COMEDIAN Ruby Wax’s television persona was loud, brash and over-the-top. A regular on our television screens, she interviewed and socialised with the rich, famous and the British royal family. However behind the scenes, Ruby battled with severe depression.
After spending a fortune on shrinks and attending clinics, five years ago she began to research how the brain works and discovered mindfulness, an ancient meditation practice, which “tames and calms’’ the mind. It has changed her life.
“Luckily, due to practising mindfulness, I have an early warning system. It can’t eliminate depression but I can hear the alarms before it eats me alive,’’ she says when we meet in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin.
For Ruby, her warning signs are insomnia, only sleeping for two hours at a time, and then waking up with “dread — heavy like a weight on my chest.’’
Although she has suffered from depression since childhood, she was officially diagnosed following the birth of her third child in 1994.
“I thought I was suffering from glandular fever. I couldn’t lift my arms. I was so weak. I couldn’t get up,’’ she recalls.
“It is just like hitting a brick wall, really slowly. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for days.’’ Ruby acknowledges how hard it must have been on her family. She is married to the TV producer, Ed Bye, and they have three grown-up children.
“They love me. Being diagnosed with depression doesn’t mean they are going to run away. I have never got so low that I have had suicidal thoughts, I was pleased when I was diagnosed because then I could be medicated and get back to being me. They were happy too,’’ she explains.
“Now with the mindfulness, my husband feels better, he is not so worried or nervous that I might have another bout tomorrow.’’
Ruby can find some humour in her behaviour during these bouts of depression. She recalls the time that she became obsessed by blue and white striped cushion covers, spending six hours on her computer tracking them down in shops across the world, and a further four hours to work out how to use her credit card.
Ruby has just written a book Sane New World; Taming the Mind which she describes as a manual to help “everybody’’ learn how our brains function and how to retrain the mind.
“It took about a year and half to write. I found it very hard, especially the neuroscience as I had to get it right,” she says.
Ruby admits re-training your brain is not easy and mindfulness is not for everyone. One of her closest friends, who also suffers from depression, found it did not suit her at all. A mindfulness course lasts eight weeks and requires total commitment.
“Brains develop all the time. But you have to use it or you will lose it. I would advise older people to find something they are curious about and then study it. Also, to do something social.”
Ruby, 60, says she feels happier as ” I am steady’’ but she hates the ageing process and admits in the past to being “haunted continuously’’ by thoughts of her death.
“In my head I am still 21, but there is nothing I can do about it, we all get older,” she says.
Sane New World – Taming the World by Ruby Wax, published Hodder and Stoughton.