“For as long as I could remember, I wasn’t me, I was we.” Lily Bailey, a British writer and model, had a sort of imaginary friend while she was growing up, but instead of a comforting presence it was a critical voice pushing her to be ultra-conscious of how her behavior appeared to others. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she might be perceived – everything from body odor to inadvertently acting snobby or selfish. Every imagined transgression was tallied up and given a letter abbreviation to remember it by. It got to the point that after any length of time spent around other people she’d have to retreat to write down and mull over her inventory of errors.
This went on for years at boarding school until Bailey was finally diagnosed with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As she explained to her mother, “I make lists in my head of everything I’ve done that might be wrong. Then I repeat them over and over again and analyse them. I have to be perfect. I feel like if I do this enough, then one day I will be.” But diagnosis was not the end to the struggle; far from it. Despite Prozac and CBT, Bailey later landed in a psychiatric unit. She captures her inpatient stay at Chesbury Hospital with great verve, recalling the chorus of the other patients’ voices and the different nurses’ strategies.
Because We Are Bad tracks Bailey’s life up until age 20, by which time she had moved past the worst of her mental health crisis and was making encouraging strides in her personal and professional life. There’s a bit of a pat ending; I thought the book would probably benefit from more hindsight – it had a small release in 2016, when Bailey was 24, and is now being given a full-blown re-release. However, like Elizabeth Wurtzel and Zack McDermott, Bailey gives a vivid sense of what it’s like to feel your mind working against you. Her recreation of childhood and the first-person plural sections are especially strong. I can recommend this to anyone who’s interested in learning more about OCD and mental health issues in general.
Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought is published by Canbury Press today, March 15th. It will be published by Harper Collins US in April. My thanks to publicist Emma Finnigan for the review copy.