Brave New Ruby and the evolutionary glitch

Amelia Saw

“I’ll tell you why I’m here,” says Ruby Wax.

One day, I walked down to the Underground and there was a big poster with my face on it. And underneath my face it read ‘this woman has mental illness’. So I tried to cover it with my body so that no one would see … then I walked further down the Underground and there was another one.”

Having been institutionalised with depression several times, Ruby realised she could no longer hide her mental illness.

Her one-woman show, Ruby Wax: Sane New World, was born.

Armed with a Masters in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University, Ruby uses her show to explain how to calm the thoughts causing our anxiety and depression.

One in four people are mentally ill,” Ruby explains. She points to members of the audience and counts, “one, two, three…four! It’s you, sir,” she says as the auditorium erupts in laughter.

Putting on a white lab coat, Ruby sets about explaining why so many people experience mental illness.

Ruby Wax: the art of concentrating on one sense.

Ruby Wax: the art of concentrating on one sense.

The brain, she says, is an incredibly complex piece of equipment and functioned very efficiently in ancient times. Facing a predator, humans’ bodies pumped out adrenalin and cortisol and a snap decision to kill or be killed was made. Once the immediate danger was over, adrenalin and cortisol levels returned to normal.

In the 21st century however, we apply the same ‘fight or flight’ scenario to contemporary problems. “So it becomes, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t send that email. Oh my god, my thighs are too fat’. And with no saber-toothed tiger to kill, we’re living in a constant state of alarm,” Ruby says.

But we can learn to regulate our thoughts. “The brain is like a muscle and you can train it. We’ll always have the voices, it’s a glitch in evolution, but you can learn to control those voices.” Instead of being driven by thoughts, you can just “watch them come and go, like sitting in a movie theatre and watching everything play out,” suggests Ruby.

She says Mindfulness is based on the premise that by focusing on one sense, you can regulate your heart rate. “For the next 30 seconds,” she says, “we’re going to sit here and just concentrate on listening.”

At the end of the show, Ruby invites questions. One man asks the best way to care for his bipolar friend. “I can’t give you the answers,” she says. “The best advice I can give you is to try and find other people who are dealing with a similar experience and talk and share stories with them.”

There’s a huge relief in finding people who are going through what you’re going through.”

Never tell her to ‘perk up’,” she says and walks offstage.