I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ruby Wax who has been on her SANE NEW WORLD Tour since autumn 2014. The tour helps us to understand why we sabotage our own sanity and provides a manual on how to survive the 21st century, using Ruby’s knowledge from her recent Masters’ Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University spiked with comedy.

Why we need a ‘manual’…

© Steve Ullathorne
© Steve Ullathorne

Ruby comments: “We are not equipped for this century, it’s too hard, too fast, and too full of fear; we just don’t have the bandwidth. Our brains can’t take so much information in a world where we’re bombarded by bad news and force-fed information. I can just about take in the weather then I’m exhausted. You open a newspaper, everyone’s dead. We’re only supposed to know what our neighbour is up to; if the woman next door to you is having sex with the man next door to her we need to know; but four doors down and it’s none of our business.”

Her down-to-earth and good natured character shone through in this interview.

If you reinvent yourself then people will become interested again. I do it because I think we have to keep interested in stuff, not just to keep the job for the sake for it.

You have maintained a successful career in an industry that is not always kind to women, particularly as women get older. How have you managed to stay focused and passionate for your art?

When my TV career came to a halt after 25 years I didn’t stop my interest in entertaining people I had to reinvent myself.

If you reinvent yourself then people will become interested again. I do it because I think we have to keep interested in stuff, not just to keep the job for the sake for it.

You have to hustle it. It’s your job, nobody’s going to just give you anything, you have to hustle,

Have you always had a great sense of humour or is that something that has developed through your interactions with people and your acting.

I don ‘t think you can fake it. I wasn’t born with looks so I’ve got to have a sense of humour!

The brain is an organ it gets sick, it runs your entire system and I think people have had it backwards for so long,

By Steve Ullathorne
© Steve Ullathorne

You have campaigned passionately on the issue of mental health. What has been the common perception amongst the British population that you have seen?

It’s changing quickly. Now people are studying the mind, and yes of course it is all of seeing that having a mental illness is just as valid as having an organ disease. The brain is an organ it gets sick, it runs your entire system and I think people have had it backwards for so long, focusing more on the body than the mind and brain itself. I think that’s changing due to the evidence in neuroscience which is what my book is about and what my whole show is about.

You have been very open about how you have dealt with depression. How has your talent had an impact on dealing with mental illness?

If you’re ill, you’re ill. You can’t perform when you’re ill. It hasn’t impacted on how I perform because I take the time to deal with it. It doesn’t make it any better or any worse. You just know that you have to stay off stage when you’re ill.

You recently completed a Masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University. If you can please define what being “Mindful” means to you?

I like the Science approach; I’m more of an advocate of that. But for me it means when I’m getting too stressed, or I have too much” red-mist” in my head, I have a cooling system. It doesn’t mean that I keep it down there or allow it to lower my energy it just means that I make room and get a little resting space and then I can work harder and longer. Mindfulness for me is a tool for me to work harder. It allows me to stop if I’m getting too obsessive.

“We know so much about how the world works – but so little about our how our own minds work” – why do you think that people are sometimes afraid to explore the capabilities of their own minds?

I guess they are scared, that if they think about it too much it will disturb their lives rather than enhance their lives. They don’t want to disturb the water. It is too scary to look into but if you do look into it, it has a lot of benefits. It’s a bit like working on your car, it’s really scary at first, when you look at the engine, it can be daunting but once you learn about the car’s engine you realise that it’s not so bad after all. So when your car breaks down unexpectedly, instead of you not knowing what to do, it’s less daunting because now you understand how it all works under the bonnet and this is the same for the human mind. Once you know how it all works, it’s not so scary to looking into it.

Do you think that the rise of social media has played a part in us “sabotaging our own sanity”?

It would be a waste of time to simply discuss or complain about the problems of social media.

We have to learn how to deal with it and how to use it effectively. We have to learn how to live with it because it’s there. I know when to pull away from it. It’s really easy to get addicted to it.

But the point is in knowing when to turn it on and off! You need to know when you need it and how do you turn it on or turn it off.

© Steve Ullathorne
© Steve Ullathorne

What has been your biggest challenge?

Now it has to be about making and maintaining a living in entertainment and getting people into the theatre to watch the show – after working so hard on this I want people to see it.

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

Getting into Oxford!

Also getting into Royal Shakespeare Company.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

I would be at university studying more about cognitive therapy and neuroscience. I didn’t start off smart but when you’re curious your brain works at its maximum.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I don’t know anybody who jumps around like this, the way I do.

But my professor, Mark Williams, who wrote “Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” is an inspiration.

What does the future hold for you?

I have to finish writing the next book which is called “Falling away”,   it’s along the same lines as my first book “Sane New World: Taming the Mind”, the audience wants more like that. There’s an appetite for it and because I can cross over into comedy it makes it easier for people to digest. You can write the heaviest text but if it’s funny most people just get it.

Now you can no longer say that you’re over-ridden by social media or any challenges with life.

You use the hashtag #askruby on twitter to engage with your fans. So let me #askruby…if you could leave our readers with some words of wisdom what would it be?

Learn about Neuroplasticity – your brain can change but you have to train it. Now you can no longer say that you’re over-ridden by social media or any challenges with life.

There is no magic pill there is a lot more ways that we can use our brain to deal with stress and tension rather than just complaining about it.

Interview by Ronke Lawal

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