Last Monday evening I went to see Ruby Wax locally as part of her Frazzled Tour and there a few life lessons I was reminded of. If you don’t know who Ruby Wax is you’ve been living under a rock but for everyone that wants a bit of recent background:
For a few years she seemed to disappear out of the limelight and that’s because she went to Oxford University to study as a psychotherapist. Long story short, she got her degree, wrote A Sane New World (absolutely recommend) about what she learnt at Oxford about how the brain works etc and discovered mindfulness. Then she went to mental institutions around the country to perform her talk about mental health and mindfulness and wrote her next book Frazzled about it and decided to share those thoughts and words with us in the Frazzled Tour.
Ironically on the day I went to see her I was feeling pretty shit. Nothing new there, right?! I was exhausted and I almost didn’t go but despite the headache I came home with, I was so wired I crawled into bed, opened the laptop and wrote the following about all the life lessons we could learn from Ruby and her talk:
Mindfulness is not a cure
Now, this was a HUGE lesson for me. It wasn’t a revelation as such because I knew it wasn’t a cure but it felt like a ‘thank fuck for that!’ moment because just as society sees anti-depressants as a cure for mental illness, a lot of society also seem to suggest that mindfulness is a cure for everything. Yes, mindfulness can help but, as Ruby said herself, it doesn’t work for everyone and THAT’S OK! As she quite rightly pointed out, mindfulness can help the generally frazzled but not the genuinely mentally ill. She is a big advocate of consistently taking her anti-depressants and recognises that you can only actively be mindful when you’re not suffocated with your mental illness. Essentially, the meds help when you can’t get out of bed and the mindfulness helps when you’re out of bed but still feel like shit.
Thinking and stress are natural
That may sound like a very obvious point to make but we’re supposed to think about life. We’re supposed to worry if we’ve upset someone. Or if we’re doing our jobs well. We become frazzled when we start thinking about thinking. We worry we’re worrying too much. We’re stressed because we think we’re already too stressed. Mindfulness is there to try and help that second stage of over-thinking. Likewise, stress is a natural and necessary emotion. Whilst the stress of our caveman days is entirely different to the stress we now face, it essentially does the same job. The problem is, we haven’t been able to teach our brains to distinguish what is genuinely a threat (and therefore stressful) and what isn’t. We seem to wear our stress levels like a medal in a competition. “Oh, I know you’re stressed but you’re not as stressed as I am!” Bullshit.
Technology isn’t the problem; we are
Following on from the above point, one of the first things we question as a society when we talk about stress is whether or not technology is/has a detrimental effect i.e. if we’re never off our phones or never out of contact, isn’t that adding to our stress levels? As Ruby points out; no. Technology and its abundance isn’t the issue; the problem is that we haven’t learned how to switch off. Technology is incredible! We carry the Universe and its knowledge in our pockets but it’s the notifications and benign social media that causes us anxiety and stress. When I spent 4 days in Kruger National Park in South Africa earlier this year I had neither phone signal nor wifi and it was the digital detox I didn’t realise I needed. There were no echo chambers of ‘news’ to read or stupid cat videos to waste my time with. Just nature and falling asleep to hippos grunting and lions roaring as the stars shined like diamonds in the sky; that right there is/was mindfulness.
Time is the greatest gift we can give
If you’ve been reading my site for a while you’ll know that I am a monumental advocate for making the effort with each other and that time is the greatest asset we can give and it was great to have Ruby reaffirm the importance of this! We all claim to be too busy in todays’ society, in part due to our obsession with technology and stress, which means that we are creeping further away from human connections when we should be doing the opposite. Russell Brand who has turned from an addict into a great life philosopher, recently argued (I think, correctly) that all our addictions and self-destructive behaviour in life stem from the same core; the want and lack of ability to spiritually and humanely connect with each other on a deep level. That means that when you freely offer your time to another, without condition, you are giving them the greatest gift we can posses. You can watch his interview here:
Find your tribe
I haven’t written a specific article about this year but I absolutely agree with her on this point and it’s one of the first questions I ask when people tell me they’re struggling; who is supporting them? Let me first write a disclaimer; it’s not easy to find your tribe. As a kid you just walk up to another kid in the playground, lick each other’s face and you’re best friends. As adults, it feels like we need a CV, post-grad degree and 10 years of previous experience before we even work up the courage to say “hello” never mind be vulnerable in front of each other. But here’s the thing; you can’t find your tribe if you’re not willing to bare your soul to begin with. The reason I have so many soul friends in my life who support, encourage and cheer me on is because I have attracted them and I’ve done that by allowing them to see my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It’s hard but it is absolutely worth it. I found the courage to walk away from shitty friends and instead, find a tribe of people who continue to try and lift me up even on days I feel I am weighed down with anchors.
Self care isn’t selfish
In Ruby’s own words:
You have to fix yourself before you save the world
Now, I’ll admit, I struggle with this one. I’ve lived with mental illness for 18 years already so I don’t think I can ever be fixed now but I understand where she’s coming from. We can’t look after others if we’re burnt out ourselves. That it’s ok if we need to cancel some social invites at times and hide in our rooms. Or that we need to make decisions that might be confusing to others because we hope it will help us. Self-care isn’t an excuse to be an asshole. It doesn’t mean that you never have to buy other people gifts or that you can’t show kindness; self-care just means that we’re aware enough to know what is both good and bad for our minds and to attempt to navigate and adjust our lives accordingly.
Ruby made a lot of good points on that windy, Autumnal Monday night none more important than we just need to calm ourselves down, take comfort from our friends and know that if we can’t face the world today, our bed is a good place to hide until we feel ready.
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