It was a last-minute invitation from a friend, someone had dropped out. “Do you fancy going to see Ruby Wax on Saturday night?” she asked. Great, I thought, I love comedy and I could do with a laugh at the end of a hard week at work, so I snapped up the offer.
That’s how I came to be sitting at Ely cathedral, listening to someone I’d only seen in Spitting Image form or comedy shows on TV. But it wasn’t Ruby Wax the comedian who was on stage that night. It was Ruby Wax post-breakdowns and melt-downs sharing her story through to recovery.
She was engaging, scatty and quick-witted, just how I remembered her, talking about a topic that’s become more popular than the weather in the U.K. – anxiety, depression and mindfulness. Boy do these things need talking about? It’s about time. I think, for me it was Stephen Fry who first made the subject accessible, okay to talk about at some level. A brave thing to do for anyone but especially for those in the lime-light.
A personal story
Having suffered from depression, on and off every three to five years, Ruby was a dab-hand at concealing what was going on for her and trying to maintain the outward looking face of normality. Before that, she’d had to cope as a child with her mothers’ bouts of depression. Her story is one of survival on many levels but the most interesting part for me was when she discovered there was help out there for her.
Her descriptions of how it felt to be depressed were the usual; feeling sluggish and slow in every way; being ‘awake’ but feeling like you were in a coma; loss of personality; loss of confidence; feelings of guilt etc.
Ruby spoke of how she’d come across mindfulness when she needed it most, but not before she’d tried some very strange remedies over the years!
I came away saddened by her story. She had had such limiting beliefs as a child. She couldn’t remember ever having thought ‘how good am I’. The hard-nosed celebrity culture could be why she developed her thick skin; or why it took her so long to realise there was help available, just waiting to be discovered.
Exercise that muscle – measure the result
Ruby’s analogy of the brain as a muscle to exercise is a good one. That just minutes of ‘exercise’ a day could have significant, measureable results. She talked about attention as one of the cornerstones of mindfulness, which it is and how, when you are truly and deeply focused on one thing, there is no space for anything else. There was even an opportunity for the audience to try out a mindfulness exercise; one which engaged various senses for something as simple as sitting on a chair!
Having come out of her deepest depression seven years ago, where she was exposed to mindfulness based cognitive therapy, she went on to study the subject for herself at Oxford University. Since then she’s written her book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled a humorous and sometimes quirky take on a serious issue.
Here’s what I think
I think it’s great that people like Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry feel able to share their vulnerability with the world. However, it’s not like that in other circles. Most people suffer in silence, feeling ashamed and inadequate and thinking that their employers, their friends even their loved ones might not feel the same way about them when they ‘come out’.
There is no question in my mind that mindfulness techniques help to make us more resilient. I notice it in my own daily practice and in the clients I have supported over the years. The fact that science can now back this up with evidence means more people are willing to ‘believe’. What if the science hadn’t caught up yet? It doesn’t bear thinking about; mindfulness techniques would still only be practiced by the hippies of this world.
It’s time to be a little more curious, a little braver, and to trust a lot more in the wisdom all about us.
And if you want to start to help yourself you could download my eBook 7 Guaranteed Ways to Reduce Stress, Stop Feeling Overhelmed at Work, and Get Your Life Back it has an action plan so you can hold yourself accountable for increasing your wellbeing and resilience.