Towards the end of last year me and my parents looked through the programmes for both Derby and Nottingham in regards to what evenings out we could share and enjoy together. We picked several different nights out, the first of these was Newcastle upon Tyne’s long haired surrealist comedian Ross Noble in mid January. We had seen him do another show a few years back and fully enjoyed his improvisational sense of humour both that previous occasion and on his appearances on television. The second was an interview conducted by former BBC presenter and reporter Chris Serle on locally born (Buxton) actor and comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor. Our final choice for the first half of the calendar year was by purchasing two tickets to see Ruby Wax on her latest tour called Frazzled.

Ruby came to fame largely during my childhood of the 1990s as a sharp comedienne who could interview. She starred in two different shows she made for television; “The Full Wax” and “Ruby Wax meets…” she also helped edit the scripts for Jennifer Saunders’ comedy “Absolutely Fabulous” along with appearing two of the episodes. Despite being born in the state of Illinois in the United States of America, her ancestry is from Jewish Austrians who fled as the growing Nazi regime. After studying psychology at university, she came to the United Kingdom and trained and performed at the Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama and got involved in straight acting alongside Alan Rickman before moving onto the Royal Shakespeare Company where she would star opposite Juliet Stevenson and Michael Hordern.

Her break in comedy began in the mid 1980s landing a few one off cameos where she met her husband Ed Bye who was directing science fiction show Red Dwarf in which Wax herself got a brief role in the series three episode called “Timeslides”. In the early 2000s she wrote a memoir which had massive success according to The Times’ Best Sellers list. She has also starred in many charity television specials include The Apprentice and Masterchef.

Seven years ago, she opened up about her battle with depression in a stand up show which prompted Ruby to help set up the SANE charity which works in improving the quality of life for those affected by mental health issues and their loved ones be that friends and family. Determined to continue her philanthropy for mental health, she decided to do a Masters degree in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy from the Kellogg College of Oxford University and wrote her first book on the subject called “Sane New World”. Her work in 2015 was recognised by the awarding of an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). Despite Ruby’s struggles with her own mental health, she managed to write her second book on the topic called “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” which was published in early 2016 and off the success of that produced the one woman show that I attended.

She split the evening into two halves similarly to the way I’ve approached this post, the first half of the evening she decided to answer questions that had been pre-selected from those she had received previously, the second after an interval she opened the floor to the audience allowing them to ask further questions. She is a very insightful and quick thinker and has a real aura of whimsicality to address what is still seen as a taboo topic to discuss and made the audience feel very engaged and enlightened by her way of handling the challenges that mental health can create. I did not ask any questions personally but I found the evening a real intriguing and enjoyed hearing what Ruby had to say about how she came to feel that the method of Mindfulness has lessened her dark chapters of stress and anxiety which developed into her depression.

This week (Monday 8 May to Sunday 14 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, so going to see Ruby’s show ahead of this important campaign which hopefully encourages those who have difficulties overcoming any of the many mental health disorders which can affect both adults and children at any time of life, to speak up and try and make sure they receive the right levels of compassion and support in order to fulfill their life’s opportunities.
As mentioned above Ruby Wax has gained a MSc (Master of Science) degree in Mindfulness; this is seen as one of the ways those suffering from stress and anxiety and therefore mental health difficulties can combat the challenges they face. In a nutshell, Mindfulness is the ability to focus our awareness on the current moment (the present) and manage attention, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is thought that our attention spans are as low as only lasting 8 seconds, before we are distracted from our thought or task. During the evening at Derby Theatre, Ruby got the audience to practice Mindfulness twice in the opening half of her show asking her viewership to follow basically these steps:
  1. Find a time and place: it is a very portable practice that you can do anywhere and at any time, but getting into a routine will help you stick with it. It is best to be somewhere you can sit comfortably and without distraction.
  2. Become aware of your breathing: breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This slows down your heart rate, putting you in a relaxed state. Concentrating on each breath – how it sounds and how it feels. The idea is to centralise yourself entirely on your breathing.
  3. Become aware of your body: noticing how your body feels with each breath. Mentally scan your body from your feet to your head, moving up a stage with each breath. The idea is that you focus entirely on how each area feels.
  4. Become aware of your mind: letting each thought pass you by. Imagine thoughts as something independent from yourself, passing one-by-one in front you. Is a thought necessary right now? Then it can stay. Is that thought about something outside of your control? Then it can pass you and depart.
  5. Become aware of your surroundings: slowly easing yourself back into your present environment. Go through the five key senses: taste, smell, touch, sound, sight. What are you aware of with each sense? As you move through each sense, you can appreciate your present situation. Take time to do each of these steps.
Certainly since my early teenage years, I have always been interested in psychology and the way the mind works as a cognitive element. On a personal level I suffer from mild dyspraxia and traits of being on the Asperger’s syndrome scale (both I hope to discuss further in more detailed upcoming blog posts) and spending time with many different people who have had their own difficulties has continued to develop this interest of understanding of how we all knit together as a community and hopefully thrive in making each other feel respected and positive.
I enjoy making time for those who really need another there for them and feel rewarded when sharing my thoughts and concerns for them gives them hope and optimism. However there are days also I feel a black cloud above my own head where it feels difficult to motivate myself and the social anxiety which forms part of my autistic traits increases, I am also aware my sleep pattern gets to a state where I am feeling fatigued and restless. I would say on average the feeling lasts anywhere between one to four days every month, however when this will affect me is quite spontaneous and probably more noticeable when I have overthought about the stress I have been unable to tackle properly or I am feeling exhausted and feel unable to change my surroundings. I have not been to my GP (general practitioner) about these as it appears from nowhere and then ghostly makes an exit once it feels it is time to what seems normal for me.
My methods of dealing with my own tough going days are to do the following:
  1. Talk to friends (even though I may not physically see them as often as the heart desires, I tend to send a text message or use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to keep in contact) – I know there are times when I may have pushed people back, in which I apologise for but I will always appreciate a friend being there for me.
  2. Keeping active – I do a lot of walking to and from work and sometimes go for a walk with my dad in the evenings just to dust a few lingering cobwebs; doing this is far better than just crawling away in my bedroom which unfortunately is my average routine. Also from Spring through to Autumn I like to get outdoors and go for a day trip somewhere, many I hope to share on this blog.
  3. Eat better – I try and keep a balanced diet where possible, of course I find it difficult and have a sweet tooth but I try and not comfort eat as much as I have done previously. I would also say drink sensibly but as I am teetotal, and drink mostly water with the occasional fruit juice or J2O (fruit puree drink) then that is exempt from my balance.
  4. Taking a break from the norms – As I mentioned in number two; I spend a good amount of my free time by myself physically which probably isn’t exactly healthy, but in that I try and vary the things I may do, so instead of just look at my laptop or mobile phone’s screens all night, I may listen to music, watch a DVD boxset or a movie ideally comedy to relax the tensions or I may put an audiobook or radio comedy sitcom on and try and get a settled sleep .Both of books the books I mentioned above by Ruby are available to buy at Waterstones as well as Amazon and Book Depository and I also have them on my iPod as audiobooks which I downloaded via my Audible subscription and I’d recommend them to anyone who feels their mental health needs supporting.
  5. Care for others – One of my main ways of making me feel better and displacing my own difficulties is listening and reflecting upon what people who matter to me have to say about their own predicaments and hopefully easing them through it. I find it easier to take on other people’s weight than my own as it means that they trust me and feel I have value to them.
  6. Blogging and Social Media – Being able to construct these posts and share my thoughts to an audience away from social media and in my own corner of the world wide web makes me feel I’m able to let out my emotions and feelings and I do hope that what I say on these posts gives a good indication of my thought proceesses and reasons I feel positive in life even if I’m struggling now and again.
Mental health seems to be unfortunately looked down upon and has a greater stigma than physiological difficulties, mainly because the signs are not as visible to most however I do feel that it needs a higher priority of looking into alongside social care. There are many ways one can improve their mental health and ways that society can help make things better to prevent further increases in numbers of those suffering. Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual campaign to reduce the feeling of shame towards having a disorder.
Many documentaries have covered mental health over the years with comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist Stephen Fry probably the first on the scene as he discussed his bi-polar depression; however since that program in 2006 there have been many other notable names voicing and fronting special episodes or short series about disorders. Recently impressionist Rory Bremner explored Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for the BBC’s Horizon. As we are still understanding more and more about different mental health aspects, these documentaries are worth watching.
In the last few years, I have also signed several petitions and used my social media – mostly Twitter in supporting both better care and provisions made to those suffering as well as education at all ages to help facilitate a more compassionate society. I also hope one day to challenge myself to do a large scale charity fundraising event which most of the money I raise goes to support the charities which aim to improve the chances of helping. So I would encourage anyone to consider donating whatever they can to these worthy charities designed to be reachable for those suffering or others who are affected by ill mental health these can include:

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week – the Mental Health Foundation have produced a quick survey to gauge how people are on the good mental health scale, this can be filled in at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/good-mental-health-survey. They also have a range of useful publications available in various formats such as “How to look after your mental health” and “Food for thought: Mental health and nutrition briefing”.

 

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