Over the past few years, comedian Ruby Wax has become increasingly well known as a mental health campaigner and a celebrity face of depression awareness after she was hospitalised with what she has called ‘the tsunami of all depression’ in 2007.
This spawned a show – Live from the Priory – which Ruby wrote with her friend Judith Owen, which they first performed in private at NHS mental health institutions before taking it on the road.
Since then, Ruby has gained a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, written books on the subject and spoken candidly in interviews and blog posts.
She cites the pressures of everyday life as why many of us feel frazzled, which is the name of one of her books and a nod to the charity she founded in 2017, Frazzled Cafe.
‘We live in a time where a life crammed to the hilt is considered a success story, but so many of us are struggling with the pressure and afraid to admit it,’ Ruby, 67, reveals.
Our feelings of stress can be linked to social media, but Ruby has learned to how to balance this, through mindfulness. ‘I only use social media when I need it, then I switch it off, but that’s something that you need to train your brain to do now,’ she explains. ‘It’s addictive and I am addicted to it. I watch Netflix until late at night, but if you practise something like mindfulness or cognitive therapy, there will be a little buzzer in your mind that acts as a warning. I have that when I have depression coming on – a warning that says “enough already.”’
Given her busy life of book tours, talks and shows, it’s easy to see how Ruby could slip back into feeling ‘frazzled’ – and she does still have her moments. ‘I’m terrible for almost missing flights’, she laughs, ‘I have a little addiction to adrenaline so I sometimes make myself really busy before a flight, which is counter-intuitive to what I am trying to do. It’s a little bit of a leftover from an obsession. But thanks to mindfulness and therapy, I’ll know now when my brain is too filled and I need to slow down from that adrenaline rush.’
These techniques of mindfulness and meditation are the tools that Ruby calls on when the time comes to step on stage. ‘Before I do a show, I sit and meditate to calm myself down. If I didn’t have time for this, I’d just blow. There can be too many distractions. I can zoom in when I need to, but first, I need to go out and calm down.’
It is because of Ruby’s own struggles with depression and her willingness to open up that led to her founding Frazzled Cafe. These nationwide group meetings encourage people to come together to share personal experiences in a secure and anonymous environment. The idea for it grew from Ruby’s sell-out shows and book tours. As part of these, Ruby met thousands of people who wanted to talk and feel connected, and she sensed a need for a place where people could meet for peer-to-peer support to help cope with the overwhelming stresses of modern life.
‘Some attendees say that the meetings are a lifeline because it’s not therapy,’ explains Ruby. ‘I am emulating AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] a little bit without the 12 steps. Everyone has a chance to talk about what is going on in their lives.’
‘And feeling heard, to me, has always been half the cure,’ she finishes.