Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 11

It’s only a penis with artist and sex worker Kate McGrew

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  •  00:41 Stepping out on stage at seven
  • 02:33 Learning Abelton and writing a book
  • 03:39 Irish ancestry
  • 08:05 Getting into sex work
  • 15:11 Spirit of adventure
  • 18:21 Unconditional love
  • 19:51 Activism SWAI
  • 23:34 Turn off the red light
  • 28:03 Legalisation vs criminalisation
  • 31:00 Sex work during COVID
  • 34:21 Who sees sex workers
  • 38:02 Who are sex workers
  • 39:11 Male sex workers
  • 40:47 Feminist paternalists
  • 43:56 Safe sex work
  • 44:55 Moms, daughters, sex workers and abortion
  • 52:08 Is sexual assault worse that other violent assault?
  • 54:50 Attitudes to rape
  • 59:12 Follow your hearts desire



Kate’s website


Guest Bio


Kate McGrew first gained notoriety in Ireland as singer/MC Lady Grew before being dubbed by Sunday Independent “Ireland’s Favourite Courtesan”. After 6 years as Director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, she sits on the board of the European Sex Work Alliance. Her stage shows and music promote sex worker rights and she is currently writing a book.

Over to You

Kate and I covered a lot of controversial topics in this episode. Some things we are still wrestling with, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.


This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources  (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:00

Hi my name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super Brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. My guest this week is a performing artist an activist and a sex worker. Her name is Kate McGrew. And of course, I want to talk to you about your activism and your sex work. But actually, I’d really first of all, just like to get to know a little bit about Kate and your performance and being an artist. And as someone who knew I wanted to act from the age of eight, I’m always curious about other creative people. Is it something you just got the fire when you were a child?


Kate McGrew  00:41

It is indeed, Sabina. Thanks for having me on today. Yeah, from the time I stepped out on stage when I was like yourself seven years old, I was just like, This is home. This is what I want to do all the time. So I knew right away my whole family was in fact, I think that very first show that I was in was like von Trapp. Like we were all in the show together


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:02

your whole family. But so are you from a big family. Do you have many brothers and sisters?


Kate McGrew  01:07

An older sister younger brother,


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:09

Oh right, okay. And so this was like a school show or something? Was it or was something?


Kate McGrew  01:13

It was community theater?


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:14

Yeah. Oh, wow. So straightaway, you were out there in the performing and you sing and you dance, and you do stand up. So like, you’re multi talented? Was that always the way you wanted to go? Or has that just sort of happen that way? Like, or did you have a particular preference for the singing or the dancing, or you just love all of it.


Kate McGrew  01:35

I do love all of it. I played piano as a kid, singing as well. And then I was in musicals primarily. And when I went to college, I started out as a theater major, but then I started dancing for the first time and oh my gosh, I really want to be a dance major. But part of the reason why I went to that school is because they had a really good ethnomusicology program. So I started taking lots of African and Indian music classes with different instruments. So then I was like, switch to a music major. But then I you know, realize theater is still the place where you can combine all of the above. So that’s why I stuck on that path. But even to this day, I’m sort of doing so many things that span a spectrum, like right now learning to write beats with Ableton, which is really exciting.


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:20

Exciting, so you should explain to the listeners what Ableton is


Kate McGrew  02:23

Sure Ableton is a software program. Beats writing program. It’s like the best one out there. Really?


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:29

Yeah, you’re a writer as well. Do you write your own material for shows?


Kate McGrew  02:33

Yeah, I do. So the one woman shows that I started doing when I came to Ireland, one that I was doing particularly called Sweet Pang was myself on stage. And then I was pulled down singing during the show, and doing a bit of clowning, and singing and rapping. And in every town that we toured, I would cast a DJ from the town as sort of playing the judge in the show until he was on stage with me. So that had like a local element to that hip hop. And we’re freestyling a bit on stage and stuff like that. Yeah. So I do write all my stuff, and actually have a book that I’m coming out with soon now with Mercia Press.


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:08

 Oh, very exciting things. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness, I cannot wait to read that. Do you know, when it’s coming out?


Kate McGrew  03:15

Probably within the next six to nine months. Because the manuscript is in now we edit it for a while. And you know how it goes,


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:21

Oh, my goodness. Oh, well, that’s really exciting, really looking forward to reading that. So obviously, it’s not an Irish accent, although just before we came on the show you were talking that you do think you have some Irish ancestry? As a lot of Americans do. Are you from the United States?


Kate McGrew  03:39

Yeah, southern Ohio. People always say always have your accent just like when I go home. I think they think I sound a little bit sort of Irish. But like Madonna or something, but um, but yeah, both sides of my family have Irish heritage on them. So I was just talking with a producer, Emily there, then I’ll chase up the roots. Both sides from Northern Ireland.


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:58

So Oh, right. Okay. Okay. Really interesting You’ll have fun trying to track those. I’ve certainly tracked down some of my ancestry. And we got to actually a particular boat in 1878, or something like that. The city of Dresden, where my grandfather was to, and his five other siblings and his parents who would have been my great grandparents, they were only 32 and 30. And they emigrated aboard this ship to Argentina, with single children aged from like 14 down to two very brave people. You know, the story? Oh, yeah. It’s an amazing story. But that’s almost an episode in itself. I often see the parallel with immigrants coming that we see those terrible poor people on boats and drowning and bringing their kids and you have the moral classes for the ones of a better word, saying, Oh, are they dreadful parents putting their children at that risk? And you know what, I’m going to go well, my great grandparents put my grandfather at that risk, but they were desperate. And they were actually only, in a way they were economic migrants, they were bored, they had no money, they were offered this opportunity of an amazing life in Argentina, which turned out to be a lie, like at least people fleeing from Syria, etc. You know, I mean, oh, my God, they’re fleeing for their lives, literally, you will do anything. And it must be awful to be that desperate to have to do that. But what I see the real parallel that a lot of Irish people aren’t too fond of hearing is that basically on that chip, the Argentine government was offering free passage to people from all over the world because they needed people of working age, strong, healthy people to start working the land in Argentina, they didn’t have the population. So they wanted to offer people free passage, etc. And they got in touch with governments, various places. But this job was handed over to two boys from County Cork, who saw an opportunity to make a quick book. And they told all these poor people getting on the ship. So if they wanted to get their passage on the ship, they had to buy a certificate that told them that they could go on board. And they overcrowded the ships. And they allowed octogenarians on board, and infants, like technically, my grandfather should not have been allowed on board, we had to be of a certain age. So they did just the exact same thing. And in fact, when they got over there, so many of them died on the ship going over, when they arrived there, they were dehydrated, emaciated, and there was no one to meet them. There was no life, they were left on the side of the pier or whatever. My family somehow eventually succeeded and got to a place hundreds of kilometers away, and they became gauchos, you know, on horseback, but many others were just left. And obviously, a lot of the pretty girls were taken and brought into brothels, and various things happen to them. So sometimes things don’t change. But people forget, you know, I remember thinking that when when you hear people and see them on social media, criticizing parents who are trying just to escape and do the best and survive. And so many of our ancestors here in Ireland did the exact same thing. You know, and how do we go from because I’m sure this is what people are interested in. They’re interested in you’re a fascinating, interesting person, but there’s no denying when you say you’re going to talk to a sex worker, people are going to be interested and have questions. In a way I think that’s good. I mean, one of the reasons I want to do this is, and number one to learn myself one on one, I’m not aware that I know any other sex workers. That doesn’t mean I don’t know any sex workers, because it’s so underground and hidden. But an awful lot of us our only knowledge or experience of sex work, comes through fiction. And by definition, fiction is fiction. And it’s going to depict the extremes of any story and the conflict of any story. It’s not going to reflect day to day life, that would be my understanding. Do you always work as an artist? Did you try to find work as an artist and make a living as an artist? How did then you come to be working as a sex worker?


Kate McGrew  08:05

Yeah, I think many people can relate to seeing the same kinds of patterns that we all draw into our lives, similar kinds of people, similar experiences, similar struggles, I think we can all relate to that feeling. So for me, I can sort of see and looking back, this sort of spiraling upward that I’ve done throughout my life, and part of what has repeated was, for example, when I moved to New York City, straight out of college, I ended up for the first time working in sex work. And I did that to earn money, of course, but because it was my first time working in the industry, I became really absorbed in it, and though I was performing, and shows etc, and auditioning here and there, I was spending a lot of time doing the work. The work was meant to supply money for me for my career. But as these things often happen, and it can happen with anybody for the sort of side hustle that they have, when they’re an artist, it can nearly overwhelm your career. So similarly, when I came to Ireland, I came and ended up sort of taking it up a notch in terms of the stuff that I was doing artistically. I started writing my own lyrics, and I started performing in clubs, and at festivals with different DJs and producers. And then I started doing these one woman shows, but some of your viewers may have seen a show called Connected which was on RT two was a reality series Docu drama series, and I come across the radar producers from these shows. I’ve also just started doing sex work again. And so then, you know, I ended up on TV talking about that once a week. And so I was just in the media constantly talking about sex work and everything. So of course that became the main feature of the story. And so once again, it’s sort of nearly kind of encroached on the time that I would have been spending, doing artistic pursuits, you know, now that I’ve segwayed out of my position in activism, I have more time to work on the artistic part. But that’s sort of the way that those two has been a tug of war. It’s also symbiosis it is actually but yeah, yeah, it’s a tension.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:00

And there’s a few things I want to pick out and go back through there. So you said that you you know, straight out of college, you went to New York, obviously, you know, that’s the mecca for theatre and performance. And a lot of people go to these big cities, sort of hoping to make it and find a career in the arts. And it’s one of the most challenging professions I know, myself, as a former actor, and my son is a musician. I do understand the challenges of that. What is difficult for me to understand is when you say ‘I ended up doing sex work’, so how does that happen? I am completely innocent. Most of those stories that we hear, or that we watch or read about, tend to show mainly Yes, there are some where you watch shows and more recent years where it’s more export agencies and people working in the sex industry for very different reasons. But most of what we learn and read about suggests a more seedy segueway into sex work. Often, you know, you hear about a girl abused at home and she runs away. And then the only way she can eat is to work as what people would say inverted commas as a prostitution, prostitution. Thankfully, the name has changed to sex work, although I’m not so sure everybody kind of is kind of aware of that kind of change to use that word. So for me, like how do you know even how to become a sex worker? If you I mean, this is a question. But I’m still going well, how do you go from working in theater and going chess, I need to work. And I mean, I know my son is an artist, he did not want as a musician, he did not want to take another job, because he knew the same thing would happen, he’d end up working in a cafe, or you’d end up working in a shop, and not having the time to create the music that he wants to create. And that’s that balance that tension, as you say, so how did that happen in New York?


Kate McGrew  12:19

Yeah, thank you for pointing out the phrasing there, you know, because it’s such a dodgy phraseology, isn’t it to say, even to your tough myself, that ended up in sex work, right. But um, and of course, I unpack it a lot in my book, but it’s like everybody in their life, all of our experiences, and everything that we learn, and all of the things that formulate our personality, and our desires, Lead us along our paths. And so it was a combination of things that led me to the place where it seemed like a perfectly easy and natural thing for me to do. And as I said, it was a combination of things. So there was a certain point in my life where I was essentially kind of wild and adventurous. And I had been traveling a lot alone. And I’ve been having a lot of experiences like that, of course, any young woman who knows traveling a lot alone, what that can be like. So looking back, now, there are numerous people that would have come into my life, that sort of recognized in me, probably the potential to be able to enjoy or stomach however you want to look at it. Yeah, this kind of work. So now looking back, even when I was traveling sometimes and didn’t have somewhere to stay. I’m like, oh, that woman was a house mom, or I’m a domme. And I realize now looking at the people who were taking in, oh, that was actually a brothel that I was staying at cetera. And you know, the sort of nuts and bolts of it, the nitty gritty is that I was working at Greenpeace. And I met two women, one after another who, again, just sort of saw a kindred spirit in a way and offered me to do sessions with them. One of them offered me a session with an older client friend of hers, and I went and did that booking. And actually, I think I didn’t enjoy it. But part of what’s interesting about it is, it’s because it actually really turned me on that particular booking. This was before a point in my life where I could accept or I had reckoned with what is arousing, and so I was just made to feel uncomfortable that this sort of arguably perverted kind of game that we were playing to me was arousing. And so that filled me with shame, basically. And so I was sort of allergic and I was like, I don’t think I want to do that again. Then I met another woman at Greenpeace. And she was like, I’m working in this house of domination you hang out with sexy women dressed in great outfits all day and you you know, she said a facetious you abuse men all day, something I was interested in for real but it sounds Yeah, you know, theatrical. So I said, let me go for it. I went to the mmediately was like Oh,This is so much better. It’s so much more lucrative. It’s fascinating. It’s fun. I mean, you have to understand this. I mean, I liked waiting tables. You know, I like the service industry. I like entertaining strangers.


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:11

So yeah, no, I mean, that’s what jumps out at me. The first time you mentioned it, you said, Oh, I moved to New York. And I ended up in our real faithful into it sounds awful to say it in terms of sex work, but it happens most of us, you know, I ended up I mean, for me, at 16, I ended up working in life insurance company for 15 years, read full, you know, not something I am or had planned to do. So we do end up in and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the job itself is terrible, but it’s something that sort of happened in an unthinking way. But what jumps out at me when you talk about it is, you talk about it the same way, as you talked about, oh, and then I found music. And I really liked that. And I wanted to be a music major. And then I found this and I wanted to do dance. And it just speaks to me of that you just, it’s this sort of passion, this joy of discovery, this, oh my god, this makes me feel alive. I want to know more about this, I want to do more of this. So what interests me is now you say at one point there when you were at that first time with that older gentleman, that you felt certain shame, because this is what interests me, right, as a psychologist, and as someone who’s interested in the relationship between our brain and our behavior, which is influenced by all our cultural, social, upbringing, all those factors, that things like shame and guilt and all those things, they’re learned behaviors, you know, I mean, we’re told that that’s a shameful thing. Or, as I’ve said, this over and over again, a three year old will strip off their clothes, if they feel like it and run around room and we say to them, No, you can’t do that you must wear your clothes, you can only take your clothes off when you go to the bath, or when you’re going swimming, and you put your swimsuit on. And so we learn all those behaviors, and we learn to be ashamed, and we learn what’s wrong or what’s not right, or what’s immoral in the society and the culture in which we live. So there’s a couple of things jumped out to me in terms of you. Number one, there’s this, you know that you were this young individual who was curious, I actually did an episode on Curiosity recently, and I explained that, you know, we tend to think of curiosity about information for facts and knowledge and all that stuff. But satisfying your sensory curiosity is just as important and brilliant for your brain. So tasting new foods, feeling new materials, having new experiences that satisfying curiosity, and it’s really brilliant for you. So it sounds like you’re that person that just was hungry for the world for adventure. But also, you were very comfortable doing it alone. Now, that’s something that I never would have been comfortable with. Do you know where that comes from? Were you always an independent little child? Or was that to do with parenting? Or do you have any insights yourself on that?


Kate McGrew  17:56

Yeah, it’s funny, I saw somebody just yesterday on Twitter, say, you know, my family keeps giving you about my personality as if they’re not the ones that gave it to me.


Kate McGrew  18:11

Yeah, absolutely. It was my family, and probably also being on stage so young in my life, and being surrounded by adults, so young in my life as well, because you’re being treated more or less like an equal, who’s brought into a world like that. Right?


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:28

And okay, and while we’re on your family, there was a podcast that I viewed on, I thought it was an interview with you, and you were talking about coming out to your family on TV. And was that in itself is an incredible thing to do. And interesting story. What really struck me about that story, was the faith you had in your relationship with your mother and in her love. Because you said, Oh, I knew they’d be tears. And I knew it’d be difficult. And I knew that this that. But I knew at the end that we’d hug and she’d loved me just the same. I just thought, Oh, my God, that some mother, that’s fantastic mothering. We all say those things, but to be sure that your children know that like in the terms of really knowing that you can never be sure and you really clearly knew that. It’s a lovely moment


Kate McGrew  19:26

It was yeah, I really lucked out in that way. You know, that’s not to say that there haven’t been real challenges within my family because of my work. But certainly having unconditional love and knowing that it was there has made it much easier for me to be out. And that is really a safety net. And a comfort. Yeah, it’s kind of fabulous to hear.


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:51

We touched on there briefly that you Well, when I introduced you I introduced you as an artist and activist and a sex worker. So really, the activism Well, I was gonna say the activism stemmed from the sex work. But actually, obviously, if you were in Greenpeace, you were always an activist. But the activism that we know you for is around sex work. But you were director of sex workers Association of Ireland sway. And you were very involved, although you’re not no longer director. At the time of the changes in the laws around sex work in Ireland, you were very much involved in very vocal about it. And it’s something actually that I have an interest in. And it would help very much, I think, if you explained maybe the changes that happened. So in Ireland, there’s a Sexual Offences Act that was brought in 2017. That’s based on a Nordic model. So be fab, if you could kind of explain what that Nordic model is, and actually, maybe some of the impact that it has had on a sex workers and how SWAI felt adventures?


Kate McGrew  20:55

Sure, yeah. So I was director of sway that sex workers Alliance Ireland for six years. Now, I still sit on the board of the European sex workers Alliance. But this trend from Sweden is something that, unfortunately, has been sweeping the northern part of the globe. And it is a law that criminalizes clients, and brings in lots of other criminalization that affects sex workers by proxy. So in all of the countries that they have brought this law in, sex workers were already decriminalized. So for example, in Ireland, it was already legal for me to sell sex, the new thing that was brought in that now it’s illegal for my client. Previously, it was legal for me, it was legal for him. So for the past three years, my clients have been criminalized. Now, sex workers have always been criminalized if they worked in pairs, or groups, under the brothel keeping law. But that’s even if you’re just working with one other fret for a cheaper place to stay together or to be safer. And now for the past three years, workers that work in this way, are criminalized and face penalties three times the amount that they were before and potential jail sentences now. So one thing that we were able to do at sway, was to actually secure decriminalization for outdoor workers. So another piece of the puzzle is that since 1993, they made it illegal to work outside. So people working in pairs, and outdoor workers have been criminalized together since 1993. So we worked very hard at the end of the bill coming through to get an amendment to decriminalize outdoor workers. That’s great. But we still face so many problems from having our clients criminalized at all. And even for outdoor workers, they’re still being told to move on, they’re still being arrested, if they don’t move on, they’re still being told by guardi that they’re working illegally, even if they’re not. So, unfortunately, it’s primarily been more sort of a symbolic benefit to them. Because for as long as we can’t have this consensual transactional sexual encounter, the policing of it will always end up compromising the sex workers ability to keep herself safe.


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:34

And on top of that, like, there’s just so many issues around this. So I remember that campaign, there was a lot of people, you know, campaign, I think it was called Turn off the red light. And it was a very moralistic based campaign and a tool called a feminist campaign, you know, implying that all sex workers are doing it against their will, or they would rather do something else, or whatever these other people felt their reasons were. And I often wondered, well, how much conversation did you actually have with the sex workers? And did you ask them what they want and what they would really like, as opposed to coming along and saying this Nordic model should help sort out? I mean, one of the key reasons the key arguments, as I understand it, that was put forward was that this Sexual Offences Act would help to prevent trafficking, trafficking of people against their will into forced sex work, which of course nobody wants to happen. But to me, in some regard, it seems like a bit of a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater that you just put in this blanket law that is meant to address one aspect of it, and by doing it in such a gross way, ignores the nuances and actually puts to my mind, sex workers in a more vulnerable position. And I understand that like a lot of people, you know, just cannot imagine how anyone would want to be a sex worker, right. I totally Get that I think it’s kind of funny really, because once money changes hands between you and your client, in various relationships, there’s that bargaining. Sex is, as always been used as a tool within relationships. And it’s whether it’s you get a fabulous ring on your finger, or whether you do X Y, Zed. I mean, I know people will hate to hear that. But sex has always had a transactional element to it. And I also think as well, there is always in a way going to be people who need to pay for sex, for whatever reason, and I’ll talk to you about that in a moment. Because I do want to get an understanding about what your clientele are like. But the thing is, yes, I can’t imagine myself ever being a sex worker or wanting to be a sex worker. But by the same token, I can’t ever imagine myself being a miner, going down a coal mine, putting my life at risk, risking my health, because I’m inhaling that. But you kind of say, Well, why would anyone do that job that puts them at risk, they might die when they’re down there, it might collapse, they may end up with cancers, lung cancers, they do because they need the money. And we live in a society where you’ve got to work to pay to live and buy food and look after your family. So because I don’t understand it, and because I think it’s dangerous for the miners. The solution isn’t to stop mining. Ironically, we don’t need drive the trade underground, because there’s money to be made in mining. So what you do, and what mostly happened in that profession is you make it safe as possible for the miners. And you look after miners rights and people in the 70s, you know, marched for miners rights during the miners strike and all that sort of thing. And that happened. So the thing that distinguishes my mind that from someone working as a sex worker, his morals are religious, or your perceptions, your social mores, your cultural mores that have decided that somehow it is wrong, criminal, distasteful, whatever you want to do this profession. I think it’s pretty awful what some lawyers do they defend someone who’s carried out murder or whatever. But it’s accepted that that’s just a job that kind of has to be done. And you can decide whether you want to do it or not. But this has taken away from people, and it has made you less safe. I mean, I totally hear, like, How does anyone think it’s looking after a sex worker to say that she cannot work with other people? And I think you even argued for that. Yes, you. We understand that? No, you don’t want girls being beholden to a pimp who’s taking all the money, and they’re almost being traded out and not having enough to eat or whatever. Nobody wants that situation. But again, by just putting in this blanket kind of law, you make the sex worker less safe, because she has to work alone, or he has to work alone.


Kate McGrew  28:03

Yeah, I mean, we harken back to the conversation that we’re having and the story that you were telling about your your relatives taking this trip to Argentina that ended up exploitative, and these core Conan lads who took advantage of this situation, and then your relatives ending up somewhere where the deal was different than they had thought. So when we talk about the inevitable sex industry that exists in every part of the globe, it’s why we fight for decriminalization, which really is a flexible model of legalization, right? So in countries where they have legalization like Holland and Germany, sex workers find that it’s overly restricted. And so once again, few sort of privileged few can tick all the boxes. And so it makes for a huge black market once again. So decriminalization like they have in parts of Australia, and New Zealand is a more flexible model. Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s no regulation and that there is no zoning, and that there is no licensing. And that’s what we need for sex workers is for them to basically have safe options. It’s very hard to look at people who come over to Ireland, and end up facing somebody who says, Okay, now you owe us 60 grand for helping you get over here, or now you’re over here. We told you, we’re going to be in like a nice house working with people. But there’s not a lot of work right now. So we’re going to take your passport, and you’re just gonna have to keep working until you make the money back at cetera. It’s hard for people to look at people coming and say, Why would you give any of your money to somebody who’s helping you find clients, but like you were saying, it’s really hard for anybody at all to look at another person’s life and say why would they take that risk, but it’s people fleeing poverty, it’s people fleeing war. It’s people trying to send money back to their families and things like this. And so if your concerned about these people.than those journeys, when they’re here, by the time they get here, at least we need to make sure that there is an environment where they have legal safer, better options,


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:10

or tackle the real criminals. And this is the people taking money off them. And again, that argument goes back even further. Because to me, there’s a very simple answer. For those refugees who are risk paying a fortune to risk their lives, they may die on the way or they may lose family on the way, and then they come over, and they can’t afford to pay back the death, and whatever. And maybe they can’t work in the legal system here or whatever, you know, free safe passage for people, let’s put them on airplanes and fly them in. And actually, then let them work. I mean, we have tons of shops here where people can’t get stuff, because people won’t work. One of the reasons is around the PUP. And actually, that’s something I wanted to ask you about, like How was COVID for sex workers. So I presume they couldn’t get the PUP, we have to isolate, we’re not supposed to have close contact, I lost my job in the University because of that, because my research involves face to face contact with people aged 60 to 90 and my team, it was funded by industry. And so they withdrew the funding. So myself and my team lost our jobs. We could have the PUP for a period of time. So that helped immensely. But I really wondered when I was thinking about talking to you. What happened sex workers during COVID or what continues to happen to them.


Kate McGrew  31:25

Yeah, it was tough. It was obviously extremely tough, very, very few of us, were able to receive the pop. And again, a lot of people, you know, part of the so called reasoning behind this Swedish model is that if our clients are criminalized, and we have a problem with clients, we can just call the cops but people do not want to call it sorry guardi because we’re working in a quasi legal setting. We don’t want for Gardaí to know that we’re working. First of all people are weighing up, what will be the benefit? Will I get my money back? Will I be healed? Will I see justice, etc? Will the officer believe me sorry, for using American terminal,etc. So they’re weighing up, you know, because then discard knows that I’m a sex worker, if they’re having a slow day, they can essentially hang out outside my doorstep and take my clients, I could get kicked out of my apartment, all of these things. There are so many reasons that sex workers don’t want to let people know that they’re sex workers. So during the pandemic, I mean, essentially the beginning, we started a crowd fund, a crowd sourced emergency funds, were able to get little bits of cash to sex workers, stuff that amounted to really a couple grocery trips, or something like that. But it was really, really tough for people. And of course, people were still, to some degree having to work. And again, very, an ideal work to be doing such interpersonal stuff. So, you know, it’s like, we even tried to talk to people about getting higher up on the vaccines list.


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:09

 can you imagine the outcry in that?


Kate McGrew  33:12

But, honestly, you know, so but even like, for somebody like myself, who I work in a typically very safe setting, and I found myself doing car meet with regulars, you know, so as I don’t want to be as what we call it sort of horror article. But you know, it is a good example of even people who are working on the highest end, being forced to work on what is considered the more dangerous arena of working. So yeah, it was extremely challenging. But people had mouths to feed, so they had to get on with it. We made leaflets that we are passing out to sex workers to though, you know, try and keep your faces away from each other clean surfaces, etc. Just stuff that people won’t understand to be really common sense stuff. But just acknowledging that people, we’re going to have to continue to work.


Dr Sabina Brennan  33:59

Yeah, that’s kind of scary stuff, really, isn’t it? The other thing I wanted to ask you is in terms of clients, so again, most people’s knowledge comes from TV fiction, all sorts of things about the kind of clients who use sex workers, or avail of,


Kate McGrew  34:17

we say, see, the way you’d see your doctor or something. They come to you.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:21

Okay, thank you. Yeah, so it’s a service. So you go see a sex worker. So what kind of clients come to see a sex worker?


Kate McGrew  34:28

All kinds


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:29

Okay, so I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that because you see these stereotypes on TV, what I’m actually trying to get at is that it is all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Can you give me an example of some of the reasons that somebody might come see a sex worker?


Kate McGrew  34:48

 Sure to say, you know, I hear other girls say, like, that their clientele are mostly married men, for example. That’s not my experience at all. And that’s because of the kind of person and sex worker that I am, like, I’m really friendly, for example. So, um, you know, I do have a lot of clients that wouldn’t be doing a lot of dating outside of the sex industry. So my clients are people like that people who have struggled to just sort of be on the regular dating scene, if you will, college kids, widowers, married men as well, you know, of course,


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:28

I think people forget, I suppose that’s kind of what I want to tap into. You know, it’s all very easy to sit on this moral pedestal and say, Oh, nobody should go and see a sex worker like it’s X, Y, Zed, whatever you want to call it. But that’s okay. If you’re in a position where you kind of have access to sex, if you want to have it, or even access to relationships, if you want to have relationships, because I would imagine that part of this, as you said, you have regular clients. So this is relationship based. Also, am I correct to say that, that it’s not just seeing you for the physical act? There’s something more in repeat clients? Would that be correct?


Kate McGrew  36:08

Yeah. And I mean, again, I think it depends on what kind of person you are and what kind of work or you are okay, because it is also a different kind of stereotype that, you know, not all of them want sex? Oh, yeah, the vast majority are looking to have an orgasm. But, for example, I have a lot of clients that may be trying to indulge fetishes that they feel nervous about asking about otherwise. And yeah, again, most people have regulars, and there is certainly a kind of affinity in that space. Is that like a comfort factor on both sides? Yeah, absolutely. I also don’t feel the need to say that it is in no way shape, or form threatening to a person’s relationship, at least not from the man’s part.Highly unlikely that the man is going to want to go through with sort of running away with the sex worker. I mean, that’s the old adage,


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:08

like Pretty Woman.


Kate McGrew  37:10

Sure, yeah. Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:12

I didn’t mean that sort of relationship. I didn’t even mean a romantic relationship. I just meant a relationship. Yes, I knew that. You know, that kind of builds up, I suppose you have a relationship with the guy behind the fish counter in the supermarket? If you buy meat regularly, you know what I mean? That if it becomes a regular occurrence, there’s a certain sort of affinity. And then I suppose the same question in terms of sex workers, all walks of life? Or do you see, I want to avoid using the term stereotypical, but again, you know, there’s that sense that there is a stereotype of the kind of woman and I’m inverted commas here, who ends up in sex work, would you say that you’ve come across lots of different? I mean, I presume it’s a heterogenus bunch of women as different as any bunch of women?


Kate McGrew  38:01

Yeah, I mean, again, it does run the spectrum. You know, Ireland is sort of a convenient place to work for migrants from the continent. So there are a lot of migrants from the rest of Europe. And then sex workers, you know, again, it’s a catch all industry for people who are sort of already on the margins as well. So you do have a lot of people who are, for example, in the LGBT community, I can get back to that. But there are people who are homeless people who use drugs, people who are students, people who are single mothers, lots and lots of single mothers, and trans people, of course, and I think about the LGBT thing, it’s people forget so much about male sex workers out of this real sort of misogyny because it’s Oh, sure the men can fend for themselves, Oh, the men have so called higher sex drives, this kind of thing. And it’s just like, it really tears down the curtain of the hypocrisy of people’s concern, when you realize that they won’t even acknowledge the huge, huge population of male sex workers. And there certainly is one in Ireland.


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:11

Now, I remember actually, there was a spate a good few years ago of assaults and attacks on male sex workers up along the keys heading up towards the Phoenix Park up there, and it was pretty horrific. I was doing some kind of counseling work at the time, and it really particularly awful and actually, if it had been female sex workers, you may have heard more about this. I think I read somewhere you saying that male sex workers tend to operate differently to female sex workers, they operate less out of their home but maybe out of gyms or is that?


Kate McGrew  39:43

Yeah, I mean, again, it’s it’s a slightly sort of stereotypical way for me to talk about it, but sort of a more fluid kind of opportunistic way of working so there would be sort of gym and sauna kind of interactions. But even there, there’d be a lot on well, so, yeah, um,


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:02

SWAI represented all sex workers.


Kate McGrew  40:05

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. You know, because people don’t talk about male sex workers a lot, they can be a population who you know, and they have sometimes a different set of concerns than CIS women do. But they’re sort of harder to reach and part of that sometimes interacting with male sex, whereas like, they kind of are just like, not necessarily wanting to sort of dive into our hellish world of people scrutinizing and condescending and further criminalizing us. They’re just like, leave us be they let us be leave us the kind of thing. But it does mean that we can’t always give them services as much as we want. Although there are people in Empower and HIV Ireland do great work here.


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:47

Yeah. Oh, good. Good, good, good. I kind of think it’s interesting in terms of various well meaning groups who advocated for this Nordic model. I mean, that definitely well meaning, but I think from a feminist perspective, what really kind of jumps out at me at that approach is that most feminists will argue, to hell and back about the negative impact of paternalism. And yet my mind what some of these feminists or women’s groups engaged in in terms of this Sexual Offences Act and ‘Turn off the red liight’ was paternalism only done by women? Is that unfair of me to say?


Kate McGrew  41:27

oh, no, it’s absolutely on point. It’s so infantilizing, it’s so hypocritical to be any kind of pro choice movement, that then tries to take away the choice of a person regards to their survival mechanism. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s just like, you know, to not talk about sex work in terms of people’s income. And people’s survival mechanism is just so hard hearted. Our clients are our bread and butter, you know, and if you’re criminalizing them, I mean, you just have to think about even what that means about even in times where they happily say, Oh, good, they arrested a client, here and there. They’re not they’re taking advantage of you. And it’s like, you can look at it that way. But as much as clients say, Oh, the reason why I pay her is I pay her to calm so she can leave again or something, we’re doing the same thing. You know, it’s Thank you very much. Now I can pay my rent. Yeah, it’s just deeply infantilizing and paternalistic.


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:28

And you could argue that, in fact, that you’re taking advantage of the man’s need by charging him you know, for the service that you provide. That’s what transactions are about, someone provides a service and someone is willing to pay for it. And without putting morals on those kind of things. It is very peculiarly just focused on this particular and one has to wonder, I have to wonder whether it actually really amounts to another form of oppression of women in a way that, you know, if there’s a way that if you could safely do this and charge a lot of money or whatever, in a way, it’s sort of oppressing, you know, I know, I’m sure some of my listeners who are very strongly feminists are going to go, where are you coming from with that, but I really just want people to start thinking outside the box with this and start thinking about did you actually even question why you think a certain way, most of it is stuff that’s been embedded and ingrained in us, and we’ve believed it, and we’ve taken it on board without actually questioning it and teasing it apart. And I don’t see how you can be pro choice in one area of women’s lives and not be pro choice in other areas without you then becoming someone who is dictating how people should live their lives, or someone operating in that paternalistic way we know better, we know what’s good for you better than you know, for yourself,


Kate McGrew  43:56

particularly then to be advocating for a law. That means that we put ourselves in more dangerous situations and means that the power is more in the hands of the client who’s taking more of a risk by being the criminal himself, who has to try and avoid the police. And Zen says, you know, I don’t want to go to your place. Maybe people know that you’re a sex worker, you have to come to me, etc. There, there are so many small ways that we start to bend over backwards for them. To call that feminist is you can’t even say it’s a stretch. I mean, there is no real feminism that doesn’t take direction from sex workers ourselves about what it is we need and want to be safe and happy and thriving. And we can still have conversation about misogyny and objectification, et cetera. But arguably, it’s far more objectifying for somebody to not treat all of us as if we aren’t making decisions that we see fit for our lives


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:55

It is if you don’t have the brain to make these decisions. And I think first of all, it has to be Safety first, we have to look after survival first, the safety first and get it so that you can work together in groups and get it so that yes, okay, let’s work out a way that people aren’t abused by pimps. But let’s work out a way where women and men and trans and individuals can actually work together in a way where they look out for each other and and can kind of work safely. But then after that, there’s a lot of a lot of work that has to be done in terms of perception, in terms of how we perceive of people who work as sex workers. There’s an awful lot to be done. I’m very grateful for your time. And I don’t want to keep you too long. But you mentioned there that there’s a lot of single women working as sex workers, you have a fantastic relationship by the sounds of things with your own mom. I don’t know whether you have any children. But is that something that you’ve ever thought about in terms of how that would work out our players going forward? You’re nodding. And I’m not so sure how that goes down. If this has crossed a line in the question, I’m sorry.


Kate McGrew  46:01

No, not at all. I’m laughing and smiling. Because yesterday, I wrote a vocal for a new song about the abortion that I regret. So yeah, so um, it’s on my mind a lot right now.


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:15

Oh, my goodness.


Kate McGrew  46:16

Yeah. I can perform it for you guys.


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:19

Oh, I would love that


Kate McGrew  46:21

some point in the hour. Yeah. So to answer your question, though, so people may have heard women say this before, it’s that for any of us who have kids, I have not obviously, for those of us who have kids, or would be having kids, we want for them to be safe, as safe as possible. So of course, if I had a daughter, and she wanted to work in the sex industry, I would just be letting her know absolutely everything that I know about it. And I would just be hoping that by this point, there were safer ways for her to work less stigmatizing ways of working. I mean, I think that, again, the sort of frustration around the hypocrisy of how people handle the sex industry, comes from bad sex ed, and it comes from us looking at sex as this entirely separate category that makes the issue seem unrelatable or disconnected from anything else. When it’s not, I don’t think it’s a job like any other. But that’s not to say that we should assume that, for example, sexual assault is inherently that much worse than getting beat up worse, say, for example, molestation is that much worse than getting beat up, for example, people just when they think of sexuality, and sex, they just put everything in this completely other category. And it’s really easy to become sort of overly precious and horrified about things that are maybe not so sensitive, or horrifying to people themselves within it. Yes, and this is a sort of vicious cycle, because all of us because we’ve had bad sex ed, we have these normal little micro traumas, as we’re growing up around sex, and they end up having really outsized repercussions, because we experienced them with these big scary feelings as opposed to realizing, yeah, you know, this journey of sexual discovery is quite bumpy, especially when we’re not raised able to talk about it properly, or raised even with ritual. I mean, this is something that I think about these kinds of things all the time, Sabina, so


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:46

No, I think about this kind of stuff as well. And I’ve thought about it in the past around. And it’s a very sort of sensitive subject to kind of discuss, but around the actual and it was you had said to me, I would mind talking about that kind of viewpoint that rape and sexual assault are somehow worse than other types of assault. And actually, you directed me to an article that said, it’s just a penis, which kind of isn’t totally about that. But if we’re talking about assault, and this is just me throwing this sort of out there, because we have grown up as women in a society that does seem to imply that sexual assault that rape is one of the worst things that can happen to you that to be honest, I can think of other things that would be far worse in a way. Of course, it depends on the violent nature of the rape, and there’s varying degrees of being raped in terms of context and how it happens and occurs. So it’s never just one thing and these things are never black and white, there’s always Shades of Grey, you know, if you were to turn around and say, Well, okay, how is sexual assault or rape worse than other kinds of violent abuse? And if you want to say it’s only just a penis, can you then apply? It’s only just a knife. It’s only just a gun, which is worse? And I wonder in our society telling us that to be raped is one of the worst things that can happen to us. Do we then put ourselves at risk now, okay, not condoning the perpetrator, the perpetrator is always wrong, the perpetrator is always at fault. This is not what the question is, this is not what I’m discussing. It’s about society’s perceptions, and the impact that they have. Do women put themselves at risk of being stabbed, strangled, shot, in order to save themselves from being raped? Because being raped is classified as worse than being stabbed, assaulted in some other way? And I mean, it’s just a question I’m putting out there that are there really degrees. I mean, at the end of the day, emotionally, psychologically, of course, rape can be violent and involve terrible injury. But where it doesn’t, the injury and the trauma can be more psychological in nature. Whereas if you’re stabbed, and you lose your legs, or your shot, or your shot through the head, and you have brain damage, all these terrible things, they’re actually less fixable in some regard, because we have an awful lot more control than we think in terms of the psychological impact that certain traumas can have on us. And I just wonder, sometimes, whether, because pain and trauma are often about perception, and about understanding what you may have lost or what it means, and so much of how we feel around those things like sexual assault, and rape, are influenced by what society says about sexual assault, and rape. And I think I remember a long time ago hearing about gosh, I think it was in Rwanda. And during the horrible massacres, and so many women were raped and had horrific things, women had babies cut out of their bellies and horrific things. And the rape became one of the lesser things in the context, because they felt they came away with their lives. And that’s not that they’re any different people to us, but it’s in a different framework. I’m raising more questions. And I don’t mean to answer, but I just think it’s things that we need to think about.


Kate McGrew  52:08

Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing. It’s like, sometimes I hear sex workers try and say, Oh, so many other people work with our bodies, you know, look at people who break bricks, or, like you said, miners or something like this, but it’s also like, working with your hands is very different than working with your vagina. You know, there are more nerve endings, everybody comes to that space to their sexual experience with sexual baggage. It’s just that there is space for us to question, like you said, why inherently getting sexually harassed is considered, especially nearly right now is just the way that people are talking about stuff, the discourse worse than getting punched in the face? And it’s, I don’t know, it’s something that I still wrestle with. But I feel like it’s very important to point that out.


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:57

You know, I think a conversation is needed. And I’m sure some people will think what I’ve said is horrific. I’m still wrestling with it. I’m just sort of asking questions around why and whether it is to our benefit to do so. I mean, I certainly feel that if you have been sexually assaulted or raped to continue to suffer, as a consequence, gives more power to your assailant, if there’s anything you can do to kind of say, well, actually, in a way, the bigger a deal I make out of that, the more they’ve assaulted me.


Kate McGrew  53:30

Yeah, I mean, the research that I pointed you to there, which is paywalled, I think, unfortunately, but it’s um, yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  53:35

And I couldn’t actually get out as myself. Yeah, I can just tell you briefly. It’s a woman in the 80s, who went to visit the garage. It’s how you say their name, Indonesian tribe in Borneo. And they have a very interesting culture where, as an aside, they kind of don’t believe in gender differences except for the job that people do. So even like men will breastfeed babies,


Kate McGrew  53:58

sort of suit them and things like this. And when you have people draw pictures of genitals, they actually draw them as looking quite similar, etc. So it’s a very interesting culture to say, nonetheless, they also don’t believe in rape. So this woman is describing one evening where she hears some commotion. And here’s a woman shouting a man and he goes running through the village and the next day, she says, all of the people are gathered and they’re laughing. All women are gathered and they’re laughing and reenacting the scene of this man.


Dr Sabina Brennan  53:58



Dr Sabina Brennan  54:38

He broken into a house and people in the house could hear he got tangled up in the mosquito nets and is running, you know, losing his sarong as he’s kind of leaving and a woman shouting out.


Kate McGrew  54:50

 Yeah, so she basically realizes they’re describing an attempted rape. And the researcher is just absolutely gobsmacked and shocked and she says, how are you?laughing about this, don’t you understand that what he was trying to do there? And the woman says, Absolutely. The woman says, Don’t you want justice or something? She says, Yeah, I’m gonna try and get some money out of it or something like that. And still, they’re laughing about it. And she says, the research, I don’t think you understand how serious this is this, he was trying to hurt you. And the researcher said that the woman just sort of looked at her nearly with a look of pity and said, hurt me. It’s just a penis, like that. And it’s just, you can realize in that situation, yes, she was still going to get money. First of all, brilliant. I think oftentimes, that’s what actually would help victims is to have a bit of money, but just that that’s how they perceive that there. And it wasn’t that it wasn’t an affront, it’s that that’s how they handled it.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:52

Yeah. And I think part of the problem as well as if you have experienced sexual trauma, or rape or sexual assault, so much of it has to be dealt with within your own head. Because there is this thing that if you say it out loud, that’s who people see you as you become the person who was raped. And nobody is that one thing in their lives. And I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I started this episode with you at the top by saying you’re multiple things, because we are all composite of things. But when you do something that I suppose is controversial, like being a sex worker, there is a risk that that’s who you become. That’s all that people see. Rather than, and I suppose that’s part of what I’m keen to do with these kinds of things is, and that’s the route to destigmatization really isn’t it is to actually start having conversations and realizing, Oh, actually, I’ve loads in common with her.She just happens to be a sex worker, I couldn’t do that. It’s only one little thing. But you and I you like if you can just take myself, Oh, my God, we knew at the age of seven or eight that we wanted to perform, we wanted to be on stage, I’m different to you in that I never really felt unconditional love from my mom. And I’m envious of that. So that’s the richness of when you actually meet people. You find things that you have in common, you find things that you really aren’t very fond of, and you find things that you are jealous of. And that’s the richness of the human condition. And I think unfortunately, I think social media has a lot to do with it. But I think this black and white thinking this, just putting people in boxes, this depersonalization, stigmatization, whatever you want to call it, that’s at the root of all of these things. And unfortunately, it’s going to stay that way with sex workers, if they are driven underground. Similarly, if people who see sex workers are criminalized, we never get to hear those stories as to why they seek a sex worker. And I don’t mean, why, oh, let’s solve their problem. You know, like, there’s lots of reasons that aren’t unpleasant, that people seek sex workers, there are people trying to survive in a world that makes it difficult for them, maybe to have sex or have relationships, the telling of stories is actually what helps to break down those barriers. So I think, huge credit to you, and huge kudos to you for doing this. Because it’s very brave. It shouldn’t have to be something that is brave, but it’s very brave in Ireland, in particular, and in a very modern feminist Ireland, I actually think it’s become even more challenging, you know, for you to stand up, because when you were director of sway, there was challenges between sway and some feminist organizations. So huge kudos to you. Thank you so much for talking to me. I’m not going to one more thing to ask for you. This show is about surviving and thriving in life. And I always like to end with asking my guests to give one tip about either surviving or thriving in this world that we live in.


Kate McGrew  59:12

It really would be chasing your heart’s desire. We have to drive towards that. With everything in us, like our life depends on it, because it does.


Dr Sabina Brennan  59:24

That’s just fantastic. That’s totally what I believe. I believe so many people give up on their dreams, and they follow this path that they believe they’ve been set on, or, you know, people becoming doctors because that’s what mom and dad wanted to do. And that’s tough, too. It sounds like a first world problem. But if your desire is to be a concert pianist, and you’re working as a doctor for the rest of your life to please mommy and daddy.


Kate McGrew  59:45

Yeah, I do believe that art is the most noble thing that a person can do. I mean, doctors, I’m amazed that you’re a neuroscientist. I’m also fascinated with the brain and doctors. I mean, we need doctors  Obviously, and to me, it seemed artistic in a way as well. I mean, I had a client in New York who was a brain surgeon. And it was beautiful. You know what I mean? I could just tell that the way that he talked about it, and the way that he moved that it was like a dance.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:00:14

 It’s what you said, it’s finding your passion. And from that comes your joy. And I do think going back centuries, probably very long time, an awful lot of women who work to sex workers also worked in theater, you know, or they worked in the arts, they were performers of sorts. And actually, in fact, that’s probably where my father got that when I told my father, I wanted to be an actor, and that I was giving up my job to become an actor, he was horrified because to him, it was the closest thing to prostitution. And that would have been the words he used back then. And that’s because an awful lot of actresses used to also be ladies of the night, as he would put it. So he was horrified. But his daughter wanted to be an actress. And so there’s that long history. And I do think part of it, and I feel strongly with my son as well, who’s a musician, we don’t support the art enough. In the past, there was patrons who supported artists. And the first thing that goes when governments are under pressure, and there’s budgets, and there isn’t enough money for health services, and its attributes, they cut funding to the arts, what what would you do every day, if you couldn’t read a book, if you couldn’t listen to music, if you can never watch a movie, again, if you can never see a beautiful picture, if you can never take a photograph, they are the wonderful things that bring joy into our life. And it needs to be supported. Because it just isn’t people aren’t really willing to pay the artist what they’re worth. And so there does need to be some sort of support.


Kate McGrew  1:01:46

Yes, I also think that the nonlinear thinking and the sort of direction from the subconscious, all of these things that are involved in the arts are the spaces that allow our brains to innovate and to drive change and evolve as a species. And these things affect technology and science. Absolutely. stems from the arts.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:02:05

Oh, absolutely. And the arts can really affect political change. And that’s why in another way than when you do stand up shows, but I think you have one. ‘Hookers, do it standing up’ when you’re doing those kinds of things is a very effective way to bring about change and change in perspectives. No, really, really important. Thank you so much. I could talk to you forever. There’s so much I’m so excited for your book.


Kate McGrew  1:02:29

Thank you, Sabina. It’s great to talk to you. I feel like everything we were talking about we could have talked about on each topic for an hour couldn’t we. Can I do this little


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:02:39

I would love it.


Kate McGrew  1:02:43

Kate sings


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:04:47

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

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 10

That Knocking Sound with Barnaby Walter

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  •  02:11 – Journey to Sunday Times Best Seller
  • 05:29 – pressure on first time authors
  • 08:02 – Can creative writing be taught?
  • 09:56 – Audio books
  • 12:59 – The Woman on the Pier – the ending
  • 15:37 – Barnaby’s books just arrive as a whole
  • 17:53 – TV rights for The Dinner Guest
  • 21:49 – Appropriating Stories
  • 29:57 – Barnaby’s writing pillars
  • 30:49 – Social media as a story device
  • 33:37 – liking and disliking characters
  • 37:09 – The idea for The Woman on the Pier
  • 45:36 – Story telling
  • 49:19 – Visual continuity
  • 50:05 – Being organised and prolific
  • 54:31 – Conflict – That knocking on the door
  • 01:04 – Time management tips for writing



Books by BP Walter

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A Version of the Truth                       Hold your Breath                                  The Dinner Guest                            The Woman on the Pier     



Stephen King – On Writing

Guest Bio


B P Walter was born and raised in Essex. After spending his childhood and teenage years reading compulsively, he worked in bookshops then went to the University of Southampton to study Film and English followed by an MA in Film & Cultural Management. He is an alumni of the Faber Academy. He used to work in social media coordination for Waterstones in London but now is a full-time writer. His third book The Dinner Guest is a Sunday Times Best Seller





Over to You

Have you read any of Barnaby’s books. I’d love to know whether you enjoyed them as much as me and which one is your favourite.


This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources  (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:01

My name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My guest this week is Barnaby Walter, aka BP. Walter, when I read a book called The dinner guest in April this year, I was absolutely just blown away by the book. I am an avid psychological thriller fan. I absolutely eat them up. I just came across this book, but I think it had only just been published. And I had a little listen on Audible, and I went, Oh, yeah, love this, I have to buy it. And I don’t know what the phrase for audiobook unputdownable. But it was the equivalent of that. And I gave it straight to my husband to listen to as well. And we both absolutely loved it. But I just took one of those moments, I said, I really want to talk to this author, because there’s just such a freshness, to the writing and to the setting and to the characters that I just loved it and I just reached out on Twitter, to Barnaby. And you know, guys, like all the people can do is say no, and you very kindly replied to this crazy woman. But I actually do think you also very kindly listened to a couple of episodes, I presume to check that I wasn’t utterly crazy. And this wasn’t a mad podcast. So thank you very much. My guest today is Barnaby Walter. He writes under BP Walter and I got to read a little bit because I was looking for bio, and I found this on your publishers website. And it says BB Walter was born and raised in Essex. After spending his childhood and teenage years reading compulsively. He worked in bookshops, then went to the University of Southampton to study film and English, followed by an MA in film and cultural management. He is an alumni of the Faber Academy and currently works in social media coordination for Waterstones in London. Now, you need to get onto your publisher, they need to update your bio. Because you no longer work in social media. You are a full time writer. And that very book, dinner guest is a Sunday Times best seller. Congratulations. You’ve got to tell us how you kind of got there.


Barnaby Walter  02:11

Thank you so much. Yes, no, it’s all a bit of a strange kind of slightly, I don’t know, overwhelming and bewildering experience, really. But the other buyer will change in the next book. But yeah, in terms of how I got there, well, there’s like a very long publication journey. And there’s probably a much more listener friendly, abridged one. But essentially, when I finished university, I did film in English at university. And it was purely theoretical, it wasn’t how to write a book or how to make film. It was purely the study of film in English. And then I did a film on cultural management masters, also at the University of Southampton. And that was very much focused on the business side of the film industry and how we tell stories and how they’re packaged up to audiences and that kind of thing. And I kind of knew that as I was contemplating a career in film distribution, I kind of knew I needed to something more personal and creative to me. And I thought about filmmaking. And that slightly scared me because I think filmmaking involves a lot of other people’s time and money. Whereas writing a novel is literally just you in the room, writing a book and with a laptop. And so I decided to do that. And it took me a few years to write a book that got me an agent, and I got a brilliant agent, Joanna Harmon Swenson, and that book was my debut version of the truth, which was then published a few months later, and we’re no sorry. Now we’ve got the book deal few months later, and then published the year after that. So that takes up 2019. So that’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:39

2019, folks. Right? Okay. And the dinner guests is 2021. But I do want to just take you back to 2019. Barnaby, because my listeners know, I stalk my guests just trying to find little snippets, because I’m interested in the person who’s written these books, and why they write certain things and why certain teams draw them in. And I came across an interview that you had done in 2019, just after your first book was published. And it was a podcast called The worried writer. And what’s really just, it was so interesting, just to read it and know where you are now, just a short two years later, and you were talking about writing and how the dream is, oh, if I can get a publisher, you know, and then you get to that and you actually say, Gosh, you get a publisher, and then the book is published. And then there’s a whole load of other new worries and insecurities that come in. And you say about being published introduces a new level of consciousness and anxiety into the process. It’s very strange. When your writing you think of it as a dream, you think something really stupid, you think once this happens, all my problems will be solved, and I’d be forever happy, right? And then in another part of it, you say it’s sort of which is related to this, because you’re talking about having worked in bookshop since you were about 15. Knowing the astonishing highs which are possible. It’s very exciting to see a book catch fire like that when you’re working In a bookshop, and I think that in part inspired me, not that I thought I could achieve that, but seeing people to be so passionate about story was amazing. I mean, who you are you actually have achieved that. It’s almost I can hear you saying, Yeah, this really is my dream. But I have to sort of say, I’m not so big enough to think that that kind of might happen. But wouldn’t it be lovely, and here it is, just for me, that was just lovely to see you articulate, shyly that dream and then to achieve it must feel amazing for you.


Barnaby Walter  05:29

Yeah, it’s very strange. And also, as you say, like with the experience of bookselling because I used to work in bookshops, I started from when I was a teenager, up until when I was about 20 to 23, I think doing that you become quite used to the idea of a lot of authors bringing out a lot of books, and none of them really doing that much in terms of high sales. And not that that’s the be all and end all. Of course, there are many authors, I think it’s important to say that never necessarily get to the charts, or the bestseller list, but still make a decent income still very much have great careers. And I think sometimes there can be perhaps too much emphasis sometimes placed upon all the stuff that kind of goes with it. But I was very aware that when I got my first published, it may take me like 1012 20 books before I even touch anywhere near the level of success that I could hope for. And I’ve been very lucky that it’s happened on Book Three. But I think there is a kind of worry that when it doesn’t happen with the debut. And I think as an industry, there’s perhaps a bit of an odd focus on debuts. And it’s always like a debut author, here we go, you know, it’s their first time, it’s an amazing, like new book that we’re going to promote and that kind of stuff. And there are several other author podcasts that I listened to that make me feel a lot better about this, this kind of strange world, but a lot of the things that spoken about is how odd it is, in an industry to put so much pressure into some extent, on the new blood on a new person coming in, when so many other careers, the first person like their first end, the first job, it wouldn’t be, well, not the most important person in the company, or you’re now the most important person in your career is that you work up you go up a ladder, yes, you know, try and sustain a level of success. But there may be highs and lows, but generally you have a great progression. Whereas weirdly, in publishing quite often, it seems like that first moment is the biggest point of the career. And it’s almost the wrong way around to some extent. So yeah, I’ve been quite lucky that it’s like grown per book.


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:24

Well, I agree with you and what you say, you know, that kind of pressure. And then also that dream, you know, because there is this Oh, first book breakouts, number one bestseller, or whatever. And I agree with you, the publishing industry wouldn’t exist without the people who write and sell regularly and not necessarily huge amounts. I want to go back to the fact that you said you’ve been very lucky, I’m always really dubious about luck. I think luck only comes into play when you’ve put in an awful lot of hard work and are there or you’re ready to capitalize on that break or that opportunity. So it’s not just all look, I think there’s more to it than that. And I think in your case, you did the Faber Academy


Barnaby Walter  08:02

writing course, yes, yeah, I did that I was working on my debut when I did that. And I had my debut as my work in progress while I was on the course, which was really good and really helpful, actually, because I’d never learned creative writing as a particular pursuit. And even though I’m not necessarily one of the people that thinks that everyone should go on creative writing courses where you don’t have to do it. But at the same time, there are others that don’t think creative writing can be taught. It’s like two extremes in this argument. Whereas I think if it’s right for you go for it. And for me, it felt like a natural thing to do. And it was just wonderful. I had a brilliant tutor, Cora and Coleman, who’s an amazing author. And she was so brilliant at guiding me and my fellow classmates and through various different parts of the industry, both the writing and the technical parts of that, and also in terms of agents and that sort of thing and looking for publications. So yeah, it was a really good step.


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:55

I think it is rather interesting what you say because actually, I noticed a tweet the other day from Sheila Flanagan, who was also a guest on season two. But she said she was listening to a podcast on I’ll share the tweet in the blog for this episode. But she said she was listening to a podcast on writing the other day, and they were talking about story arcs and something else and she says, I have no clue what they’re talking about. I just write the story. And I thought that was lovely. And I think that’s it. There’s no one way to skin a cat, you know, different strokes for different folks and dispute. Lots of little phrases, but John Boyne, I remember when I was talking to him, he said initially, and he does teach writing also and he said initially, he always had a plan and a plot and all the rest. He says Now he doesn’t need it. And he thinks what that is, is he trusts himself more. He knows it’s there and it’s probably just ingrained in his brain anyway. He say as a child you were a compulsive reader. Now as a psychologist, I think compulsive like, did you just have to read or do you just mean it in the more everyday sense that that was just,


Barnaby Walter  09:56

yeah, the more everyday sense. It’s actually odd. I was quite a slow reader as a child. And I would only get through like when I went on to, you know, older and wider books, only a handful of books a year. And I did enjoy it. But I was very slow, I was quite aware of how slow was because I was always reading there was this idea that I was just massive bookworm and must get through hundreds of books a year. Whereas I actually was very slow with it. And it was only until I got later in life, that I got quicker. And it was actually audiobooks that really upped my reading abilities or speeds and things like that. And now I go between books and audio all the time. And if I’m really loving a book, I’ll then buy the audio. So then I can go out for a run and carry on listening.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:37

Yeah, yeah. And I’m the reverse, because if I’m interviewing a guest, I like to have either hardcopy or a PDF of the book so that I can make notes and talk and you’re reading very differently for when you’re reading for guests, because you’re thinking about things that you might be able to talk about. I know some people, there’s a certain snobbery about audio books, but you know what, they are the most amazing thing, they can transport me they become an escape for me, I can double job with them, but also my husband, you talk about being a slow reader, my husband was dyslexic, and he reads and reads newspapers. But whatever happens when he reads in his brain, he starts to fall asleep. That’s just what happens. And so he’d never really read a book, he’d read a couple of soccer biographies, because he’d be mad football fan, but might be one in a year. And I always been saying to met audio books and with lockdown, I just said, No, go on, you have to try. And actually yours was one of the early books. And he started in January this year. And I’d say he’s got 30 books, which I just think is incredible, and just loves them. And he actually even remembers more of them even than I do. So like I’m reading books, and then Dave reads them sort of after me and I’m going to where are you What better you’re at, it’s great. It’s a new relationship we have because we never had that I enjoyed books on my own. But where I’ll say, oh, IMF, the bit where she pulls out the letter or I met the bed, he’ll go, he actually do the actions. And he repeat the lines word for word. So he has the whole book in his head. And I just think that’s fabulous. I think audio books has opened up a world to a lot of people who weren’t there and who’ve kind of never read books. And if there’s any listeners there, I know my husband was under the misconception that audio books for somebody reading a book, you know, he said this, but it’s not is the book played out. And I have to say that about the dinner guest. The audio book is fabulous. always enjoyed it. Oh, fabulous, that narrators were brilliant. Because a narrator can kill an audio book by lesson and I don’t like the sound, even if I love the author, I will not take the audio book because you’ve got to listen to that person in your head for 1012 hours. So you really have to love your new book, which comes out on the 11th. I love the data actually on your your profile 1111 21. It just looks like some sorts of prophecy. But I very thankfully got an advance copy last week. And I read it and I would have read it in one sitting except that I made a promise on this show that I was going to work on my sleep or not stay up late. But it would have been one of the reasons I stayed up late. And then actually what I decided I had about 50 pages left, I think I read maybe another little bit more. But I kept the last little bit till yesterday because I wanted it really fresh in my head talking to you. And again, like your first book. So what happens in the last few pages, there’s just so much would you say this is a good description, you know that your book, certainly these two, I haven’t read your first two, I’m really looking forward to reading them that you really build up and you you let us inside your character’s heads. And there’s also some event I mean, the dinner guests start off with four people at dinner and one of them doesn’t come out to dinner alive. And then similarly at the start of the woman on the pier, which is your new book, The pivotal event, we are aware of at the beginning of the book. And so then you take people on this journey, but then it’s at the end, you know, there’s all these little hints and little I guess what I like is there’s possibilities for multiple endings. And then you tie them all together very nicely and surprising me so in the first books, surprisingly in a lovely, you know, almost finals like at the end of that books, it’s really worth turning every page for in your new book. And this is why I like to hold it at the end. I think I wanted a different ending. I understand why you gave that ending. And I suppose that’s it. You’re so invested in the characters. How does that make you feel if someone says something like that to you? Oh,


Barnaby Walter  14:36

I don’t mind I find with books. I think like beauty is in the eye of the beholder very much and a different person will have a different experience with a different book and others will want a much more rounded off ending and others will like ambiguity or others would like things to end very nicely and very sweetly and others will want to stay at the end of the tale and wanted to be a bit nastier and it’s interesting with the dinner guest it used to be A lot more. I don’t know, I don’t say nice, necessarily, but a slightly more pleasant ending. And then between me and my editor, my brilliant editor, Beth, and we came up with one that just had that slight sting at the end of it and epilogue that kind of just inserted another note of doubt and slight problems to come, which wasn’t originally there and was written like, almost over a year after the rest of the book was. And it’s amazing how that can slightly reposition one’s perception of how a book is ending. That didn’t happen with the woman on the pier, it remained the same, but I find it difficult to kind of pinpoint where it came from, or why I did it. Because for me, a book just arrived as a whole. And that is the is it really, yeah, it’s that’s the whole book, wow. And I never really change anything, as I’m doing it. The easiest way I can describe it as is like a painting, it’s like a whole thing. Okay, it just arrives all at once. And some things may take a while to develop. And some characters may become shaped as the writing goes on. But the ending is very much to be part of the thing as a whole. And it’s hard to unpick it.


Dr Sabina Brennan  16:05

And it’s a journey to get there. Yeah, yeah, that’s really interesting, you know, and I’ve talked to a good few creatives. And I said this before my son, my younger son is a musician, and he sees music, he sees the shape of music. So he looks at a score. He sees the music, he sees patterns and shapes and whatever. And like that, you see some artists talk like that. And that’s interesting that that you see sort of the book as a whole. And that makes sense to me. So then it must be this bursting to get it. Okay, here’s the story. That’s what I would imagine.


Barnaby Walter  16:36

And yes, sometimes it depends on the book, sometimes in terms of like the planning, because I plan on my books meticulously before they’re written. And I’ve got more strict with the planning, as I’ve gone to, actually, it’s interesting, you mentioned, John Barnes spoke about how he’s got slightly looser with the planning side of things. Even though of course, he’s written way more books than I have. So maybe I’ll like start up and then go down again. Now I need a very meticulous plan. And when the idea arrives, I always write it out as a two or three page synopsis, a very basic description of the entire plot and how it would all go. And then I do a character list with every single character. Well, every kind of main character that has a part in the book, and I always go online and find pictures of actors or famous people and cast them off to make sure that I, and that is actually only there to make sure I don’t get confused of characters names change, right? Because quite often, that happens, sometimes very late in the day character, things change. And if they do change, it can be a bit confusing if I’ve previously thought of them someone else. Whereas if I can go, oh, that’s Kate Winslet. That’s Nicole Kidman, that’s, you know, yeah, whoever else, I had these people don’t mind me using their names. But if I’ve just got a face in my head, I can then rearrange those characters as to where they fit in the novel and not lose track.


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:53

That just makes so much sense to me. What I have to say, folks, is I actually found out that this is public knowledge, but I actually kind of gave a little boop, that the TV film rights for the dinner guests have been purchased. exciting is that


Barnaby Walter  18:08

oh, yeah, it’s very exciting. I don’t think I’m allowed to yet say by WHO, but I’m allowed to say that they have been born.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:15

I found it on Twitter. And I was so excited because it’s so funny. Like, I mean, your book is a Sunday Times bestseller, but I sort of felt like I discovered you. It wasn’t a book Did anyone tell me to read because it kind of had only come out and I just thought, Oh, I like the sound of that. And then you have to read this book. It’s brilliant. And it’s by this person. And so you have a sense that you kind of discovered someone new, but didn’t of course, but I was so pleased. I feel investors, we should kind of give a little synopsis about the dinner guest and then you can tell us who you imagine playing Charlie and Matthew?


Barnaby Walter  18:45

Well, firstly, I’m going to be very disappointed here. And I shouldn’t really name names in terms of Yes. Because I do have an ideal list.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:56

Typically, I just push out the questionnaire you tell me afterwards off record. Now it’s a real thing.


Barnaby Walter  19:03

Yeah, exactly. Oh, my God, I do have my idea in my head. But the ideal could differ from what ended up and I wouldn’t want it to be as in like, oh,


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:15

yeah, yeah, of course. You can’t say who you had in your head. Now, when you wrote the book either?


Barnaby Walter  19:20

No, certainly not. I don’t have any rule against necessarily, but I’ve just avoided saying,


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:24

I know, I understand. You’ve made your own little. Yeah, yeah. No, I get that. I totally understand that.


Barnaby Walter  19:31

Yeah. And I should also say the two actors I mentioned earlier are not on the list that I you know, because even though they’re amazing actors, they wouldn’t fit necessarily in the roles of the dinner guests. So I just plucked those names out of thin air before anyone reads too much into the


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:44

anyone listening if you read the book, or if you do read the book, please do let me know who you are. Imagine playing Charlie and Matthew and Rachel and Tytos. Titus. What a pretentious name. It’s perfect for the book. But I have to say One of the reasons that I really was taken with the book is the main characters are Charlie and Matthew. And they’re a married couple. And Rachel obviously plays a key role with this, as does the son, Titus, the couple’s adopted son. But one of the real reasons why it kind of resonated with me was, first of all, actually, I think, as I was reading it, I didn’t realize I was reading about a gay couple of marriage, you know, maybe a couple of pages in or something like that. And then I did, and that’s what I loved about it was that this was just a very normal, you know, their characters in the book. Well, what I mean is, there was no trumpeting, there was a no announcing this as a gay couple. This was just ordinary, everyday stuff. And I loved that. And I really did, because, as a mother of the gay son, who’s married, obviously to a man in a heteronormative world, well, my son has always said to me, you know, it’s very difficult, you don’t see role models, you don’t read about those things. And so for me, that was fabulous to read that book. Because I think so often, I mean, I’ve read lots of books where there are gay characters in it. And in fact, John Boyd has written an amazing one, which is also going to be turned into a TV series, which will be amazing. But often those books are about being gay, or about the challenge of being gay and about how the terrible things that happen in a world where being homosexual was criminalized, and all those sorts of things. This was just in a way incidental, because the book is about betrayal and secrets. And that was incidental. And I loved it. And I just think you managed that really well. How did you feel about writing that way? Or, again, in this world of political correctness, and where people are even tackling writers about appropriating stories and characters? How did you feel about writing? Or was that just there from the beginning? The couple?


Barnaby Walter  21:55

I think, goodness me, there’s lots of things we could go into about this, actually. And I fear sometimes, potentially, my views on a perhaps controversial, but I didn’t think about it that much. Actually, when I wrote it. The thing that most kind of inspired me about the book really was that I at the time, when I wrote it, I lived in Belgravia in central London, close to where the book is set. It’s mostly set in Chelsea and I was walking along the road in Chelsea and there was Carlisle square, the house where they lived, and a house and many houses. And I just imagined all wouldn’t it be fun to set because you don’t know what’s happening behind those closed doors. And those really perfect garden squares, London thought all kinds of things could be happening. And so I thought it’d be really interesting to have America on that square, that son Titus, and there will seem to be perfect, and it’s actually isn’t. So that was what really inspired me to write it, the idea of them being a gay couple, I have actually no real idea where that came from. Really, as I said before, it just arrives kind of all at once. And they just were, I just had Titus and his parents, Charlie and Matthew, if they weren’t called that I keep on occasion referring to them as they’re like previous names. But in terms of the stories and representation of gay people and things like that, I do know exactly what you mean, in the sense that it often seems problematized in some way, in fiction. And whilst Of course, there is a space for writers to tackle themes like homophobia, or issues to do with discrimination and things like that. And those stories should be told because that’s how I remember the problems of the past, or even problems that remain the present. This was never for me one of those stories, I wanted it to be as incidental as then being left handed, really not necessarily ignored, but also not given undue focus. And I do get slightly frustrated that I fear and this is potentially controversial, I fear we’re moving towards a time where it’s now giving even more undue focused, and quite for more celebrated than necessarily like discriminated against. And whilst that’s a much better alternative, I’m always hesitant when there’s a risk of other rising and it’s made it seem that gay people are so different to heterosexual people. Therefore, hedgerows writer, therefore couldn’t possibly think the same way as a gay couple because they’re so different, which of course, is absolute nonsense. Well, shit. Exactly. And I’m gay myself, but I had the conversation actually, about this with someone how this concept of lived experience and how whether that’s important or not, and that kind of thing. And I actually saw the fact that I was gay and the characters were gay. Absolutely. kind of irrelevant, because I have no lived experience that those characters have. Yeah, I’m not a millionaire. I’m not Yeah, I wasn’t married. I didn’t have an adopted son. I didn’t live in a gorgeous townhouse in Chelsea. I didn’t you know, drive flash cars. I didn’t have a job in advertising. And all these things I didn’t have a Castle in Scotland, you know, all these things. These characters have their actual proper lived experience I did not have whatsoever. So I thought the idea of like sexual orientation being the link for lived experience was pretty tenuous, really, when it comes to that, and I am really resistant to the idea that one should therefore be the same as one’s characters to write them. cuz, I mean, my previous characters that I’ve written are largely heterosexual characters. Yeah. And that also suggests, therefore I wouldn’t be able to write them not being heterosexual. And I think it’s a pretty limiting viewpoint really, that a writer can really only write what they themselves have lived. And, of course, I’m sensitive to the idea that there are topics that of course, it would be very beneficial for writer to have some experience of because I’m sure there’ll be an insight into nuance and other areas that another writer may not pick up on, or may not realize if they hadn’t gone through certain things, and particularly, very specific or historical circumstances. Of course, I understand. There’s definitely a place for that. But I do worry, the discussion is getting way too limiting. And otherwise, all we end up with is just memoir and diaries.


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:45

Just nothing. Yeah, I had this conversation and another guest on the show Amanda Smith, when she’s an Irish Trinidadian author. And her first book was an Oprah Winfrey, summer reads, And so became bestseller and all the rest. And that’s a good few years ago now. And when we were talking, we’re talking about her new book called fortune that can make this year, all her books are set in Trinidad. And she said during the interview, that she could not write her first book. Now, because she’s a white Trinidadian. And she would have been accused of appropriation because she was writing in the first person about a black person’s experience, to kind of accept that, you know, when she said, writing your next book, her way around was writing in the third person, rather than the first person, because there’s characters of various ethnicities in her new book, I do struggle with it. I just think we’re all humans first. And then we happen to be gay, or black or white. It is the cultural experience and the societal experiences that make us different. And they’re hugely important, hugely important, because they shape us we are a makeup of our genetics of our evolutionary history of our family upbringing, and of the society and culture that we live in. And all of those shape how our brain works, which means that shaped our emotional responses, our experiences, how we perceive the world, the reality that our brain creates. So that is, of course, all different. But fundamentally, we are humans. And I do not understand how we can have a rich, literary and film content.


Barnaby Walter  27:27

Yeah, things. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:29

If people are not allowed use their imagination. That is what writing and filmmaking is about. It is about storytelling. And if you go back in our history, we are storytellers, it is language and the capacity to imagine various futures, that have actually allows us to become whatever you want to call as masters of the Earth, we’re going to destroy yours, which shows how silly we are, what has allowed us to get to this position, top of the animal kingdom is our ability to tell stories to imagine futures, or to actually reiterate past because we learn from past experiences. And so that oral tradition of telling stories about the past, they were all shaped those people didn’t live that past, the stories followed. And then the ability to imagine various futures allows us to make decisions. And so to me, that’s what literature and art and even not very good literature. That’s what books and films and music as well are about their storytelling, and they allow us explore and identify with our own experiences, you know, there’s certain stories will resonate, because and as I’ve said, even with your book, one of the reasons I suppose it’s an excellent book, and the being gay is incidental. But that’s why it resonated with me. It’s just incidental, fabulous, love that. But the book itself is an amazing story. And I just think some people are better at imagining and better at telling stories than others. And which do you rather? Do you rather an excellent book that tells a great story, or a mediocre? This is my true story, which has the most impact? I love the power that books can have. We want to affect change, books and film can help us to do that.


Barnaby Walter  29:17

Yeah, I kind of have two kind of pillars I keep with me when I’m writing and I don’t really write very controversial books at all, really. But the thing I kind of keep in mind is that firstly, and this more applies to if I was going to go into more direct or particular areas, but my view is just try and do it. Well, just research well just try and write well try and be sensitive to topics and they’ll get it wrong at times and readers are there to criticize if they do you only owe the reader the book and the reader can decide whether or not that’s been done whether or not so I tend to think just be as sensitive and mindful as possible and but not let that limit the creativity and the other marrow is think of is that a particular character? For me? At least not many Speaking for me and my experience of writing a particular character for me is not meant to represent all of the people that may be like that character. So my second book, hold your breath, I wrote for perspective of a 10 year old girl, who was experiencing quite sinister things in a forest evolving exorcisms quite different from the dinner guests. But I never intended that book to be an example of this is how all 10 year old girls think this is how all 10 year old girls live their lives. This is how all 10 year old girls are, of course, not because the character will kitty. And that was just purely about Kitty’s experience, and what happened to her when she was 10. And so I think sometimes we risk kind of taking one character and blowing it up into, therefore this is speaking for all 10 year old girls, or women or gay couples, or yeah, in so whichever I’m


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:49

just writing stereotypes. Okay, yeah. Now, obviously, you have a background in social media. And I recently had a guest on the show, Dr. Mary McGill. Basically, she explores the visibility trap, that his social media has increased our visibility, with visibility comes exposure, and there’s a price to pay with exposure and the vulnerability. And it’s a really fascinating, interesting read. And in the dinner guest, Charlie and Matthew are the perfect couple on Instagram. And this is a great way for you to show, you know, this exterior life they have. And we never used to know, as you said, what goes on behind that door. We never used to know what goes on behind doors. But we also didn’t even really know what was going on outside in a lot of people’s lives. Social media has changed that. And people are pushing forward an image and it’s usually sort of the perfect image in the book. And that’s critical in that the character Rachel tracks the character of Matthew Dan through this Instagram. So there’s the kind of visibility and the exposure, I suppose you want to look at that. But then towards the end of the book, we also have an I don’t think I’m giving anything away about this. But there’s a character in a called Pippa. And she is, I suppose we would call her like a socialized, you know, just a average kid. And she is now writing for you use a quote in his M graffiti with punctuation,


Barnaby Walter  32:06

actually, isn’t my attribute. Is there a film called contagion? I think it’s written by Scott burns, but I might have to


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:14

what you do in the book in the book, you attribute it to whoever. It’s brilliant, isn’t it? It’s absolutely brilliant, and essentially this person, and I really thought that was reflective around what’s happening in terms of influencers. This young woman she’s 19 is writing on social media. And the sole purpose of her writing seems to be to cause outrage and offense, I’m no longer going to engage with poor people about privilege. That kind of brings me to a kind of another thing I was looking at. I was reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I’m just amazing reviews, but so many of them harped on the theme of privilege. And these people living privileged lives and the character Rachel hasn’t lived this privileged life and in Yes, there are some very astute observations in it without being banged over the head. The story is key, but it does highlight some of those things. But I was quite taken aback by how many people disliked your characters. They loved the book, and they disliked the characters. I was trying to think. But I don’t think I had a sense of disliking the characters, quite light, Jack. I just saw them as human. And it was nice to see people with human flaws and written that way.


Barnaby Walter  33:27

Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, there’s something in the well, of course, I mean, I have a different perspective of it, of course, not being the reader being the writer, but I do. I didn’t know I would pause when it comes to giving any character really, actually many books are kind of a blanket kind of like unlikable kind of labor. Because I mean, I suppose it’s all down to the way they’re kind of portrayed and the way they’re perceived. But I much prefer the idea of people existing on a continuum, and no one is in wholly bad. No one’s wholly good. There’s just kind of shades of grey in between. And I try my hardest to kind of articulate those shades of grey within the story. But there’s, I guess, does share a bit of a DNA with my first book, a version of the truth, where it involves kind of very high class, high moneyed circles in those areas of London. And I do try my best to make sure that not everyone is just also a villain because as a reader, I would get tired of the idea of like, oh, posh people are bad. They’re all privileged. They’re all awful. They’re therefore not as human as the rest of us. And it’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:28

just another when anything, where you put the Oh, the privileged or even the poor, your other ring, have been avoiding actually making any sorts of controversial comments on social media in recent years. I used to do them but I just feel it’s not safe anymore. But I did feel that that with the book, there was a sense of for some readers, it was oh, yeah, the privilege kind of getting a come up in a way which I didn’t kind of really see it that way,


Barnaby Walter  34:57

but definitely wasn’t Yeah, no money attended. Yeah, we’re kind of


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:01

there for some people in the good reads thread, which is kind of interesting. And it’s nice to get those perspectives. But I think that’s the problem. I think social media has an awful lot to blame. And as you said, it’s Shades of Grey, you know, people are all bad. And I think that’s what’s a terrible thing that’s happened is that people are being canceled because they have a singular opinion about something. And then all the goodness they’ve ever done in the world is null and void. That’s not a human thing. And actually, I’m stealing from one of my guests. I think it’s Mary Miguel, who wrote visibility trap. And she said, in dehumanizing others, you dehumanize yourself, because you’re not acting as a human.


Barnaby Walter  35:41

It’s one of the reasons I had the character Rupert in the dinner guest, who is a sideline character, and he is just an all around genuinely nice person, you know, with his own flaws. And, you know, he’s still a human being but


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:56

quite hunky if I remember. Yeah.


Barnaby Walter  36:00

He’s a character from my first novel, a version of the truth.


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:02

Ah, cuz I saw that recently that you might see. So I was wondering, actually, he is very


Barnaby Walter  36:07

much a central character of the book, I have just finished writing, which will be book six, probably. And it goes back to his childhood. But I wanted him to be there to basically, hopefully, make it clear that this isn’t just one big kind of, you know, these people are terrible aren’t their lives awful, isn’t this, you know, have this kind of own a strange sort of kind of criticism of inverted commas, the rich, or the privileged, or the moneyed classes of London, or the aristocracy, or these groups that sometimes we find ourselves kind of using. And I understand why we do sometimes because we live in a time poor society. And it’s quicker to kind of group in generalize sometimes, but I think we didn’t fiction, that’s when you’re given a playground to break down these groups. And you can have fun kind of really looking like we were talking earlier about the nuances and the shades of gray. When looking at those areas. That’s where you get the really interesting questions. And I found the absoluteness thinking and the kind of boxing and categorizing, that shuts down those interesting areas where I was more interested in opening those up.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:09

Yeah, and you did, and you did it beautifully. And there’s just so many subtleties, and it really is fabulous. And for me, actually, the bigger themes were around, and I think they kind of carry through to your next book are really around secrets, and betrayal. And I mean, I don’t think I’m taking too much away from talking about your next book, I really want to talk about it. But it’s so hard, you know, trying to figure out to talk about it without giving away but secrets are at the core of that. Social media also plays a certain role. Again, it’s an amazing kind of, I suppose, in a way now your books are of a new time, because some of the things that happen in your books couldn’t happen without social media. Yes, I suppose there may be other forms, I suppose in your new book, a diary could be a ploy, in a way, but I’m not sure it would kind of work in quite the same way. But it’s a fabulous book. surprising journey. It sat around terrorists,


Barnaby Walter  38:10

terrorist attacks. Yeah, terrorist attacks.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:13

Again, how did that come to you? Was that just some sort of feeling you had? You know, when those were happening?


Barnaby Walter  38:18

Yeah, it was. And I should also actually know that I wrote the next book, The woman on the pier before the dinner guest. Actually, I did. I wrote it three years ago. It’s taken a while to surface already in 2017. And when there was a large run of terrorist attacks, yeah. And maybe very much became part of our life.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:40

Because I was kind of doing that in my head. I kind of was going okay, why did he want to write about that? I mean, obviously, you’ve been editing is now that’s what happens with books, but Oh, right. So that makes much more sense.


Barnaby Walter  38:51

Exactly. Yeah. And to me, it was I was a commuter going into London every day, during the time when the UK threat level was going between severe and critical and it was a very worrying time and very stressful time. I shouldn’t actually talk about it as if it’s in the past because of course, you know, the threat still remains. But the concept actually of the woman on the pair, I should say is that mother and father lose their daughter in a terrorist atrocity. And Jessica Yeah, and they’re they’re confused as to why she was there. Why was she on the platform when that attack happened when she shouldn’t have been there? She should


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:22

have should have been like a teen I did that myself. You know, I remember getting caught you saying you were going one place, but another place and again, the secrets that’s kind of part two where the secrets because devastation for the mother, Caroline, that my daughter actually lied to me and that says, Mother, you feel that you can’t ask them why. And this is the quest of the book. Really? This is the mother’s quest. Why she Yeah, train station and lost her life.


Barnaby Walter  39:50

Yeah, the whole concept of the book came to me when I was waiting at Stratford station, which is where the imagined terrorist trustee takes place in the book and I was waiting for someone who was running very late or hadn’t turned up at the right time. And there were lots of police. It was around the time of the height of the Paris concerns. And there was lots of Met Police with big submachine guns or big guns walking around the station area. And they had become a fairly common presence throughout the whole of the London Underground during that time. But it did occur to me if there was a terrible incident, God forbid, at that moment, who would be to blame you of course, the person committing the atrocity is to blame. But if the person I was meeting hadn’t not arrived, I would have gotten I wouldn’t be in at the station is that butterfly in a wheel kind of thing. It’s like all those little bits that if that hadn’t happened if it hadn’t happened, and I thought in the mind of someone who’s in the midst of terrible grief, it’s the mother in the book to clutch on to something like the fact of blame the boy who didn’t turn up who love her daughter on a date, I think he he is the reason why this happened. And to make that the focus of her terrible anguish,


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:56

and of course, then for the boy, he didn’t show up. Yeah, exactly. Um, so there is his dreadful pain and guilt. And I think you explore beautifully. Because, yes, this is in a novel, and this is a terrorist attack. But how many human souls say, Oh, if I just been five minutes earlier, or if I, you know, I would have caught him when he had the heart attack, or like, even I didn’t say that with my own father died suddenly. But I mean, he had told my mother the night before, he said, I shouldn’t have eaten that appetite, that terrible ingestion. And she let him sleep that night, and then didn’t go to the doctor the next morning, and my wife says, I shouldn’t own indigestion as a sign of it. Like, why don’t you just call an ambulance? We all kind of have those things, and you explore it in very scary ways. Really?


Barnaby Walter  41:42

Yeah. It’s horrible, isn’t it, because those are the moments that you wish you had the undo button that you have in like Microsoft Word that you can just undo that bit, and then it will hit reset. And I mean, I think everyone’s heard stories of friends, having relatives of light, you know, who missed the Titanic by 10 minutes and didn’t get on board, and therefore, you know, survived. And, I mean, I continued and things like that, and just the sheer circumstance or the, you know, the accidental kind of moments that have such a big knock on effect, I find that really, really fascinating. And it’s actually interesting in terms of the timing of the women appear, because during the Edit, there was a time because between me and my editor, we decided to leave it fairly ambiguous as to what year and when it was said, and this is further complicated, but the pandemic of course, I think the fiction is kind of figuring out how to portray the pandemic, or choose not to portray it within fiction. And there was a period when there was an ending of the book that was set post pandemic, in order to date it so that we had the awful random terrorist attacks back in 2017 2018. And then we had the pandemic, and now we’re just about that’s normal, then imagined there’d be a new run of terrorist attacks,


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:50

don’t you think that like, the world beneath our feet has turned to lava really, in a way and I was thinking about that actually reading the book in terms of challenges for writers, because a lot of people are saying, We’re post pandemic, but like, we don’t really know where damage is going to happen. Because, you know, this has been just everything has


Barnaby Walter  43:09

changed. Yeah. And we’re still very much in the midst of it. Yeah, yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:13

And you could date a book, you could just, Oh, my God, they wrote that book shoot, did they not know that there was a third variant? And you know, this happened? So no, I mean, definitely the kind of writing but you do it very well. I mean, there’s a timeline in the book. So it’s three months before, yeah, three months after and 19 years before. And it works


Barnaby Walter  43:31

very well, to have a key that readers could use to know where they were without having to say it’s because before it did actually date the chapters. And it’s actually interesting, because the woman on the pier does loop back round and link into my debut novel


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:45

version of the truth. Really, okay, I definitely have to read that


Barnaby Walter  43:49

also, in a very small way. Also the dinner guest, but it’s like blinking. You miss it? Yeah, yeah, I love


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:56

  1. Yeah. It’s also a great marketing ploy. Because I want to see if I can find,


Barnaby Walter  44:01

yeah, if one wanted to date it, one could look at the years in my debut, and realize that certain things happen at certain times. But it kind of doesn’t work out to well that way. So I’m just kind of hoping that people forget the hairs in the, in the first one and just kind of do it in this happening, kind of basically, sort of in the present sort of nearby,


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:23

it really is more about the people of what I thought was really interesting. And I am interested in themes and themes that you’re drawn to and where your ideas come from. And I mean, you know, that sense that you get sometimes say your walk across a bridge and a very busy street, and you kind of go kind of everybody has different stuff going on. And it’s easy to forget that someone bumps off you and they’re cranky with you and you just respond in the moment but if you were much nicer individually, you might say, Oh, you don’t know what’s going on in their lives, but it’s when then there are tragedies like a bomb attack or something like that, that you kind of go oh my god, the ripple out of the problem. Is 27 dead, you know, when there’s those death tolls, and we’ve seen it with the pandemic, 2000, Dead, whatever, you know, it does become. And it’s part of the human condition, hearing about one individual induces greater empathy in a way than the bigger numbers. It’s a very strange thing. And I think what you’ve achieved in a way with this book, even though this is not an intention of the book, is you have actually brought that focus down for everyone, Caroline, there’s 1000s of others whose lives have been hugely impacted by the loss of an individual to pointless terrorism attack.


Barnaby Walter  45:36

It’s a difficult subject, really. And it kind of comes back to what we’re talking about before to deal with them, who has the right to tell what stories and that kind of thing, but I’m always kind of drawn to more dark and disturbing subject matter when it comes to fiction. And that, of course, leads ones into like, distressing areas, like the subjects of terrorism and things like that. And I, again, this comes back to what I was saying earlier, trying to do it well, and trying to be sensitive and trying to portray in, you know, as well as one can, but it kind of crossed my mind when I was watching Titanic earlier in the year. I hadn’t seen Titanic for a long time. And so just put the blu ray on and sat and watched it. And it crossed my mind about is this in the best of taste, having such a big blockbuster about such a terrible event and like sustained scenes of suffering of the people in the cold water and the emphasis on the terror? It was the first time actually thought about that, as you’ve been watching the film. Is this really in the best case? Is this right to use this as big blockbuster pop? Yeah. And then actually, on the other side, I then thought, but this is just what human beings have been doing for hundreds of years. This is how we compute terror and horror and disaster. Yeah, by reducing it down into something manageable for us to view as entertainment, and face it within us the safety of a comfortable living room and for a period put oneself in that position, whilst also not having to be in that position. And I think it’s just the way that fiction has been developing over many centuries. It’s something that we can’t not do, really, I think when we’re writing in order to face the darkness, so we perhaps understand it more,


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:07

I would say millennial going back 1000s and 1000s, of years, because prior to writing, we told stories, I know, sure, there were stories of disasters that were told, and stories of and I mean, we have to compute this information, your brain is a data gathering machine. But a theme that really does interest me as a psychologist. And often I’ve thought, actually, if I was ever to write a fiction book, I would be drawn to that very dark theme of child abuse, and I would be drawn at it from an other angle would be inside the head of the abuser.


Barnaby Walter  47:39

It’s a really difficult team. And I didn’t want the book to be too focused upon it. But it was an important part of a character’s story within it. And I don’t want to go into too many details, because as you say, part of it is to do with the way the plot works out. And also part of it also links into my debut. But I think with subjects like that, you just have to try and do it as sensitivity as one can and not have it in there is just something fairly kind of a no, like plot device that’s kind of thrown in. I think it should be embedded within the characters and yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:11

yeah, it’s entirely embedded. And from my point of view, I think it’s very sensitively done. I think it’s it’s not incidental, it’s essential to the storyline. I don’t think it gives away too much. And that’s one of the reasons I was saying, Oh, how do I talk about this, but I suppose it is a difficult book to talk about, but to get people excited about, it’s a journey, you know, you really do go on a journey with the character, and there are moments where you go, you know, oh, I hope they do this or hope. So you really do become very invested. And I think it’s a very personal journey. But I think that’s kind of what happens with books, you know, you kind of go, oh, that’s kinda, you know, for me, I suppose ever the optimist, you know, you’re kind of, you know, maybe, you know, it’s a bit, maybe


Barnaby Walter  48:56

it’s funny, actually, I am getting much less dark with each book that I write, they’re getting much nicer, or maybe I should say, perhaps, like, in a more kind of less is more away. As I mentioned earlier, the woman in the pier was written three or four years ago now. And it was the second book that I wrote. So I wrote a version of the truth, and then the women on the pair, and then hold your breath, and then the dinner guest,


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:19

folks, I’ll put it up in the podcast blog, because I will put links to all your books in the blog. But again, this is me the sense of order, you now are an author who has sort of pinged covers. There’s this kind of, oh, it’s


Barnaby Walter  49:32

five visual continuity. I think there’s hardly


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:35

visual continuity is it it’s a kind of thing makes my heart sing, you know, so the dinner guest is red and white really is the theme but also then the books are positioned within something to do with the dinner guest has a knife and fork and the woman on the pier now it was originally


Barnaby Walter  49:51

the beer grounds. It and John are a bit more. Yeah, yeah, it does.


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:54

Although I wouldn’t have used that fancy word of the grounding genre, but it gives you more of a clue as to what it might be.


Barnaby Walter  50:01

I may have stolen that from the sales team at HarperCollins, or my editor or something like that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:05

I lovely. Isn’t it lovely? Yeah, you learned when you talk about artists and musicians, you know, the first album was easy. The second was hard. The third but you know, I guess it just depends really,


Barnaby Walter  50:16

I’m quite lucky that I’ve always been a number of books ahead from where the publishing, so I’ve never felt necessary the pressure of the next book, or meeting the deadlines, or even reader kind of expectation. And that because quite often, the next one’s very much done, and has been done for quite quite a while. Wow.


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:34

So you’re going to now launch into a whole load of media, hopefully about the woman on the pier, but your head?


Barnaby Walter  50:45

Yeah, I’m literally in the midst of writing books. Oh,


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:48

my goodness, you’re very prolific. So how many books? Are you writing a year? Are you?


Barnaby Walter  50:54

Yeah, I was gonna be three year. That’s amazing. Yeah, no, which is a lot, or at least I was supposed to be three in 2021. And then when they didn’t, I guess became a bestseller. And there was a lot of attention focused on it. We then decided, my publishers decided that would be actually to a year, because if we’d done three close, quick QA session, it could have risked perhaps taking the attention away from the delegates when it was still doing well. So at the moment, to a year, at least, to this year, and I can do that, and particularly now I’m writing full time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  51:25

So when you wrote the dinner guest, you were actually writing that part time? Yes, yeah, I


Barnaby Walter  51:30

used to, oh, that’s incredible. It was really hard for me to try and juggle the two things, I do very well with structure and routine. And when I had a full time job, alongside the writing, I had structure and routine in my full time job, but I didn’t have it with the writing, I was having to squeeze the writing into little pockets here and there. And I didn’t really have that rhythm and routine that I felt really helps sustain in the way I would like it to. So what was wonderful about when I moved to writing full time, earlier in the year, I was able to craft my own new routine and rhythm to this is my actual kind of full time job now. And that’s really helped to found and give me the freedom to not kind of constantly feel guilty that I should be writing here, or I should be doing this here and that kind of thing. And


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:19

to have a little bit of a life as well as although I’m sure pandemic has, yeah, that one thing about the woman on the pier, I thought it was really interesting. And it’s something that interests me in a way is that what I’ve written here for myself is persisting with big decisions, even when deep down, they’re wrong. And it’s interesting, I’ve only read two of your books, but marriage doesn’t come out great. In either of them, really. But there’s that sense in this book of persisting with relationships, even though they’re not right. And this series season four, I actually spoke with a neurologist, and we’re talking about psychosomatic illness and mass hysteria and fascinating stuff for Her most recent book is the sleeping beauties. And she was talking about that, that sense that there was one woman she was talking about who had been unwell and dissatisfied with her life or whatever. And in her 40s got a diagnosis that she was on the spectrum of autism. And suddenly she realized, Oh, I’m in the wrong job. I shouldn’t be doing that job. That’s why I’m unhappy. I’m going to change jobs. And she’s really happy. And she says, Why did she need the provision of a diagnosis, and that kept kind of coming to me, in a way in this book, because I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that Alec and Caroline, the mother and father of Jessica, who has been killed in the terrorist attack, their marriages dissolving before their very eyes, and I know its most recent, but it’s also kind of clear that there are problems. Yeah, things weren’t great. There was problems all along and there is that ping, isn’t there a persisting? Is that something that you’re aware of? When you’re writing is persisting with something that’s not?


Barnaby Walter  54:00

I think it’s actually something less deep or even very interesting, actually. It’s just really, I find that a conflict makes for better plot, really. And I think it’s Stephen King, I’m maybe misquoting Stephen King, but I think he said something like, with fiction, you just put characters on a page and introduce conflict. And then the story comes about an apologist Stephen King who just put wrong words or another person’s words in his mouth, but But I put


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:26

the link to that book, actually, because I have read his book on writing. It’s a card on writing is


Barnaby Walter  54:31

writing. Yeah, yeah. It’s become almost like a Bible for creative writing. And it’s an amazing book. In many respects. It’s certainly inspirational for me when I was starting out, and it’s just full of little nuggets of wisdom. But the idea of just introducing conflict really kind of stuck with me because as soon as there’s a new ingredient of conflict introduced, it’s like there’s ripples and a pool that has all those other little bits that go with it. So even though I think stable and very happy relationships also make great fiction and when Can you name many different relationships that have very happy endings or remain really consistently well, right throughout, of course that has its own area. But within my thrillers, I find the more conflict, I can just drop in here and there, the more those ripples spread, and the more little bits there are to focus upon.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:18

And you just said you have that conflict. And because you need a conflict, whereas I was straight away, I have a whole other story for it, it’s persisting with decisions even when they’re wrong. And for me, that then goes on to the actions that she takes and the journey that she goes on to try and find the real inverted commas. Person who caused her daughter’s death, even though really not the right thing to do in any shape, or form. This might


Barnaby Walter  55:45

seem like a bit of a strange and very oddly technical analogy, but I promise you it has it has a point. But a number of years ago, I’ve always been very interested. Of course, I have a film degree background. But I’ve always been very interested in film and also home entertainment and the best way to watch films in home. And there was a documentary on how old films and also new material was being remastered for new technologies such as 4k and high dynamic range. HDR that’s often referred to and High Dynamic Range basically increases, the blackest blacks and the whitest whites part of the screen. So you get really bright, some parts of the screen. And really, really deep blacks and the other parts of the screen. And also in terms of the color spectrum, it opens out. So you get much better colors in a high dynamic range piece of content. And there was a clip of someone who worked, I think he worked for Netflix or Marvel or something like that, where he had a movie, and he was doing an HDR grade. So he was choosing parts of the scene to heighten the whites and brightness and parts of the scene to really make those blacks deeper and nkia. And the colors which bits should shine and which bits should be more diluted. And it was a really fascinating thing to watch. Because it’s almost like painting really in filmmaking where. And in some sense, I thought, that’s how I view plot and conflict and emotion, I almost have this set story as a whole. And I’m just going through it and shading in the bits that I want to amplify, bringing out those darker bits or lessening the other ones that aren’t necessarily conducive or relevant to the plot and choosing which ones to bring to the foreground and which ones to remain less so. And all the while the whole goal is the ultimate question of the book. It’s always that thing that’s drumming behind it like who did it? Why does she do it? Why is she there? All those questions. And the novelist Deborah Levy talks about this really compellingly, she did a talk that’s on YouTube, about how kind of Freud’s idea of repression is behind a lot of fiction. And the idea of repression, that we kind of bury these things that we don’t want to confront or don’t to think about, or in parts of ourselves that we find unpalatable or distressing that we kind of put them deep down, but they’re always they’re just making this knocking sound. And in a way, particularly in thrillers, it’s about that knocking sound. It’s that constant like that thing in the background that’s drawing louder and louder as the thriller goes on. Because you want to find out what’s knocking, why are they knocking? Why are they there? And I tried to kind of keep that in mind when I’m playing with those different bits within the plot. Is this gonna make the knocking louder? Or they’re gonna forget about the knocking? Right? So basically, I want that knock on the door to be constantly all the way through to keep that question going.


Dr Sabina Brennan  58:15

Excellent analogy, it also makes more sense. Now, when you said at the start here, that your book comes to you as a whole, almost like a painting. And so that kind of does make sense. I’m not a Freud fan, I think Freud told us more about inside his head than we thought he did, indeed, as you just pointed out, is one really great achievement, I suppose, was to expose what he called the subconscious, I would just call it the unconscious. There’s just so much kind of going on that’s in there. And I think it’s interesting, too, that we all have a dark side. And I think social media in recent years has really exposed that through the anonymous anonymity that you can achieve behind a keyboard and the failure to filter your darker thoughts and push them out. And then I actually spoke to Mary about this, when we were talking about the physical energy trap, you know, those filters that we have, they have evolved because they serve a purpose, you know, they have allowed to survive. You don’t tell people exactly what you think of them, or you don’t speak out, you know, I tell him, You don’t you filter those and you keep them below and they’re bubbling under the surface. I think it’s a whole other conversation how that’s terrifying on social media. But I think it’s brilliant. The way you’ve just said that. Because for me what that is, is everybody has those dark thoughts everybody has and Caroline is having dark thoughts, really. And she has a compulsion, you know, she has this need to get her answers, and we all have our need to get an answer. And we have a need, like our entire lives, who we are. Everything that we do is a story that we create. And if we have loose ends on a story, we have to figure it out. We have to kind of complete that story. And I suppose that’s what Carolyn’s quest is, is to complete the story then they’re all So other issues of revenge and justice and those which you play on in the dinner guests as well, with that bubbling, I think what it is that you describe as that kind of knocking is that when there’s a line craft an insanity, that failure to connect with your frontal thinking low that bet that gives you your humanity, when that’s gone. This is the danger of what happens. And I suppose that’s probably and I’m thinking on the fly here. Now, what we were talking about is why we have to have storytelling. It’s almost a fable, it’s almost that moral story. This is what happens if you act on the kind of don’t constrain those things. And then some of those constraints serve a purpose. Others make us more crazy and mad, because they’re just societal norms, you know, things that society has imposed on us. And I suppose that’s why we have so many mental health issues in society, because you’re not allowed to do this. And you can’t say that and you can say the other. But then it is important not to kill everybody that you would like to kill. Those kinds of constraints are essential,


Barnaby Walter  1:01:03

I think. Yeah. And actually, the thing about the social media as well, I think the reason why a huge John Boyne touched on this, I think during your discussion, but the reason why people will be so much nastier on social media than in person, because on social media, they’re writing and they’re essentially writing a story. And it feels a lot more like a narrative. They’re crafting rather than in face to face, you have a conversation, whereas on Twitter, you’re given the chance to kind of create a mini narrative. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve actually not come off social media as such, but I’ve very much dialed down my use of social media, because I used to do it as my actual job day to day. Yeah, it was kind of like liberating to when I stopped my job in social media coordination, to just kind of almost stop social media as a whole. And I realized how much more quiet and peaceful the world was, once I close those doors, even though I will still use it in a more of a functional way to kind of promote my books,


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:01:54

will you? Do you use it for your books? Because sometimes social media is great for me, I can find it in snippets. Not in here, nothing to see here, folks, I’m really only going to get the books, which is absolutely fine, because I find it done the same. And I think that’s very sad, because I think it’s become worse than an echo chamber now, because there’s very important voices that aren’t but everybody’s voice is important, but that just aren’t engaging in the conversation at all. Yeah. And it’s very scary.


Barnaby Walter  1:02:20

Yeah, one of the reasons I started stops was that I kind of realized how much it was influencing my mood, my general thoughts during the day and that kind of thing. And I thought, if I just didn’t have the app, I wouldn’t have even come across them or know about that, or, you know, all that kind of thing. And it can even be like relatively small things. Like I still do not know why to this day. Why? If someone read a book, and they didn’t like it, why they would then tag the author on social media, when they say that they don’t like it. And of course, everyone’s free, not like any books they don’t like, and they’re free to tag me. But why tag an author, and the best thing I’ve ever heard about that was Claire McIntosh, who when I used to work at Austin, she did an event for us on Facebook Live. And she was talking about this. And she said, It’s like someone running up to someone in the streets, tapping on the shoulder, making them turn around and telling them they don’t like their coat. It’s like, no one would do that in real life. Well, imagine police. Yeah, exactly. And yet, for some reason, on Twitter, it’s apparently fine to say like, oh, this book didn’t work for me, and then type the author in the picture of it. And I just think it’s unnecessary. The filters


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:03:28

are gone. That’s the name those kind of social norms. I suppose they are. But those filters are gone. It’s been fascinating talking to you. Your books are absolutely fabulous. I can’t wait to read the other two. I’m delighted to think now you have three more in


Barnaby Walter  1:03:46

the pipeline. Yeah, book for women on the pier is this November. The next one, as of yet untitled, is next spring or summer? Probably. But that’s yet to be pinned down. And they’ll probably be another one next year as well, as far as that. But yeah, just so exciting.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:04:02

Like when you think about that, that interview 2019 You’re kind of tentatively saying, you know, when you’re talking about managing work and writing and tentatively saying, Oh, you all know this, not thinking that that would happen to me. But here you are. I’d like full time author at 29. Gosh, by the time you’re 30, you’ll have about six books under your belt. That’s amazing and keep them coming. I like to end this podcast is about surviving and thriving in life. And I think you’re really thriving at the moment. So it’s lovely. A lot of what we talk about often is surviving terrible things. So it’s nice to talk to someone about thriving in a very difficult world being a writer, but just life in general or for whatever reason do you have any tip that you’d like to share about surviving and thriving in life


Barnaby Walter  1:04:46

is difficult because everyone of course is different and I know only what works for me really, but I always find giving oneself way much more time that one thinks one needs with things is just such a great way of de stressing a situation that can quickly become stressful? And is one of the reasons actually, of course, not saying every writer needs to do this because they absolutely do not. But it’s one of the reasons why I write a number of books ahead from where I need to be. Because it makes sure it’s always enough time really. And it can remain a pleasure rather than stress thinking I have to get this done. And I tried to do that with other things as well, just making sure times on one side rather than working against one is a good way to do that. So that’s something I’ve always tried to do. And I’m, as I said before, I’m very much a routine and plan kind of person. And so if I have a map, I can see my way through. And I really like that. And that’s kind of helped me in lots of areas, particularly in writing and, and the industry as a whole and my previous job. So yeah, I’d say those two things. But with the caveat that that’s very much me.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:05:49

Well, actually, though, I’ll take that caveat away, because take away the writing bit. And that’s really brilliant advice for managing stress. It really is just super advice for managing stress in any aspect of your life. I often say to people, okay, instead of guesstimating, how long something will take time how long something takes, and then add a bit on you actually, then no, well, actually that too, if you have a job like that, and a lot of things in our jobs, you can kind of time like that. And it is true what you say like I think stress and deadlines, particularly if you’re doing something creative stress impairs creativity, you need to be able to get into that default mode of being creative. And stress is going to impair that. So anything you can do and actually, routine is really important for your brain. And whatever your job you need your brain, whatever your life, you need your brain. And if you feed and water and sleep your brain regularly, it will serve you well. And it’s obviously serving you super well. The books are flying out. Yeah.


Barnaby Walter  1:06:42

I think actually, we’re always quite good as a species. I mean, this is generalizing, but I think we are quite easy for us to fall into a trap of feeling guilty about the parts of our work we enjoy and feeling like we shouldn’t be doing too much them because we enjoy those parts. And therefore the bits that we don’t enjoy are the actual work. And one of the promises I made to myself when I moved to full time writing was that the bits that I really enjoy, like reading around my subject or reading in my genre, just reading books in general or watching movies, which I find hugely inspirational, to give myself permission to think no, they are part of my work, therefore they’re part of my working day. And generally I ring fenced my afternoons. Once I’ve been doing my writing in the morning, in the afternoons, I will be SAT reading a book that I want to read, because I find it inspirational or because I find interesting or it’s part of my genre, or I’ll watch a film that’s perhaps going to kick off an idea inspiring Exactly. And give myself that time and that freedom and having it as part of my day that I don’t have to feel like I’m wasting my time or I’m not idle or I mean, I should be doing something else. Something that’s so easy that if there’s a bit you particularly like you think, oh, that’s actually the part I should dismiss when I think that’s the bit you should revel in and really enjoy. And so that’s something I’ve really tried to do with my kind of plantings and timings and things like that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:07:59

Thank you, you’ve given me so much permission, because I have about eight books that I want to read around this topic that I want to write. And I really want to read them and be able to take notes take that time to do it. Unlike even that like I read your book in the evening time. That is one of the pleasures of podcasting is to get to read books, read them for pleasure, but also you can read them in a way I suppose that is sometimes what can happen with Audible is that you really do just listen. But then again, I don’t know about you, do you always have thoughts about?


Barnaby Walter  1:08:29

Yeah, I think it’s always going and I think the act of reading or listening itself is such an interesting because you pass through the looking glass in some way you pass through in this other world where so much is going on. And I think one responds without even sometimes really meaning to and one of the things I do, which I and this is probably where I’m going to have a really strange but when it comes to reading or listening to a book or watching a film, I like to almost make it into a set kind of event where like I get my book, I get a drink to drink. It’s usually Coke Zero. And I then always light a candle. I always have a candle burning. I’ve


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:09:03

got Oh, yes, I saw your Yankee. Yeah, yeah,


Barnaby Walter  1:09:06

awesome leaves burning there. Yeah. And put the lighting quite nice. And I can sit down, read my book and it makes to a set specific moment that I’m going to enjoy or respond to. Whereas I think if you’re snatching moments throughout the day to get this done, and like you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position, or the environment isn’t right, or is untidy, and there’s distractions and that kind of stuff, it robs, I think that more immersive part of your mind that goes into the books, you’re not quite there. Whereas if you make an environment or a situation that you feel really settled in, and for me, at least that really helps.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:09:38

Oh, no, absolutely. I’m reading your book. Now. I did have to read it as a PDF on the laptop, but me and my laptop are joined at the hip really, and just woke up and the hours just flew by. And that’s lovely. That’s a losing yourself. Oh, please. Yeah, I frequently talk about that. It’s fabulous. And oh, yeah, that’s one thing I wanted to ask was BP why BP? Is there another Barnaby Walter er


Barnaby Walter  1:10:00

Just I was going to be binary Walter but my first publishers fell well, I’ve always been with HarperCollins but also the different imprint before so BP was who was better in terms of sales and that kind of thing and it’s become quite a tradition I think with the genre of there being initials and I suppose there’s an aspect of it making it more kind of like ambiguous in terms of gender whether you’re male or female race I don’t know if there was that much importance placed upon that I think it was just decided by powers beyond me that this was a better idea.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:10:29

You’re my first Barnaby actually. I’ve never met him bar to be it is quite an English name. Is it?


Barnaby Walter  1:10:34

I don’t know. Actually. He might be Yeah, I’m not sure. I’ve only ever met one other Barnaby


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:10:40

my life. Yeah, and there’s a quite a posh name. I wonder is that one of the reasons


Barnaby Walter  1:10:43

I think it may be I was certainly the only bounded my school. Yeah, it could be. I think anything sometimes with three syllables can sometimes have more posh that it should really, but


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:10:54

whatever the name, I’m absolutely delighted. It’s fabulous. To say 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 super brain 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

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 9

Sexual Pleasure with Sexologist Emily Power Smith

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  •  01:44 – What is sexology?
  • 04:20 – The problem with scientific research on human sexuality
  • 12:30 – The clitoris, arousal and orgasm
  • 22:09 – Porn and sex education
  • 26:43 – Trial and error, learning about sex and learning about each other
  • 29:01 – Communication
  • 31:13 – The limits of perfectionism
  • 34:10 – Better sex comes from being in the moment
  • 35:52 – Pleasure
  • 44:03 – Abuse
  • 52:27 – Consent
  • 1:05:31 – The feast of sex
  • 1:09:09 – Victim Blaming
  • 01:16:16 – Non-sexual abuse and vaginismus
  • 01:18:25 – Fear of sex and dating 




Video: The internal clitoris sketched by Betty Dodson 

Book recommendations: Come as you are by Emily Nagurski

Podcast:  Emily’s Golden Guide for Great Sex

Guest Bio

Emily Power Smith has a Masters Degree in Sexology and a Post Graduate Diploma in Art Psychotherapy, with years of experience as a facilitator, educator and trainer. She is a professional member of the World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) and accredited with the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT).

Emily’s mission in life is to:

  • Make it safe and normal for all people to talk about sexuality.
  • To provide current and factual information about sexuality so that people are equipped to make good choices about their own sexual health, wellbeing and safety.
  • To provide science-based, non-religious, non-judgmental and up-to-date sexual health education for children (and all ages) that includes lessons in sexual esteem and sexual boundaries.


Over to You

There were so many things that I wanted to ask Emily about but simply didn’t have the time. I’ve decided to invite Emily back for Season 5 and she has agreed. So if you have any questions you’r like to to ask or any topic you would like to cover then please let me know in the comments below or via email –


This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources  (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:01

My name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My guest this week is a self-confessed sex geek who is on a mission to make it safe and normal for all people to talk about sexuality. Emily power Smith is a sexologist, and a sex therapist with a master’s degree in sexology. She is also a professional member of the World Association of sexual health. Emily is absolutely passionate about providing current and factual information about sexuality, so that people are equipped to make good choices about their own sexual health, their well being and their safety. She provides, and this is the bit I really like, she provides science-based, non-religious, non-judgmental, and up-to-date sexual health education for children, and of course, for people of all ages. And she includes in those lessons for children, which I think is really, really important too having been born in the 60s and lived through the 70s and 80s, etc., that includes lessons in sexual esteem and sexual boundaries. And actually even just talking about sex is something that was just utterly foreign when I was growing up. And even when I was a teenager, and I mean that even amongst teens, sex wasn’t talked about it was completely taboo. You can learn more about the services that Emily provides on her website, which is a fabulous name I love the play on your own surname there. Emily, I am so excited for this episode. And gosh, I don’t know how we’re gonna fit it all into an episode. There’s so many questions. Maybe we’ll get you back again next season. But thank you so much for joining me, can we just start by you explaining what is sexology


Emily Power Smyth  01:44

and it’s lovely to be here. And thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it. So sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality. And it borrows from all the other ologies psychology, sociology, criminology, I’m going to not be able to think of any more ologies but all the ologies that there are, because it’s looking at not only the sexual acts that people engage in, but also their attitudes, and their beliefs, and also the social context within which people are sexual. So it covers a very broad range of human elements, in order for us to understand sexuality, in order to understand gender, orientation, and all the other things that go with sexuality, different types of sexualities, and the variety that is scientifically shown to exist now. So it’s a very broad, but very comprehensive way of studying sexuality And my master’s in sexology, I did it in Australia, and it was, basically, if I hadn’t already been a qualified therapist, for a number of years prior to doing my Masters, I would have then had to train in therapy to be a sex therapist, the sexology masters that I chose to do is a broad training, but then you would specialize in a field within. So for example, you might go into advocacy, education, therapy, or even forensic sexology, which I also trained in, which is the darker side of sexuality, the bit that gets people into trouble or the illegal parts. So my training gave me a great basis upon which I could do this work. And it was really, it’s been really, really useful. So on top of sexology, though, it’s important to say that I’m sex positive, because you can do the training, you can do training in anything as you know, and then your belief system and your value system will color how you practice that training that you’ve received. So sex positivity is really, really important to me. And I think it’s actually I don’t believe people who aren’t sex positive. I don’t believe they should be working with sexuality, I think it’s important. And what it is, is, as a sex positive practitioner, or therapist I am only interested in are you having fun? Are you consenting? And are you safe? That’s it. I’m not interested in your weight, your height, your color, your religion? I’m not interested in your abilities, your gender, your orientation, or your kink if you have one. All I’m interested in is are you safe? Are you consenting? And are you having pleasure?


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:20

Oh, that’s really, really interesting. Thank you so much for that. I took a tiny module when I did psychology, on human sexuality, because it’s just fascinating and we know so little about it. And one thing that I remember jumping out to me on taking that was really, most of the research that’s done on human sexuality, certainly sort of to that point was from the Kinsey studies, etc, was really around if I’m correct, and I could be misremembering, but there’s been no sort of study of just normal everyday sexuality. It’s more been things that maybe fall outside the general if there is General but you know what I mean? Outside what? And I hate to use the word normal range, but outside the average the studies were and then from that things were inferred, or even not from that, from people’s actually personal perspective, things were inferred about what’s normal, abnormal, etc.


Emily Power Smyth  05:18

Yeah, you’re right. If we don’t have the research, if we don’t have empirical evidence, we are basically just going on opinions, right? Our opinions, our own experiences, and that’s really dangerous. And particularly when you’re talking about sexuality, because there’s so much judgment and stigma and shame, particularly in Ireland, but not just in Ireland, about people’s sexual lives and practices, and, and tastes and values. So if we’re not coming from a place of science and a place of research that is reliable research, not just YouTube research, but reliable research,


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:50

absolutely scientific research,


Emily Power Smyth  05:53

scientific peer reviewed, because you know, because even scientific research has to be questioned, doesn’t it these days?


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:59

Oh, it does?And no, absolutely. And I should say that. So you know, the scientific method is very clear. Around, for example, you don’t try and find data to prove what you believe you actually are trying to disprove your hypothesis. That’s one of the grounding things. And there’s various rules about having control groups, and all that sort of thing when you’re doing scientific research. But even within that, we have, for example, what’s called a publication bias. So if you find something, it is more likely to be published than something where you don’t so for example, that happens a lot with even if you talk about differences between male and female brain to use those narrow gender stereotypes, you are more likely to read about differences, because that’s the publication bias of, if you don’t find differences, it’s unlikely to be published. So we have this whole distorted thing within science. Um, but I think if people understand, and that’s one thing that I’m passionate about in terms of educating kids and people, you know, is how to make critical decisions about the value of the information that you’re taking on board


Emily Power Smyth  07:07

I agree. I think it’s actually a life skill that needs to be taught.


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:11

It should justbe taught in schools. Yeah, no, absolutely. It is a life skill, because so much is dependent. We make so many decisions based on information,


Emily Power Smyth  07:18

and we didn’t need it. Maybe I’m being ignorant, but certainly, I’m 50. Now, when I was growing up, I didn’t need that as a life skill taught to me in school we need to catch up with because there’s so much information now online, that that is as important as anything, I think, because it’s not just about what your value system is, and what you’ve based that on whether it’s reliable or not. But the amount of suffering and anxiety that goes with getting your information from unreliable sources is out of control, I think, ,


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:48

You’re absolutely right. The only place you could get information when I was growing up really was a library.


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:54



Dr Sabina Brennan  07:55

So that meant it was already published it how I’m through certain sort of, you know, and that doesn’t mean that all books are true, but at least it had jumped through some hoops. Now, with the internet, not only do you have access to all sorts of data, which can be untrue, once you click on something, you then will be more likely to be presented with data that actually supports that thing that you just clicked on. Yeah, you’re not getting this broad perspective. Anyway, we could kind of talk all day around that. One ology that I remembered that I think probably is very relevant. And you’ve touched on it without actually saying it would be anthropology


Emily Power Smyth  08:31



Dr Sabina Brennan  08:32

because attitudes to sex across cultures are. Read machinations. Absolutely fascinating. Anthropology is an amazing subject. The research


Emily Power Smyth  08:40

bias is also really interesting. I’m sure you know a lot about that. But you know, it’s really interesting to know that there’s four times the amount of research done on male sexuality than there is on female sexual. I


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:51

didn’t know that. Yeah. But that applies across health, we have a huge issue in terms of health, because pretty much all research until very, very recent years, and I’m talking really only maybe in a decade, yeah, all research has been done on men. And that’s because women have those pesky hormones that actually might screw up data, which is really ridiculous, because then we’re prescribed medication. Yeah, that has only been tested on males. And I’ve spoken about that before with heart medication that’s had fatal consequences. So that’s across the board. And that’s all across the board in my discipline, which is psychology, and I’ve done an episode on this on this is that everything, all of our psychological theories are based on research with men. And that’s why we have this bias where we say things like, Oh, she’s very aggressive for a woman. Yeah, oh, these kinds of setting the men as the norm, whereas actually, it should be the entire population from which you draw your norms. And then you can start to pull out whether there are gender differences. And that’s something I want to touch on when we go forward. Before I do that, and at the risk of upsetting anyone. In terms of language that I might use, language is really, really important. We’re at a stage where we have had male and female in Western culture for sure. Their words and they have existed as if they describe the reality the biology, we know that it doesn’t. There is 200 intersex conditions for whatever using Word where people are not, by definition, fully female or fully male.


Emily Power Smyth  10:26

And as though being fully female, or being fully male, is the only health and that will absolutely mean is some kind of a disability or a medical emergency or an ill health. Whereas we know from science, that’s just outdated. That’s just not the case anymore.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:42

It’s just completely outdated. And that’s why I kind of faltered over the use of condition. And because, you know, it applies to many other things, not just sex, it applies to depression. Depression is considered a condition. Now, I’m not talking about clinical depression. I’m talking about depression that we might experience as


Emily Power Smyth  10:59

part of natural reactions. Daily reactions. Yeah, they’re


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:03

medicalized. Yeah. Apologize. Yeah, I agree. Yeah, rather than and this applies with sex, rather than saying, Well, look, this is the full an amazing range within the human condition. And I just think it would be so much easier to change words than do horrible things like surgeries on babies with dubious genitalia, again, forgive the words they are not intended to exclude are isolated. I want to be clear on that. But when we do talk, there are some questions that I will be asking that may just refer to male and female, but that’s just in terms of language and how we can ask some of those questions. I met you virtually, we’ve never met in person. And I think it was probably maybe around this time. Last year, we were both on a panel for an online event that I think was around menopause, I was talking about brain fog. And you were talking about sexuality in the menopause, which is something that’s important to talk about, and there’s only really started to be talked about recently, and I was absolutely blown away. You know, I mean, I learned stuff of the clitoris that I had never known. And I would consider myself quite an educated individual. So I’m going to dive right in and that’s a really probably terrible word to use. But I love you to share with my listeners what you spoke about that my the internal clitoris, I really just had absolutely no idea. Will you talk a little bit about that?


Emily Power Smyth  12:30

Sure. And yes, because we’re talking about the clitoris, you know, it’s important not to go straight to the clitoris like we’re doing now in our conversation. Build up a little tease. So the clitoris, those of us who know about the external part of the clitoris, we know that we have a little novel knob Call it what you a little pearl, little jelly taught has lots of different names. It’s the glands of the clitoris. That is visible that is external. And that’s the bit we tend to focus on because it’s if we even know about it, because we’re not the clitoris is not on any diagram in any sex ed. The clitoris is the female sex organ. The vagina is the birth canal. We are taught that incorrectly we are taught that the male sex organs the penis and the female sex organs, the vagina that is incorrect information. Plus, because the clitoris isn’t used for anything but pleasure, it gets literally cut out of textbooks and out of trainings and out of teachings. Still, to this day, midwives aren’t taught about the clitoris. I mean, it is astounding. So why what’s that about? And that’s a whole other podcasts by all people. It’s the only organ in any body that has just for pleasure. So they can’t double up and say, well, the penis is the sex organ and up through it. So we had like, maybe if you didn’t pay through your penis, they would cut that out as well. I don’t know I doubt it. But because so much. So the clitoris then is made up of the same erectile tissue on tissue as the penis they all begin as clitoris as in the womb, and then they develop into either penises or, or a version of something in between a clitoris and a penis. Basically, it’s made up of the same stuff, we can see the glands which would be equivalent to the glans of the penis. Externally, it’s the most sensitive part of the clitoris. That little tiny part of the clitoris has twice the nerve endings of a whole penis. Wow. So when I say rushing straight to the clitoris is not usually a good idea. I really mean it. Because it can be way too sensitive way too quickly. And a lot of women would talk about, oh, yeah, it felt good for a little bit and then it suddenly got really intense and painful. And I have to stop. Well, that’s because it’s too much stimulation too quickly. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need to understand that the clitoris needs very, very gentle approach and touch. It can’t be touched like a penis. If you’re having sex with a man. Men will Often touch clitoris as the way they would like their penises to be touched, which is hard and fast and straight to the point. And females will often touch penises to gently because they’re afraid of hurting the penis because they have a clitoris. So that’s a thing a gendered thing. But the clitoris then goes internal. And really, I’d recommend people google or Go on to YouTube and look up Betty Dodson, internal clitoris, and you’ll see a beautiful drawing of how the internal clitoris fits within or fall of us inside our pelvis. Aisha takes up to 40 minutes for a woman to get a full erection because you can’t get a man through a hand around the internal clitoris. So, again, this is what you were saying earlier, we only have a male arousal model. That’s all we’re taught if anything, so it’s incorrect because female arousal is very different to male arousal. We take a lot longer to get our erections, but we can get full erections. And when we do the bulbs of the clitoris, and it’s really hard to talk about it without a diagram, but the bulbs of the clitoris, when they’re fully erect, they almost wrap around the vaginal canal. So when a woman is really turned on, and is having some kind of penetration, she will often or they because it’s anyone with a vagina and a clitoris, they will often feel lovely pleasure from that they might even orgasm but don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s not a clitoral orgasm. It’s just stimulating the internal fissures via the vaginal canal. Okay, for some people that works, and for others it doesn’t, but depending on the research between 80 and 90% of women will never orgasm through penetration alone. Because the vagina is not there to do that. The clitoris is there to do that. So it’s getting their education, it’s so basic to just even understand how the female sexual anatomy works, why it’s there and what to do about it. So that’s why slow massage of the whole volver the vulva is the all the external genitalia and the vagina is the birth canal, it’s really important that we use the right language and that we understand what to talk about what to call our body parts. So it’s like the vulva is your face, and the vagina is your mouth. And so if you went to a doctor and said, I’ve got a pain in my mouth, but you’re talking about a sore cheek, you’re going to run into difficulties. It’s really confusing. It’s disempowering. So it’s really important that we begin to use the correct terminology which we don’t, there’s a big problem with saying vulva for some reason, I think it’s a lovely word, I drive a Volvo because it’s as close as I can get to driving a bike.


Emily Power Smyth  17:41

So the internal pressure is when we give ourselves time. So 40 minutes is for older women who have slower blood flow. Same as penises. Blood flow isn’t as good as people have penises get older, it’s the same for people with fitness, it takes longer to get the blood flow into the internal clitoris. But if you give yourself that time and patience, then you have a whole new realm of orgasm as a potential. Because you can imagine if your orgasm in within, say, three minutes, by polishing your jelly taught by giving your glands of your clitoris a little rub, it’s going to be a localized orgasm. That’s based on those nerves getting stimulated without the rest of the clitoris becoming engorged with blood and becoming erect. So when you allow the full erection to happen, the spasms of orgasm, which are the gorgeous, tasty things that you feel they vibrate right through your pelvis down your legs and your tummy, your bum, they can go right up through your body and out your head and your it can be a very, very different experience.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:49

And you know what listening to you talking about that? I can imagine a lot of women are going, Wow, I’ve never experienced that. And it makes perfect sense. I mean, really, when you spoke to me, I mean, I was of the understanding, you know, because I can miss it. I’m actually one of my guests week before last was Norma she and the actress and she’s just been playing Shirley Valentine, who spoke about the new tourists, you know, and that was written in the late 1980s. And that was ground. Yeah. You know, it was probably the first time I ever heard the word. But it was like, oh, yeah, now I know about this. And that men think oh, yeah, I’m aware of that. I mean, it’s the clitoris the same as the g spot. Is that it that module?


Emily Power Smyth  19:31

That’s funny. I was headed there as well, because that


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:35

actually yeah, because I think there was huge confusion around that. And I think men and I’ve been married for 30 years. I’m generalizing here folks. I could be very wrong. But from reading books and all sorts of things and I mean fiction and watching television, all the rest. I think men felt that they’d really moved on in understanding that women had a clitoris but I don’t believe that any of them know that. It goes further than that jelly taught that it really is what most women don’t pay me most women don’t I didn’t until I spoke to


Emily Power Smyth  20:07

you. It was only scientifically acknowledged in the 90s. Wow. So you know, it’s nobody’s fault. We don’t have to feel at all ashamed or embarrassed that we don’t know stuff that wasn’t available to us. They took it out of Grey’s Anatomy at the start of the last century, they removed it from the anatomy book being taught to medics, once they realized it wasn’t needed for it to conceive. So all those doctors and Guy knees and obstetricians, all the people who can cut a woman or sew a woman up knew nothing about the nerves involved in the clitoris and the internal clitoris. I mean, it’s disgraceful. But so we only got our first imaging, reliable imaging of it in the 90s. So it’s still very new to everybody. And it certainly isn’t public knowledge yet, we’re getting better. I mean, I talk about all the time, and there are many people like me who talk about it all the time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:56

Yeah, and I’m so glad that you are talking about it. That is why I don’t go straight into the clitoris. Because I just think it’s so important, I will definitely be checking out and I’ll put a link to the Betty Dodson video or image because girls and boys and people of whatever gender listening, I think, should check this out. Because it is something that I think has the capacity to be life changing in a way and relationships


Emily Power Smyth  21:22

and learning what to do with it. And learning that the biggest thing for people with clitoris is is giving themselves permission to be different to people with penises when it comes to their arousal and how they get turned on and how long it takes. And what happens. Because we don’t know that we’re different. So we feel a lot of people with clitoris feel somehow less than or they’re taking a haircut so much I take so long, it takes ages, it gets too much I worry about my partner getting bored. So I just pretend I just fake it. Or I just say don’t worry, I’m fine with it. Because they don’t realize that they’re functioning absolutely perfectly, perfectly naturally and unhealthily. But they function differently to males.


Dr Sabina Brennan  22:09

And obviously, as well, based on everything, you know, I mean, a lot of certainly people, my generation, I’m sure it’s kind of pretty true. Although it’s kind of gone another level, I’d say with current younger people, a lot of what we’ve learned about being sexual, how to do sex, how to have sex, actually comes from reading fiction from watching movies warm. And the change, I think really has come in the porn and that freely available nature of porn, which is a very worrying to my mind a worrying trend, in that I’ve heard and you probably know about this, or you can tell me if what I’ve heard is not true. But I’ve certainly talked to some medics who have expressed a real concern about the amount of porn being consumed by young males, who maybe have never engaged in actual sexual activity with a partner and have that as their only reference. Yeah, who have sex is would that be true? And we should be concerned about?


Emily Power Smyth  23:09

Yeah, but being concerned about porn, to a degree as a red herring, we need to be concerned about education. Porn is not going anywhere. There’s no condoning porn. And I believe the only thing we can do is it’s not the only thing it’s a wonderful thing that we can do is we can educate all of us because it is a young person thing, because they’re more savvy, and they’re they spend more time on devices. But everybody gets their education from porn, I work with people of all ages, and all types of people. And if the education isn’t there, and you watch for and you think you’re learning, and you’re not, it’s like watching as I say, I find this funny, but I said all the time, so if people have heard me before, they’ll be bored hearing it, but it’s like watching The Fast and the Furious and then thinking you know how to drive. It is not reliable, and it is not helpful. But it’s not just young guys who have had no real experience with real people. People who are having experiences with each other are playing out scenes from porn, without communication without stopping to see if that person is enjoying themselves without understanding what real pleasure is. They’re doing scenes from porn, they’re doing sex, so I hear more and more that young guys will there’s like four positions that they’ll throw their partner into during the sexual encounter. It goes kissing, boob fondling, give me a blowjob I might go down on you, I probably won’t. And then we’re going to have these porn positions for sex and then I have my ejaculation and then we’re done. So that is the model used for a lot support model and porn is aimed at young men. It does a great job. It’s a highly successful marketing machine. And until young men and young everyone and older everyone is able to understand the difference between Acting on fake and real, we’re going to be in this mess that we’re in.


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:05

Absolutely. And sex education. That’s the point I was making is it’s the only reference, as opposed to, you know, we all have Yeah, you know, we all have, like, if you read romantic novels with no sex in them, and you’re talking about relationships, you know, that’s Fiction and Fantasy, because you’ve seen your parents, you’ve seen friends in relation to each other. Yeah, no, but you know what I mean, you have a reference because sex happens behind closed doors. with humans, you don’t have that other reference. So it’s the sole reference. Because you know,


Emily Power Smyth  25:36

it’s really interesting because a lot of female people would have got more of their information from rom coms. books, magazines, news, and it’s no more helpful. No more helpful. I hear stuff. Like, if he loved me, he would know, I shouldn’t have to tell him about my pleasure, or what I like or how to be touched. It’s like, I’m not going to have sex with that person anymore. Because their shit and bad. Well, why don’t you talk to them about what you’d like? Well, a I don’t know what I’d like because you shouldn’t masturbate. Women shouldn’t matter it and be he should know if he loves me should be able to read my mind. I’m like, Oh, my God. Oh, yeah. But that’s the message from those books. And


Dr Sabina Brennan  26:17

Oh, absolutely. And and the thing is, as well. And I do get that response that people say, you know, number one, yes, nobody has a crystal ball. Yeah,


Emily Power Smyth  26:26

sex is a sensual experience. You don’t fall in love with someone and then decide that you know, their favorite food and how to cook it. And what will be their favorite food next Friday? And what when you talk you learn you ask questions, what why do you like birds? Like the holiday? There


Dr Sabina Brennan  26:43

is trial and error, trial and error? That is, you know, that’s the thing as well. And I do think the internet has a lot to do with that this pursuit of perfection. Oh, yeah. Yeah. As humans, we learn through trial and error. Making mistakes is absolutely critical to our own happiness to our own progress. It is how the human race has evolved. We’re supposed trial and error, we are supposed to make mistakes. Yeah. So that applies to sex, no more than if I decide to cook you your favorite meal and you decide, God, I really didn’t like that. You know why you just didn’t like that particular thing. Let’s not do that one again.


Emily Power Smyth  27:27

But equally, maybe I could have asked you before I went to the trouble of cooking. And then we could have got something a little more satisfying for both. But the perfectionism is a really, really big block for a lot of people’s pleasure, if you are more worried about the size of your penis, how long you can last. So the two most common things that young men worry about, if you’re more worried about what your tummy looks like, in the doggy position, or if you’re on top, your cellulite on your thighs is showing, you’re not in pleasure, you’re not focusing on how you’re feeling in your body. And if you’re not talking, and if that’s going on in your head. So people think, oh my god, they see what I see. And they’re judging me. And they think this is gross, and I have to protect us lights off only certain positions. And guys are thinking, okay, all I have to do is lost ages, and maybe try and hide size of my penis. There’s no connection in any of that. So people are having, they’re doing sex with each other, but they’re not having connection with each other. The best, most delicious sexual encounters even have the one night variety, or a couple of hours variety is connected. And I’m not talking about, Oh, I love you and me, because obviously that’s inappropriate for someone if you’re having casual sex, but being able to look into someone’s eyes without shame and say, Tell me how to touch you. Yeah. And I’ll tell you what I like, is a basic necessity to enjoy great sex. And it’s not happening. Of course it isn’t.


Dr Sabina Brennan  29:01

I think there’s a couple of things there. I want to kind of touch back on. If we don’t talk openly about sex. I suppose that happens probably more now than it did when I was in my 20s or whatever. And I suppose I’m talking about talking about it in a meaningful


Emily Power Smyth  29:16

way. But what I don’t think is happening more.


Dr Sabina Brennan  29:18

Yeah, I think people can talk about it and can say, oh, I want to talk


Emily Power Smyth  29:22

about tits and Coxon. Yeah. And they can also


Dr Sabina Brennan  29:24

learn about having casual sex and wanting casual sex. But that’s not talking about it in that sort of meaningful way, in a way where there’s learning. Yeah, if we can’t do that, just on a day to day basis, you can understand how challenging it is in the intimacy of a room to actually say to someone, actually, do you know what, I don’t really like that. Could you move there, you can understand the challenge. Obviously, that is one of the joys of marriage for many people, if you have a marriage where you have good communication is that over time, you really can be very honest with each other and talk about things I realized that that doesn’t necessarily follow that that happens. No, it


Emily Power Smyth  30:03

doesn’t. It can be the case in every other area of couples life except sex.


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:08

And I totally get that. Yeah,


Emily Power Smyth  30:11

you know, it’s a different thing. It’s so fascinating. But you know, you can have really, really eloquent, confident people in every area of their life. And when it comes to sex, and they lose their voice completely, they lose their ability to communicate, to ask for something, or to give to hear what’s needed without taking it as criticism. The skills don’t seem to transfer from your work, or your family life or your friend’s life, to your sex life, it needs conscious work to be able to go, oh, I have all these skills in other areas of my life. Now, how do I become good at communicating around sex


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:50

doesn’t fallen? Yeah, you know, and that’s what’s so funny. In a way, it’s just another skill, you know, we don’t just know how to cook, or we don’t just suddenly become good cooks, or good archers for anything, you kind of work at it. And you know, that you can eventually get better, but you have to learn by mistakes as well. And you have to be prepared to make mistakes in order to learn.


Emily Power Smyth  31:13

It’s so important that perfectionism really, really limits people in what they are willing to risk when it comes to taking their clothes off, as I was saying about how they take their clothes off, whether there’s light or dark in the room, whether they’re in certain positions. That’s a really, really big thing. But the idea of making a mistake in your sexual encounters is absolutely terrifying. And for young people, I really get it. And I didn’t have this either when I was a young person, this online bullying, naming and shaming and my ex girlfriend and all these different ways that people can get spoken about, and their name can get damaged by somebody talking about their sexual encounters. And that’s a real live, terrifying problem for young people who are experiencing that. It’s terrific. So I work with young people who are ready, I’m able unhealthy for a sex life, but they are afraid to take their clothes off with someone in case they are judged as not up to scratch and it gets publicized. Wow, there are people choosing not to be sexual because of that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:20

Yeah, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be young and seeking partners and relationships. I you know, as an older woman now, I mean, I can imagine, as I said, I’m in a happy relationship. I cannot imagine ever being with somebody else, because I have so many hang ups about my body. At least I know that my husband knows them. Do you know what I mean? And we’re comfortable. I cannot imagine myself exposing myself to somebody else. Oh, I imagine


Emily Power Smyth  32:50

posing myself all the time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:54

It’s wonderful. That’s fabulous.


Emily Power Smyth  32:56

Because it’s fun to see. So I don’t have to imagine that. I’m going to turn up naked with the tummy. I have a fantasy so I am more along the lines of I don’t know, the narrows Targaryen or you know, Angelina Jolie and Tomb Raider. Yeah, she’s my blonde. Actually. She’s my crush. That’s how I turn up in my fantasies. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I fantasize about being other people. I’m in a very happy relationship for 12 years, but I fantasize about other people loads. And I love that it doesn’t mean I’m being unfaithful. This is another thing, actually, it’s another thing worth talking about fantasy, and the fear that you’re somehow being a failure partner. Well, actually, what you’re probably doing is bringing a little bit of life and a little bit of energy and a little bit of newness into your sexual life with your partner, by imagining and having an amazing fantasy. Maybe you share it with them, maybe you don’t. Our fantasies are very much around, we don’t need or have to share them with our partners. They can be just hours. But the research is there to show that people who fantasize tend towards a slightly more enlivened experience of their own sex life.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:04

Yeah, yeah,


Emily Power Smyth  34:04

I can imagine people can fantasize about their own partners, it doesn’t matter what I fantasize about. So just as they’re not playing Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:10

and we’re all entitled to our inner life, you know, not just around sex, you know, that’s just part of the human condition, you can have an inner life. And that’s good. That’s your imagination around all sorts of things. One thing that you spoke about that I think is really important, and it links it’s something that I’ve spoken about across other aspects of our life, and it just applies the same with sex. You were saying, if you’re concerned about your cellulite on your stomach, or the size of your penis, or whatever, why you’re having sex, the sex is not going to be very good to be perfectly honest. And I mean, for me, that’s what I talk about for people to just find their joy I’m not talking about is particularly in relation to sex, but it does apply. I talk to people about finding their joy in their life find something that they love doing that the time is irrelevant,


Emily Power Smyth  34:57

or lover. Yeah, that’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:59

your turn. lost in the moment whether that’s art painting, singing, whatever it is you do, you forget to eat. That’s your joy, you lose yourself. And in losing yourself, you actually find yourself. You’re totally connected. And to be honest, I think that really is what makes for good sex. Because you are utterly and completely in the moment in the joy of the moment, not thinking about, Oh God, am I nearly there my nearly, you know, just actually going with the experience. In the moment as it happens.


Emily Power Smyth  35:32

You’re spot on, like you teach that in psychology. Think how difficult it is for people to do that sexually, let alone if they can’t do it in their everyday life for five minutes and go and walk on the grass or whatever it happens to be that will bring them into their bodies and into their own energy. You’re absolutely right, when I’m talking about pleasure, which is why we take our kids,


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:52

right, that’s the next thing I wanted to talk to you about is pleasure. Why


Emily Power Smyth  35:56

do we get naked? Why do we engage sexually it is for pleasure, vast majority of the time it is not for procreation. So that whole procreation model, that horse has been so flogged, there is no fourth left.


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:08

Oh, it’s just been awful. Anyway, what about people who can’t have children? What about those of us who are no longer fertile, even


Emily Power Smyth  36:15

those of us who can’t have children are mostly having sex for fun, no. Fun. So you know, we need to talk about pleasure. But pleasure has shame attached to it, particularly in Irish society, I do believe it’s part of our religious upbringing. And we still carry a lot of fat. But if you’re focusing more on pleasure, I believe you can then begin to look at your body, rather than look at its faults, and its wobbly bits and its ins and outs that you’d rather it doesn’t have, you can think about how much pleasure your body can provide you with. And so as you were just talking about there, which is what brought it to mind for me about how to help people understand how to find their joy, that’s where I start with people, I don’t start sexually, because it’s a skill to find your joy, right. So absolute, yeah, and it’s a lot less scary to start to find your joy through painting, or walking or swimming, or whatever it is that you want to do. It’s sensual, you’re using your senses to experience your joy. Sex isn’t any different than that, except that it is different, but you’re still using your senses. So that’s a skill to develop, how do I feel really, in my body, really, in the moment, really enjoying myself, you start to practice it in a non sexual way and build your muscles up slowly towards the sexual realm. Because the sexual realm will have more worries and more little triggers and blocks in it than perhaps your everyday life might have. So you build your skills and then bring them to the sexual realm a little bit.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:48

Yeah, and, uh, you know, I was actually just talking about a talk I gave yesterday, and I was talking about curiosity. And curiosity is a wonderful thing. It’s really good for your brain, sex is really good for your brain to folks. If it’s good, it’s good sex. But what I will just throw in there and


Emily Power Smyth  38:06

flex your brain well.


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:10

What I was going to throw in there was that older adults with an active sex life are less likely to develop dementia in later life. That’s the bit I was throwing in. Which is kind of really nice. So I was talking about curiosity in the context of neuroplasticity. plasticity is this fantastic capacity that the brain has to adapt and change with learning and enrich the connections between your brain cells and you really want a densely connected brain that’s a healthy brain. And curiosity enhances neuroplasticity. So yesterday, I was giving a talk about being curious in life, it had really nothing to do with sex, I was just trying to explain to people to move them away from that academic narrow focus on what learning is. But learning is everything about everything we do in the world. It’s not just academic, and curiosity enhances our ability to learn. So when we are naturally curious about something, neuroplasticity is enhanced, and it is easier to learn. And then that enhanced plasticity can extend then to you can kind of use it to then work on something that maybe you’re less curious about. But you know what? I think we in a way have lost curiosity about our own bodies. Curiosity about connecting with our bodies. I read something recently, and I wish I could remember where it was. But it was something and it just really struck me. It was just one of those things about something to do in terms of appreciating life and getting more joy in life. And it was something like just spend some time today exploring each other’s bodies, no sex, no nothing just being together and exploring each other’s bodies. And I thought that was lovely. That’s just sensual. It’s just something perhaps when you’ve been in a long term relationship, maybe you don’t do anymore it reminds me of something that perhaps happens in very young teen certainly when I was growing up, there was an awful lot of what was called parenting. But prior to that there was gently just getting to know each other and looking at someone’s hands and talking while you did those lovely very, they weren’t really weren’t necessarily sexual, they were a form of bonding, getting to know a person’s body, looking at their faces touching their hair, a real getting to know and and I think probably, I don’t know whether that’s changed recently, but I think we could invest more time in that. And then in doing that, you can probably then come to that place of understanding pleasure and where pleasure can be found,


Emily Power Smyth  40:43

you’ve got to find out for the individual, you’re speaking to what pleasure is for them. And if you’re speaking to an anxious person, what you’ve just suggested, there is going to be nothing pleasurable. So you need to find out where persons are, if somebody is really embarrassed about their bodies, they’re not going to want to have their body explored by their person, if their person has been critical of their body, they’re not going to want to do that. So I know you’re speaking about for those who aren’t in that situation that


Dr Sabina Brennan  41:12

yes, absolutely, no, but it’s a very valid and good point that you have raised it. And it is always different strokes, it’s


Emily Power Smyth  41:17

really complicated. It’s always complicated. It’s always difficult to give generalized ideas and tips for anything like sex because it isn’t, it so often can’t be generalized. Because we have so many individuals, we all have our stories, we all have the bruises that we bring to our bedroom, or, or sitting on your kitchen, or car or side of the road, wherever we’re going to be sexual. You know, we all have our own vulnerabilities. So I think focusing on how we can be okay with our vulnerability is probably really important in regards to reaching a place of pleasure. Because I think, as you said, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? Forgive my this is a really simplistic way of describing something you probably know. So tell me if I’ve got it wrong. But when fear goes up, curiosity goes down. It’s very hard to be actively curious when you’re in fear. And I’m using fear very generally as worry as anxiety and as actual fear. So when a person is fearful of being judged, is worried they’re not going to be good enough in bed, or is anxious, their ability to be curious, is so low, that they are more likely to paint by numbers, they’re more likely to go, Okay, this is what you do in bed, this is I’m going to do these things that I’ve seen porn or on telly, that makes you a good lover, I’m going to do those fingers crossed hope for the best that the other person won’t judge me. And there’s nothing in there for them about their own pleasure. So again, we have to step it back, don’t we to what you’re talking about, to a space that’s safe for people to begin to connect with pleasure and curiosity, and then bring it into an area where clothes come off, which is much more vulnerable for most of us.


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:03

Yes, I’m so glad you brought that up. And I do tend to say this, you know, when it comes to any sort of human behavior or interaction, we are not all the same different strokes for different folks


Emily Power Smyth  43:15

mostly push and that kind of masturbation, yes.


Dr Sabina Brennan  43:20

True, true. But you know, in terms of just even social contact, we all have a different level of need, when it comes to that, exactly. It really applies across the board, we are all very different. We bring with us very different experiences. We all have fundamental things as human beings that have evolved, but we have different genetics, we have different life experiences. And some of those life experiences can be traumatic across the spectrum as well. One person’s trauma may completely derail them, whereas the similar trauma and another more resilient individual may not may actually make them stronger. And actually, now that we have just sort of touched on that you yourself, have your own story of trauma, just like


Emily Power Smyth  44:03

so many people in Ireland, I’m nothing special. Actually. It’s a really interesting thing I have felt throughout my life, particularly when the more serious and disgusting cases of clerical abuse and institutional abuse began to be spoken about in Ireland. So I would have been an adult by the time that really began where that I became aware of it anyway. So I’d had some of my most possibly most of my negative experiences by then, when I was possibly ready to begin to talk about it. I have this thing like I don’t think I’m alone in it, but I’m curious what you think were because my abuse wasn’t as horrendous as some of the stuff these are people have spoken about. I’m so glad they’ve spoken about and it’s so important. I didn’t feel I had a right to talk about mine, because it wasn’t that bad. Yes. And yes, when I’m working with people, and they tell me about an experience they’ve had, and they will inevitably say, but it’s not as bad as such and such. And my job as a therapist is to slow that down and go, but it’s not about anyone else. Tell me about how it is for you. But I struggled to do that for myself. And I’m talking about my own story, because I think Well, here I am about to tell you a little bit from kind of middle range, trauma, so to speak. I mean, I don’t even know. But do you know what I mean, this kind of resizing.


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:25

I know exactly what you mean, I think we feel that we have to apologize when you know, the horrors that have been visited on certain people, but an individual’s trauma is an individual’s trauma. I think we and I think, you know, in a way, there’s no harm in saying this. I suppose there’s a sense, certainly, for me in terms of speaking about something like that, and it applies across the board, not just with sexual trauma, but with experiences, you want to acknowledge that you know, that other people have had worse happen to them. So you want to do that. But I think it’s a fine balance between being able to do that and acknowledge it and not undermining and say, Actually, but I still had an experience that has had impact on my life, and that perhaps I’m struggling with, or perhaps that I don’t have the tools with, or perhaps actually, I wish I was as resilient as that individual was, even though my trauma may not have been objectively as bad as their trauma. So I think that’s very normal. And as human beings, it is our wound it is in herend, in us to compare. Yeah, we just do that, you know, and often we’re very happy. You know, there’s lovely research around people in jobs on the same salaries, people in jobs are perfectly happy with their salary, they think it’s justified for what they get. And then they hear that an individual doing the exact same job is getting as little as a penny, 10 minutes more than them, and suddenly, they are dissatisfied. So we do have this, it’s just part of how our brain works, we compare. And I suppose that’s something when we experience anything you’re trying your brain is trying to give it context, your brain is working with it. It’s data, it’s information.


Emily Power Smyth  47:15

But the difference I guess, for me with the work I do that I’m really conscious of there’s a difference between comparing and criticizing, you can acknowledge difference without feeling bad about yourself or feeling better than someone else. That’s a really good thing. There’s learning in that and there’s but it’s when it becomes cruel. And so many of us have such cruel inner dialogues that make it so hard to imagine having pleasure when we are feeling so low about ourselves because of what we are saying to ourselves on a repeat on a record. And so many of us who have cruel voices internally don’t even know we have them because they’re so common to us. They’re so comfortable or not comfortable. But we’re so used to them, we don’t even know we’re doing it. And that when you’re coming from a place internally, where you are really beating yourself up. How unsexy is that? How hard is it to really feel acceptable, lovable, sexy, sexual, when you are telling yourself all these really cruel things,


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:17

I think and this applies again, to our whole sense of self, our sense of who we are, you know, your brain really is just this data processing machine. And it’s not invaluable. It just takes information from various places, and when it comes to sex, so a lot of my early information and for women of my generation related to sex was sex was dirty. Sex was something that wasn’t spoken about sex was something that was preserved for married people alone, to experience any sort of sexual desire was just not appropriate. And even one of my early memories and it wasn’t even affects was, you’d go to a disco as a team. If someone you fancy did slow dance with them. They walked you home. And in this particular instance, I was walked home by my boyfriend at the time, I’d say I was about 15. And we kissed outside the gate and long, passionate teenage kids, but never went any further than that long, passionate teenage kids. You’d look at people in the disco, and you’d wonder where they ever come up for air. That’s kind of what used to happen in teenage discos. When we were kids. And I remember noticing a light flickering, you know, and kind of go What’s that? And it was the light in our house and the on and off.


Emily Power Smyth  49:29

You’ll know where


Dr Sabina Brennan  49:30

I’m coming from a lot of younger people go what’s going on? I came in and my mother was standing in the hallway waiting for me and she said if you were a dog, I would have bought water out throw it over you. Wow. Yeah. But I don’t think that was that uncommon, as far as my mother was concerned. And actually for those the reference was basically if dogs had sex with each other on the street, sometimes they would get stuck. And people would always get stuck. Yeah. Oh, is it? Yeah. Okay. So people would come out and throw water oh, for them cut cuts or even worse, really, and so I presume it reduces the size of the penis and then they can become unstuck or uncoupled steal a phrase from Gwyneth Paltrow. Excuse me. But yeah, so that kind of thing sticks with you a god, that’s 40 years ago, thankfully, I’ve kind of got over that sort of thing. But it’s still those kind of things are there for a lot of people. So whatever your early kind of experiences, your brain will just take that as a piece of data, your brain doesn’t make any value judgments. It just takes information in and whatever other information that the church said, or whatever other information that you know, friends said, or what you hear, when you’re watching television, your brain is just taking all those bits of information. And unless you consciously assess and make value judgments about that information and decide to work to discard some of that information, that’s just all there. It’s just all their insides, you know, unconsciously forming your attitudes to sex, influencing your experience with sex and all other things in life. So that’s one thing for me that I’m passionate about is to just get people whatever it is you’re working on, to look at, even if it’s pen and paper, and I’m not a therapist, and I’m open to be contradicted. But certainly in areas not related to sex, this is something that can be really helpful. Write down your feelings, your thoughts, your attitudes, and then try and trace back where they came from. And are they valid? Are they truthful? And I mean, that often comes to things like people say, oh, gosh, I always thought I’d be useless academically, or I’m bad at English, because a teacher told them, they were bad at English, when they were seven, look at that and go, that’s not valid, it’s not useful, I need to work to get that out of that composite of who I am. And I just think probably, it could be helpful to do something similar in terms of the ideas that we have that influence how we think about and behave sexually, because we’ve just let all this information come in unconsciously, and your brain is just making a best guess it’s taking whatever information it has. But we do have the power, we have a conscious brain that can assess the validity of that. And then work changes for the better for held by


Emily Power Smyth  52:20

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, but certainly a


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:22

part of therapy for sure. Nice. Nice. Okay, well, I


Emily Power Smyth  52:26

do therapy anyway. Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:27

There’s something that I’m interested to talk about. It’s come up a couple of times throughout the course of various interviews and episodes, and that’s around the issue of consent. And consent, not consenting, not really consenting, deciding to just go with it, because you love the person or whatever, perhaps you’ve decided you’re going to pleasure your partner out of love. Yeah, it’s just that whole area to me, can be somewhat of a minefield. And is it as simple as yes or no or no, because


Emily Power Smyth  52:57

we’re taught, most of the discussions I’ve seen about consent and Ireland have been coming from a sex negative place. So in other words, it’s about thrash punishment, what will stand up in court who’s guilty? Who’s to blame? And so you’re pitting people against each other before they even touch each other? It’s also a very gendered argument, we don’t hear I mean, certainly people who are non binary, never get a mention. And they’re, they’re trying to navigate all of this as well. This is why sex positivity is because we don’t even know the questions to ask, we ask questions. But if they’re from a negative perspective, the answers we get are going to skew our ideas of how things are. And that’s what happens around sexuality in Ireland all the time. The conversation around consent for me in Ireland has just missed the point because it’s all about how do we protect our boys from getting accused of rape? How do we protect our girls from being raped by guys? And we put all the emphasis on what a girl should do? Say where where she should be. And she’s the gatekeeper. And that message so the conversations often begin with how do we keep our girls safe? How do we teach consent? And we hear it now more and more often. And it’s really good that we do you know, where do the boys come into that equation? Because when you say we’ve got to keep our girls safe, you are directly implying that all boys are perspective perpetrators. And I have a real problem with that on behalf of boys, I have a real problem.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:32

I am very, very glad that you have said that. I have a real problem with the language around these kinds of conversations. I’m married to a man I have two sons and one son in law. So they’re surrounded in my family by wonderful, lovely men. And I do think that what we do does a disservice to many men,


Emily Power Smyth  54:57

boys, boys, let’s join This is this is the conversation about how do we teach children concern? Absolutely. Boys are so backwards and offensive, I raised boys.


Dr Sabina Brennan  55:09

And in terms of trying to protect them, I had to have those kinds of conversations with them, I talked to them about sex and try to say, look, sex is no different than eating, you know, your food, your diet, your exercise, you’ve got to try and do it in a healthy, healthful way. But when it comes one thing that I had said to mine, and this is probably terrible, but I had said to them in terms of trying to protect them is, particularly when it comes to perhaps if it was outside of a relationship, so to speak. And I would say to them, Look, if it’s a good idea, this Saturday night, it probably be a good idea next Saturday night. So it might be a good idea to wait till then, to give that sense of making sure. And also having said to them, if an individual has consumed too much alcohol, they are not in a position to consent, legally, and you need to be mindful and aware of that. And it’s kind of a terrible position to be in to have those kinds of conversations.


Emily Power Smyth  56:07

That’s the stuff that is no offense to you, because there’s no other information out there for people trying to help the young people with consent. But it’s, that’s really difficult to navigate for young people who are out absolutely, like clubs getting pissed. That’s what young Irish people do, because they’re repressed, and they don’t know how to be themselves without alcohol, I’m not talking about your I don’t know about your son, they’re not developed or generalizing, or is a very dangerous thing to do. So when you are trying to protect one person from another, you’re in trouble because you’re already creating a situation where one person is against the other when they should be a team if they’re going to take their clothes off with each other. So it’s not that difficult. It’s just that we don’t know what questions to ask. And we don’t know what to be talking about. So we write around. So we should be talking about pleasure. Okay, three simple things about it. First of all, you have to understand what pleasure is how pleasure feels in the body, what pleasure looks like, on another person’s face, in their voice in their body language, that sort of stuff that can be taught it’s non sexual stuff. It can be taught through other kinds of touch. It can be and, and it can be learned very clearly. Yeah. If I look at your face, and I’m thinking, gosh, she’s hot, I’d love to get a bit of her nap. And you’re not looking back at me with a Hell yeah, look on your face. That’s a no. Yep, we’re not looking for how do i creep along the fine line between yes and no. And oh, she didn’t say no. So that’s a yes, that’s where it’s so complicated. And that’s pitting one vote, but he will win over her because she didn’t quite say yes or no. Or if she was ambiguous, then it’s going to be hurtful that he gets victory over her. That’s all disgusting to me, because it makes both sets of people combative, and takes compassion out of the equation. So what I would say to people is take gender out of it. Why does it have to be gendered in the first place? Why it’s tough to be protecting girls from boys, we want everyone to be safe. We want everyone. So there’s that. And then. So I want if somebody is unconscious on the floor in a party, and they’re male, I want another male to go and feel they can go and pick that person up and help them not go, oh, I only help girls, or he might be gay or all this dreadful stuff that happens. I also think if we are talking about pleasure, so we need to slow down What does pleasure feel like in your body? And you know, this, you can teach children this at any age, and you can teach them about it non sexually? How do you know if somebody is feeling pleasure? It takes all the edge of the coercion because you’re not looking for? Well, they said yes. But I could tell they weren’t fully into it. But they said yes. So I’m okay in court. It takes about iserbyt We’re not looking for okay, then you can do that to me we’re looking for. Yeah, I want to do that. Cuz I’m gonna feel pleasure when I do wish. That simple. It’s really simple.


Dr Sabina Brennan  59:06

Yeah. And, you know, I’ve said this over and over again. But I have it is one concern that I have had of the internet, and this kind of swiping to date, and all that sort of stuff. Because when I was a teenager growing up, you hung around with other teenagers, right? And you learn how to be with other people. So it was always like, kind of fancy him or whatever, and you’d be constantly read it. Did you see the way you looked at me? Did you see that sort of little smile, and you would discuss those little nuances with your friends. And you also learned that step save maybe close to them and they might step back and you go, Okay, I kind of cross some sort of line there and a boundary. And so we had these lots and lots of human interaction from puberty kind of onwards, where you’re in You’re acting and you’re learning how to be with other people. No, it’s not perfect. But you have a place where you can learn through trial and error. And I just think that sort of human interaction has gone a lot. And a lot of stuff is happening online. And you and I were miles apart. And you know what, if I go right up to you on the screen, it’s going to feel weird, but you’re not smelling my breath, you’re not kind of getting those nuances. And social interaction is brilliant for your brain, because it is a really complex activity. And so being with people and learning to be with people, is a really complex cognitive activity, because your brain is reading all those little nuances. And I think what you’ve just said there is absolutely spot on. If we turn all that nuance that understanding of human interaction to a yes or no, that’s actually what’s getting us into trouble, as opposed to people learning how to interact,


Emily Power Smyth  1:01:07

anything that creates a binary or a black and white is going to be incredibly damaging and dangerous for people to navigate. The YES or NO is absolutely not working. I mean, we just have to look at what’s working and what isn’t, this isn’t a theory, you and I are just making up, this is happening in our society, people are not clear about consent, they don’t feel, you know, rightly so I understand that, why you would be worried about your sons and wanting to help them to navigate that, of course, that’s good parenting. That’s happening all the time. And it doesn’t seem to be getting clearer for people about how to do this. So this is why I’ve been thinking about consent a lot, and how it can be taught, and I get asked it a lot. And I really think the pleasure model is the simplest way to do it. If you are not feeling pleasure. So first, you have to know what pleasure is. And then you need to give people the skills to communicate, to not only be able to say no, but to hear no, or to hear yes, or to hear. I’m going to wait till next week and see how I feel about this. And that there isn’t this status, connected to sexual conquests, which is what it is at the moment of, there’s a very, very strong, toxic masculinity that would insist on conquest and on getting one over on somebody and on taking power over somebody and mistaking that for empowerment.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:02:34

I think as well, when you talk about pleasure, and I’m thinking about it, from a male perspective, we have this sense of a male persisting despite the female, not particularly wanting it. But if that male is properly educated about their own pleasure, they will understand that pleasure is much bigger than a sexual organ experiencing or arousal or whatever, that it actually pleasure is an overall


Emily Power Smyth  1:03:02

thing we finish with all of your body and all of your mind and all of your energy. Absolutely, your only feeling is in the penis, which I you know, you’ve hit on something that I work with a lot with men and young men in particular, but all men is that they only allow themselves to feel physical pleasure from their penis. They don’t even know any other parts of their body can that they’ve all the same nerve endings as anyone else has in their skin, and that they have amazing potential to feel touch that will be enlivening and exciting and stimulating, although they don’t know that. So of course, they’re going to do what you’re saying, You’re so on the money with this that as long as guys think that’s their only way to get pleasure. Yeah, gotta go for it. And then they’re being told we all expect you to go for it. Yeah. Then they’re being told we’re protecting the girls from you, because your possible perpetrator, then they’re getting no education, and they’re going to porn, because then healthily curious. And they’re trying to learn more and find their place in society and figure out who they are. Put all of those things together, along with a very healthy patriarchy. And we’re into a position where males are being pitted against females and they will win. Yeah, because when they do it that way, of course, they’re going to,


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:04:19

but I’m sure that there’s a lot of men out there who are almost afraid to engage for fear of how that will come across, or that they’ll make a mistake, or that they’ll cross a line. Um,


Emily Power Smyth  1:04:31

you know, yes, right. But again, yes, but that’s, I really feel for men who there are so the vast majority of men are men with a conscience and men with empathy and men who would never be any problem to anybody, you know, it would be a lot easier for those men to have a really solid place in our society. If we were able to see the difference between those men and the men who don’t have boundaries and maybe do want to perpetrate because those people exist as well. While we club it all in together, all men are the same. And all men are suffering with the same difficulties and all men. While we’re doing that, without teaching them how to be healthy and boundaries and respectful, it’s very difficult to be able to spot the people who actually we need to worry about.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:05:16

Yeah, and we have a so distorted world, just briefly on the pleasure thing, you know, if we educate men about what pleasure is in their own body, but also the pleasure of giving pleasure, the pleasure of witnessing Pleasure is all kind of part of that. And that would really help people in terms of the consent aspect of it. Am I giving pleasure here? You know,


Emily Power Smyth  1:05:37

I’m not the pleasure that I’ve learned women want from porn. Yes, that isn’t what women want. Just to say something about that, and your spirit, you know, what you’re talking about is the feast of sex, which I think is just such a beautiful way to teach it as well. We can consume all sorts of meals contrary, and sometimes we just want a McDonald’s, and we want it quick, and we want it fast, and we want to eat it. And we’ll be hungry again, and BB. And it’s good. And it’s lovely, and delicious. And that’s fine, that hit this bus. And that sex is great. But if you’re only eating McDonald’s all the time, it gets boring. You’re not learning anything, you’re not expanding your horizons. So I like to remind people or to teach people for the first time about the joy of a Mitchell and star sex experience where you might go for a tasting menu, and it might take three hours to have an experience where you are


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:06:34

plenty of time for a female to get there. What you’re


Emily Power Smyth  1:06:37

saying is slowing down and really enjoying the feasting on each other’s bodies, not just from sexual acts, but the looking the smelling the touching the feeling all this energy you share is the feasting on not only that, but the anticipation of that can start way before anyone gets sexual. And that’s what women in long term relationships and women who are a little bit older, they need that it isn’t like we choose it, it’s actually a necessity for our turn on and for our arousal is for it to begin non sexually, with the anticipation, the flourish, the reminder that your person finds you hot, interesting, they want to hang out with you, those are the things that get a woman ready to begin any kind of physical foreplay. And without that, it’s very hard for a woman to just flip the switch and get straight into what you’re feeling my boobs now I need to be turned on in five minutes, because you’ll be turned on five minutes, I needed my orgasm within the next three minutes after that, because you’ll be ready to have yours. And we’ll all be done in 15 minutes. And I was doing the washing up 20 minutes ago, work for women in relationships of any age, and women who are getting older. The converse of that is that when men only understand or allow themselves to feel pleasure through their penis, it’s harder for them to get out of the McDonald’s sex, or to get out of the we always go to the same pub on a Sunday and have our Sunday roast there. It’s hard to get out of that because it’s limited. They limit their partner on how she or they or he can love them is limited to touch my Mickey. Yeah. You know, however, you’re going to do that. And so, again, feasting, making mistakes, not being sexual throughout your sexual encounter, but being sinful.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:08:28

I love the idea of a tasting menu. I think that’s kind of a great idea. Really, yeah, you can try and say, Oh, that one’s tough for me. This one is, oh, gosh, I’d love to have more of that. Maybe we’ll expand on that for next time. He feast, it gives an opportunity. I want to touch back away from that because I think it’s something that’s important in that bigger context around the victim blaming the putting the onus on the female, there’s a bigger context. And it’s something that kind of really jumped out at me and I can’t remember the name of the woman there recently in the United Kingdom, who was murdered, ultimately transpired that it was a police officer who had done it. She walked home and it was during lockdown. And of course there was the victim blaming, what was she doing walking home alone? That’s one question. But what happened as a consequence of that was that there was like a curfew for women not to go out for their own safety till they found. Now my argument is, to me, that’s the worst form of victim blaming, because really what should happen is there is a male perpetrator out there, so no males should be allowed out under curfew until such time as that perpetrator is found. Now the amount of people want social media males and females had to be ridiculous. You can’t expect all males to stay home just because there’s one male raping and killing females. But why is it then that is okay to expect all female males to stay at home. And all females cannot stay at home. Any man in their right mind, who understands what is going on and who has nothing to be fearful of should say, Absolutely, why don’t we do that, because then we actually have a chance of catching this perpetrator, because he’ll be the guy that’s out, prowling or at the guy who doesn’t have a reason to be out. And until we really start shouting down those imbalances, nothing will change. Having said that, there’s something that I want to say. And I’ve often been afraid to say it, I haven’t said it on social media, I’ve become very cautious what I say on social media, because it’s so easy to be misinterpreted and then canceled as consequence. And I hate to say it, particularly by the feminist community, they can be very unforgiving. Not all of them again, generalizations aside. But one thing that I feel. So to just start with an analogy, to explain where I’m going to go, we have traffic lights, okay. And when the man is red, you don’t cross the road, when the Green Man appears, it is safe to cross the road, you should be able to cross that road without fear of being knocked down, you should just be able to recast that road. However, it does not make any sense to cross that road without looking left or right. Even though the man is green, because you need to protect your life, somebody could come flying through and break that red line they shouldn’t do. So. Similarly, my sons now they’re in their 30s. Now, so they’re well grown up. But we live in a nice area going out in town was town in between town and the nice area was an area that was pretty dangerous to walk home through. Now my son should be We only live two miles from the city center, they should be able to walk home, any night free of fear, etc. Unfortunately, they can’t because there are individuals who perpetrate violence on people going through. So whilst they should have a right to do so it is not in their best interest to do so. And so they would get a taxi home. Now, if I dare take that analogy to an instance of rape for a female in certain circumstances, that becomes just this really hot topic that says I’m victim blaming, which I am absolutely not everybody should have the right, I believe I should have the right to walk naked through the streets if I so wished. But I also should have the right to be able to walk home safely. But I also know that I cannot do so in the city in which I live. And also if I drink alcohol, and I do drink alcohol, and have drunk alcohol to amounts where I may not be making rational decisions, that I may take risks that I should not take. And oh, can we have that conversation about protecting yourself in a rational way? Without it then being confused with victim blaming, it’s a conversation that I’ve really been finding very hard to have, because I want to protect women.


Emily Power Smyth  1:13:10

For me, I think it’s and this is kind of going off sexual but a bit unwarranted. A talk about feminism, I think. But I think for me, it comes down to what’s new, about talking about whether a woman should or shouldn’t walk a particular place at night. We know that we know that society isn’t safe. And that goes for whatever gender you are in certain areas. We know that. But there is an overemphasis on women getting attacked. If a guy walks home and gets attacked, he won’t be asked what he was wearing, how much that’s true. So that’s where it becomes victim blaming when a guy gets mugged. The first question isn’t why were you there on your own? That’s the difference. Of course, the reality is, society isn’t safe. And it is way less safe for women and for trans people. And for gay people, it is way less safe for people. So when the conversation is led by straight cisgendered, middle aged white men as to how women should conduct themselves in those instances, it doesn’t feel like it’s about protecting her it feels like it’s about judging her and wanting to keep her in a certain sphere of her life in order to allow men to continue to do what they want to do. And I’m not saying that all white, middle a sexual men are like that, but I’m saying that quite often the men who have these opinions about this, and the women who have these opinions, Oh yeah, absolutely fit into a category where they haven’t really considered the difference in how they speak themselves about an attack or an assault and the kind of attack and assault and on whom.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:14:55

So I totally get that. My dilemma is how do we get the message across to young women, that having the right to behave how you so wish and be safe? That’s the question. So I think, absolutely, we need to call out the victim blaming, we need to say she should be allowed to walk home wherever she wants, she should be allowed to do this, she should be allowed do that. I just feel that the danger of that is that it’s like telling young women to take those risks. So what I’m trying to find is how do we temper that? How do we get the message across to people know Hold on a second, she should be allowed to do whatever


Emily Power Smyth  1:15:39

she wants? Well, we could stop gendering it for a start. Well, true.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:15:43

Yeah. But people should be allowed to do whatever they wish, but also to just tell the girl, well, you see, there I am, again, the girl you are, and I am there I am again, but it’s just for me. That’s a fear I have is that by saying, because I was that kind of person, I should have the right to do whatever I want. And therefore I will. And you actually really do need someone temporary saying, Of course you should have the right we’re working towards that. Oh my God, we’ve been talking so long. So many things. We definitely have to have you back on again. Because there are so many things. I have two questions from people that messaged me, I said I was having you on. I did them a disservice if I don’t talk to them. Sure. Happy to I definitely have you back on again. There’s just so many things. So we barely touched on the fact that past trauma past sexual trauma can impact on sex. Now what I actually was asked by one person was kind of traumatic experience that has nothing to do with sex. So violence or post traumatic stress disorder affect your sex life?


Emily Power Smyth  1:16:41

Yes, it can. Of course, just like a sexual assault can affect other areas of your life. You’d know about this, it’s a tout affects the brain and how we react to certain triggers or stimuli. So you could have been hit, and then be in a sexual situation. And there’s something about the touch the taste, the smell, but the room that can trigger your trauma, and it happens in a sexual realm. So there’s that there’s also the carrying and holding of trauma in our bodies, that sometimes will only get released through a physical touch that may be sexual. So yes, it can most definitely happen.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:17:21

Yes. And this individual, for example, said Virginis Smith says that is that the right thing, or body and survival mode, I mean, that’s what I would have thought is what happens.


Emily Power Smyth  1:17:31

Yeah, and and vaginismus is a protection, you know, people think that there’s something terribly wrong with their bodies when they they’re vaginal muscles clump up. But usually, usually they clump up in reaction to something that hasn’t felt safe or comfortable for them. So if a woman has been having uncomfortable sex repeatedly, it’s not uncommon that her vaginal muscles will try to prevent that from continuing to happen. So we need to go back a few steps when it comes to a more generalized trauma. The feeling of having somebody penetrate you, it can be so incredibly overwhelming and intense. It can feel like an overpowering. And so your muscles can have that same reaction even though the overpowering or the assault that happened before wasn’t sexual, it may have a similar energy to it somewhere but gets triggered in your body. So absolutely.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:18:25

And the other question was, a woman asked me, but she was hoping to deal with her menopause or vagina using big fam, but that she’s found she’s 61 years old, she’s single, she’s really developed a fear of the act and is kind of reluctant to get involved with a sexual partner. She doesn’t say whether male or female


Emily Power Smyth  1:18:45

from underwater fear is because her fear could be around her body or being vulnerable. Or it could be that she’s going to feel pain, because if she’s using Baji firm, it’s possible. And I don’t know that she may have experienced some pain and discomfort that got her on to some good treatment. And that treatment will really help. We have to make sure that we’re using it enough. So again, it depends when you start using it and how much you needed it before you began using it. So if you have become really dry and uncomfortable, you’re probably going to need to use 5g foam every night for two weeks and then lower it and be on it for the rest of your life. Some doctors under prescribe it, I don’t really know why, and might say, Oh, you just need it twice a week, twice a week is a maintenance dose. It’s not a curative dose as far as I understand it. So it’s more important to take it a lot more to begin with to get your vagina back into a better shape before you go into a maintenance dose.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:19:37

Yeah, and I would imagine given that she started the question with menopause. That’s around what it is. And


Emily Power Smyth  1:19:43

just to say that she then she could begin by exploring herself with some self love with some gentle touch and exploration of herself. With lots of lube get an organically like yes, lube will use plenty of it, and just massage the outside of the vulva. Massage for a while, do some nice deep breathing, gently massage the entrance to the vagina without penetrating with anything and see how that feels first. And if that feels okay, then try one fingertip and build up from there going further and the depth of the penetration isn’t as relevant as the width of the penetration. So when you’ve had a vagina that hasn’t had the treatment for a while, it can take a while for the muscles to get the elasticity back. So that’s best done by yourself on your own with no pressure, and then you can enter a sexual encounter with another person confident that you won’t be in pain.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:20:37

I think that’s fabulous advice and it actually reminded me I did a fabulous episode with Meg Matthews around the menopause and she was just advocating use it or lose it you know, masturbate, masturbate. masturbate, keep it in use, keep it working. Well, ordinarily, what I do at the very end is ask you for tips and advice, but you’ve got so many pieces of advice, folks, what I am going to do is really just devote Thursday’s booster episode to Emily. And she is going to share her four golden rules.


Emily Power Smyth  1:21:07

Yeah, I mean, I’ve given her a grandiose title call it what we will call her anything but so for guides, if you like golden guides, there’s a new one. I haven’t called it before, to having good sex.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:21:21

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 super brain 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 Brandon. 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

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 8

Making New Dreams with Lauren White Murphy

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  •  00:11 – A shy young musician
  • 03:37 – Singing and songwriting
  • 08:34 – Ghost writing
  • 10:43 – American Horror Story
  • 11:37 – my rant about the lack of neurological health care
  • 14:57 – MS ambassador
  • 17:04 – sight loss, pain and loss of balance
  • 20:55 – You’re falling down – it must be the drink since your Irish
  • 22:58 – coping with diagnosis alone
  • 25:26 – not wanting to be a burden
  • 28:00 – The urge to paint
  • 31:49 – Lauren gifts Sabina a painting
  • 36:27 – Savant syndrome
  • 45:35 – manifesting
  • 1:00:00 – PTSD
  • 1:09:00 – Lauren’s tips for thriving and surviving in life




Brochure  for Lauren’s Art Exhibition at the IFSC, Custom House Plaza in Dublin 1


Lauren’s Soundcloud

LoloPopWorld on Instagram

LoloPopArt on Twitter





Guest Bio

Lauren White Murphy was born (prematurely) in Dublin in 1988. As a young child she showed a keen interesting in music playing both the saxophone and clarinet in bands and orchestras at school. After taking a course in songwriting at school Lauren was hooked and became convinced she would be the next Bono. Not one to rest on her laurels the teenage Lauren went knocking on RTE’s door looking to work as and learn more about songwriting. Her first song was given to the then hot band Belfire and became their first single. Lauren sparked up a songwriting partnership with Niall Mooney which continues today. Together they have written songs for Ireland and other countries for the Eurovision and other song contests. Lauren became a ghost writer and was signed by Warner Bros. After studying music in college she moved to LA in 2013 to pursue her career in music and also in acting. Five years and a marriage later and Lauren found herself falling down (literally) and felt her once fluid songwriting skills slipping away. After multiple investigations Lauren was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few weeks short of her 30th birthday in 2018. Her partner struggled with Lauren’s diagnosis and so thousands of miles away from family Lauren struggled to cope home alone until one day she had the urge to paint. She had been filling her days watching reruns of reality TV shows and these became the first subjects of her drawings. Track forward three years and Lauren has transformed into an accomplished artist and passionate MS ambassador.

MS Ambassador Lauren and I appeared on Ireland AM for World MS Day in May 2021

Over to You

We all face challenges in life. Thankfully not all are as life-changing as those faced by Lauren. Nonetheless, the worst challenge we face in life is always our worst challenge until we face something more difficult. I’d love to hear how you have coped with challenge. Did you something, like Lauren found art, that boosted your resilience helped you to cope.


This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources  (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me

Dr Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan. And today I want to excuse the sound of my voice, and probably some stuttering, etc. That will go on because I’m actually feeling a little bit under the weather. But thankfully, my guest today is Lauren white Murphy. And the last time we met, she can talk as much as I can talk. So I think I’m kind of in safe hands today. If my brain starts to work, I think Lauren might actually jump to the rescue and save me. Anyway, thank you so much for tuning in. You are in for an absolute treat. Lauren has gosh, she’s just a lesson in how to thrive in life, particularly in the arts, which can be quite a challenge, but also on how to survive. And you know what, let’s just go straight in and we’re just going to do the plain old fashioned let’s start from Lauren’s childhood and work our way through her really fascinating story. So music has been a big part of your life since you were very young,


Lauren White Murphy  01:05

very young. Yeah. So firstly, hi, thank you for having me on. Welcome. I absolutely loved the podcast. I didn’t listen. So yeah, a little bit about me. And music was my go to since I was a child, I was known in school for ish, I won all the awards. I started off in a marching band and Crumlin and just excelled from there. I just really had such a passion for


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:27

  1. So you’re in a marching band. So did you play the clarinet or


Lauren White Murphy  01:31

Yeah, I actually paid the clarinet and saxophone. They’re my two instruments. But my mother had me in piano lessons and everything because I actually was a very shy child, very, very shy, even like pink and back. And now I’m like, Oh, God, I just get to know in my stomach of how shy I was.


Dr Sabina Brennan  01:46

But I think people have a misconception. I’m very chatty. I’m very sociable. But I would argue that I’m shy in that. You see, there’s this sense that being shy is looking down and not saying I think Lady Di you know, the eyes down and know, and being afraid to talk. But actually, sometimes it can manifest in a different way. I often talk way too much. And I think it’s kind of covering up you’re kind of afraid of gaps, you’re you know, your stomach is kind of going and you’re just kind of trying to make things Okay,


Lauren White Murphy  02:15

yeah. And I usually come out with the most useless information like you know, did you know that like the takes a billion trillion steps to get to the moon? You know, just be stupid, stupid things. Just to cover that. Yeah, yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  02:28

I have that. I always envied people who in fact, I worked with someone. And I always envied him. You could be in the pub after work. And he would just come over, join whatever group you were with, and go Hi. And then just stand there. Oh, listen to conversation, you know, like, people would have thought, Oh, you’re real confident, and he’s real Shy. would never have had the confidence to do that to just go over to a group join it, and expect everyone to just say, yeah, that’s okay. contributing anything.


Lauren White Murphy  02:56

Yeah. When I got older, I kind of would have done bash, I put that aside, you know, yes, we


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:01

hear more. Because your tenacity I want to talk about so you started off in a marching band, and you played clarinet, saxophone and clarinet. And then you moved on because you played multiple instruments. So you mentioned piano there.


Lauren White Murphy  03:13

Yeah, my whole childhood just stay in learn instruments. I was just fascinated. I honestly thought I was going to be the next panel, right? Like I really did. But in a sense, where I didn’t want the big fame or I didn’t like all the attention. I liked working in the background. And I like to work with a team that’s why I loved being in a marching band and have been in orchestras in school and things like that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  03:37

When did you discover that you had a voice because part of my research I love doing we did an episode a week before last where we tried something that where I wouldn’t do any research and then discovered I missed a huge thing that I had in common with my guests. Ah, she actually played me in a play like can you imagine you missed that opportunity to talk about that? Oh, quality and there was a book that a day in me and when I was actually just putting the episode up because we said oh, let’s do a winger because she does stand up comedy and I said, Well, let me try and do it. And was only when I was doing her bio and I said she was in a DMA and then I messaged her and you can make a mess if you wanted to play and um so I will never not do my research again, but actually doing research on you was just such a treat. I wasn’t sleeping the other night actually. Because as I mentioned earlier, not feeling well. And I took the opportunity to look at your SoundCloud and have a listen. Oh my God, you have the sweetest voice hanker? Absolutely oh my god it just because I was quite stressed but it just enveloped me you really beautiful voice and I didn’t know whether those songs are on your SoundCloud. Did you write those songs?


Lauren White Murphy  04:48

They’re mine. Yeah, yes. I think I signed on to the tracks. And then I had some a demo singer for the big belty song. Not me. Yeah, that’s not me. But I write like that.


Dr Sabina Brennan  04:59

Yeah, you kind of do. interested in how you kind of described them? I think one you had called Pop, but I think you had one folksy pop or something like


Lauren White Murphy  05:05

the corps? Yeah, yeah. And I have them to tank because they are still my favorite bond. And they’re the reason that I got into write music Well, so like I was in school, and I started, like, I was in transition year, and we did like a songwriting course, wow, for a day. And my song got chosen and how to perform in front of the whole school and common from like, this shy person, I think out of 1516. I was like, Okay, this is happening. They’re saying I’m good at this. So let’s give it a go. So I don’t do anything in half measures. So I just did my research. And I actually just, I went into a party and I was pitching songs there for I think the TV show was your star at the time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:50

Wow. Was that like straight after? Were you just a teen when you did this?


Lauren White Murphy  05:54

Oh, yeah. I wrote my first song actually was given to Belle fire. I don’t know if you remember them. But


Dr Sabina Brennan  05:59

one of the sisters,


Lauren White Murphy  06:01

I think was the sisters. Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:02

yeah. Yeah. Oh, my God. The connection. I love it. One of the marks became a psychologist.


Lauren White Murphy  06:09

Yeah, he wrote a song for them. And then people in our tea got in contact with me. And Niall Mooney was one of them. He’s done a lot of songwriting for Ireland for different stuff. We have been writing partner since I was a teen. And we did so many revisions together for Ireland for Malta. I went off and it’s different Azerbaijan and Denmark and different countries.


Dr Sabina Brennan  06:33

Oh my god. So can people find these songs to listen to?


Lauren White Murphy  06:37

Well, so I can definitely put them up. But publishing and my publisher at the time they were like, no, because I used to have everything online. And they’re like, you can’t because what I do is I used to take the songs that I have, and I would reinvent them. So that song that you listened to the other night, just say it’s probably about six different songs. I mean, okay, I have to tell the difference. Yeah, gotcha. Gotcha. And I’ve kind of stepped away from the songwriting just because of the MS. And we’ll talk more about that. Yeah, because it did affect it, unfortunately. But I just want to let you know, I did get picked for this year’s Junior Eurovision. Yes. Just for the kids to song that we wrote. I’d say there five years ago, myself, Niall. I think we got through there last year and the year before. So I just take


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:20

like you just as powerhouse. I just so this shy girl and you just took this tenacity? Was it that you just didn’t think about it? Do you think or like when you say I went indoor to eat? Did you just like, show


Lauren White Murphy  07:33

up? No, I did my research of who’s who? Right. Okay. Don’t talk to me. How will I get in there and not be a nutcase. You know, I had to have the proof to code, right. Yeah, yeah. But I could do and this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to actually work in order T. My thing I wanted to just be around media, TV, radio, music, octane. And I


Dr Sabina Brennan  07:57

always wanted to just yeah, you know,


Lauren White Murphy  07:59

I never knew which part I actually fit in. If you get me. Yeah. So I felt like I had to work really, really hard with the music. And I wrote when I got the MS then yeah, that’s when I was like, Okay, I actually did really have to work hard. Because when I got diagnosed in April 2018, we can go back to that though. Everything just it’s like, it just fell out of my head. Right. And I couldn’t even hold my instrument properly. It just felt so foreign


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:26

to me, you know? Oh, my goodness.


Lauren White Murphy  08:28

So yeah, leading up into that. That’s what I did for what? 15 years, my life.


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:34

I know. But like you’re just talking or to eat, but you actually moved to the US.


Lauren White Murphy  08:38

Oh, yeah. I moved to the US. Now. You became a ghostwriter. Yeah, that’s what by chance,


Dr Sabina Brennan  08:43

was it tell me how that happened. And explain to people what being a ghost writer


Lauren White Murphy  08:48

  1. Okay. So ghost writing is usually generally for writing books. Okay. Yes. So how I got into it was it’s like a risk, okay. I was with Warner Brothers publishing, and I got connections and whatever. They would send me a song and they would have writers on it and they can’t come up with a good hook. They can’t come up with a good verse, etc. Do your magic on that. Okay, you my magic gone bus sends it back. They like it. They’re like, do you want to credit on it? Or would you like the money? Me are 2122 I want the few bob do like I said, I never wanted to be you. They’re famous thing. Like, if I did have anything like that, I would want to be in the background. I felt like I was the gym core. I just like I knew that I wanted to create something forever in music. So I didn’t care if I got the credit or not because I didn’t you


Dr Sabina Brennan  09:48

know, can I ask you so when they said do you want the credit or to be paid as a ghostwriter? Was there no option for you to get credit and royalties?


Lauren White Murphy  09:56

Yes, but the risk was huge. And I was telling So I had somebody in my ears be like now it’s gonna be a flop take the money,


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:04

and wherever any of them big hits, it


Lauren White Murphy  10:08

kills me to say, hits but I mean, they did well on TV shows or, you know, I got the satisfaction that I was looking for. Yeah. And I as a person as well as gets bored very easily so right. I like to jump on to the next thing and yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But I got songs in front of Rihanna, Katy Perry. And so I thought I was like, I’m so close to I’m so close to I’m going to get the credit on these big ones. Yeah. And then that’ll be it. But it didn’t work out. Right. Okay. And that’s fine. That’s fine.


Dr Sabina Brennan  10:37

But you did get I mean, in my research, one of your songs was on the disk for American horror show


Lauren White Murphy  10:43

the American Horror Story. Yeah, yeah. And that was actually brilliant. Because in Beverly Hills a time they had like a little pop up Museum. It was a freak show was the freak show season. I did. And they had a popup on my music was playing through. And I have no clue was actually one of my friends. I said, Did you write this? And then I went down, and I heard and it was just unbelievable. And even. It was paying on FX on American television when they were doing the trailer for the show. And I was just like, oh, geez, Cup twice on? Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:14

Oh, my goodness, that is just amazing. You know, amazing.


Lauren White Murphy  11:19

I always felt especially when I moved to America, how to keep your feet on the ground? How to stay humble, you know? Yeah, Mommy would be very, very disappointed if I turned into you know, somebody that I’m not and I well, I


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:30

can’t see you turning into anything you’re not. When we met. I just felt like I knew you forever.


Lauren White Murphy  11:34

Yes, an instant connection. Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  11:37

And we’ve never actually never met in person. So I should explain to people you’ve alluded to it here, I do a lot of work with the multiple sclerosis Association of Ireland, and indeed, sort of internationally, I’m very interested in supporting people with conditions that affect the brain. And I am very passionate about it, because it just anything to do with neurological conditions just seems to fall through the cracks. There aren’t the supports for people, there aren’t the treatments they should have. And that’s mainly because I’m on a little rant here, folks. But there’s no harm in that. That’s mainly because medical care systems were set up before we had any real knowledge of the role that the brain has in various conditions. So we have physical health is looked after blindness is looked after mental health in later years is looked after. But even things like dementia, if you think about it, you were just considered crazy. And you’re put in a bad limb. And in fact, actually probably for a lot of neurological conditions, similar things happened because the brain affects you in such strange ways. So not just in Ireland, across the globe, really neurological conditions absolutely fall through the cracks. They’re not mentioned specifically in health plans. And therefore that means they don’t get the resources that they need. And I mean, particularly neurologists are, there’s just not enough of them. And so there’s huge waiting lists. And then there’s also really what I call, we call it a postcode lottery within countries, but with multiple sclerosis, across countries, there’s a dreadful disparity in that medical treatment has progressed immensely in the last few years for multiple sclerosis, which is a degenerative disease, which had dreadful prognosis for people really gradually lost mobility and wheelchairs were kind of quite common. The medication has just, it’s been phenomenal. And it’s changed people’s lives. But I spoke at the young ms conference just the year before COVID. So 2019, in Lithuania, I think it was, and I was just horrified to see so many young people in chairs and disabled, basically, because their country doesn’t have the funding doesn’t have access to the and the funding for the treatment. And like one of the girls, she had gone over for one trip to Germany, and the difference that had made to her life was phenomenal. And actually the treatment was only 500 euro, but that was just beyond what was available in our country. Anyway, that’s my little rant, folks. But do educate yourself around that because we need more voices of people behind us to say that neurological conditions need proper supports across all aspects.


Lauren White Murphy  14:15

That’s interesting to say there, Sabina, sorry to interrupt there. But yeah, no, go ahead. It’s like me, I’m back from America two years now this month, and I’m still on a waiting list or year to get my dad to get an MRI just to get on the same page over here. As I were in the US, you know, MSR Ireland has been fantastic like they have really helped me in every way and they will put me in the right direction as have you. I think when we spoke in May, for the MS Awareness Day. I don’t actually think everything sunk in every all the neurological diseases and how tough it is for everybody. I remember saying I think we were on Ireland am


Dr Sabina Brennan  14:59

we were on Ireland day. Yeah, sorry, just to track back, folks. So basically, yeah, sort of every year, there’s a ms Awareness Day, you know, most Awareness month it’s kind of in May is the day, and various TV shows and radio shows are great Ireland am I’ve been very good. I’ve been on a couple of years in a row. And literally usually there’s what they call a patient advocate. So it’s basically somebody to give a face to MS and tell their story. So this year was you learn and you do have a very fascinating story, which will come to


Lauren White Murphy  15:25

diamond. Ms. Ambassador, I do have to say that I am and I’m very proud of that, because I do.


Dr Sabina Brennan  15:30

Yes. And you’re a very good Ms. Ambassador, you know, because I do think it’s sometimes when the word patient is used, people think of someone who’s in bed, sick and helpless. And you’re far from that, although you can be taken to bed.


Lauren White Murphy  15:44

Yes, I do. I have the bad days, you know. And, Sabina, that’s something I really struggle with, even up until last week, like my mother had to sit me down and say, Listen, you need to talk to us. Because I know from my experience, we keep everything to ourselves, I feel like a burden, or I have felt a burden, you know, and I was always go, go go go, you know, there. And I’m just not that person anymore, even though I try


Dr Sabina Brennan  16:13

I think in a way, and I’m not speaking for you, but I think you are but I think this is quite common with Ms. And indeed, even conditions, say autoimmune conditions as well, or people who have something that’s chronic, there’s a sense of when the days are good, you got to make the most of them and do loads, particularly when we’re always doing loads. And it’s totally understandable. But it does backfire. Because then what happens is you kind of have a bit of a relapse, or you need to kind of recover. And it’s about finding that balance, balance that balance, I should say, you know, we’ve had to cancel a couple of times we were meant to kind of record because you were simply just really not well, but prior to that you’d been off back in LA. Okay, folks, right, sorry. We need to fill them in on the proper story. So you’re in LA and what started to go miss what did you notice first?


Lauren White Murphy  17:04

So I thought I was just getting older. I wasn’t I was in my mid 20s. So my balance was the first thing and then I never had any problems with my eyesight, but I started to lose sight in my left eye. Then I was just getting numbing pains. All it actually affected the left side of my body first.


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:23

You just describe that because numbing pain numbing sounds like a misnomer. So yeah, I wouldn’t feel but yet it was pain or


Lauren White Murphy  17:31

didn’t feel anything. I would pick something up and fall actually I probably wouldn’t even be able to grasp it. And then it was just this piercing pain all the way through. Okay, I ignored it. I put everything onto the carpet. I defy and get no old it’s airlaid gone I’m from Ireland. I’m not used to this weather you know that’s what I thought it was but


Dr Sabina Brennan  17:52

your ice ice? Yeah. Never had. Do you just think you maybe needed glasses.


Lauren White Murphy  17:57

Oh yeah. Go I went to an opticians and got the whole test done. And they were like, Huh, okay. There’s a term optic neuritis? Yes, yes. Yeah. I was like, okay, all right.


Dr Sabina Brennan  18:09

No, right. Oh, you may just means inflammation and neuro means nerve. And so optic, is it? So it’s basically just an inflammation of the nerve behind that guy. Yeah. Did they get it don’t just and I don’t mean just, it’s a very painful thing


Lauren White Murphy  18:21

painful and I couldn’t see. And I was I just didn’t know what was going on. And then the falling started. So you asked me before about my business mind of things. Yeah. Right. So I actually just wanted to meet people. And I ran a few restaurants in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, Burbank, and that’s how I got my business mind. But I noticed it start to affect my daily life and work. How in what way? So I was a general manager of a really successful restaurant. And my legs would just give way and I would fall, I was dropping things. And then it was just pain. It actually the very first pain I remember it started in my foot in my left foot, right. And I couldn’t put any pressure on it. And I was trying to think back. So I did I twisted that I kicked something. Yeah, there was nothing. I just did not know what it was. So then I think I had a chat with my mom on FaceTime. And she’s like, You have to go to the doctor, you have to stop doing this. Because I was 16 I was diagnosed with a diagnosis that there was celiac disease. And I just thought it was that and I thought maybe you know, moved to America, different foods. I’m not used to it. I was just putting excuses for everything.


Dr Sabina Brennan  19:36

So Celiac disease is really you can process gluten gluten, which is in a larger food.


Lauren White Murphy  19:41

Yeah. So I was really strict with us, you know? And so things like that. Then my speech started to act up. And at that time, I decided, hey, I’m going to try the acting thing too. I done a bit of acting in Ireland before I left jack of all trades, and it’s crazy. It’s crazy creative. Yeah, yeah. And I started to get successful doing little bits here and there. I did NCIS did an episode of that. So NCIS is the exact law program, you know, the


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:14

crime in something or other investigation? Yeah, I


Lauren White Murphy  20:16

don’t I? Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:18

I must look it up. NCIS I do know, but I don’t know why.


Lauren White Murphy  20:20

I have never watched anything I’ve been in. No, no, because I can’t stand myself. But that’s probably so when I was learning lions and stuff, I used to be brilliant at retaining information. I started to affect my auditions. I knew myself look, do I want to do this? To do would I want to be successful and have people talk about my speech or about this is wrong, or that’s wrong? I didn’t feel comfortable.


Dr Sabina Brennan  20:46

What did people say when your legs started collapsing? Or you’re Irish? Or you’re drinking? Yeah, that’s kind of what I was going to say. Really? And I


Lauren White Murphy  20:55

never really drank honestly, I like yours. I’ve seen some really great drink, but I’ve never found the drink or anything like that. So starts to go and take it serious went to the doctors to be in took about four years. Yeah. numerous tests, MRIs, spinal tap blood, they’re stuck. And the amount of wrong diagnosis that I gosh, I think lupus was one of them. Rheumatoid arthritis. Yeah. You know, I don’t know, if they’re all off immune, maybe they are


Dr Sabina Brennan  21:26

autoimmune. Yeah. And the thing is, Multiple Sclerosis is autoimmune in that autoimmune just means your immune system attacks itself. And in particular, so I have sjogrens. And so my autoimmune system tax the moisture Danzer my body, where the endocrine system, in multiple sclerosis, it attacks the myelin sheets. So in your brain, your brain communicates by electrical and chemical signals, and literally transmits information from one brain cell to another or from one brain cell, to the cells and the rest of your body in your periphery. So in your arms and your legs, and a bit like electricity in your house, it’s prone to crossing over of signals. So like the cables in your house, you have to have rubber around the electric. And so the brain makes these myelin sheets. So they’re the white matter in your brain, the cells, the gray matter. And basically, they make sure that the signals don’t get interrupted, they don’t cross talk with each other. And they also help the speech that the signals travel with. So with Ms. The body attacks that white matter, and that’s why things go wrong. So the message doesn’t get to your legs or against crossed and you actually fall similarly with your speech and, and that sort of thing. But also MS is also considered a degenerative neurological condition as well, because it affects the brain and because it can progress. There are a couple of types of Ms. There’s relapsing and remitting, as the name sort of suggests, and then there’s secondary progressive. Yeah. So you have relapsing remitting.


Lauren White Murphy  22:58

Yes, I do. Yeah. I feel like I do very, very well, most weeks, and then something will just kick off. And I’m just down for the count, you know? Yeah, I think as well, like I said, when we were chatting, a long time ago, when I was in LA, I did not have the support that I needed. And for anyone going through this or anything neurologically, or immune system or anything at all, you need to have your support.


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:28

So were you living alone, I actually was married.


Lauren White Murphy  23:31

I was that I wanted to get


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:34

married. Oh my goodness, we mixed up


Lauren White Murphy  23:39

in tears and 16 and I just got divorced. So


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:44

that’s one of the reasons you went back to LA Yeah,


Lauren White Murphy  23:46

I needed to sort things out but paying for everything. I think I just found a person that just wasn’t able to take care of me, I suppose to take care of themselves. You know,


Dr Sabina Brennan  23:57

just like work. So you got diagnosed after you got married


Lauren White Murphy  24:01

after I got married at all and


Dr Sabina Brennan  24:03

just yeah, just wasn’t able to give you this or presume your partner was also young.


Lauren White Murphy  24:10

Very young. Yeah. younger than me actually. Yeah. All right. Okay. Okay. Since then, though, I’ve met somebody and oh, just Oh, yeah. Oh, I’m engaged again. Yeah, I know I


Dr Sabina Brennan  24:21

I move quick, romantic.


Lauren White Murphy  24:24

I know, you know, and I have to create support was very, very difficult for my mom because when she first found out, she just knew somebody that passed away from Ms. Okay, so she even said to me there a few weeks ago, you know, it took me a long time Lauren to really come to terms with this. And because as well I just put brave face on Yeah, a lot of the time because it is mind over matter it I love my brain. I love everything. I just love my brain and your brain. You are your brain and your soul, you know, and yeah I just then had to say, look, when I need help, I just have to go out and say it. I can’t live this lie of, oh, I’m okay. I’m okay. Because it won’t, nothing will ever go right.


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:11

The thing with MS is the symptoms can be quite far reaching. And actually some of the most challenging ones, as you kind of alluded to there around brain fog, you know, when your brain just isn’t working properly, but also fatigue, where you can do nothing.


Lauren White Murphy  25:26

I hate that. I hate that. And I feel so guilty. I feel like a burden. Like I said, because my parents are on their days off, I want to be able to win things. And you know, I want to enjoy life. But now I’m stuck in a bed and yeah, emotional and crying, five, nothing to actually cry about


Dr Sabina Brennan  25:48

who else except that you can do what you want. You know, I mean, I think that’s something to cry about. I think that’s okay. I mean, I do think I hear it a lot across people is that is what I mentioned earlier, that challenge of not taking too much advantage of the days where you feel brilliant. Yeah. I mean, I think that applies across a lot of conditions. I remember actually speaking to Patrick crane, and him talking about kind of feeling depressed, I sort of saying, Well, look, you know, I don’t have MS or anything like that, but I definitely have cycles, and my father had manic depression. And that goes in cycles. But I have periods where I can just work, work, work, work, work, be creative, and close, bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. And then I’m just done, boom, you had a while and I’m bummed, I’m gone. I hit a wall. Yeah. And that’s kind of my pattern as well. And I remember sort of saying it to Patrick trade on that particular episode. And he said, Oh, actually, maybe that’s what just happens to me. And he was calling it being depressed. Yeah, I think, you know, maybe for some of us, that’s the way it is. But I do think I suppose when you’ve got something like MS, where it is neuro degenerative, where if you actually do take more care of yourself, you can limit the progression and the damage that your disease can be causing and also the functional impact because at the end of the day, it’s the functional impact that matters. The thing that’s stopping you functioning, doing what you want to do, and it’s


Lauren White Murphy  27:12

important as well though to eat right, you know, every balance and everything is right, get exercise. laughs actually,


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:19

yeah, that’s my favorite one is it’s funny, like things have progressed. Like we really are still just learning about the brain and probably the person that your mum was talking about, who died with Ms. I mean, initially people with MS were just told to take bedrest, you know. And that actually just progressed as the disease now, people are told to take exercise, you know that they must exercise no matter how challenging or difficult it is, even


Lauren White Murphy  27:44

if it’s a stroll, five minutes stroll. Yeah, just to clear your head. The lovely Irish rather


Dr Sabina Brennan  27:51

lovely at the moment, though, it’s really nice. It is. So you’ve eventually then got this diagnosis of MS. When you were in LA? Yes. You took to your room, in a way


Lauren White Murphy  28:04

I had a moment. Yeah. And my ex partner was working all the time, it just suck. We won’t even get into that. I was on my own. And I decided I need to do something, I need to do something and painting just clicked in my brain, you need to go to the art shop and get yourself some paints. And let’s see what we can do. So I used it as a therapy initially, I was like, Oh God, I can actually draw a straight line. You know what I mean? And I just, that’s what I did for 18 hours a day because I wasn’t sleeping really. And then I was getting a bit better. I heard that sound a Blair came out and told everyone she had Ms. For that Asher got a piece to her. I just wanted to do it to make myself feel better. And just to give something to somebody. I know we’re going through the same thing. So we had a lovely exchange. And you


Dr Sabina Brennan  29:00

know, on social media was a social media on Instagram, actually, yeah. Isn’t social media. And I give out about as a loss. It can be assessed pitch for want of a better word. Yeah, time. But it can also amazing things can happen. People connect with other people in a really meaningful way.


Lauren White Murphy  29:17

I had emailed her manager and just gave a little background. I kind of do that first. So I’m not just any old Joe. So yeah, that’s messaging you some crap. You know what I mean? And I got a piece to her and it’s in her home and you know, no one Gosh, that just makes me happy. Yeah. And then I got involved with the MS Society of California. And they had like an auction nice to raise money. And I did the walk and everything. It was very emotional. It was my first thing and I donated a piece and at auction for over 10 and a half grand.


Dr Sabina Brennan  29:51

Oh my goodness. How did that make you feel?





Lauren White Murphy  29:55

Jamie. I was like okay, now we have to go this is what we have to do. This is it. Hey, Is it? It’s making people happy. was making me to license you know, I created up in my apartment and somebody has borrowed for over 10 and a half grand. Yeah, yeah, that’s pretty amazing. And that’s why I always donate pieces to charities and stuff. I did one there for the Kume the premature baby unit because I have a senator a baby, where are you? I was I was born 28 weeks.


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:25

So you did it for the neonatal intensive care unit or premature babies unit yet?


Lauren White Murphy  30:30

The premature babies units? Yeah. So I was there. I was three months early, that four and one pound nine ounces? Well, so I feel like I came into the world of buying and you know, I only keep giving or buying whatever I do, you know. So that’s why like, I love donating pieces to any organizations close to my heart. And if anyone’s listening, they can contact him because


Dr Sabina Brennan  30:51

he is absolutely incredible. And you currently actually have an exhibition? I do. Yes. Tell us a little bit about that.


Lauren White Murphy  31:01

So I have an exhibition going on in the IFSC Custom House Plaza in Dublin one. And it’s a beautiful atrium, there’s glass walls, overhead, the light, and it’s just fantastic. And my vibrant, big huge paintings, and I actually use diamond dust and gold and just really luxurious. The Beverly Hills thing to me, you know, everyone needs a bit of glitz and glam their life and just when the light shines in just beautiful autism. And you know what? It’s been really successful. I’ve sold seven. So Wow. Yeah. And I’m only there two weeks.


Dr Sabina Brennan  31:38

That’s brilliant. Yeah, thank you. Brilliant I had intended to get in. But unfortunately, we’re isolating in our house because my husband has cold. Yeah, no. But I will definitely get in because it’s running till 2022.


Lauren White Murphy  31:49

There’s no way to I also I don’t know if it’s appropriate now. But I want to give you something because you’ve been very inspiring to me because I know that you have acted. Yes. And that you have gone and done your neuroscience and everything. But I did a painting and I want to give it to you. And this is this.


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:12

Oh my god. I love this.


Lauren White Murphy  32:15

It’s called the Roosevelt lady. So I painted my version of a lady but the Roosevelt pool and Hollywood.


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:21

Oh my god.


Lauren White Murphy  32:23

I just thank you because you know,


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:26

you don’t have to do that, but I’m definitely accepting.


Lauren White Murphy  32:31

Yeah, and you know, you just been very good and very inspirational. I just want to let you know that I’m really really grateful you’ve been very helpful to me and


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:39

Oh, you were just such a sweet. I’ve just bought a new house. And it’s by the water I have to be by the water. So do I have to be by the water and I’ve also gained well I’m not gonna say how much I’ve gained. And I’m dying to get back so I will use that as my


Lauren White Murphy  32:56

inspiration. That’s your house form and present there. Oh


Dr Sabina Brennan  32:59

my god. Well, you will have to come down and visit me because it is a fabulous place. Were you into watersports when you’re in LA surf? I can surf Yeah. Hey, well, there’s no waves. It’s on the lake and definitely got it. We got it. But I’m terrified. I’m having nightmares every night that the sail is not going to go well because it’s just my dream place. manifest God parts you’ve just completely blown me away. No, absolutely. Oh my god. Anyway, so this urge to paint and guys, you have to check it out. I’ll put some links on the blog for this episode. Because your paintings are amazing. You’ll find learn and it’s funny when I was talking to my editor about when you know you have to plan the whole season out on what date so and so going on. And when are we recording? And I was just calling you Lolo, Papa.


Lauren White Murphy  33:47

Everyone tells me Lolo that’s really my brother. There’s like 13 years between us he could never say my name and he was a kid so he used to call me low low and it just stuck. And then the name just came I was like no look up. All my closest people I got lollipop lollipop, you know, and it’s nice.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:03

Yeah, it’s a great name. So you will find you if you go on Instagram is probably the best place to see lots of your work. Lola pop art a lot of pop worlds.


Lauren White Murphy  34:11

I change it to lollipop worlds because I know that I’m very excited. Now there’s a few things so like I’m designing apparel. Okay,


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:20

wow. Apparel close to you and I


Lauren White Murphy  34:24

thing cleansing nice, lovely clothing. I’m going to to kind of do a few different things. And then my website will be Lolo pop world world because we’re just in a load of Hopper after that. That’s my that’s it.


Dr Sabina Brennan  34:36

I love watching fashion shows. I love watching interior design shows. Like my creative kind of spirit. I’m so excited about I already have done a 3d model of the new house and what’s going where, but there’s a fashion design show on Netflix. Oh, it’s with the blonde model. Heidi Klum. It had been going for years but then they switched over and now it is a Netflix show And it’s basically instead of just people from the general public doing the design, they have designers doing it. So they’re kind of maybe younger or smaller designers or whatever. But one of them that I think she came second, I thought she should have won. But she was actually quite the counterpoint to you. But I loved her designs. She was from Berlin, and her word I can’t remember. I think it was Bridget’s world or something like that. But everything was black. Oh, everything was just everything. But her design. Ah, it was magnificent stuff. But quite the opposite of view. But yeah, it’s amazing. Like, what’s your process? You have so many pieces of art for somebody who’s not painting very long. So you’re like, really prolific.


Lauren White Murphy  35:42

Thank you. Thanks very well.


Dr Sabina Brennan  35:46

You’re not I should say I’m a wheelchair, a video clip for this. But Lauren actually is in a sling and a cast. You broke your elbow.


Lauren White Murphy  35:54

Oh, Jean. So oh, you broke so I actually fractured my elbow. Ah, this is from Ms falls. We call them Ms. Falls, McClaren can’t get up and down the stairs properly every day. So yeah, I went to the hospital there this morning on yesterday. And now they’re saying I have even tendon damage and nerve damage. So I can’t use it at all. I can’t use my arm at all for four weeks. So


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:20

painting can you pay with your left hand?


Lauren White Murphy  36:22

Oh, I paint. Yeah, I use both hands on a paint that’s still dripping wet. Mm hmm. So I


Dr Sabina Brennan  36:27

have to go back to this phenomenon, really. And I’m going to do a booster shot on Thursday, especially about this. Okay, so I won’t go into too much detail. But we’ve heard of autistic savant, right. So that would be Rain Man. Mm. Or it’s a classic film. I’m sure most people know about it. But it’s generally almost this obsessive ability to count numbers are no the streets of cities or the directions or the words to novels or whatever. So usually, that’s called kind of a congenital Savant syndrome. So about 50%, of cases of Savant syndrome. So it means being, I suppose, a genius in a way, but it usually refers to someone who either has autism or an intellectual disability, and then suddenly, they have this incredible ability. And it’s usually around mathematics, art, music, RLS, just as obsessive ability to remember numbers or do complex numbers, even if they might be able to do sums, I might be able to tell you the prime number of every prime number and just a really weird phenomenon.


Lauren White Murphy  37:29

So are you saying I am a genius.


Dr Sabina Brennan  37:33

What I’m, what I am going to move on to say is one other instance that can happen is as a consequence of a brain injury, or a neurological disease or condition. And we also come across in Alzheimer’s disease, that some individuals suddenly develop artistic skills that they never had. So I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case with you. But it is very interesting, because you never painted before. Never. And you are an exceptional painter on your art is exceptional and stunning. And I’m actually seeing now I’m no art critic, but I’m kind of seeing it progress in your art. Oh, absolutely. Dimensionally your art a lot of it is really very much is pop art. Yeah. So you do things like Wonder Woman or Jersey Shore people or


Lauren White Murphy  38:19

I did them because I was watching TV. I was watching reruns of all these reality shows. And I said that would be the easiest people to get the art and they’ll post about it. You know? Yeah, it was my business. That’s their business. My Yeah, that’s really funny, because I actually speak to a couple of them from it. I’ve made friends. Yeah, I have not met yet, you know, and that our celebrities or whatever, yeah, we’ve remained in contact. And I’m doing that with art. Like, they would connect. Oh, it’s


Dr Sabina Brennan  38:48

just incredible. And people are amazed when there is a piece of art about them. It’s kind of a funny feeling, you know, but I’ve seen actually really just and I think you have one or two of them in your exhibition, you’ve started to move more into your MS. Brain and head I think a little bit now I don’t know, correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s one. That’s amazing at the moment. And I saw on Instagram that a lot of people loved it. And it’s the one of the brain. And I’m always talking about Have you ever looked at it? You ever looked at a rainbow online? No. Oh, God, you have to look at rainbows. Oh my god. Whoa, forget your DS shore. Oh, you’re right. So Google Brain bow. Okay. And basically what it is, is everyone listening can Google it as well. So basically, it’s a particular dyeing procedure where scientists dye different neurons different colors. Just to show this. The colors are your art


Lauren White Murphy  39:46

colors. Yes. It’s that real vibrant, surreal, vibrant


Dr Sabina Brennan  39:50

colors. And these are brain cells and brain connections. And when I give my talks I say forget about this beige crinkly mask that you think of when When you think of the brain, this is what you need to think of when you think of your brain. You’ve got 86 billion neurons, trillions of connections, it is the most vibrant organ on the planet. I’m dying to see the inspiration coming from though.


Lauren White Murphy  40:12

Thank you for that. Yeah, incredible


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:15

images, aren’t


Lauren White Murphy  40:16

they? Oh, my God, they actually I’ve actually hair standing up in my arms. But like, you can see the artwork behind the kind of you know, and that’s the joke or for a film book.


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:27

Oh, I see it. I see it. I


Lauren White Murphy  40:28

see now. So I do use all those covers for you do? The majority of my art is gone. It’s in town.


Dr Sabina Brennan  40:35

Yeah. And guys, you just got to go in and see it. It’s fabulous. Um, I’ve only ever seen it online because of lockdown. So you’re dying to see it in person? Because these are big pieces of art? Oh, yeah. The bigger the better. Yeah, no, fabulous. And the color is just so joyous to see. And for me, it’s always reminded me of the brain, you know, I always think of the brain as these neurons, another thing to look up as diffusion tensor imaging, and that also shows the tracking of messages being sent around the brain. And actually, that’s what I saw in this new painting you have of the brain, you can see what I mean, it’s like, it’s like you’ve done a brain bow, but in a broad stroke, as if it was kind of just said this,


Lauren White Murphy  41:15

they’ll face isn’t it? That yeah, yeah. So that was actually during an MS flare. So I actually started to think that my most popular pieces are generally when I’m having an MS flare. Okay, that’s interesting, too.


Dr Sabina Brennan  41:29

I think it’s interesting. I think it’s fascinating. I think when you do get your appointment to see a neurologist or to think you should talk to them about it, and I think they’d find it interesting. I think there’s people do research in this area. Like, it’s interesting is it that see a lot of us, you know, our frontal lobes do a lot of inhibiting of our behaviors. And that’s kind of good in the most part, it inhibits us, you know, prevents us from taking unnecessary risks, and things like that. And some of us, I would be very rule governed in that way. You know, my frontal lobes would actually, in a lot of instances, they’d be checking on me to make sure is that a wise thing to do? Should I do it? And then in other instances, I could be very relaxed and just go for it. But what’s interesting is, is that, do some neurological conditions, unlock something or allow the creativity that’s perhaps there in everybody? Yeah, I believe to be on least I definitely think there’s something like that. And that’s one of the reasons in a way, we connected as I said, literally over that interview, but I was fascinated by what had happened to you. Obviously, you were always creative. But I was also that was going to be one of my questions to you. And you sort of answered it. Was that you feel you lost some of your is it that you’ve lost some of your musical creativity or your language for writing? Because you did lyrics and music? Yeah,


Lauren White Murphy  42:45

I did everything. Yeah, of course.


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:47

Why? Not?


Lauren White Murphy  42:51

Oh, my God, I’m sorry. I don’t mean Cenotaph. Oh, no,


Dr Sabina Brennan  42:54

no, no, no, I guess it’s funny. It’s a little bit of a control thing. And yet you love being part of a team. A team? Oh, yeah, yeah. But you know, you’re you’re a Gemini, aren’t you? Yeah, I’m a Gemini too. So I get that there’s some things that I loved acting, because it was part of a team and you all create the thing together. But then there’s other things where, you know what, I really just can’t trust other people, because they just won’t do it bloody well, really, they won’t do it the way I do. I just won’t do it the way I do and be good enough, and you know, you take too much on and that’s why we mentioned Emily as my editor on the show, and like it’s rare for me to have someone that I feel I can trust like this, just a few people where I go, I trust you because they just show themselves that they can be trusted. It’s awful. But it’s not funny, isn’t it? I love collaborating. You know, I love that I think working with people for ideas. I think that’s amazing. Yeah, I think then it’s the execution of the ideas sometimes where other people fall down. Yeah. But I love bouncing off other play.


Lauren White Murphy  43:54

I absolutely love and that’s why I think life is about we’re not here living on our own to another mean we’re not on the economy individually on our own. We’re not


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:03

so you back home with your mom at the moment or with your fiance. My


Lauren White Murphy  44:07

fiance we actually just sold our house. So we’re moving in back with mommy for a while right. moving in with her mother. So just to save and hopefully get our house by the water. I need to be by the water.


Dr Sabina Brennan  44:22

I’ll have to be by the water I have to have I’ve lived beside the water all my life. And I actually literally have lived in Qatar for like, pretty much since I was born like you know I’m so the view. It is lovely. But I’m still so the opposite of you. I moved to Malahide for four years when I got married first and couldn’t wait to get back here. And I just sort of said with lockdown and all those things. No, I now want that space. I want that water. I’ve learned a lot of time working from home and I’m very happy in my own company doing that. Yeah, but it will be nice to look at a lake as opposed to the back of other people’s houses and I love the people around me but I just feel I need that. Oh, yeah, yeah, I kind of need that. And I was down there during the week the survey was being done. And the man who owns it is wonderful. He’s an eight year old man. And he’s kind of moving on. And I’ve said to him already, you can come visit because he’s created this beautiful garden and his wife passed away during COVID.


Lauren White Murphy  45:16

But I could have stayed there all day. It just tranquil. Yeah, uh,


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:19

yeah, I mean, I really could have sent a message that said, You know what, guys, I’m going to stay here till the sailors.


Lauren White Murphy  45:27

Already here, make your own dinners.


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:30

I’m already here in my head. This is where I want to be. But I’m terrified, terrified,


Lauren White Murphy  45:35

no talented, keep a positive manifest. I believe in manifest. And I love the book law of attraction. That’s another thing. Yes, you know, things like that. I think it is mind over matter and what you put out. And then obviously, when I have my bad days, and I’m like, Oh, I’m missing my energy flow. The next day, I’m like, you know,


Dr Sabina Brennan  45:54

delete, it’s gone. It’s all a new day. It’s always a new day. I like to think of it as manifesting, you can make things happen, you manifest your own future. So it’s the kind of the same of the law of attraction that I propose you’re talking about is you attract the things that you want to you, I will kind of say, your brain is so powerful that you can manifest the things that you want. It’s not magic, it doesn’t appear from anywhere, but


Lauren White Murphy  46:18

it doesn’t fall into your lap. You have no orphan do it, you have


Dr Sabina Brennan  46:22

to work, but you have to know you see, you have to know what it is you’re working towards. Yeah, you know, you kind of have to know those things. And you also have this bit SILAC though, you know, the bravery and the tenacity that you have, and the sheer take neck is what we would call it and I actually haven’t picked one up in RTE, you know, like,


Lauren White Murphy  46:40

Oh, I’ll be there again. I said I’d be better again. I’ll be knocking on Artie. Yeah, you know, absolutely. Because I’m always open to opportunities for anything at all. I’m only 33 You know, and I passed when I when I was six weeks before my 30th birthday. I got the diagnosis. I toss this this to life sentence might think that yes, I did. Oh, I did, because I just was not feeling right. And I was like, all my dreams, everything. It’s gone, it’s gone. Because I found out I’ve made me dreams, and I’m connecting people and bringing happiness to communities, my family homes in Crumlin. I did a mural for Chrome in the United Football Club rice. And every day I met all the locals and I had just come back from LA and I gave them my story and they just thought it was outstanding. And it’s you know, people post about it. They messaged me, I’m doing another mural now when this aren’t dispatcher I’m doing it and problem village of all the Dublin 12 legends you know, so Phil Lenise Gabriel Byrne.


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:43

Fabulous. No, it’s not the one I remember seeing one mural you did? I thought it was on a school wall. Is that


Lauren White Murphy  47:48

the one you do know the school wall was for? That’s it? Was it


Dr Sabina Brennan  47:51

like colored pencils or something?


Lauren White Murphy  47:54

Yeah. 100 pencils. There was the the Marvel characters and actually that was for school crowd on and rathcoole. Were the beginning children. Yeah. When should explain


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:05

a little because we have a lot of listeners from the UK as well. So okay,


Lauren White Murphy  48:09

so we had a very tragic event in Dublin, year, year and year and a half ago. And three kids were murdered by their mother, awful circumstances. The dad, Andrew, who I speak to occasionally and I will be doing some work with him to help charities. Yes, she was very ill. And I got contacted to paint something to remember them. So they wanted all of their favorite characters. So I actually spoke to their class, their classmates, yeah, and told me every single favorite character of them, and I just did it and those kids faces the moon story as well. That’s what I wanted to do. Like, that’s I want to bring happiness. That’s I think that’s what I’m here for just to bring happiness to people. And if I can do that, your art and color, I’m flying.


Dr Sabina Brennan  48:59

Yeah, I think people don’t understand the joy that you can get from giving. Like, we all need money, we need money to survive, we need money, but money doesn’t bring you joy. Directly. It’s indirectly you know, maybe what you can buy things. And in fact, things don’t bring you joy. There is nothing. I did some work in Dash school. Years ago, I developed a brain health forgets program. I’ve never managed to get it funded. But I really think we need to tell kids from very young age, how important their brain is and start looking after them. So just with my own money, I kind of developed a six week program that fitted him with the school curriculum, and teaching them about the importance of physical exercise for the brain of social engagement. And it just had little, you know, it was a little sticker book, and they learned about why the particular thing was good for your brain what it did. And then they had to do it. They had to kind of draw what they did or write about it. And it was things like the school loved it because it had things like if you see someone in the art who’s not talking to anybody go over and talk to them, because their brain needs stimulation from other people. It just gave a different age. to it as opposed to someone else alone. It was Yeah, brain needs to be stimulated by you talking to them.


Lauren White Murphy  50:06

These times, you know, like, well, in this school, I


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:08

was horrified to hear you know about people wearing stab vests and things like that in the locality because of gang issues. And a lot of the children were dealing with very challenging circumstances and maybe no electricity in the home. And we’re not sleeping but actually interesting in that was one of the things that they had to do was switch off their devices an hour before bed. And it was the only thing the kids couldn’t do. Oh, my God. Yeah, I was even


Lauren White Murphy  50:35

saying that though. We’re probably going way off topic, but it is your brain, how’s the social media can be a curse, I know, I would not be able to go to school, and have you know, Facebook, and whatever there is Instagram. Imagine going back in time and about all happening? Oh, my God, would I just wouldn’t have went down? Well,


Dr Sabina Brennan  50:57

no, none of that existed when I was little. And some of it is very good. For us when there was no mobile phones, when there was actually house phones, were really only for your parents, you had to ask permission to use phone, you know, and you had no way of contacting someone. And that was quite lonely. Because if people didn’t call for you, yeah, you had no friends, you had no one to talk to you had no one to play with. And then sometimes you might go out and wander and see. And then you might see them all together, you know, oh, why didn’t they call for me? I know. There was different challenges. Yeah, I’m not saying it was all rosy and perfect. And there was different challenges. And certainly I have some, some memories like that, that aren’t the most pleasant. But it’s nothing in a way compared to your life on social media for all the world to see. And I see it, I see it. Now I go out for walks. And I see, I saw three gorgeous little kids, I’d say they’re about 11, you know, but they’re walking by something. And immediately their reaction was found the phone up and to pose in different angles in the Pentagon. It’s just all about the image. And that’s huge. Oh, I don’t know. And I


Lauren White Murphy  52:03

am not like that. I probably was at one stage. Looking back on my Instagram from years ago, I probably was a little bit like that. But times have changed so much. And I think it’s just it’s overuse the term over overexposed to


Dr Sabina Brennan  52:16

  1. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. It’s just making it a focus on the central and I think it impacts on things like not just self esteem, but who you think you are. Because we’re all editing the photos that go online like I’m you know, in a way even coming here to interview you. I’m editing myself because I was in bed on more than die and sick. I had my hair in a ponytail I had PJ’s on, I looked like depth. And I said, I can’t go on the screen like that, you know, and why shouldn’t I be able to do you know what I mean? But I just couldn’t. So you edit yourself and you kind of go okay, yeah, I admire people who don’t feel the desire to do that. But by the same token underneath it. I’m a nasty person that say what they know to brush their hair. Hey, I know I’m a nasty person. But I won’t say it out loud. In my living room,


Lauren White Murphy  53:08

but it’s an Irish thing. I


Dr Sabina Brennan  53:09

think. Do you think I do happen in LA?


Lauren White Murphy  53:13

No, because you just have to be on the ball and gorgeous all the time.


Dr Sabina Brennan  53:17

Everybody, you don’t make it in LA unless you’re absolutely like stunning. And they have this generational sin this, I think


Lauren White Murphy  53:25

it’s a joke. It’s a mess that they need to just, you know, reboot that city, they need to reboot, reset and start again, because it’s just too much.


Dr Sabina Brennan  53:34

I remember being in a movie here over I think it was in Roger Corman studios over in the west of Ireland and the lead actress. She must have been like minus zero tiny and I remember saying to one of the crew, and at the time I was quite slim Aloma seem like I feel grossly morbidly obese beside this woman because she is so tiny. And I know I’m in within my healthy range. And he just said it’s inbred into them, you know, generations are most of them being skinny, skinny or whatever.


Lauren White Murphy  54:03

They’re not happy. They’re not happy and be quite a little.


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:07

I don’t know.


Lauren White Murphy  54:08

I just don’t think so. You know,


Dr Sabina Brennan  54:10

I think that’s what I love. One of the reasons I connected with you is because you found your happiness and you’ve found happiness in a way that is giving other people joy and happiness. What I do have to say though, I love your art rice lovers, so this isn’t an either or. Okay, but that voice of yours needs to be heard. Oh my really? Oh, I know people use that term, the voice of an angel but Oh, it’s so sweet. I can feel it. Now. I actually have the Goosebumps it just washes over you. It’s beautiful. I



just don’t know who to believe



to have these feelings. I’m



just not too sure. But the welding on No, no, I believed any years somehow. I’m glad that you can see



You can never



you can never hurt my pride. Even if you make me cry



you can never break my soul. You can never hurt me. No no.



It’s you that is






going to



cause a show you can never break.



You can never hurt



even if you make me cry



you can never hurt me. No, no, no. It’s you





Dr Sabina Brennan  56:47

don’t let that go


Lauren White Murphy  56:49

after boost to me. No, because I really, I don’t know if it was just no confidence yours go with the whole singing? I don’t know. Well, hi. Thank


Dr Sabina Brennan  56:57

you so much. Oh, it’s a wonderful talent. And folks like I can’t remember what you’re called on your SoundCloud. You don’t have much on the SoundCloud I


Lauren White Murphy  57:03

mean now, but I had to take it off. Yeah, yeah. A couple that


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:07

are there. What’s your sound code called?


Lauren White Murphy  57:08

I think it’s Laura. Laura. Mike Murphy.


Dr Sabina Brennan  57:10

I think it’s lauren white Murphy. You’ll find it anyway, I found it quite easily googling it. And I might even put a link to your SoundCloud. Yeah. And if people wanted to be on the blog for this episode, you have been so wonderful to talk to. I mean, I know that you’ve been an inspiration to people listening. You are a real survivor, but also really a thriver. I don’t know if that’s a word. But you know what I mean, you’re taking as you just said, there, you thought it was the end of your life. And I say that, and it is it in some way it did mark an end of a life that you hadn’t imagined for yourself. Yeah. But sometimes the life we imagined for ourselves isn’t as good as the life we end up creating.


Lauren White Murphy  57:52

That’s what I learned. That’s what I left definitely learned. Everything I thought would make me the happiest and everything you know, I wished for and I wouldn’t have been happy. I don’t think so I’m happy. I’m so happy now. I’m happy even that I’m able to talk about my experience that can be so difficult, that it can give somebody else a bit of insight and a little bit of reassurance that everything’s gonna be okay. Yeah. And don’t fall into that negativity. I do have days Sabina where I am crying down the phone to my mom, crying down to my dad. But that’s me. That’s my feeling. I said to my mom, this morning, I cry because it’s near the frustration. I want to go to the gym and be lifting weights and doing all of this like I used to. It’s just a frustration. It’s a part of me that I just had to let go. And I’ll find other ways to come swimming again, you know, things like that. You always just have to kind of look for alternatives.


Dr Sabina Brennan  58:52

I think you’re very early in your diagnosis as well. So like it’s incredible. For a lot of people with MS. The diagnosis is a journey. I remember meeting a girl actually, I think it was at that same conference in Lithuania. And she was about 26. And she’d only received her diagnosis. And she just said Ms has become my whole life. All I’ve done is think about Ms. Since I was diagnosed, I understand that what I had said in my talk was how about you allocate Tuesday afternoons to your MS thinking about day, and the other six and a half days of the week to your doing other stuff and living and enjoying life? And just compartmentalize it in a way think about the words and she said she just found that so helpful, because she was thinking about it. 24/7 And she said, That’s it, it concerns you. Yeah, I can totally imagine. And I think it’s a grief. I mean, I think it’s like a bereavement because it is taking away and similarly with brain injuries. I talked to a guy, a lawyer a couple of weeks ago on the show about concussion, and he was talking about it that way you know the bereavement or loss of what you had before, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world and it can open up Opening Doors. Yeah. And it’s not all happy, happy. And that’s what I love about you, you know, you’re honest about. I mean, that’s I think, in a way, that’s one of the problems of social media is that most people present the best bits, yes, you know, we curate our photographs suddenly pick out all the best bits. And then there’s the other extreme, where there’s the negative gang who only pick out the negatives, and they just keep pointing out. And you know, the government does this wrong, and that round, and they just focus on the negative, there is that kind of a happy medium, and we all have both, we have positives and negatives, and it’s about kind of trying to balance them. Just before we started recording this. And I hope you don’t mind talking about it. You were saying that you get a bit nervous when it comes to talking about your diagnosis.


Lauren White Murphy  1:00:46

It brings you back to a not so nice time in my life. And and it’s just very difficult. Sorry, no, I’m


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:00:56

sorry. No, I upset you. But I Yeah, no, no, no, no, just


Lauren White Murphy  1:00:59

this is this is the emotion, its powers of it just brings me back to an awful time in my life and where I had nobody, and I’m so proud of myself that when I went through this alone, I know my family don’t like to hear that they were always on the other end of the phone, but I went through it alone. So I do feel like, I feel so strong, and I can get through anything. But I do when I go to talk about it with people. I get this anxiety. I was in LA there the summer and I had to drive by the hospital, I got diagnosed and I had to pull over and wring home, I was like, I’m freaking out. And that would not be me. It’s like a post traumatic stress thing, you know. And that’s why as well, like I’m having difficulty with going to hospitals. I don’t like hospitals, especially during this time,


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:01:48

but it’s an especially you’re vulnerable. You feel very vulnerable when you have MS.


Lauren White Murphy  1:01:52

I’m not as quick to think anymore. i And people used to say I was a wordsmith. I don’t know, the lyric writing, you know, and I just don’t feel like that anymore. And that hurts my heart. You know? Yeah.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:02:05

But I don’t think that’s permanent. Do you? No, no, no, I don’t think that’s permanent. You are very early, as you said, you’re still waiting on MRIs. And when you kind of get sorted when you get a bit more balanced maybe and prioritize your sleep and find a way to exercise. You have broken elbow and tendon damage and all the rest and


Lauren White Murphy  1:02:23

medication. I think that needs to level because in America, they just throw you on everything. I’ve tried all of the top ms drugs, and they’ve made it very, very sick. Okay, then the last bout of drugs, I’m still on, and I’m doing well. But I was told to up the dose without getting an MRI. And that just baffles my mind, you know, saying that. So I don’t want to be playing around with things. But I do notice the difference. I do notice that I have to go and probably have my medication even more changes. Yeah, it’s a trial and error.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:02:55

I think it is. And over the years. I’m not an MS. expert, but I have spoken to a lot of people over the years. And it does seem to be the thing of finding the right thing. But it is also a combination, your lifestyle and your attitude will impact


Lauren White Murphy  1:03:07

hugely as well as dress also. Stress. Yeah,


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:03:11

absolutely. Yeah. And you just got divorced.


Lauren White Murphy  1:03:15

It is all unicorns and rainbows. But I try to limit stress I try. And if I do start to feel stress, I have people I can talk to, or I just get the paintbrush out and just deal with it later.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:03:27

It’s having the tools. And I think you’ll get better at it. And you were only diagnosed three years ago. But as you said it took four years to get your diagnosis. Yeah. And I’ve heard people wear it 710 years. And that’s impacts on how you feel about stuff because I don’t know about you. Did you kind of feel a bit you were gone mad?


Lauren White Murphy  1:03:46

Did I was I still feel like I’ve gone mad. But it’s like them, you’re out of reality. It’s nearly like you’re looking down on yourself and going is this really happening to me? Right? You know, that’s how I feel. Sometimes I can’t get the words to explain it. I’ll draw a picture. Explain it, unfortunately. But I


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:04:08

think as you said they’re like, as you said, you feel you’re you have some language issues. Now. It doesn’t come across here. Now. I don’t know you before you had Ms. So I can’t make that comparison. I know the best person to make that comparison. As you you will know how fluid you feel. And that’s a very common symptom of brain fog is that fluidity of language but the thing is that can improve so it’s not necessarily that it’s gone completely you can actually kind of work on it and trainers ago Yeah, he would work on improving your guitar skills. Absolutely. Oh, you can kind of start on managing stress and sleep and all that will help but I think the interesting thing and I do write about it in my book is brain fog isn’t the impact of it isn’t given the seriousness that it deserves. Because the amount of people who say that they feel like they’ve lost themselves and you kind of touched on it there isn’t. I’ve lost a bit of me and it’s very true because we kind of are back Hey viewers, and if part of your behavior was that you were brilliant wordsmith, and then you can’t do that, that feels there’s a bit of you missing, you know, but then you didn’t use to be a brilliant artists that can pop into that space anyway as well. Yeah, no. My own brain was failing me a little bit, because I’m a bit under the weather. What I was talking about there, it’s called sudden Savant syndrome. I love these terms. So really, savant is another word for genius. They used to use terrible terms, you know, like mental retardation. Oh, it’s 50. Yeah, but now they kind of, you know, but actually at 50% of cases, it’s got nothing to do with that, but it doesn’t make sense, you know, if something different is going on in your brain,


Lauren White Murphy  1:05:42

especially, like when the years apart, you know, yeah, one thing your practice and doing one thing for so long, like playing music, etc, etc. And then it’s just gone. And then you find something else, you know, yeah, no,


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:05:53

and it was for me when I was reading. I was reading various interviews you did. And you know, you described it in some of those as you just had this urge to


Lauren White Murphy  1:06:00

urge. That’s exactly what it’s like going to the loo like, honestly. Adam nowhere. Yeah. And then it’s not like I went, Oh, I go to the shop later on. Now, I got about a bad left. Yeah, in 15 minutes to get started. There is


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:06:16

definitely a turns by it. Like, there’s a little bit of an obsessive component to it. You know, I get that with creativity. In any negative well, I know. But if I get in the zone, yeah, I’m in the zone. And it’s, I do nothing else. I have this just singular focus. And I can even do that we’re cleaning. Do you know, like, it’s just Okay, gonna do the house from top to bottom? Or decorating my husband? We can do it a bit of time? No, I’m gonna do it all today. Yeah, I understand that you had a line in one interview? I think what he had said was, you go from 2% to 200%. I know that that’s it. You’re in overdrive. And then unfortunately, the batteries all run out. I mean, David, my husband used to describe me as like the Duracell body, you know, funny. The Duracell bunny? Not, were they Yeah, the rabbit just kept going round and round and round and round and round, and then it starts to slow down. Yeah, for years, he’s sort of been described me like that. That’s exactly what I do. You know, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba ba, I mean, it’s just all gone. And I just need to lay down and recharge. And that could take anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. During that period, I can feel the incredible frustration, because my brain won’t work. I can’t even write one sentence. Like just not one sentence. And usually at that time, I get bad migraine, and just everything and pains in my body and everything. But yeah, I can’t even string a sentence together, you know, but I’ve never been great at making the balance work. And I suppose part of me, and it could be completely wrong. Part of me sees it as if my dad had found a passion, would he not have had a diagnosis that if he had a passion that he could have done, done, done, done and another step and then relaxed instead of he had nothing kind of going on in his life, then he would get really depressed. And you know, then kind of come back up. I mean, I wonder, you know, I just think that we have too many normal behaviors. And they just mean average behaviors, that’s what most people engage in. But on all different behaviors, there’s always going to be someone in I don’t know if you’re familiar with the bell curve. So it just means any behavior, like anything to do with humans like height, the average man will say, is five foot 10. So 66% of the population are around that height. But you’ll have some that are right up to seven foot and some that are 410. So that’s the bell curve. So for most things to do with being human, 66% of the population fall within that, and then the rest of us. So if you take soccer skills, most of us will be kind of average, some of us are really crap. And then some of us are earning 50,000 a week because you’re outstanding. So that kind of applies to everything. And I think people forget that. And they feel if they’re not within the normal range. First one thing, yeah, we say mood, that there’s something wrong with them. But is there really? Or are you just on the tail on that one? And that’s not everything of who you are, you know, in other things, you’ll be the top end? Yes. And then loads of other things. You’re right back in the middle with everyone else. I


Lauren White Murphy  1:09:06

can’t be all great at everything you know. Exactly. But


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:09:09

you did a pretty good job at lots of things. On that note, I love to end the podcast with asking my guests to give their tip for thriving and surviving in life. I mean, the whole episode has been an inspiration and


Lauren White Murphy  1:09:28

do I have any tips? Yes. And I say upset this since day one of my diagnosis for for people that are suffering, journal, a diary, diary write down everything. Even if you can string a sentence write down words because I managed to bring three or four diaries back from LA and I’ve read through them and I’ve just been like, Well, okay, I understand who I am. And it actually will make you stronger. When you look at where you’ve been, where you’re going, and where you can tenure to go. So I that’s all I would say and just be healthy and be happy. My tips be healthy and happy. It’s not the end of the world. We’re all gonna go one day make it the best possible life you possibly can.


Dr Sabina Brennan  1:10:16

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 super brain 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

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 7

Life is not a sentence with Amanda Smyth

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  •  00:11 – transported to Trinidad
  • 02:02 – Life is not a sentence
  • 07:05 – Technicolour Trinidad
  • 11:26 – Oprah Winfrey Summer Read
  • 12:15 – Appropriation
  • 18:05 – Identity
  • 25:31 – Passing the baton
  • 32:38 – Friendship
  • 35:58 – Explosions
  • 41:32 – Controlling father figure
  • 44:48 – Actor training
  • 46:13 – Strength and hardness
  • 47:09 – Love by chance
  • 50:05 – motherhood
  • 52:35 – becoming a writer
  • 56:59 – Amanda’s Tip for Thriving and Surviving in Life


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.


This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources  (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me

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

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  •  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

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  •  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

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  •  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.


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Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 3

The Visibility Trap with Dr Mary McGill

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  •  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

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  •  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



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