Thursday, 12 November 2015

Remembering my Sanity: Sane New World


I rarely read non-fiction, and I'm not a huge fan of a self-help book. This was both, and I thought it was pretty cool.  

Mental health has received significant attention in the media in the last year - and mostly in a positive way, recognising its important and encouraging people to talk about it, not around it. Since 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some point over any given year, it's about time we started taking it seriously, naturalising it, and dragging it out of its awkward, marginalised state. I do believe it's hard to truly grasp mental health troubles until you've experienced them: until you've genuinely been terrified to leave the house, you can't imagine it...or until getting out of bed feels like a major struggle, you don't really understand. So given her long, and very public, history of depression, I think Ruby Wax was particularly well positioned to write this book - and her honesty and empathy is something that really shone through. 

What I liked most about this book is that it wasn't gloomy or bleak, it was actually very funny. Ruby Wax doesn't wallow in self-pity, and this isn't a book about all her problems. She's extremely aware that, when suffering with your mental health, it can be extremely difficult to understand or even notice other people's struggles...not unless you can directly relate them to your own. And that's not always helpful. The book begin by asking the reader what's wrong with us? - it doesn't launch straight into classifications of depression, anxiety and OCD, but remains focused on the problems we ALL face: our day-to-day worries, the times we feel like we're not in control, and the feeling that everyone is doing better than we are. Then, we delve into the problems of, what Ruby Wax terms, the Mad-Mad: the 'recognised' mental health issues. This section is filled with anecdotes, suggestions and science. It's not about assigning labels or stereotypes, but understanding that plenty of other people experience the same feelings and the science causing it. 

I hate science. That's a lie. I don't, it's really cool. But I really struggle to understand science. Yet Ruby Wax takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the brain, genes, hormones, drugs and it all made perfect sense. I could absolutely understand why, if suffering from mental illness, taking time to understand the science behind it, as Ruby Wax did, could be a very therapeutic, productive and rational way to go about dealing with it. Clearly it's not as easy as I'm making it sound: understanding your hormones doesn't mean you can switch them on and off, but perceiving your emotions as a chemical mess rather than a personal failure may offer some solace. 

It doesn't end there. The final chapters of the book focus on mindfulness: taming your mind, and alternative suggestions for peace of mind. This ranges from a plethora of exercises, which primarily ask you to stop and focus on something (usually something very simple like you're breathing, what's going on around you) - to recognised programmes such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The book does not promise to solve all your woes and worries, but it does offer you the opportunity to think about them in a different way and suggests some solutions (which don't involve being patronised by your GP) to try and help yourself. 

It was amusing, sincere and insightful: a totally new way to approach and discuss mental health. I think it's a book everyone should read - to understand, if not to help. In the wise words of Ruby Wax...

THOUGHTS ARE NOT YOUR MASTER, THEY ARE YOUR SERVANT

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