Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 1

The Brain Detective with Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan

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



Click Image for links to Suzanne’s books


Guest Bio

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

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

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

Over to You

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 2:22

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

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 6:26

Dr Sabina Brennan 6:27
to terrible situations.

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 15:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 28:25
Oh, a huge

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

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

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 30:28

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 31:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 36:51

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 39:18

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

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

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 41:32

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 41:39

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 43:40

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 43:53

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 45:30

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

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 48:32
Yes, yes.

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 49:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 54:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:04:30
Or worse

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:04:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:09:26

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

Dr Sabina Brennan 1:09:53

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

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

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan 1:10:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcribed by

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 12

The stabilisers are off with PJ Gallagher

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

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

During this episode we discuss

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



Watch PJ Gallagher in The Big DIY Challenge

Guest Bio

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

Over to You

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

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



PJ Final Mix

Sun, 5/16 5:38PM • 1:09:14


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


Sabina Brennan, PJ Gallagher


Sabina Brennan  00:01

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


PJ Gallagher  00:45



Sabina Brennan  00:45

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


PJ Gallagher  00:55



Sabina Brennan  00:55

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


PJ Gallagher  01:12



Sabina Brennan  01:12

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


PJ Gallagher  01:17

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


Sabina Brennan  01:24

So like a push bike as well,


PJ Gallagher  01:25

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


Sabina Brennan  01:48

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


PJ Gallagher  01:55

Like, you know he was just fucking with me


Sabina Brennan  01:57

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


PJ Gallagher  02:12

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


Sabina Brennan  02:18

 Yeah, yeah,


PJ Gallagher  02:18

So nine o’clock on a Saturday morning.


Sabina Brennan  02:19

You were out all day


PJ Gallagher  02:20

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


Sabina Brennan  02:32



PJ Gallagher  02:33

And then I started watching Evel Knievel videos


Sabina Brennan  02:36

Oh do ya remember?


PJ Gallagher  02:37

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


Sabina Brennan  02:53

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


PJ Gallagher  02:56

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


Sabina Brennan  04:01



PJ Gallagher  04:02

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


Sabina Brennan  04:06

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


PJ Gallagher  04:11

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


Sabina Brennan  04:16

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


PJ Gallagher  04:21

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


Sabina Brennan  04:36



PJ Gallagher  04:36

that’s all


Sabina Brennan  04:37

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


PJ Gallagher  04:43

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


Sabina Brennan  04:48

Did you go into racing then?


PJ Gallagher  04:49

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


Sabina Brennan  05:21

So were you wired all the time


PJ Gallagher  05:22

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


Sabina Brennan  05:34



PJ Gallagher  05:35

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


Sabina Brennan  05:45

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


PJ Gallagher  06:08

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


Sabina Brennan  06:13

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


PJ Gallagher  06:39

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


Sabina Brennan  06:45

Yeah. I understand that. Like,


PJ Gallagher  06:48

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


Sabina Brennan  06:57

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


PJ Gallagher  06:59

No, no I was in my 30s


Sabina Brennan  07:00

Oh, really?


PJ Gallagher  07:01

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


Sabina Brennan  07:03

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


PJ Gallagher  07:08

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


Sabina Brennan  07:12

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


PJ Gallagher  07:14

I didn’t care  right ok.


Sabina Brennan  07:15



PJ Gallagher  07:15

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


Sabina Brennan  08:15

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


PJ Gallagher  08:19

That was the best


Sabina Brennan  08:20

because you’re really young


PJ Gallagher  08:22

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


Sabina Brennan  08:24

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


PJ Gallagher  08:28

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


Sabina Brennan  08:31

I think you’re just not looking hard enough.


PJ Gallagher  08:33

Well no I’m not looking at all.


Sabina Brennan  08:38

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


PJ Gallagher  08:48



Sabina Brennan  08:48

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


PJ Gallagher  09:32



Sabina Brennan  09:33

The happiness the… and I mean


PJ Gallagher  09:35

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


Sabina Brennan  09:39

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


PJ Gallagher  09:46



Sabina Brennan  09:46

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


PJ Gallagher  09:52

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


Sabina Brennan  09:59

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


PJ Gallagher  10:10



Sabina Brennan  10:10

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


PJ Gallagher  10:20

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


Sabina Brennan  10:27

Yeah, yeah


PJ Gallagher  10:28

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


Sabina Brennan  10:36

But why not?


PJ Gallagher  10:36

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


Sabina Brennan  10:37



PJ Gallagher  10:38

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


Sabina Brennan  11:15

yeah, it is different. And…


PJ Gallagher  11:17

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


Sabina Brennan  11:19

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


PJ Gallagher  11:24

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


Sabina Brennan  11:39

It’s not a zero sum game. So


PJ Gallagher  11:40

It’s an added layer of shit


Sabina Brennan  11:43

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


PJ Gallagher  11:52

Five Yeah, five


Sabina Brennan  11:53

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


PJ Gallagher  12:01

It’s not that long


Sabina Brennan  12:02

Well, yeah, you play music though.


PJ Gallagher  12:03

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


Sabina Brennan  12:11

Shss, don’t let them hear you say that


PJ Gallagher  12:14

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


Sabina Brennan  12:17

Are they?


PJ Gallagher  12:17

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


Sabina Brennan  12:25

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


PJ Gallagher  12:39

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


Sabina Brennan  13:06

You’re very hard on yourself.


PJ Gallagher  13:07

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


Sabina Brennan  13:11



PJ Gallagher  13:11

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


Sabina Brennan  13:26

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


PJ Gallagher  13:28

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


Sabina Brennan  13:46

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


PJ Gallagher  13:51

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


Sabina Brennan  14:12

You couldn’t wait to get away?


PJ Gallagher  14:13

No couldn’t wait to get away.


Sabina Brennan  14:15

So it’s like torture,


PJ Gallagher  14:16

torture, torture.


Sabina Brennan  14:18



PJ Gallagher  14:19

So I mean,


Sabina Brennan  14:20

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


PJ Gallagher  14:28

I know


Sabina Brennan  14:29

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


PJ Gallagher  14:37

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


Sabina Brennan  14:46



PJ Gallagher  14:47

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


Sabina Brennan  15:22

I don’t know,


PJ Gallagher  15:23

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


Sabina Brennan  15:26

But you can switch that


PJ Gallagher  15:26

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


Sabina Brennan  15:34



PJ Gallagher  15:34

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


Sabina Brennan  15:46

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


PJ Gallagher  15:50

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


Sabina Brennan  15:52

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


PJ Gallagher  16:01

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


Sabina Brennan  16:05

Ah yeah, you can.


PJ Gallagher  16:06

I don’t think you can


Sabina Brennan  16:08

you can


PJ Gallagher  16:09

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


Sabina Brennan  16:15



PJ Gallagher  16:15

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


Sabina Brennan  16:24

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


PJ Gallagher  16:27

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


Sabina Brennan  16:30

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


PJ Gallagher  16:34

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


Sabina Brennan  16:37

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


PJ Gallagher  17:15

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


Sabina Brennan  17:28

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


PJ Gallagher  17:47

your the story, you tell yourself your


Sabina Brennan  17:48

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


PJ Gallagher  18:12

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


Sabina Brennan  18:14

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


PJ Gallagher  18:31

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


Sabina Brennan  18:51

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


PJ Gallagher  19:41

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


Sabina Brennan  20:00

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


PJ Gallagher  20:41

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


Sabina Brennan  21:56

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


PJ Gallagher  22:04

It gets 10 deserves to be celebrated.


Sabina Brennan  22:08



PJ Gallagher  22:10

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


Sabina Brennan  22:23

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


PJ Gallagher  22:30

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


Sabina Brennan  22:35

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


PJ Gallagher  22:42

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


Sabina Brennan  23:03

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


PJ Gallagher  23:10

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


Sabina Brennan  24:46

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


PJ Gallagher  24:53

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


Sabina Brennan  25:05

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


PJ Gallagher  25:24

thing we all know.


Sabina Brennan  25:27

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


PJ Gallagher  25:34

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


Sabina Brennan  26:21

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


PJ Gallagher  26:24

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


Sabina Brennan  26:35

  1. Yeah.


PJ Gallagher  26:36

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


Sabina Brennan  27:07

because that’s


PJ Gallagher  27:08

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


Sabina Brennan  27:12

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


PJ Gallagher  27:48

Obviously, completely mad.


Sabina Brennan  27:50

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


PJ Gallagher  27:56

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


Sabina Brennan  28:02

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


PJ Gallagher  28:37

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


Sabina Brennan  29:18

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


PJ Gallagher  29:27

Yeah, yeah. Did Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  29:29

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


PJ Gallagher  29:32

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


Sabina Brennan  29:47

giddy. Yeah. You know


PJ Gallagher  29:48

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


Sabina Brennan  29:56

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


PJ Gallagher  30:01

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


Sabina Brennan  30:21

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


PJ Gallagher  30:33

no, not really.


Sabina Brennan  30:34

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


PJ Gallagher  30:42

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


Sabina Brennan  31:06

so angry with them. I know.


PJ Gallagher  31:08

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


Sabina Brennan  31:34

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


PJ Gallagher  31:39

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


Sabina Brennan  32:07

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



Yeah, you know,


Sabina Brennan  32:18

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


PJ Gallagher  32:33

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


Sabina Brennan  32:41

Why you are too much.


PJ Gallagher  32:43

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


Sabina Brennan  33:18

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


PJ Gallagher  33:22

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


Sabina Brennan  33:35

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


PJ Gallagher  33:38

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


Sabina Brennan  34:22

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


PJ Gallagher  35:08

I did it for you. I did


Sabina Brennan  35:10

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


PJ Gallagher  35:41

Yeah, I think so. Yeah.


Sabina Brennan  35:42

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


PJ Gallagher  35:50

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


Sabina Brennan  35:52

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


PJ Gallagher  35:54

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


Sabina Brennan  36:12

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


PJ Gallagher  36:16

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


Sabina Brennan  37:07

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


PJ Gallagher  37:11

I know. But I knew I


Sabina Brennan  37:15

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


PJ Gallagher  37:18

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


Sabina Brennan  38:27

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


PJ Gallagher  38:33

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


Sabina Brennan  38:37

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


PJ Gallagher  38:50

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


Sabina Brennan  38:58

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


PJ Gallagher  39:08

still together, like new doctors. Well,


Sabina Brennan  39:10

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


PJ Gallagher  39:19

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


Sabina Brennan  39:25

just that makes it much harder.


PJ Gallagher  39:27

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


Sabina Brennan  39:39

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


PJ Gallagher  39:43

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


Sabina Brennan  39:49

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


PJ Gallagher  40:02

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


Sabina Brennan  40:51

Yeah, yeah. Yeah,


PJ Gallagher  40:52

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


Sabina Brennan  41:07

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


PJ Gallagher  41:14

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


Sabina Brennan  41:50

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


PJ Gallagher  42:03

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


Sabina Brennan  42:26

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


PJ Gallagher  42:35

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


Sabina Brennan  42:39

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


PJ Gallagher  42:46

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


Sabina Brennan  42:50

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


PJ Gallagher  42:54

yeah, not sure to be honest. Like I’m


Sabina Brennan  42:57

not curious.


PJ Gallagher  43:00

Yeah, like


Sabina Brennan  43:02

anything I think that


PJ Gallagher  43:04

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


Sabina Brennan  43:41

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


PJ Gallagher  43:48

Why does he know you’re probably really


Sabina Brennan  43:50

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


PJ Gallagher  43:54

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





PJ Gallagher  43:56

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


Sabina Brennan  44:05

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


PJ Gallagher  44:08

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


Sabina Brennan  44:16

Yeah, no.


PJ Gallagher  44:18

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


Sabina Brennan  45:04

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


PJ Gallagher  45:08

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


Sabina Brennan  45:38

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


PJ Gallagher  45:41

no, you’re done. You know, I


Sabina Brennan  45:45

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


PJ Gallagher  45:59

that was a valuable piece.


Sabina Brennan  46:00

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


PJ Gallagher  46:04

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


Sabina Brennan  46:09

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


PJ Gallagher  46:18

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


Sabina Brennan  46:30

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


PJ Gallagher  46:36

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


Sabina Brennan  46:42

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


PJ Gallagher  46:50

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


Sabina Brennan  46:55

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


PJ Gallagher  47:13

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


Sabina Brennan  47:41

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


PJ Gallagher  47:48

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


Sabina Brennan  48:34

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


PJ Gallagher  48:39

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


Sabina Brennan  49:02

Honest to God I have never done anything like that


PJ Gallagher  49:05

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


Sabina Brennan  49:12

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


PJ Gallagher  49:24

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


Sabina Brennan  50:00

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


PJ Gallagher  50:24

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


Sabina Brennan  50:46

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


PJ Gallagher  50:55

he may not. Here we are. Yeah,


Sabina Brennan  51:00

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


PJ Gallagher  51:16

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


Sabina Brennan  51:36

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


PJ Gallagher  51:41

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


Sabina Brennan  51:51

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


PJ Gallagher  51:55

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


Sabina Brennan  52:25

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


PJ Gallagher  52:27

I You see, I did


Sabina Brennan  52:29

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


PJ Gallagher  52:32

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


Sabina Brennan  53:32

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


PJ Gallagher  53:35

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


Sabina Brennan  53:52

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


PJ Gallagher  54:03

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


Sabina Brennan  54:07

when people don’t


PJ Gallagher  54:08

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


Sabina Brennan  54:16

has the my tank.


PJ Gallagher  54:18

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


Sabina Brennan  54:49

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


PJ Gallagher  55:03

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


Sabina Brennan  56:08

work hard and you see opportunities.


PJ Gallagher  56:12

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


Sabina Brennan  56:42

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


PJ Gallagher  57:58

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


Sabina Brennan  58:02

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


PJ Gallagher  58:09

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


Sabina Brennan  58:29

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


PJ Gallagher  58:41

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


Sabina Brennan  59:42

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


PJ Gallagher  1:00:00

Yeah, you got


Sabina Brennan  1:00:02

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


PJ Gallagher  1:00:05

Oh, she’s much


Sabina Brennan  1:00:06

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


PJ Gallagher  1:00:14

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


Sabina Brennan  1:00:45

definitely. Definitely.


PJ Gallagher  1:00:46

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


Sabina Brennan  1:00:50

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


PJ Gallagher  1:00:55

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


Sabina Brennan  1:01:19

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


PJ Gallagher  1:01:51

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


Sabina Brennan  1:02:25

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


PJ Gallagher  1:03:22

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


Sabina Brennan  1:03:49

know, I don’t believe in luck.


PJ Gallagher  1:03:52

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


Sabina Brennan  1:03:57

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


PJ Gallagher  1:04:06

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


Sabina Brennan  1:04:12

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


PJ Gallagher  1:04:15

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


Sabina Brennan  1:04:19

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


PJ Gallagher  1:04:33

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


Sabina Brennan  1:07:26

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

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 11

Your body is an instrument not an ornament with Anna Geary

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

In this episode I chat to the effervescent Anna Geary about 

During this episode we discuss

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


BodyWhys have lots of valuable resources on body image 

Guest Bio

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

Over to You

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 7:13

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

Sabina Brennan 7:34
winter time. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Geary 9:41
I know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Geary 13:53

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 16:40
Yeah, yeah exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 23:32
Yeah yeah

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

Sabina Brennan 24:55
Yeah, we do yeah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Geary 28:25
My life. Yeah,

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 33:53
to hang on to that spelt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Geary 35:57
was a big challenge,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Geary 45:46
at the time.

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 48:51
still see the negative that

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely disgusted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 9

Difficult Decisions with Mark Cagney

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

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

During this episode we discuss

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


Bereavement Support

Guest Bio

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

Over to You

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

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


S3:E9 Mark Cagney Transcript

Sabina Brennan 00:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Cagney 02:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a bear in mind that

Sabina Brennan 04:14

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

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

growing up, we could get HTV,

Mark Cagney 04:27

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

Sabina Brennan 04:31

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

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

through aerials or whatever. And

Mark Cagney 04:43

Try explaining that to kids now

Sabina Brennan 04:44

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

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

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

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

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

don’t think they realized there was choice or

Mark Cagney 05:17

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

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

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

and he grew up

Sabina Brennan 05:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

conditioned not to question

Mark Cagney 06:27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 07:30

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

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

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

Mark Cagney 07:39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

people more 15 to 20 people it

Sabina Brennan 08:37

Not a chance in a million year of making any money

Mark Cagney 08:39

when I say slimmed down, they then became

Sabina Brennan 08:42

became the Show bands

Mark Cagney 08:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

early Duke Ellington, and people like that. So

Sabina Brennan 09:17

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

have been,

Mark Cagney 09:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sabina Brennan 10:08

a version of what is The Voice

Mark Cagney 10:10

yeah yeah

Sabina Brennan 10:10

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

Mark Cagney 10:13

nothing new

Sabina Brennan 10:13

Hughie Green show was one that we

Mark Cagney 10:15

Opportunity Knock

Sabina Brennan 10:16

Yeah, yeah.

Mark Cagney 10:16

Well, she ran on that show for 26 weeks

Sabina Brennan 10:18


Mark Cagney 10:19

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

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

Broadway called The Belle of New York.

Sabina Brennan 10:29


Mark Cagney 10:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the Helena Rubenstein counter in Lester’s pharmacy,

Sabina Brennan 12:14

which is like a boots.

Mark Cagney 12:16

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

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

Sabina Brennan 12:24

this was in cork

Mark Cagney 12:25

Mark Cagney 12:25

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

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

Sabina Brennan 12:32

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

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

Mark Cagney 12:39

because it was as close as I could get

Sabina Brennan 12:40

Yes. Why? Did you try?

Mark Cagney 12:43

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

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

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

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

Sabina Brennan 12:59

And that’s funny, because you know,

Mark Cagney 13:01

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

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

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

with tiny little screws and electronics and stuff like that

Sabina Brennan 13:01

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

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

learn some things that

Mark Cagney 13:26

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

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

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

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

pick something

Sabina Brennan 13:49

What do you mean by Mercurial?

Mark Cagney 13:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

organs that had bass pedals,

Sabina Brennan 14:32

Right? right.

Mark Cagney 14:32

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

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

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

get one partly not just play, but actually play to a level where it was acceptable for a

professional outfit

Sabina Brennan 14:50

So how was that for you?

Mark Cagney 14:51

It’s incredibly frustrating.

Sabina Brennan 14:52

Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say for you growing up. How was that seeing

Mark Cagney 14:55

It meant you were never good enough You could never do anything as well as he could..

He would ask you to do a job and he would say, listen, strip that wallpaper or paint that,

and you do it to the best of your ability as an 11, 12, 13 year old, And then he was your God

if you want something done, do it yourself. you know, and you just kind of now he, these

days in this current ‘woke’ world that we live in, you know, people would be on onto

Childline you know going…I’m being killed

Sabina Brennan 15:06

it was just never… Oh gosh look sure half

Mark Cagney 15:22

my esteem has been destroyed by my parents and all the rest of it. But he just had a

facility to get stuff really, really quick. He was super smart. He had an enquiring mind, and

he had a facility to absorb stuff. And he would be able to absorb it and then use it,

Sabina Brennan 15:35

he was always frustrated by other people who can’t operate at the same level as him.

Mark Cagney 15:40

Yeah, the downside of that was is that because he could do that his attention span was

minuscule. And he didn’t finish things.

Sabina Brennan 15:50

Oh, okay. So he didn’t follow through. He just was flitting around

Mark Cagney 15:53

because it came too easy to him,

Sabina Brennan 15:54


Mark Cagney 15:54

Because it came way too easy to him. And he didn’t understand people for whom things

didn’t come easily too, for example, me with music. You’d never live up to it, you’d never

match it, I’d never be able to play an instrument like he was never the smart as he was, I

could never do things the way he did. But I mean, again, the otherside of that he was

forever taking things apart and putting them back together again, and they would work

better, was extraordinary. But it just drove my mom crazy. We had this enormous dinner

table in our house. And it was like, I have four sisters and three brothers. So there was eight

of us. And You’re the eldest of eight. I’m the eldest. So the table had to be big enough to

take all eight of us. plus my parents. And then of course, my father going ah well look we

always need a bit of extra room on my mother was, was a tailor/ dressmaker. So she

needed a really big

Sabina Brennan 16:36

table for cutting out

Mark Cagney 16:38

Exactly, all of that kind of stuff. So there was, it was enormous. I mean, you could have

fitted another six or eight, maybe another six people. And I remember for months, there

was an engine at the end of that. And the reason we all remembered is that because for

about six or eight months, our food all tasted of oil, because there was this Mercedes

engine, he was fac.. He was obsessed with Mercedes cars, that engine at the end of the

thing that he was rebuilding, and he was doing it and I remember my mother losing her

mind on occasions, quite ‘Jesus Christ Johnny’ I’m sick to death of the food tasting of oil.

oh boy, when do you ever get that bloody thing off it? And that’s

Sabina Brennan 17:13

and I’m not diagnosing anyone. But it does sound slightly manic, you know?

Mark Cagney 17:19

He was mad, and it was loose, and it was bohemian. And all of my friends thought it was

great this place.

Sabina Brennan 17:24

So if this fabulous sort of, well, it sounds sort of fabulous, unusual, bohemian life. You have

this amazing dad that you’ve just described. And then at 16

Mark Cagney 17:36

oh well it had started before that

Sabina Brennan 17:37

15? you left because you’re only a child, whatever age, whether you were 15 or 16 you left


Mark Cagney 17:42

All his bohemian outlook on life and in questioning everything and questioning convention

and being you know, quite unconventional in his own way. He wanted very conventional

upbringing for us. So my educational and career path was mapped out and he used to say

listen, go to college, get your degree then you can have your life then you can do what

you want. But until then, my house my rules this what’s going to happen. His father had

been a, was a doctor, had been surgeon, his brother was one. Another brother was in the

Air Corps was a commandant in the Air Corps. But he was the rebel, himself and Mary

were the rebels

Sabina Brennan 18:12

both extremely successful in what they have to

Mark Cagney 18:15

academically yes they’d all done well, but still very conventional, Cork. You’re going to the

right schools.

Sabina Brennan 18:21

So you’re very posh sort of.

Mark Cagney 18:24

I had a very.I had a very good private education. My brothers, my sisters went to Saint

Angela’s, at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill, we lived at the top I went to Christians, which

would be the equivalent of Black Rock, I suppose.

Sabina Brennan 18:35


Mark Cagney 18:35

Christians and Pres. So yeah, I had the benefit of all of that. But my father had everything

mapped out for me. And I had other ideas. And I didn’t want what he, I didn’t want to go

to college, I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to be told what to do. I wanted to be

able to grow my hair as long as I wanted. I wanted to be involved in music in some form or

fashion. And, you know, I was 14 / 15 / 16 and waiting till I was 23 / 24 and came out of

college. Just like 1 0 years is a lifetime not having any of that. And I was also again a bit

like him, a lot like him questioning and stubborn and like why. I painted a picture of him

being kind of very authoritarian. And he was in many ways, you know, we had very boho

of kind of existence and command structure and hierarchy within the house, and then

quite strict as far as it looked from the outside. But we were all encouraged. Like one of

my grandfather’s great saying was that education is no burden. You can do everything

Sabina Brennan 19:36

the great liberator

Mark Cagney 19:36

Absolutely you should do everything. You should do everything you possibly can, read as

much as you can. learn as much as you can, ask as many questions as you can, because

you can’t know too much. Use it. And what was nothing used to say is is the older I get, the

more I realise how little I actually really know. So that was encouraged in our house and

big house that people were sitting around talking and you were encouraged to think and

you’d be questioned on it So you have to have sharp elbows both physically and also

mentally. And, like I had the biggest mouth, and I had the most questioning mind and I

didn’t understand why the contradictions. You know ‘You didn’t do what your father did’.

Sabina Brennan 19:39


Mark Cagney 19:44

you know you’d have taken over his practice you’d have become a doctor like your

brother Michael did. No you didn’t want to do that? No, you want to do music you want to

follow your heart. Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. So

that’s what I want to do. ‘My house my rules, You don’t like it? There’s the door’. One day I

went, Okay, so I took the door. And I’ve never really talked to him about what he thought

whatever. But he his immediate reaction was, okay, so you made your bed now you lie on

it. I’m not gonna ask you to come back

Sabina Brennan 20:42

So when you’re when you physically because I remember walking 16 as well and been

yanked Back, Back home sort of thing. But when you walked out that door, did you know

you were going to your grandfather? did you go What the hell I

Mark Cagney 20:55

I had gone a couple of times first. Okay. There was a few few failed attempts. In actual

fact, I did my I did my junior cert, while sleeping in his car. In his car, my father’s car, I had


Sabina Brennan 21:12


Mark Cagney 21:14

it was a real cute hoor move on my part really cute horror movie on my so that’s 14, I knew

I wasn’t going to get the exams. I hadn’t done the work. And I was breaking myself over I

went This is good. This is bad. So how can I create a diversion?

Sabina Brennan 21:26

Did you honestly think that

Mark Cagney 21:28

this is I hate this, I’m not gonna do this, I’m not gonna go well, I’m going to get killed.

September is going to be awful. And there was a lot of trouble between us there’s a lot of

arguing, fighting. And, you know, I was the eldest daughter, you have to remember and

the experiment. And one of the things I realized subsequently as a parent, is, is that you

really do learn on the job with the first one, the others get the benefit, right. And they were

doing it and they had seven,

Sabina Brennan 21:49

and they were learning from you. Well, they were watching because as a fifth child, I was

the youngest. So I watched what the others did or didn;t do you know,

Mark Cagney 21:57

I’d had a few breakouts before that. And and also I there had been times, because of

whatever was going on with them financially, where I had gone to live with my mother’s

parents, my Nana and PA who were lovely. I was blessed with two great grandparents

that, who I loved dearly, really loved dearly. And then pop was my, my father was his

favourite. He has his pet. And at another stage, I went to live with them in a house called

Coolecarn Bishopstown. Coolcarren, which I adore it. I loved. I just thought this is lovely.

It’s brilliant. It’s just me and pop and mom, and Mary, and all of this space. And nobody

and no kids. I wanted to be an only child. But anyway, I knew that Junior. was going to be

a disaster. And I literally like I have to, what am I going to do, either… I can’t not do it,

because they’ll make me. But if something was to happen, that I couldn’t do it for some

reason or other, then I’d get away with it. Something happened. And the rose would

always start with who myself my mother. And then she’d go ‘Johnny, you need to talk to

him’. And then she’d kind of make the bullets and he’d fire them.

Sabina Brennan 23:02

Right. So he did what your mum said

Mark Cagney 23:03

There was a blazing row between myself and my mother overr something he came in. And

there was some row over it and I don’t actually remember the details of it. But I stalked off.

And then she’s going “but what… he’s got his junior, what’s he going to do? What’s he

going to do? You can’t do that. That’s just ridiculous”. “I’m not having a few knows what

the rules are. There’s the door get out” thinking, of course, it’d be back soon as I got

hungry. And I didn’t I went down to my best friend Kevin Moynihan’s house and I got fed

there. And then it was it I was gonna stay with him that night. And then the second night

was like, hang on a second, how come you’re not going home? So where was I going to

go? So this is back in the days when people didn’t lock their cars. So I kind of crept back

up the hill. And I tried the car, the car door opened and I went in, and I slept in the car.

And the junior was starting the that was over the course the weekend. It was starting on

the Monday it was and I think the first two or three days I slept in the car. Now, they knew I

was in the car, right? My mother would come out with a bit of breakfast, all the rest of it.

But of course, you know, it was completely disrupted. Eventually it kind of calmed down

and I think a really cold one of the nights or something and it was like For God’s sake get

back inside.

Sabina Brennan 23:17

Yeah, yeah,

Mark Cagney 23:25

it was he wouldn’t say you have to come home or I’m asking you, it’s just like get back

inside you. But the plan worked because I failed the junior. But of course it couldn’t be

blamed for it because how could I do proper Junior certificate I was

Sabina Brennan 24:23

…. living in a car.

Mark Cagney 24:24

That stage then I would have been 15that coming September. And then there was kind of

a guerrilla warfare between both of us on and off

Sabina Brennan 24:35

both of us? between yourself and your dad or yourself and your mum

Mark Cagney 24:38

Myself an my parents.

Sabina Brennan 24:39


Mark Cagney 24:39

There was, there was,… I was an absolute pup. I was just difficult. I was awkward.

Sabina Brennan 24:43

You were a teenager.

Mark Cagney 24:44

Well, yeah. And I was a mouthy gobby one.

Sabina Brennan 24:48

Yeah, but most teenagers are, you know.

Mark Cagney 24:50

Manipulative and you know, cunning.

Sabina Brennan 24:52

You’ve said at some point in an interview that I read, that you blamed yourself for a lot

The upset and turmoil that happened in your family. But surely the adults have to take

some responsibility for that, too.

Mark Cagney 25:07

You want to find out how I got to my grandfather? Here’s here’s, and it’s interesting that

you take that point of view. Right Fast forward a year, and things hadn’t gotten any better.

And then I was having trouble in school as well, in the year I went back after my, my junior.

And there was rules or regulations. And I eventually told one of the senior brothers to go


Sabina Brennan 25:27

Feck off,

Mark Cagney 25:28

and there was more drama. So like, I was suspended, and then I was thrown out. And this is

coming up to the Christmas and there was more going on in house. And it was just

desperate. And you know, you ruin Christmas, You spolied it and dah, dah, dah… And

eventually, I thought, right, you know what, I’ve had enough of this. And I found a lot of

money. Well, a lot of money at the time, in a drawer. And I went, right, okay. And at this

stage now I’m coming up to 15 /16. I wasn’t mad about drink, but there were like house

parties and all that stuff. And I had a friend whose parents had a couple of cottages, I

suppose you would call them but they were rented out and the people are rented out to

run away over Christmas. So he was gonna have a party and one of those. And he said

will you come to the party and I went Okay. We can stay that for a couple of days.


Sabina Brennan 26:16

the parents are away

Mark Cagney 26:17

Yeah, yeah, right. So. So we went to that went to the party had a great time. And it was

free for about a week, I left on Christmas Eve, by the way, for maximum effect, oh, my

goodness, oh maximum effect? Or am I going to ruin Christmas I’ll ruin it properly. And I

left with a bunch of money, which obviously wasn’t mine. So I couch surfed, I suppose, or

whatever you call me back then for as long as I could. And that went on for about a week.

And then got into January. And nobody had any idea who I was because very few people

had phones back in those.

Sabina Brennan 26:47

Yeah, yes.

Mark Cagney 26:48

So trying to find,

Sabina Brennan 26:50

and we’re talking house phones not mobile phones. Oh, yeah, yeah. So

Mark Cagney 26:53

Anyway, eventually Whelan said, Listen, they’re coming back, you’re going to have to go

they’re coming back. You have to find somewhere else. And I dossed with somebody else

for another night or two. And then I had nowhere to go. So I was literally on the streets. I

remember finding a doorway in North Main Street in Cork and getting run out of it

because it was somebody else’s doorway.

Sabina Brennan 27:11


Mark Cagney 27:12

So it was a bit like and again, you’re the kind of 16 you think you’re brave, but actually it’s

cold. It’s bitterly cold

Sabina Brennan 27:17

Freezing, yeah, yeah

Mark Cagney 27:17

Some hairy shaggy fellow looks like it’s, you know, like, like something from a Dickens

novel. Says, “get out of there”. and gives you a root in the arse to send you on your way. So

eventually, I worked my way out to the Western road. I remember getting right opposite

the entrance to UCC, there was a kind of a seated area, had a canopy on it where, you

know, people would would stop and rest and whatever. So I saw Oh, look, there’s a bench

there and it’s covered so but it was getting bitterly cold at the stage. I’ll kind of settled

down there freezing my you may have picked the time of the year for maximum effect.

but it really wasnt a good time of the year for rough living No it wasn’t I got run out of htat

again. And I to start well, Western road, I’m on my way to Bishopstown, that’s where pop,

and Mary are.So just keep walking, because at least if I’m walking, I’m gonna be warm.

And eventually I ended up on their door at about four, half four in the morning. And they

had known obviously, they were so she went come on, come in, fed me, warmed me up

and rang my father and said, “Look, he’s okay, he’s here. You might want to leave it a day

or two to calm down.”

Sabina Brennan 28:20


Mark Cagney 28:21

So my father came over. And my father and my grandfather were, as I said, they were like

best buds. And he adored him. And they had a big row over it. And he says, “I’m not

putting up with this, you don’t know what he’s like. And this is the straw that has broken

the camel’s back and all the rest, to hell with him.. And my grandfather turned to him and

said, “Listen, no grandchild of mine is going to be wandering the street. That’s just not

going to happen”. He said, “You have no idea what he’s like, well if you think he’s, so easy?

Well, you take him then.” So he said, “Well, he’s got to go somewhere. And he’s a child,

and you’re an adult,” “you’re taking his side against mine.” If you’re a grown up, you need

to behave like one. And if you’re not going to do that, then he’s got to go somewhere. So

he’ll stay here,” “You can’t do that. What are you going to even take my son. we’ll see what

people have to say about that”. And remember Pop saying it he said, “Well, good luck,

with going into court against Dr. Paddy Cagney. No, Because he had, would have been

highly highly respected. So my father was livid and furious and it caused a huge rift

between the two of them, which I am, to this day, deeply sorry for.

Sabina Brennan 29:16

And did they ever heal the Rift,

Mark Cagney 29:18

He would have gone to visit his father two or three, Well, at least once a week, maybe

twice a week, every week and we would go with him. From there on in, he would ring

ahead to say I’m coming make sure make sure I’m not there. Okay, so those visits dropped

to maybe once every fortnight. And it was kind of, had to be arranged and it was awful

and I deeply regret that that happened.. The only thing I will say in my defence was is that

my grandfather was at that stage going into senility or early Alzheimer’s or whatever. And

physically this great big strapping man, but he didn’t know where he was a lot of the time.

So you ended up looking after him. I did it and it was a pleasure and a privilege.

Something that helped me grow up a lot. The first time I’d ever really thought of anybody

other than myself. And it was somebody I loved deeply, and who was a huge influence on

me. And not just loved, but I admired. I won’t say at the time that I consciously was doing

it for my father or being a surrogate for my father. But I subsequently think that their must

have been some.. I’m sure your father saw that too? Do you think?

Sabina Brennan 30:23

You can frame it that way.

Mark Cagney 30:24

Well, I know that Mary said, she said, “you know, your father’s right you are a pup And, you

know, I didn’t know whether we made the right right or wrong decisions, she said but

when I saw you with pop and the way you were with him, she said, I thought, you know

what, he’ll be grand. we just need to work on it a bit and get it out of him”. And so that was

a very, formative experience Ehhh I’m not sure. You see, there’s two acts of forgiveness

that need to go on there. One was that I robbed him of that. But also that he robbed

himself of that there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t have visited his father. I mean,

I could have gone to the room to

Sabina Brennan 30:57

your father’s passed away, still alive?

Mark Cagney 31:00

My father’s gone,

Sabina Brennan 31:00


Mark Cagney 31:02

So, but that rift never really healed, and I was, you know, it tore the family apart. And

there were people took sides, you know, and, and people take sides in my own, my own

immediate family. I mean, it went on for donkey’s years.

Sabina Brennan 31:15

But there does come a point where you have to self preserve, or you have to make peace

with what happened and, and move on. Because it’s the only way you can kind of survive,

you kind of get stuck in a moment. And I’m going to jump forward. Because this podcast is

all about surviving and thriving in life. And when you go through your life story, You’ve,

you’ve endured an awful lot of,… you have

Mark Cagney 31:38

I’ve made people endure.

Sabina Brennan 31:40

Ah no, no, no. But you’ve also, you know, you’ve lived through, you’ve mentioned your first

wife, and she tragically died very, very young. And I really do want to talk to you about

that. So you met Anne when you were about 19?

Mark Cagney 31:51

Yeah, in Cork at the time

Sabina Brennan 31:51

she had health issues.

Mark Cagney 31:52

Of yeah she had nephritis when she was seven, and her kidneys were in the process of

failing. She was on dialysis.

Sabina Brennan 31:59

While, when you when you were dating?

Mark Cagney 32:01

Oh, yeah, it was You know how I found out? I found out about that, when we were dancing

one night, and I had a leather jacket on. And even though the music was quite loud, I

could hear a kind of zzzzzz, a kind of a buzzing and feel a little vibration on my shoulder.

And I went what the hell is that?

Sabina Brennan 32:20


Mark Cagney 32:21

you know, and it was in a nightclub where I worked as well. And I just thought, is there

something wrong with the speaker, whatever. She didn’t say anything. Yeah, she just kind

of gave a little smile And I went “do you not hear that am I going mad she went , yeah.

And then, little afterwards, we were sitting down. And I was holding her hand. And she had

what’s called a fistula, which is where they join a vein and an artery to make the blood

pump faster to go into the the dialysis machine, right? It’s a joining of the two, she used to

do it as a joke to freak out nurses who were taking her pulse for the first time. She’d give

them the left hand, and they’d put their hand on the fistula. And they got ‘Oh, my God’,

like they’d been, because it’s almost like getting an electric shock, you could feel the

buzzing. And it was, it was the buzzing of that on the leather jacket. And I just went, ‘What

the hell is that?’ So then she explained. Oh on the other thing as well, I could never

understand why she wouldn’t let me bring her home. Because she would go to the club,

she would only drink water and chips of ice. She didn’t drink any alcohol. And then at two

or three, she would disappear. Or she’d go No, sorry. I’m up early in the morning. No, I’m

going home with the girls or whatever. But she was actually going to Finbarrs to be

dialysed. She used to have her dialysis done in the middle of the night. And then she

would come home, get some sleep. And then she’d go to work. So she to all intents and

purposes, she was completely normal. You would never ever know unless she chose to tell

you. And so that’s how I found out that she was a dialysis patient.

Sabina Brennan 33:48

Wow. And so then you married relatively young.

Mark Cagney 33:53

Yeah, I met her when I was 19. And we were going out with each other for a couple of

years. And then, what age was I, married when I was 24

Sabina Brennan 33:58

Do you know what year you were married?

Mark Cagney 33:58

Em now I have to calculate I calculated our relationship in different ways, right? We were

married on the 28th of March. Yes. So our wedding anniversary was recently, the 28th of


Sabina Brennan 34:03

And the 28th of March is also the anniversary of her death.

Mark Cagney 34:18

hang on a second though, 30 years ago, last Sunday. And we had been married for 11

years. So that’s 41 years. And we’ve been together for six years before that.

Sabina Brennan 34:28

And she’s dead 20 years and

Mark Cagney 34:30

She’s dead. 30 years, 30 years since last 28th of March.

Sabina Brennan 34:34

So very tragic, very young project. She was 38 and you were younger than her> Yeah,

Mark Cagney 34:41

she was older.

Sabina Brennan 34:43

You were 34. And to phrase this question about how did you cope because you didn’t

really cope. I mean, obviously you have gone on to survive and thrive. But at the time

when she collapsed. She collapsed in Brown Thomas,

Mark Cagney 34:59

She’d had the first hemorrhage there

Sabina Brennan 35:01

A brain hemorrhage?

Mark Cagney 35:02

Subarachnoid Yeah.

Sabina Brennan 35:03


Mark Cagney 35:03

And they took her to the Meath hospital and I got a call, ended up going to the Meath

we’re told look, we’re not sure, something in her head, might be hemorrhage. We’re going

to do a CAT scan. Now back in those days a CAT scan was a big deal. It was a bit ooh

something with the brain. Yeah. And they have to move on from the Meath, then to


Sabina Brennan 35:25

Beaumont handles all sort of head injuries, neurology

Mark Cagney 35:27

So we sat around there, they did the CAT scan, and they came back and said she’s had

sub arachnoid brain hemorrhage. Thankfully, that bleed wasn’t too long. But we’ve also

found that there’s another vessel on the other side. I don’t know which one is the vertebral

is on the right hand side. I don’t know what vein is on the side, right. But there was one on

the other side at the back of her head, which is ready to go as well. Interestingly enough,

because of all of the messing around with veins and fistulas. And at that stage, she’d had

two kidney transplants. So like her cardiovascular system had been interfered with.

Sabina Brennan 36:02

I mean, she’d been ill since Yeah, for 21 years really

Mark Cagney 36:0

There were little bulges and potential embolisms And apparently, also, she had too, what

was known as a tangle of vessels, which I believe is quite common, right, that a lot of

people have them. And women in particular seemed at that time to be more prone to

brain hemorrhages in their mid to late 30s. I have no idea whether that’s true, or not I

must have a look into that. But Anyway, she had another vein or artery which was ready

to pop, or was bulging, or they we’re worried about it, they said, Look, this one was a very

short, I think this the first bleed was sort of two or three seconds. So this one could be

much longer, could be much longer, much more dangerous. We have to go in and we have

to fix it. Now. That’s a really, really big deal for an awful lot of couples and for an awful lot

of people But when you had gone to the edge as often as Anne and I had with various

things with with kidney transplant, which was groundbreaking surgery back in the time,

and she had gotten really, really sick at one stage and spent nearly 18 months in Mary’s in

the park, because she got shingles, which in her case, ended up with practically every inch

of skin from her neck down to her bellybutton being taken off I mean it was dreadful, it

was awful.

Sabina Brennan 37:10

And you’re only kids really in a way through

Mark Cagney 37:12

We are, we are and we were int Dublin and we’re..

Sabina Brennan 37:14

you can say that with hindsight like I’m in my late 50s. Now you look back and you realize

that your 20s you really are kids and even your early 30s

Mark Cagney 37:22

She was a pro

Sabina Brennan 37:25

She obviously had to grow up very young, you know,

Mark Cagney 37:28

She would put herself on and off the machine, she would she would do because she could

insert the needles better than any nurse or any doctor. She was so expert at it and she


Sabina Brennan 37:35

So they’re going to take her into, for surgery. So she was conscious, was she conscious

between the first

Mark Cagney 37:40

She was yeah. we’re having a conversation I never forget the last conversation was

because it was, look, this is what she did. She went into the ring, she fought the battle, she

always won. I held her coat and held the fort down. And it was you’ve had this, there’s

another one on the other side. It needs to be sorted out. Otherwise you could have a big

problem. And she went “Yeah, okay, come on.” This is what I do. “And I always win” she

said, “Oh, by the way, you know, it’s bin day tomorrow.” I said, Oh Yeah, yeah She said

“make sure you put the bins out and don’t forget to feed the dogs”. And I’ll see when I

wake up. And those were the last words she spoke So she went, she had it. She was in an

induced coma. She didn’t really regain….

Sabina Brennan 38:14

that’s to protect her Aww

Mark Cagney 38:23

And it stayed like that. And then she had another massive

Sabina Brennan 38:30


Mark Cagney 38:32

Oh, I have to remember the timeframe because it all blurs,

Sabina Brennan 38:36

I can imagine.

Mark Cagney 38:37

That initial hemorrhage, in Brown Thomas happened on the 18th. And then two days later,

they operated. So the 20th and then she was recovering for two or three, four or five days.

And then she had another massive bleed, which went on for they thought in the region of

18 seconds and it was over and done with it was gone. She was gone. That was actually,

oh out was the 24th Yeah. 24th 25th. And they went “look, we’ll ventilate her but we have

no idea how long this would go on. And I don’t know if you know about brainstem it could

be three hours could be three days could be three weeks could be three months. You know

it will happen when it will happen” At this stage my head is fried, melted because I

thought she’d win she always did she never lost

Sabina Brennan 39:28

never I think for you compared to other people. I think other people would say she had no

previous history and then had this you’d be going oh my god, she could die. Oh my god.

Oh my god. What? Because you’d had that repeated

Mark Cagney 39:42


Sabina Brennan 39:43

you’d been there before, more routine I suppose

Mark Cagney 39:44

Well she was the strongest person I knew? she just refused to allow this, to define her and

to beat her. But you have to face facts. And people were very sorry and all the rest of it. So

I remember being told that and I went off to try to get my head clear. And I remember

coming back about a half hour, 40 minutes later, and talking to the staff nurse, the senior

nurse on the ward and saying, Listen, I know when she would go. Anyway, she went, yeah, I

said she will go on the 28th. And she’ll probably go somewhere around Tea Time and she

went “Yes, Mr. Cagney, whatever you say” sh said, Listen, you don’t know her? I do. She

didn’t get to say goodbye. She will go on the 28th, around five or six o’clock? And she said,

“Really? Why?” I said because that was the day we got married. And that’s when we sat

down to our meal for our wedding. And she’d say goodbye, then. That’s when she’ll go.

And that’s exactly when she went. Now. I had to give the permission to switch the

machine off. I had to give permission for that. That’s a very challenging decision, for a 34

year old what do you do? Every now and again and I’ve never actually do you know

Getting me to say things here, I’m possibly leaving too much out on the pitch. You know,

you do these kinds of things over the years. And people ask you Oh, it was the hardest

thing you’ve ever had to do? Or who’s the most famous person you’ve ever interviewed?

Or, you know, you get those kind of 20 questions type things, right. And somebody recently

asked me about what was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And the hardest thing

that I personally have ever had to do, is to give permission for that machine to be

switched off. You actually think about it, this is your life. This is your soulmate. And even

though she’s, you know, intellectually that she’s gone, and that it would be, you know, the

cruelest thing you possibly could do not to?

Sabina Brennan 41:39

Well, sounding by the kind of independent individual she was

Mark Cagney 41:42


Sabina Brennan 41:43

She would have just hated that.

Mark Cagney 41:45

Yeah, absolutely. She would have, then there’s this thing. She’s also the toughest person

that you’ve ever met. Anybody could defy the odds and come back, it would be her, but

you knew at this stage it was gone

Sabina Brennan 41:54

Okay, so I hadn’t, I hadn’t thought about that. That argument that you were having in your

head, oh, my God,

Mark Cagney 42:00

the extent of the hemorrhage was so severe that she could have existed was,


Sabina Brennan 42:05

did you make that decision alone? I mean, I know you were her next of kin. So you didn’t

discuss with her parents or anything? You just

Mark Cagney 42:13

Eh no, it was my decision,

Sabina Brennan 42:15


Mark Cagney 42:17

Ah now, I was there with her brother, who was brilliant Eric, like a brother. But the biggest

lesson that I took out of that. And it does apply to the parenting thing a little later on,

which is, ah you can.. Well, you can go mad, and I did go mad. Okay, eventually, I had

really good friends around me, they pulled me back and all the rest of it. Then you have to

think about what do you do? Well you can go on or you can go under? And how do you go

on when you’ve lost all of this. And it’s the, it’s very simple. It’s that glass half full, or glass

half empty. I had an amazing relationship. I had it for 16 years. And there’s millions of

people who don’t get that at all. So be grateful for what you had, not for what you’ve lost.

Or, more importantly, don’t be bitter about what you’ve lost. Because as Nelson Mandela

famously said, ‘being bitter is like drinking the poison, hoping the other fellow will die

doesn’t work. It only poisons you”. So what you had was wonderful. It’s awful, that it’s been

taken away. But we didn’t have and this is maybe the most valuable lesson and the one

that actually helps me with the second phase of my life, which is that there was nothing

left unsaid between us, we had the most normal, ordinary, mundane conversation that

you could possibly have before somebody going for major surgery, which you know,

wasn’t successful and ultimately led to her death. You know, if your last words with

somebody you love, if you had a choice of what they would be, you probably pick

something really flowery and profound, whatever, right? Mine was about putting out the

bin and making sure the dog was fed, and I’ll see when you wake up. But that was also the

very fabric of our lives, and our love and the way we work together. So in one way, it is the

most banal and ordinary on another level. It’s a perfect expression of the life I had, which I

loved and which she loved. But there was nothing left unsaid between

Sabina Brennan 44:09

See I think that’s a lovely, lovely, lovely way to look at bereavement of any kind,

particularly certain bereavement

Mark Cagney 44:17

as another day in paradise. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 44:19

yeah, that’s a lovely way. That’s just so lovely. Just another day of

Mark Cagney 44:23

very ordinary paradise, but like our parents, yeah, yeah. Another lesson taught me Sabina,

was, make sure make sure that you tell the people you love and you care for and who love

and care for you how you feel, not in a big grand gesture, but just… I do it with the kids all

the time. And I check in with them every now and again. I go listen you know, I love you,

don’t you? You know, you can tell me anything. You know, no matter what you do, I have

no choice. I have to love you like that goes with the gig. It’s unconditional. I might not like

you sometimes. I might not like you a lot of the times but I’ll always love you. And I’ll

always have to love you. And no matter what you do or whatever trouble you get into,

come and talk to me about We’ll sort it out first and I’ll eat the years off you afterwards for

being stupid enough to put yourself in that situation.

Sabina Brennan 45:05

But I will never not love you?

Mark Cagney 45:07

Absolutely. So there’s nothing left unsaid. So there are no regrets. There’s no torture,

because that way lies despair. It’s the old, you keep looking into the abyss of ‘what if’

forgetting, of course, that the Abyss looks back into you. To paraphrase Goethe, I’m not

sure that he quite meant it like that but “That way lies madness and that way lies despair.

And either because I’m incredibly lucky, or maybe my survivor’s instinct was operating an

overdrive at the time, that I got incredibly smart, in some way, a combination of the two, it

saved me. Now, I did need help, I’d what I didn’t need medication I didn’t need, I didn’t

need to go to see doctors, I didn’t need therapy, I didn’t need any of that.

Sabina Brennan 45:52

You needed friends,

Mark Cagney 45:53

I needed friends,

Sabina Brennan 45:53

and you had great friends.

Mark Cagney 45:54

And I had great friends

Sabina Brennan 45:55

And that’s what really stuck out to me

Mark Cagney 45:56

An be grateful for for what I had.

Sabina Brennan 45:57

And I, you know, in terms of surviving trauma, because life throws, I say this time, and

again, we have no control over what life throws at us. But you have control over how you

respond. You went back to work way too soon after losing your wife. And you can kind of

see how that, you know, might have happened. And you said you had whatever you felt

was a breakdown, but you hadn’t gone through the grieving process at all. You know, it’s

very clear now that you’ve made peace with that. And that unconditional love piece is so

important. And I think when it comes to love, you know, I see people and you know, you

kind of look at them. And I’ve said this over and again on this, you know, the movies and

novels have an awful lot to answer for because they paint this picture of what love is, you

know, and oh, he does this for me. And it does that Look for me. It’s that mundane, you

know, I’m married to someone and we sort of say, Valentine’s Day, “I’m not getting your

card”, “I’m not getting you a card Couldn’t be arsed. But you know what, I’ve had terrible

migraine this week, and it goes down into my neck and my husband will look at me and

say “you’re in bits aren’t you?” Yeah he’ll like, stop everything and try and help relieve me.

That’s love. That’s, you know, you don’t have to say those things. And that’s life. It’s the

other stuff. You know, you can say I love you. You’re the best, you can say all those things.

Moon in June and the honeymoon lasts for how long? What do you do with the rest of

your life? Exactly. You’d become best…

Mark Cagney 47:14

who’s the first person you want? If something happens to you? Who’s the first person you

want to tell?

Sabina Brennan 47:17

Who’s the first person you call

Mark Cagney 47:18

Who’s the first person you need? That’s the person you love

Sabina Brennan 47:21

Yes it’s a friendship. It really is. It’s ultimately about friendship and trust, and all those

things. And it was wonderful to hear as well that you know, when you were really

struggling, there was another individual who actually took you out. I was interested in one

thing you said he basically took you out and took you away and you went traveling with


Mark Cagney 47:40

Joe and Marian, Joe and Marian O’Herlihy, Marion would have been em. Well, I’ve known

Joe since I was 15. We started in bands together in Cork, he roadied for one band, I

roadied for another. So I’d known him on and off. He obviously has famously become one

of the best known sound engineers in the world because he’s been with U2 for 40 years.

He’s known as the big fat fellow with the beard. He looks like Grandpa Walton. Like he’s

legendary and rock and roll circles. Right. But his wife Marian, and Anne would have been

best friends. So like it’s the real cCork Murphya kind of thing, you know, so we would have

been in and out of each other’s houses. And actually that friendship has continued on but

you know, when when I rang Marian actually to tell her that that Anne was sick something

had happened and she was in The Meath and they live in Rathdown Park in Terenure But

Joe was away and Marian didn’t have the car. And she physically ran and I mean, ran

from Terenure to the Meath to get there in time. And I was following out in a taxi. And I

think she got there before I did. Or literally we pulled in as she was soaked in sweat. Yeah,

that’s the kind of, of friends

Sabina Brennan 48:45

you can talk about.You can talk about family till the cows come home when people say

blood is thicker than water, but the support of very real friends, you can’t underestimate it

Mark Cagney 48:53

well, you know that that really, it’s probably quite sexist, and it’s definitely not PC. But the

joke about a true friend is you ring them up and you say, Listen, I’m in real trouble. What

have you done? I’ve killed the wife. Okay, stay there. We’ll be around around with a shovel

as fast as we

Sabina Brennan 49:09

definitely not PC definitely, definitely not PC

Mark Cagney 49:11

But you know that, you know, those are the people who would take a bullet for you yet

stand in front of, you know, will throw themselves in front of a train for you like that. I was

lucky enough to have people like that in my life, Like Joe and Marian would definitely,

certainly at that stage without them. And again, we look even Peggy O’ Brien. She was

the house mother in 98 FM. And she would do that, you know, she would go he’s in trouble.

He needs a cup of tea. More importantly, he needs a hug. He needs somebody to hold on

to right now. And she would find an excuse asked me that I want a cups of tea, bring it in,

and then hug me until I kind of could speak properly or until I could do my next link

Sabina Brennan 49:45

You can’t underestimate the power of a human hug. living through this lockdown is why

it’s quite challenging for people but actual physical contact and a hug can lower your

blood pressure and actually really get your stress level. Stone really works. I’m afraid.

That’s all we have time for in this episode, but please do Tune in next week when I

continue my conversation with Mark. In the interim, you can check out the super brain

blog for bonus content. My name is Sabina Brennan. Thank you for listening to Super

brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain


people, father, bands, mary, called, stage, days, life, parents, grandfather, music, thought, big, cork,

meath, friends, sabina, listen, ireland, years

Show Notes S3:E8

How Blue Spaces Can Make you Feel Better With Catherine Kelly


Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,       ACAST,    Spotify   Stitcher, Google Podcasts

In this episode I speak to Dr Catherine Kelly author of Blue Spaces How and Why Water Makes You Feel Better about the science behind the health benefits of spending time in and near water and how swimming in the sea helped Catherine cope with bereavement and loss.

During this episode we discuss

  • How Catherine’s life changed with the sudden death of her mother
  • Finding solace in the sea for six years in Westport
  • Studying for a degree while coping with multiple miscarriages, moving house and ultimately pregnancy & birth
  • Me time
  • Her near death experience in 
  • Acceptance



Blue Spaces How and Why Water Makes Us Feel Better – Dr Catherine Kelly

Beating Brain Fog – Your 30-Day Plan to Think Faster, Sharper, Better

Guest Bio

Dr. Catherine Kelly is Director of the Wild Beach School, Brighton. She has been a geography academic for more than 20 years. With a degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity College Dublin, she also holds a Ph.D in Geography, a BSc. in Stress Management, and diplomas in Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques. She has lectured at various universities in the UK and Ireland; her research and publication areas include geography, environment, and the field of wellbeing. She also sits on the Board of the Sussex UNESCO Biosphere. Catherine is passionate about the sea, learning, nature and helping both adults and children to enjoy, explore and relax outdoors by the coast. She lives in Brighton and is a proud member of local ‘salty wellbeing’ group ‘The Salty Seabirds.’

Over to You

If you’ve experience the benefit of Blue Spaces – I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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


Sabina Brennan 0:01
Hello, my name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. Swimming in freezing cold water in the middle of winter is most definitely not my cup of tea. I won’t even have a shower unless the water is piping hot. Having said that I’ve always admired people who do take the plunge. I’ve often paused during my lockdown walks to watch increasing numbers of people wild swimming on the coldest of days. My guest today, Dr. Catherine Kelly, a self-described salty seabird has written a book about how and why water makes us feel better.

Show Notes S3:E7

Heart Surgery, Hallucinations and PTSD with Tom Dunne (Part 2)

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   Stitcher, Google Podcasts

In this episode, Tom Dunne talks me through his journey to and through life-saving heart surgery Tom literally almost died as his kidney’s failed – thankfully he survived and is not only in great form but is a fantastic story teller even when that story involves ICU, kidney failure Heart surgery, hallucinations and post traumatic stress.

During this episode we discuss

  • How Catherine’s life changed with the sudden death of her mother
  • Finding solace in the sea for six years in Westport
  • Studying for a degree while coping with multiple miscarriages, moving house and ultimately pregnancy & birth
  • Me time
  • Her near death experience in 
  • Acceptance


Animation – Is high blood pressure bad for my brain?


Beating Brain Fog – Your 30-Day Plan to Think Faster, Sharper, Better

100 Days to a Younger Brain – Maximise your memory, Boost Your Brain Health and Defy Dementia.


Coming soon

Guest Bio

​Tom Dunne is a Radio Broadcaster with Newstalk.  The Tom Dunne Show is a night- time radio show which is on air Monday to Thursday evenings and Sunday evenings. The show itself is a mix of popular culture in a way that will appeal to both men and women which focuses on music, culture, movies, sex, sports, comedy, books, gossip and technology.

He is also well-known as lead singer with Dublin group ‘Something Happens’ who were one of the country’s shining lights in the early 90’s with albums like ‘Bedlam A Go-Go’ and ‘Stuck Together With God’s Glue’ and unforgettable singles like ‘Parachute’ and ‘Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)’.

For more information please contact: or 35314278400

Over to You

Have you overcome a trauma, experienced hallucinations or gone through heart surgery? Did Tom’s story resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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

Support this show


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