interested in rhythm and swing and driving and the

pulse and the heartbeat and he would go listen, I don’t care about solos because I used to

say to him how come you never solo? Guitar players didn’t at that stage, primarily a

rhythm instrument and he said I’m no no interested in it, he said, rhythm is king But the big

bands became economically not viable. Then they became, I suppose jump bands and

then effectively show bands and if you were to remember remember when he would have

started off he would have been in bands like Billy bronze band, there would have been 25

people more 15 to 20 people it

Sabina Brennan 08:37

Not a chance in a million year of making any money

Mark Cagney 08:39

when I say slimmed down, they then became

Sabina Brennan 08:42

became the Show bands

Mark Cagney 08:43

The show bands became the show bands. And he would have been in one of the first

generation of show bands in Ireland in the 50s band called the Reagan, like his

contemporaries would have been the early Royal show band and the Tipper Carlton’s and

those people who were all ex-jazzers, and that when on Monday nights, which is the

musicians night off, they would get together and jam in some club or some venue. And

then they would play their music, which would be always be, you know, jazz, and

everything from some Dixieland, swing, and then the cooler stuff, you know, Parker, and

early Duke Ellington, and people like that. So

Sabina Brennan 09:17

I know that you had said somewhere that you always loved music you would have liked to

have been,

Mark Cagney 09:22

well, my first choice. I wanted to be a musician. You see my father was professional

musician, but also, so were two of my aunts, my Mary, Mary, and Eileen, but Mary had the

more successful career of them because she would have sung with a lot of those bands.

And then she went to America, and before the Ed Sullivan Show, which people of a certain

generation will remember because it did launched people like, you know, the Beatles, and

the Stones in the States, but I mean he was the he was the Gay Byrne of America. But

before that, there was a guy called Arthur Godfrey, who ran for years in the 50s in the

States, and his was a variety show rather than, you know, chat show or And there was a

talent type Opportunity Knocks-type aspect to that show. So he would bring on new

performers and depending on how the audience voted or reacted to them they will be


Sabina Brennan 10:08

a version of what is The Voice

Mark Cagney 10:10

yeah yeah

Sabina Brennan 10:10

those now, there’s always been versions, they’re not new things

Mark Cagney 10:13

nothing new

Sabina Brennan 10:13

Hughie Green show was one that we

Mark Cagney 10:15

Opportunity Knock

Sabina Brennan 10:16

Yeah, yeah.

Mark Cagney 10:16

Well, she ran on that show for 26 weeks

Sabina Brennan 10:18


Mark Cagney 10:19

Which would have been on primetime television in the States. Now, she got picked up by

some producers in Broadway. And she did her own show over there. She did a show on

Broadway called The Belle of New York.

Sabina Brennan 10:29


Mark Cagney 10:29

And the signature role in that is Mimi, and that was Mary’s role. And so she had a very

successful career. And then as a result of that, herself and Eileen, Mary would have been a

much better all round performer but her sister, my aunt Eileen had a much purer voice,

technically a beautiful voice and could sing anything but hated performing. She was, used

to be, physically ill. Mary loved it she was a natural-born performer. But they were invited

to tour with Arthur Feeler and the Boston Pops. So she had a stellar career. I mean, she

made records for Glenside. Remember, back in the in the days of sponsored programs,

there used to be a program called the Glenside Show. Glenside were an Irish record label.

I think that the tag was “If you’re going to sing a song, sing an Irish song”, So that Mary

had quite a few records done for them but she got tired of the road and she got fed up

with it. You know this it’s great when you’re in your 20s in your 30s you get to mid 30s. And

on and you know, it takes a toll you get haggard you get fed up of sharing a couch with,

you know, 25 men and all that goes with that. And you just want to be at home, you know,

you want to wake up in your own bed. So she came back but when she was in America,

she she got very friendly with a woman called Helena Rubinstein, or Helena Rubinstein.

She was one of the doyens of makeup and beauty. So she got very friendly with her. I think

she might have been a fan of her music or whatever. And Mary’s a very striking looking

woman and would have had to do her own makeup, you know, obviously would, you

know, they didn’t have makeup artists back in those days all the girls took care of

themselves and looked very glamorous, because you’re on the road and you’ve got 25

men who are not going to help you with it. So she said, Would you be interested in doing

that I’m going to open up in Europe. And then so Mary went to work for her and there was

the Helena Rubenstein counter in Lester’s pharmacy,

Sabina Brennan 12:14

which is like a boots.

Mark Cagney 12:16

Well, it would have been old school, it would be big. And you mean you had the Munster

arcade, you had Cashes, your grocery stores and you had the Lester’s

Sabina Brennan 12:24

this was in cork

Mark Cagney 12:25

Mark Cagney 12:25

so when she came back, she just basically went into the cosmetics business. She stood at

that counter for I don’t know, another 25 or 30 years

Sabina Brennan 12:32

So Mary played a huge role in your life. There’s a couple of things I want to ask is, and you

did end up in a career in music as a disc jockey,

Mark Cagney 12:39

because it was as close as I could get

Sabina Brennan 12:40

Yes. Why? Did you try?

Mark Cagney 12:43

My manual dexterity? just wasn’t there? I have a very good ear. Yeah. I have a pretty good

time. Kind of a built in clock metronome. Just the fingers wouldn’t work. Maybe I tried the

wrong instrument. And did you try your voice as an instrument I couldn’t sing to save my

life saved my life. Really? Oh, no, no, no, no.

Sabina Brennan 12:59

And that’s funny, because you know,

Mark Cagney 13:01

my father could sing as well. By the way. He was a good singer. Hands like a labourer. you

will go How can he play? And you won’t hear him play the piano really didn’t know he

actually really like to stomp? you know, but they’re incredibly delicate. And he could work

with tiny little screws and electronics and stuff like that

Sabina Brennan 13:01

Isn’t it interesting.And it’s incredible. But what amazes me and like, sort of, I suppose and

anyone out there as well, you know, if you’ve ever wanted to, you can try and you can

learn some things that

Mark Cagney 13:26

I tried. I tried. I tried. And what’s that, from? I don’t know, Shakespeare and possibly you

can say Shakespeare who’s going to disagree with you. But ‘be careful, be careful lest you

trample or crush my dreams’. my father was, as I said a little earlier, he was incredibly

bright. And worse than that. He had a facility to absorb knowledge in Mercurial, he could

pick something

Sabina Brennan 13:49

What do you mean by Mercurial?

Mark Cagney 13:51

Well, his his mind was Mercurial in the sense that he was always coming up with things, he

was always looking at new things, he was always going at, I could make that better. And

he would right, he did have a Mercury of temper too. Short and sharp and blow up, but

not frightening. But his mind was constantly moving in different directions. And as he did

that, he had the ability to absorb things. So for example, he could take up a new

instrument that wasn’t his primary or secondary instrument. And, you know, I remember

once he was asked, there was a gig, going with a really, really good Caberet band, and

they said, Look, we don’t need a guitar player, bass player, we do need a piano player.

Actually, what we really need is an organ player, because in those days, you could§ get

organs that had bass pedals,

Sabina Brennan 14:32

Right? right.

Mark Cagney 14:32

So he could take care of all the keyboard stuff, and then he could play the bass pedals as

well. He said, Well, I haven’t done that. He said, give me give me a while. So he got an

organ. And within two weeks, he was good enough to go on and get paid And play it and

get one partly not just play, but actually play to a level where it was acceptable for a

professional outfit

Sabina Brennan 14:50

So how was that for you?

Mark Cagney 14:51

It’s incredibly frustrating.

Sabina Brennan 14:52

Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say for you growing up. How was that seeing

Mark Cagney 14:55

It meant you were never good enough You could never do anything as well as he could..

He would ask you to do a job and he would say, listen, strip that wallpaper or paint that,

and you do it to the best of your ability as an 11, 12, 13 year old, And then he was your God

if you want something done, do it yourself. you know, and you just kind of now he, these

days in this current ‘woke’ world that we live in, you know, people would be on onto

Childline you know going…I’m being killed

Sabina Brennan 15:06

it was just never… Oh gosh look sure half

Mark Cagney 15:22

my esteem has been destroyed by my parents and all the rest of it. But he just had a

facility to get stuff really, really quick. He was super smart. He had an enquiring mind, and

he had a facility to absorb stuff. And he would be able to absorb it and then use it,

Sabina Brennan 15:35

he was always frustrated by other people who can’t operate at the same level as him.

Mark Cagney 15:40

Yeah, the downside of that was is that because he could do that his attention span was

minuscule. And he didn’t finish things.

Sabina Brennan 15:50

Oh, okay. So he didn’t follow through. He just was flitting around

Mark Cagney 15:53

because it came too easy to him,

Sabina Brennan 15:54


Mark Cagney 15:54

Because it came way too easy to him. And he didn’t understand people for whom things

didn’t come easily too, for example, me with music. You’d never live up to it, you’d never

match it, I’d never be able to play an instrument like he was never the smart as he was, I

could never do things the way he did. But I mean, again, the otherside of that he was

forever taking things apart and putting them back together again, and they would work

better, was extraordinary. But it just drove my mom crazy. We had this enormous dinner

table in our house. And it was like, I have four sisters and three brothers. So there was eight

of us. And You’re the eldest of eight. I’m the eldest. So the table had to be big enough to

take all eight of us. plus my parents. And then of course, my father going ah well look we

always need a bit of extra room on my mother was, was a tailor/ dressmaker. So she

needed a really big

Sabina Brennan 16:36

table for cutting out

Mark Cagney 16:38

Exactly, all of that kind of stuff. So there was, it was enormous. I mean, you could have

fitted another six or eight, maybe another six people. And I remember for months, there

was an engine at the end of that. And the reason we all remembered is that because for

about six or eight months, our food all tasted of oil, because there was this Mercedes

engine, he was fac.. He was obsessed with Mercedes cars, that engine at the end of the

thing that he was rebuilding, and he was doing it and I remember my mother losing her

mind on occasions, quite ‘Jesus Christ Johnny’ I’m sick to death of the food tasting of oil.

oh boy, when do you ever get that bloody thing off it? And that’s

Sabina Brennan 17:13

and I’m not diagnosing anyone. But it does sound slightly manic, you know?

Mark Cagney 17:19

He was mad, and it was loose, and it was bohemian. And all of my friends thought it was

great this place.

Sabina Brennan 17:24

So if this fabulous sort of, well, it sounds sort of fabulous, unusual, bohemian life. You have

this amazing dad that you’ve just described. And then at 16

Mark Cagney 17:36

oh well it had started before that

Sabina Brennan 17:37

15? you left because you’re only a child, whatever age, whether you were 15 or 16 you left


Mark Cagney 17:42

All his bohemian outlook on life and in questioning everything and questioning convention

and being you know, quite unconventional in his own way. He wanted very conventional

upbringing for us. So my educational and career path was mapped out and he used to say

listen, go to college, get your degree then you can have your life then you can do what

you want. But until then, my house my rules this what’s going to happen. His father had

been a, was a doctor, had been surgeon, his brother was one. Another brother was in the

Air Corps was a commandant in the Air Corps. But he was the rebel, himself and Mary

were the rebels

Sabina Brennan 18:12

both extremely successful in what they have to

Mark Cagney 18:15

academically yes they’d all done well, but still very conventional, Cork. You’re going to the

right schools.

Sabina Brennan 18:21

So you’re very posh sort of.

Mark Cagney 18:24

I had a very.I had a very good private education. My brothers, my sisters went to Saint

Angela’s, at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill, we lived at the top I went to Christians, which

would be the equivalent of Black Rock, I suppose.

Sabina Brennan 18:35


Mark Cagney 18:35

Christians and Pres. So yeah, I had the benefit of all of that. But my father had everything

mapped out for me. And I had other ideas. And I didn’t want what he, I didn’t want to go

to college, I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to be told what to do. I wanted to be

able to grow my hair as long as I wanted. I wanted to be involved in music in some form or

fashion. And, you know, I was 14 / 15 / 16 and waiting till I was 23 / 24 and came out of

college. Just like 1 0 years is a lifetime not having any of that. And I was also again a bit

like him, a lot like him questioning and stubborn and like why. I painted a picture of him

being kind of very authoritarian. And he was in many ways, you know, we had very boho

of kind of existence and command structure and hierarchy within the house, and then

quite strict as far as it looked from the outside. But we were all encouraged. Like one of

my grandfather’s great saying was that education is no burden. You can do everything

Sabina Brennan 19:36

the great liberator

Mark Cagney 19:36

Absolutely you should do everything. You should do everything you possibly can, read as

much as you can. learn as much as you can, ask as many questions as you can, because

you can’t know too much. Use it. And what was nothing used to say is is the older I get, the

more I realise how little I actually really know. So that was encouraged in our house and

big house that people were sitting around talking and you were encouraged to think and

you’d be questioned on it So you have to have sharp elbows both physically and also

mentally. And, like I had the biggest mouth, and I had the most questioning mind and I

didn’t understand why the contradictions. You know ‘You didn’t do what your father did’.

Sabina Brennan 19:39


Mark Cagney 19:44

you know you’d have taken over his practice you’d have become a doctor like your

brother Michael did. No you didn’t want to do that? No, you want to do music you want to

follow your heart. Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. So

that’s what I want to do. ‘My house my rules, You don’t like it? There’s the door’. One day I

went, Okay, so I took the door. And I’ve never really talked to him about what he thought

whatever. But he his immediate reaction was, okay, so you made your bed now you lie on

it. I’m not gonna ask you to come back

Sabina Brennan 20:42

So when you’re when you physically because I remember walking 16 as well and been

yanked Back, Back home sort of thing. But when you walked out that door, did you know

you were going to your grandfather? did you go What the hell I

Mark Cagney 20:55

I had gone a couple of times first. Okay. There was a few few failed attempts. In actual

fact, I did my I did my junior cert, while sleeping in his car. In his car, my father’s car, I had


Sabina Brennan 21:12


Mark Cagney 21:14

it was a real cute hoor move on my part really cute horror movie on my so that’s 14, I knew

I wasn’t going to get the exams. I hadn’t done the work. And I was breaking myself over I

went This is good. This is bad. So how can I create a diversion?

Sabina Brennan 21:26

Did you honestly think that

Mark Cagney 21:28

this is I hate this, I’m not gonna do this, I’m not gonna go well, I’m going to get killed.

September is going to be awful. And there was a lot of trouble between us there’s a lot of

arguing, fighting. And, you know, I was the eldest daughter, you have to remember and

the experiment. And one of the things I realized subsequently as a parent, is, is that you

really do learn on the job with the first one, the others get the benefit, right. And they were

doing it and they had seven,

Sabina Brennan 21:49

and they were learning from you. Well, they were watching because as a fifth child, I was

the youngest. So I watched what the others did or didn;t do you know,

Mark Cagney 21:57

I’d had a few breakouts before that. And and also I there had been times, because of

whatever was going on with them financially, where I had gone to live with my mother’s

parents, my Nana and PA who were lovely. I was blessed with two great grandparents

that, who I loved dearly, really loved dearly. And then pop was my, my father was his

favourite. He has his pet. And at another stage, I went to live with them in a house called

Coolecarn Bishopstown. Coolcarren, which I adore it. I loved. I just thought this is lovely.

It’s brilliant. It’s just me and pop and mom, and Mary, and all of this space. And nobody

and no kids. I wanted to be an only child. But anyway, I knew that Junior. was going to be

a disaster. And I literally like I have to, what am I going to do, either… I can’t not do it,

because they’ll make me. But if something was to happen, that I couldn’t do it for some

reason or other, then I’d get away with it. Something happened. And the rose would

always start with who myself my mother. And then she’d go ‘Johnny, you need to talk to

him’. And then she’d kind of make the bullets and he’d fire them.

Sabina Brennan 23:02

Right. So he did what your mum said

Mark Cagney 23:03

There was a blazing row between myself and my mother overr something he came in. And

there was some row over it and I don’t actually remember the details of it. But I stalked off.

And then she’s going “but what… he’s got his junior, what’s he going to do? What’s he

going to do? You can’t do that. That’s just ridiculous”. “I’m not having a few knows what

the rules are. There’s the door get out” thinking, of course, it’d be back soon as I got

hungry. And I didn’t I went down to my best friend Kevin Moynihan’s house and I got fed

there. And then it was it I was gonna stay with him that night. And then the second night

was like, hang on a second, how come you’re not going home? So where was I going to

go? So this is back in the days when people didn’t lock their cars. So I kind of crept back

up the hill. And I tried the car, the car door opened and I went in, and I slept in the car.

And the junior was starting the that was over the course the weekend. It was starting on

the Monday it was and I think the first two or three days I slept in the car. Now, they knew I

was in the car, right? My mother would come out with a bit of breakfast, all the rest of it.

But of course, you know, it was completely disrupted. Eventually it kind of calmed down

and I think a really cold one of the nights or something and it was like For God’s sake get

back inside.

Sabina Brennan 23:17

Yeah, yeah,

Mark Cagney 23:25

it was he wouldn’t say you have to come home or I’m asking you, it’s just like get back

inside you. But the plan worked because I failed the junior. But of course it couldn’t be

blamed for it because how could I do proper Junior certificate I was

Sabina Brennan 24:23

…. living in a car.

Mark Cagney 24:24

That stage then I would have been 15that coming September. And then there was kind of

a guerrilla warfare between both of us on and off

Sabina Brennan 24:35

both of us? between yourself and your dad or yourself and your mum

Mark Cagney 24:38

Myself an my parents.

Sabina Brennan 24:39


Mark Cagney 24:39

There was, there was,… I was an absolute pup. I was just difficult. I was awkward.

Sabina Brennan 24:43

You were a teenager.

Mark Cagney 24:44

Well, yeah. And I was a mouthy gobby one.

Sabina Brennan 24:48

Yeah, but most teenagers are, you know.

Mark Cagney 24:50

Manipulative and you know, cunning.

Sabina Brennan 24:52

You’ve said at some point in an interview that I read, that you blamed yourself for a lot

The upset and turmoil that happened in your family. But surely the adults have to take

some responsibility for that, too.

Mark Cagney 25:07

You want to find out how I got to my grandfather? Here’s here’s, and it’s interesting that

you take that point of view. Right Fast forward a year, and things hadn’t gotten any better.

And then I was having trouble in school as well, in the year I went back after my, my junior.

And there was rules or regulations. And I eventually told one of the senior brothers to go


Sabina Brennan 25:27

Feck off,

Mark Cagney 25:28

and there was more drama. So like, I was suspended, and then I was thrown out. And this is

coming up to the Christmas and there was more going on in house. And it was just

desperate. And you know, you ruin Christmas, You spolied it and dah, dah, dah… And

eventually, I thought, right, you know what, I’ve had enough of this. And I found a lot of

money. Well, a lot of money at the time, in a drawer. And I went, right, okay. And at this

stage now I’m coming up to 15 /16. I wasn’t mad about drink, but there were like house

parties and all that stuff. And I had a friend whose parents had a couple of cottages, I

suppose you would call them but they were rented out and the people are rented out to

run away over Christmas. So he was gonna have a party and one of those. And he said

will you come to the party and I went Okay. We can stay that for a couple of days.


Sabina Brennan 26:16

the parents are away

Mark Cagney 26:17

Yeah, yeah, right. So. So we went to that went to the party had a great time. And it was

free for about a week, I left on Christmas Eve, by the way, for maximum effect, oh, my

goodness, oh maximum effect? Or am I going to ruin Christmas I’ll ruin it properly. And I

left with a bunch of money, which obviously wasn’t mine. So I couch surfed, I suppose, or

whatever you call me back then for as long as I could. And that went on for about a week.

And then got into January. And nobody had any idea who I was because very few people

had phones back in those.

Sabina Brennan 26:47

Yeah, yes.

Mark Cagney 26:48

So trying to find,

Sabina Brennan 26:50

and we’re talking house phones not mobile phones. Oh, yeah, yeah. So

Mark Cagney 26:53

Anyway, eventually Whelan said, Listen, they’re coming back, you’re going to have to go

they’re coming back. You have to find somewhere else. And I dossed with somebody else

for another night or two. And then I had nowhere to go. So I was literally on the streets. I

remember finding a doorway in North Main Street in Cork and getting run out of it

because it was somebody else’s doorway.

Sabina Brennan 27:11


Mark Cagney 27:12

So it was a bit like and again, you’re the kind of 16 you think you’re brave, but actually it’s

cold. It’s bitterly cold

Sabina Brennan 27:17

Freezing, yeah, yeah

Mark Cagney 27:17

Some hairy shaggy fellow looks like it’s, you know, like, like something from a Dickens

novel. Says, “get out of there”. and gives you a root in the arse to send you on your way. So

eventually, I worked my way out to the Western road. I remember getting right opposite

the entrance to UCC, there was a kind of a seated area, had a canopy on it where, you

know, people would would stop and rest and whatever. So I saw Oh, look, there’s a bench

there and it’s covered so but it was getting bitterly cold at the stage. I’ll kind of settled

down there freezing my you may have picked the time of the year for maximum effect.

but it really wasnt a good time of the year for rough living No it wasn’t I got run out of htat

again. And I to start well, Western road, I’m on my way to Bishopstown, that’s where pop,

and Mary are.So just keep walking, because at least if I’m walking, I’m gonna be warm.

And eventually I ended up on their door at about four, half four in the morning. And they

had known obviously, they were so she went come on, come in, fed me, warmed me up

and rang my father and said, “Look, he’s okay, he’s here. You might want to leave it a day

or two to calm down.”

Sabina Brennan 28:20


Mark Cagney 28:21

So my father came over. And my father and my grandfather were, as I said, they were like

best buds. And he adored him. And they had a big row over it. And he says, “I’m not

putting up with this, you don’t know what he’s like. And this is the straw that has broken

the camel’s back and all the rest, to hell with him.. And my grandfather turned to him and

said, “Listen, no grandchild of mine is going to be wandering the street. That’s just not

going to happen”. He said, “You have no idea what he’s like, well if you think he’s, so easy?

Well, you take him then.” So he said, “Well, he’s got to go somewhere. And he’s a child,

and you’re an adult,” “you’re taking his side against mine.” If you’re a grown up, you need

to behave like one. And if you’re not going to do that, then he’s got to go somewhere. So

he’ll stay here,” “You can’t do that. What are you going to even take my son. we’ll see what

people have to say about that”. And remember Pop saying it he said, “Well, good luck,

with going into court against Dr. Paddy Cagney. No, Because he had, would have been

highly highly respected. So my father was livid and furious and it caused a huge rift

between the two of them, which I am, to this day, deeply sorry for.

Sabina Brennan 29:16

And did they ever heal the Rift,

Mark Cagney 29:18

He would have gone to visit his father two or three, Well, at least once a week, maybe

twice a week, every week and we would go with him. From there on in, he would ring

ahead to say I’m coming make sure make sure I’m not there. Okay, so those visits dropped

to maybe once every fortnight. And it was kind of, had to be arranged and it was awful

and I deeply regret that that happened.. The only thing I will say in my defence was is that

my grandfather was at that stage going into senility or early Alzheimer’s or whatever. And

physically this great big strapping man, but he didn’t know where he was a lot of the time.

So you ended up looking after him. I did it and it was a pleasure and a privilege.

Something that helped me grow up a lot. The first time I’d ever really thought of anybody

other than myself. And it was somebody I loved deeply, and who was a huge influence on

me. And not just loved, but I admired. I won’t say at the time that I consciously was doing

it for my father or being a surrogate for my father. But I subsequently think that their must

have been some.. I’m sure your father saw that too? Do you think?

Sabina Brennan 30:23

You can frame it that way.

Mark Cagney 30:24

Well, I know that Mary said, she said, “you know, your father’s right you are a pup And, you

know, I didn’t know whether we made the right right or wrong decisions, she said but

when I saw you with pop and the way you were with him, she said, I thought, you know

what, he’ll be grand. we just need to work on it a bit and get it out of him”. And so that was

a very, formative experience Ehhh I’m not sure. You see, there’s two acts of forgiveness

that need to go on there. One was that I robbed him of that. But also that he robbed

himself of that there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t have visited his father. I mean,

I could have gone to the room to

Sabina Brennan 30:57

your father’s passed away, still alive?

Mark Cagney 31:00

My father’s gone,

Sabina Brennan 31:00


Mark Cagney 31:02

So, but that rift never really healed, and I was, you know, it tore the family apart. And

there were people took sides, you know, and, and people take sides in my own, my own

immediate family. I mean, it went on for donkey’s years.

Sabina Brennan 31:15

But there does come a point where you have to self preserve, or you have to make peace

with what happened and, and move on. Because it’s the only way you can kind of survive,

you kind of get stuck in a moment. And I’m going to jump forward. Because this podcast is

all about surviving and thriving in life. And when you go through your life story, You’ve,

you’ve endured an awful lot of,… you have

Mark Cagney 31:38

I’ve made people endure.

Sabina Brennan 31:40

Ah no, no, no. But you’ve also, you know, you’ve lived through, you’ve mentioned your first

wife, and she tragically died very, very young. And I really do want to talk to you about

that. So you met Anne when you were about 19?

Mark Cagney 31:51

Yeah, in Cork at the time

Sabina Brennan 31:51

she had health issues.

Mark Cagney 31:52

Of yeah she had nephritis when she was seven, and her kidneys were in the process of

failing. She was on dialysis.

Sabina Brennan 31:59

While, when you when you were dating?

Mark Cagney 32:01

Oh, yeah, it was You know how I found out? I found out about that, when we were dancing

one night, and I had a leather jacket on. And even though the music was quite loud, I

could hear a kind of zzzzzz, a kind of a buzzing and feel a little vibration on my shoulder.

And I went what the hell is that?

Sabina Brennan 32:20


Mark Cagney 32:21

you know, and it was in a nightclub where I worked as well. And I just thought, is there

something wrong with the speaker, whatever. She didn’t say anything. Yeah, she just kind

of gave a little smile And I went “do you not hear that am I going mad she went , yeah.

And then, little afterwards, we were sitting down. And I was holding her hand. And she had

what’s called a fistula, which is where they join a vein and an artery to make the blood

pump faster to go into the the dialysis machine, right? It’s a joining of the two, she used to

do it as a joke to freak out nurses who were taking her pulse for the first time. She’d give

them the left hand, and they’d put their hand on the fistula. And they got ‘Oh, my God’,

like they’d been, because it’s almost like getting an electric shock, you could feel the

buzzing. And it was, it was the buzzing of that on the leather jacket. And I just went, ‘What

the hell is that?’ So then she explained. Oh on the other thing as well, I could never

understand why she wouldn’t let me bring her home. Because she would go to the club,

she would only drink water and chips of ice. She didn’t drink any alcohol. And then at two

or three, she would disappear. Or she’d go No, sorry. I’m up early in the morning. No, I’m

going home with the girls or whatever. But she was actually going to Finbarrs to be

dialysed. She used to have her dialysis done in the middle of the night. And then she

would come home, get some sleep. And then she’d go to work. So she to all intents and

purposes, she was completely normal. You would never ever know unless she chose to tell

you. And so that’s how I found out that she was a dialysis patient.

Sabina Brennan 33:48

Wow. And so then you married relatively young.

Mark Cagney 33:53

Yeah, I met her when I was 19. And we were going out with each other for a couple of

years. And then, what age was I, married when I was 24

Sabina Brennan 33:58

Do you know what year you were married?

Mark Cagney 33:58

Em now I have to calculate I calculated our relationship in different ways, right? We were

married on the 28th of March. Yes. So our wedding anniversary was recently, the 28th of


Sabina Brennan 34:03

And the 28th of March is also the anniversary of her death.

Mark Cagney 34:18

hang on a second though, 30 years ago, last Sunday. And we had been married for 11

years. So that’s 41 years. And we’ve been together for six years before that.

Sabina Brennan 34:28

And she’s dead 20 years and

Mark Cagney 34:30

She’s dead. 30 years, 30 years since last 28th of March.

Sabina Brennan 34:34

So very tragic, very young project. She was 38 and you were younger than her> Yeah,

Mark Cagney 34:41

she was older.

Sabina Brennan 34:43

You were 34. And to phrase this question about how did you cope because you didn’t

really cope. I mean, obviously you have gone on to survive and thrive. But at the time

when she collapsed. She collapsed in Brown Thomas,

Mark Cagney 34:59

She’d had the first hemorrhage there

Sabina Brennan 35:01

A brain hemorrhage?

Mark Cagney 35:02

Subarachnoid Yeah.

Sabina Brennan 35:03


Mark Cagney 35:03

And they took her to the Meath hospital and I got a call, ended up going to the Meath

we’re told look, we’re not sure, something in her head, might be hemorrhage. We’re going

to do a CAT scan. Now back in those days a CAT scan was a big deal. It was a bit ooh

something with the brain. Yeah. And they have to move on from the Meath, then to


Sabina Brennan 35:25

Beaumont handles all sort of head injuries, neurology

Mark Cagney 35:27

So we sat around there, they did the CAT scan, and they came back and said she’s had

sub arachnoid brain hemorrhage. Thankfully, that bleed wasn’t too long. But we’ve also

found that there’s another vessel on the other side. I don’t know which one is the vertebral

is on the right hand side. I don’t know what vein is on the side, right. But there was one on

the other side at the back of her head, which is ready to go as well. Interestingly enough,

because of all of the messing around with veins and fistulas. And at that stage, she’d had

two kidney transplants. So like her cardiovascular system had been interfered with.

Sabina Brennan 36:02

I mean, she’d been ill since Yeah, for 21 years really

Mark Cagney 36:0

There were little bulges and potential embolisms And apparently, also, she had too, what

was known as a tangle of vessels, which I believe is quite common, right, that a lot of

people have them. And women in particular seemed at that time to be more prone to

brain hemorrhages in their mid to late 30s. I have no idea whether that’s true, or not I

must have a look into that. But Anyway, she had another vein or artery which was ready

to pop, or was bulging, or they we’re worried about it, they said, Look, this one was a very

short, I think this the first bleed was sort of two or three seconds. So this one could be

much longer, could be much longer, much more dangerous. We have to go in and we have

to fix it. Now. That’s a really, really big deal for an awful lot of couples and for an awful lot

of people But when you had gone to the edge as often as Anne and I had with various

things with with kidney transplant, which was groundbreaking surgery back in the time,

and she had gotten really, really sick at one stage and spent nearly 18 months in Mary’s in

the park, because she got shingles, which in her case, ended up with practically every inch

of skin from her neck down to her bellybutton being taken off I mean it was dreadful, it

was awful.

Sabina Brennan 37:10

And you’re only kids really in a way through

Mark Cagney 37:12

We are, we are and we were int Dublin and we’re..

Sabina Brennan 37:14

you can say that with hindsight like I’m in my late 50s. Now you look back and you realize

that your 20s you really are kids and even your early 30s

Mark Cagney 37:22

She was a pro

Sabina Brennan 37:25

She obviously had to grow up very young, you know,

Mark Cagney 37:28

She would put herself on and off the machine, she would she would do because she could

insert the needles better than any nurse or any doctor. She was so expert at it and she


Sabina Brennan 37:35

So they’re going to take her into, for surgery. So she was conscious, was she conscious

between the first

Mark Cagney 37:40

She was yeah. we’re having a conversation I never forget the last conversation was

because it was, look, this is what she did. She went into the ring, she fought the battle, she

always won. I held her coat and held the fort down. And it was you’ve had this, there’s

another one on the other side. It needs to be sorted out. Otherwise you could have a big

problem. And she went “Yeah, okay, come on.” This is what I do. “And I always win” she

said, “Oh, by the way, you know, it’s bin day tomorrow.” I said, Oh Yeah, yeah She said

“make sure you put the bins out and don’t forget to feed the dogs”. And I’ll see when I

wake up. And those were the last words she spoke So she went, she had it. She was in an

induced coma. She didn’t really regain….

Sabina Brennan 38:14

that’s to protect her Aww

Mark Cagney 38:23

And it stayed like that. And then she had another massive

Sabina Brennan 38:30


Mark Cagney 38:32

Oh, I have to remember the timeframe because it all blurs,

Sabina Brennan 38:36

I can imagine.

Mark Cagney 38:37

That initial hemorrhage, in Brown Thomas happened on the 18th. And then two days later,

they operated. So the 20th and then she was recovering for two or three, four or five days.

And then she had another massive bleed, which went on for they thought in the region of

18 seconds and it was over and done with it was gone. She was gone. That was actually,

oh out was the 24th Yeah. 24th 25th. And they went “look, we’ll ventilate her but we have

no idea how long this would go on. And I don’t know if you know about brainstem it could

be three hours could be three days could be three weeks could be three months. You know

it will happen when it will happen” At this stage my head is fried, melted because I

thought she’d win she always did she never lost

Sabina Brennan 39:28

never I think for you compared to other people. I think other people would say she had no

previous history and then had this you’d be going oh my god, she could die. Oh my god.

Oh my god. What? Because you’d had that repeated

Mark Cagney 39:42


Sabina Brennan 39:43

you’d been there before, more routine I suppose

Mark Cagney 39:44

Well she was the strongest person I knew? she just refused to allow this, to define her and

to beat her. But you have to face facts. And people were very sorry and all the rest of it. So

I remember being told that and I went off to try to get my head clear. And I remember

coming back about a half hour, 40 minutes later, and talking to the staff nurse, the senior

nurse on the ward and saying, Listen, I know when she would go. Anyway, she went, yeah, I

said she will go on the 28th. And she’ll probably go somewhere around Tea Time and she

went “Yes, Mr. Cagney, whatever you say” sh said, Listen, you don’t know her? I do. She

didn’t get to say goodbye. She will go on the 28th, around five or six o’clock? And she said,

“Really? Why?” I said because that was the day we got married. And that’s when we sat

down to our meal for our wedding. And she’d say goodbye, then. That’s when she’ll go.

And that’s exactly when she went. Now. I had to give the permission to switch the

machine off. I had to give permission for that. That’s a very challenging decision, for a 34

year old what do you do? Every now and again and I’ve never actually do you know

Getting me to say things here, I’m possibly leaving too much out on the pitch. You know,

you do these kinds of things over the years. And people ask you Oh, it was the hardest

thing you’ve ever had to do? Or who’s the most famous person you’ve ever interviewed?

Or, you know, you get those kind of 20 questions type things, right. And somebody recently

asked me about what was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And the hardest thing

that I personally have ever had to do, is to give permission for that machine to be

switched off. You actually think about it, this is your life. This is your soulmate. And even

though she’s, you know, intellectually that she’s gone, and that it would be, you know, the

cruelest thing you possibly could do not to?

Sabina Brennan 41:39

Well, sounding by the kind of independent individual she was

Mark Cagney 41:42


Sabina Brennan 41:43

She would have just hated that.

Mark Cagney 41:45

Yeah, absolutely. She would have, then there’s this thing. She’s also the toughest person

that you’ve ever met. Anybody could defy the odds and come back, it would be her, but

you knew at this stage it was gone

Sabina Brennan 41:54

Okay, so I hadn’t, I hadn’t thought about that. That argument that you were having in your

head, oh, my God,

Mark Cagney 42:00

the extent of the hemorrhage was so severe that she could have existed was,


Sabina Brennan 42:05

did you make that decision alone? I mean, I know you were her next of kin. So you didn’t

discuss with her parents or anything? You just

Mark Cagney 42:13

Eh no, it was my decision,

Sabina Brennan 42:15


Mark Cagney 42:17

Ah now, I was there with her brother, who was brilliant Eric, like a brother. But the biggest

lesson that I took out of that. And it does apply to the parenting thing a little later on,

which is, ah you can.. Well, you can go mad, and I did go mad. Okay, eventually, I had

really good friends around me, they pulled me back and all the rest of it. Then you have to

think about what do you do? Well you can go on or you can go under? And how do you go

on when you’ve lost all of this. And it’s the, it’s very simple. It’s that glass half full, or glass

half empty. I had an amazing relationship. I had it for 16 years. And there’s millions of

people who don’t get that at all. So be grateful for what you had, not for what you’ve lost.

Or, more importantly, don’t be bitter about what you’ve lost. Because as Nelson Mandela

famously said, ‘being bitter is like drinking the poison, hoping the other fellow will die

doesn’t work. It only poisons you”. So what you had was wonderful. It’s awful, that it’s been

taken away. But we didn’t have and this is maybe the most valuable lesson and the one

that actually helps me with the second phase of my life, which is that there was nothing

left unsaid between us, we had the most normal, ordinary, mundane conversation that

you could possibly have before somebody going for major surgery, which you know,

wasn’t successful and ultimately led to her death. You know, if your last words with

somebody you love, if you had a choice of what they would be, you probably pick

something really flowery and profound, whatever, right? Mine was about putting out the

bin and making sure the dog was fed, and I’ll see when you wake up. But that was also the

very fabric of our lives, and our love and the way we work together. So in one way, it is the

most banal and ordinary on another level. It’s a perfect expression of the life I had, which I

loved and which she loved. But there was nothing left unsaid between

Sabina Brennan 44:09

See I think that’s a lovely, lovely, lovely way to look at bereavement of any kind,

particularly certain bereavement

Mark Cagney 44:17

as another day in paradise. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 44:19

yeah, that’s a lovely way. That’s just so lovely. Just another day of

Mark Cagney 44:23

very ordinary paradise, but like our parents, yeah, yeah. Another lesson taught me Sabina,

was, make sure make sure that you tell the people you love and you care for and who love

and care for you how you feel, not in a big grand gesture, but just… I do it with the kids all

the time. And I check in with them every now and again. I go listen you know, I love you,

don’t you? You know, you can tell me anything. You know, no matter what you do, I have

no choice. I have to love you like that goes with the gig. It’s unconditional. I might not like

you sometimes. I might not like you a lot of the times but I’ll always love you. And I’ll

always have to love you. And no matter what you do or whatever trouble you get into,

come and talk to me about We’ll sort it out first and I’ll eat the years off you afterwards for

being stupid enough to put yourself in that situation.

Sabina Brennan 45:05

But I will never not love you?

Mark Cagney 45:07

Absolutely. So there’s nothing left unsaid. So there are no regrets. There’s no torture,

because that way lies despair. It’s the old, you keep looking into the abyss of ‘what if’

forgetting, of course, that the Abyss looks back into you. To paraphrase Goethe, I’m not

sure that he quite meant it like that but “That way lies madness and that way lies despair.

And either because I’m incredibly lucky, or maybe my survivor’s instinct was operating an

overdrive at the time, that I got incredibly smart, in some way, a combination of the two, it

saved me. Now, I did need help, I’d what I didn’t need medication I didn’t need, I didn’t

need to go to see doctors, I didn’t need therapy, I didn’t need any of that.

Sabina Brennan 45:52

You needed friends,

Mark Cagney 45:53

I needed friends,

Sabina Brennan 45:53

and you had great friends.

Mark Cagney 45:54

And I had great friends

Sabina Brennan 45:55

And that’s what really stuck out to me

Mark Cagney 45:56

An be grateful for for what I had.

Sabina Brennan 45:57

And I, you know, in terms of surviving trauma, because life throws, I say this time, and

again, we have no control over what life throws at us. But you have control over how you

respond. You went back to work way too soon after losing your wife. And you can kind of

see how that, you know, might have happened. And you said you had whatever you felt

was a breakdown, but you hadn’t gone through the grieving process at all. You know, it’s

very clear now that you’ve made peace with that. And that unconditional love piece is so

important. And I think when it comes to love, you know, I see people and you know, you

kind of look at them. And I’ve said this over and again on this, you know, the movies and

novels have an awful lot to answer for because they paint this picture of what love is, you

know, and oh, he does this for me. And it does that Look for me. It’s that mundane, you

know, I’m married to someone and we sort of say, Valentine’s Day, “I’m not getting your

card”, “I’m not getting you a card Couldn’t be arsed. But you know what, I’ve had terrible

migraine this week, and it goes down into my neck and my husband will look at me and

say “you’re in bits aren’t you?” Yeah he’ll like, stop everything and try and help relieve me.

That’s love. That’s, you know, you don’t have to say those things. And that’s life. It’s the

other stuff. You know, you can say I love you. You’re the best, you can say all those things.

Moon in June and the honeymoon lasts for how long? What do you do with the rest of

your life? Exactly. You’d become best…

Mark Cagney 47:14

who’s the first person you want? If something happens to you? Who’s the first person you

want to tell?

Sabina Brennan 47:17

Who’s the first person you call

Mark Cagney 47:18

Who’s the first person you need? That’s the person you love

Sabina Brennan 47:21

Yes it’s a friendship. It really is. It’s ultimately about friendship and trust, and all those

things. And it was wonderful to hear as well that you know, when you were really

struggling, there was another individual who actually took you out. I was interested in one

thing you said he basically took you out and took you away and you went traveling with


Mark Cagney 47:40

Joe and Marian, Joe and Marian O’Herlihy, Marion would have been em. Well, I’ve known

Joe since I was 15. We started in bands together in Cork, he roadied for one band, I

roadied for another. So I’d known him on and off. He obviously has famously become one

of the best known sound engineers in the world because he’s been with U2 for 40 years.

He’s known as the big fat fellow with the beard. He looks like Grandpa Walton. Like he’s

legendary and rock and roll circles. Right. But his wife Marian, and Anne would have been

best friends. So like it’s the real cCork Murphya kind of thing, you know, so we would have

been in and out of each other’s houses. And actually that friendship has continued on but

you know, when when I rang Marian actually to tell her that that Anne was sick something

had happened and she was in The Meath and they live in Rathdown Park in Terenure But

Joe was away and Marian didn’t have the car. And she physically ran and I mean, ran

from Terenure to the Meath to get there in time. And I was following out in a taxi. And I

think she got there before I did. Or literally we pulled in as she was soaked in sweat. Yeah,

that’s the kind of, of friends

Sabina Brennan 48:45

you can talk about.You can talk about family till the cows come home when people say

blood is thicker than water, but the support of very real friends, you can’t underestimate it

Mark Cagney 48:53

well, you know that that really, it’s probably quite sexist, and it’s definitely not PC. But the

joke about a true friend is you ring them up and you say, Listen, I’m in real trouble. What

have you done? I’ve killed the wife. Okay, stay there. We’ll be around around with a shovel

as fast as we

Sabina Brennan 49:09

definitely not PC definitely, definitely not PC

Mark Cagney 49:11

But you know that, you know, those are the people who would take a bullet for you yet

stand in front of, you know, will throw themselves in front of a train for you like that. I was

lucky enough to have people like that in my life, Like Joe and Marian would definitely,

certainly at that stage without them. And again, we look even Peggy O’ Brien. She was

the house mother in 98 FM. And she would do that, you know, she would go he’s in trouble.

He needs a cup of tea. More importantly, he needs a hug. He needs somebody to hold on

to right now. And she would find an excuse asked me that I want a cups of tea, bring it in,

and then hug me until I kind of could speak properly or until I could do my next link

Sabina Brennan 49:45

You can’t underestimate the power of a human hug. living through this lockdown is why

it’s quite challenging for people but actual physical contact and a hug can lower your

blood pressure and actually really get your stress level. Stone really works. I’m afraid.

That’s all we have time for in this episode, but please do Tune in next week when I

continue my conversation with Mark. In the interim, you can check out the super brain

blog for bonus content. My name is Sabina Brennan. Thank you for listening to Super

brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain


people, father, bands, mary, called, stage, days, life, parents, grandfather, music, thought, big, cork,

meath, friends, sabina, listen, ireland, years

Page 1 of 212