Ruby Wax’s ‘Sane New World’

I didn’t know much about Sane New World before I read it. I had heard of Ruby Wax before. I had seen her TED talk and knew that she was a comedienne-come-mental-illness-advocate and that she was affected by mental illness herself. From her book, I learned that she also holds a master’s degree in mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) from Oxford University. So the book I thought was primarily autobiography was in fact a delightful blend of memoir and self-help book. Now, I know the self-help genre attracts a certain stigma. But in fact this is a piece of non-fiction covering neuroscience, psychopathology and various psychological therapies – but in the words of a comedian and sufferer of depression and anxiety.

Sane New World, on a trademark Melbourne tram where I did the bulk of my reading.
Sane New World, on a trademark Melbourne tram seat where I did the bulk of my reading and tried not to disturb other commuters with my laughter.

I must say, I found this book – though written in Ruby’s trademark, frantic, unpredictable style – strangely comforting. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression myself, hearing someone describe the unfounded, uncontrollable panic; irrational compulsions and obsessive, disjointed thought patterns that can accompany it hit a nerve. But somehow, she made this funny. I laughed aloud, both at her hilarious way with words and at just how perfectly it described those less-sane moments that sometimes roll around – more regularly for some of us than others. As cliche as it may sound, it is very true that often just knowing someone else feels the same way you do can make an enormous difference to how you feel about your own experience. So that’s why I found this book comforting. I appreciated her irreverence. Who else but someone truly fearless could write the phrase:

Gandhi said, ‘There is more to life than speed’. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell us what, he just left us hanging while he pranced around in his nappy.

To me, Sane New World said “Yeah, you feel like crap sometimes. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it and sometimes you’ll feel frustrated and mad that it’s even happening. Your experience is unique, but you’re not the only one to feel out of whack on occasion. But you can handle it. You’re okay, kid.” As Ruby herself said;

You are your own cookbook. How you work your brain determines if you’re going to become filet mignon or an old kebab.


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