You may think you know Ruby Wax – that motor-mouthed, sparky American who, until a few years ago, never seemed to be off our TV screens, whether as a comedian, an actor or a presenter. And then she vanished.
Well, she didn’t really. She went back to college to train as a therapist, sparking an interest in neuroscience that eventually led her to Oxford University, where in 2011 she gained a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In 2015 she was awarded an OBE for her campaigning work to end the stigma surrounding mental-health issues, and was also appointed visiting professor in mental health nursing at the University of Surrey.
We bet you didn’t see that coming.
But it starts to make sense when you realise that Wax has battled lifelong depression, suffered a breakdown and at one point was institutionalised. Learning mindfulness, she has said, ‘saved my life’.
Sane New World stems from her own experiences, of depression and of learning how to be mindful – standing back and becoming aware of the present moment in order to recognise that all those self-critical, nagging thoughts are not the reality, but rather one’s interpretation of it, which opens up the possibility of choosing to accept or challenge that interpretation.
Wax brands her book a ‘manual on taming the mind’– for learning how to self-regulate feelings and thoughts, how to stop being so mean and cruel to ourselves, and how to turn the focus instead onto the things we want to pay attention to. She does this with wit, kindness, practical advice on developing mindfulness, and a lot of accessible science – if you need a 101 on how the brain works, this book is a great start.
Along the way she explores why we are obsessed with staying busy, why we search for happiness in shopping and food, why mothers tend to hold their babies in their left arm, and why having an ostentatious bathroom is a sure sign of insanity. She looks at the world of the ‘normal-mad’ (that’s all of us, struggling to cope with modern 24/7 life) and the ‘mad-mad’ – the one in four of us who’ve experienced a mental-health issue: depression, OCD, eating disorders; the drinkers, the anxious, the shopaholics, the bi-polar, the chronically stressed.
Above all, she delivers the key message that change is ubiquitous and inevitable, so we need to embrace it or otherwise suffer pain in a vain attempt to keep our lives predictable. Looking at the changes Wax has embraced in her own life, from psychology major at Berkeley to Royal Shakespeare Company actor, from media darling and Ab Fab script editor to respected mental health advocate, this is a woman who lives as she speaks, and that authenticity pours off every page.