Ruby Wax is famed for her chutzpah, her down and dirty approach to life in general, and, to mental health issues specifically. When I heard a few weeks ago that Frazzled, (her fabled one woman show based on the book of the same name) was sold out in Dublin, I managed to pull some strings, namely, beg my Goddaughter who works in the O’Reilly Theatre, to get me a ticket…
But before the show, a bit of background. Ruby has, it is safe to say, been around the block. and not always, I would say, on the shiny side of town. Resisting the urge to Google and just go instead with my gut impressions, which are usually (with some colourful exceptions), fairly reliable, I’d sum her up thus: A comedienne, TV writer and bona fide force of nature, she has recently, as a result of her battles (ongoing but controlled) with depression, become something of a poster girl for mental health. She is a qualified therapist, following her graduation with a Masters in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford, and has a fascination with “the brain stuff” - how it works, how it so often trips us up, how aimlessly we humans seem to stagger through our lives, unaware of the power of our minds and how we can control those minds if we get our shit together and put in the work.
And so, in her fabulous, full-on, in-your-face style, Ms Wax has produced possibly the most entertaining – and practical - book on mindfulness you are likely to ever read. One of the things I love about her is the extravagant use of expletives – and A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, doesn’t disappoint - when talking about this sort of stuff, the f word is quite invaluable.
The bottom line
Frazzled, then, is really the show of the book. Alone onstage, armed only with an armchair and a slash of fabulous lipstick, Ms Wax holds a 90 minute Q and A session with herself that was frank and funny, but also intense and unflinching.
So to the bottom line…
- Why are we so bloody hard on ourselves? Let’s have some more compassion with our (and other people’s) humanity and the world becomes immediately a kinder and less terrifying place.
- Drop the Bullshit, follow your instincts and be your best and kindest self.
Wax challenges how in this modern, competitive, online world, we can all spend so much time on getting our bodies into their best possible shape (well, on a good day) but yet we remain largely ignorant of our mental fitness. We have busy, chattering, self-critical thoughts that drive us to anxiety and stress.
We are wired to be on alert for trouble (an evolutionary hangover from a time when that was what protected us from large predators with sharp teeth!.) But it's a wiring that is largely redundant in contemporary life.
Yet we worry all the time… half of us, which puts it on an epidemic level. What if? How often do we wake up and lie there catastrophising, anticipating what shit might hit the fan today? How often do we worry ourselves into a state of complete madness about stuff that hasn't even happened yet. and probably won’t…
If we are to break the cycle, we need to understand how our brains work, rewire our thinking and find calm in a frenetic world.
We can either decide to be at the mercy of our “monkey mind” or be master of it, realize what its up to, and decide that we can actually change the way it works.
That’s kind of amazing – and for that reason, I’d suggest you all run out and buy a copy of the book – in fact buy a dozen for your frazzled friends. I bought it on the way out of the theatre and the following day I called my pal Liz Meldon in the Rathgar Bookshop (itself an oasis of mindfulness and something of a home for the bewildered) and ordered 15 copies which I am handing out like smarties to Frazzled and unfrazzled alike.
Most of our negative thoughts, if we really think about it (HA) are usually based on past stuff or future stuff….. Why didn't I ? How could he? What if they? What will I do if?…. and so on. Being in the moment is the trick and we can make this our default state with a bit of effort.
Here’s my takeaway thoughts from Frazzled
- Do stuff you love and give yourself to it fully and without distraction. (Within reason, there'll always be a dinner to be made, or a sink to be unblocked or a teenager to keep on the rails - be gentle with yourself)
- For me the stuff that works the best for achieving this are swimming in very cold sea (you're too busy being mindful not to die of hypothermia that you park all the crap that is driving you mad and by the time you've dried off, and realize that you re tingling right to your core, that you've forgotten what it was that was driving you mad anyway…..) .
- Drawing does it as well, or walking in the bluebells and reminding yourself how lucky we are to be here, alive and breathing in a world that is beautiful and precious……
And a last word:
There are things in life that you can lose yourself in and find yourself at the same time. Find them. Give them a lot of time and, as much as possible, jettison the people and the things that do your head in……
About Caroline Canning:
I think of myself as a nearly full time painter. it's only nearly because there are always other and fascinating things to do. The best painters I know focus fully on their art. I tried that and for me, it didn’t work, so I would say painting is my prime occupation and the rest of my world is filled with the following. The non monetary side of my art which is keeping a notebook of daily drawings - sometimes several a day. This has become an addiction and it actually feeds the main work as often little drawings grow into big ones.
I also spend a great deal of time in my work (voluntary) as the gallery director and curator of the Ranelagh Arts Centre. This I love - painting is a solitary and often lonely business and this is very busy, social and people oriented. My aim is to get the Ranelagh Arts Centre on the map as one of the best places in Dublin to exhibit and buy good, reasonably priced work. We're getting there. I find it impossible to draw a line between life and work and I am very lucky in this. I love everything that I do and it gives me the time to do all the other things that give my life value and texture - swimming in the sea (I’m working on a series of sea paintings so this can be considered work) spending time with my friends who are many and magnificent and for whom I am daily grateful.
If someone asked me what I really love doing I'd say, apart from the art stuff, “putting people and ideas together and making things happen” . I probably take on more things than I should because I’m interested in lots of things…...
Im 53 and a half and realise every day that this business of life is short and very sweet and it is up to me and only me to grab my life by the balls and do the things Ilove with the people I love as much as I can. My husband died some years ago and I seem to have lost rather a lot of wonderful friends. I feel that death is always very close and that the thought of that makes the business of being alive urgent and golden. This is not morbid at all, quite the contrary. I hate religion. I think it divides people and causes more trouble than it's worth. I understand it is a great comfort for many and I respect that. For me, this moment is all we have. Also another feeling i have strongly is that we never know what shit other people are experiencing in their lives so it is the safest bet to always be as kind as we can - except when we can’t and that's fine too. None of us have a clue what we're really doing and what is really going on. We are all just winging it. Anyone who says otherwise is probably lying.