Edinburgh Book Festival: Ruby Wax, "Stand up to Stress", Review

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Ruby Wax and Gavin Francis
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Ruby Wax came into the auditorium to resounding applause and clearly revelled in the very supportive welcome that she received. She was introduced by Gavin Francis as an American actress, a mental health campaigner, author and a lecturer on mental health issues. She has a degree in psychology and then took a master's degree in mindfulness from Oxford University which was based on cognitive therapy. Ruby Wax said that she had branched out into writing as she was fed up with reading bad reviews of herself!

She described her situation as being able to visualise all the news, she said that she did not need to sit and watch as it would all be in her mind! This was fine, but she just had to know if the woman in the house two away was having sex with the man next door - this was essential knowledge; however, how the woman four doors down was behaving was nothing to do with her!

When persuaded to give a reading from her new book "A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled", Wax introduced it saying that the whole of the book had been based on the television series "Breaking Bad" and that one could see the parallels if one looked!

She talked about knowing that she had an illness when she found herself sitting in a chair and being unable to get up. Also situations where she was unable to sleep and spent the night making muffins for her family. She said that when things got really bad she would resort to medicines and this was often cortisone. She found that alcohol did not work. What she had established as effective was to focus the mind and really concentrate.

Wax then took the theatre audience through an exercise which she used to focus herself and this, she said, really helped to relax her. She warned people not to do more than one minute a day. She talked about exercising control and being able to exert a degree of self control. To see a traffic warden generally gets people going and produces adrenalin. She asked the 'normal' questions, "Do you drink too much?" and also perhaps, "What is your favourite colour?" Some weeks she would in her frustration day the word "sh**" and sometimes she would get herself down to saying only two "sh***s" when showing her frustration! She said that the person she admired most for her relaxation when being interviewed was Pamela Anderson.

Ruby Wax illustrated the frustration that she feels from time to time by telling us that when she was meant to be watching an extremely rare, total eclipse of the sun she was, instead, ringing The White Company because they had sent single duvets instead of double ones!

At this stage the debate was opened to questions.

Wax, asked if she found that shared love and compassion helped, said that it was something of a ripple effect and the family certainly did help her.

Someone, who had listened to Susan Calman yesterday, asked if Wax was a different person when off-stage? To this Wax replied that she felt that she had to be authentic and this applied throughout he life. For instance, if she was at dinner and sitting between a rock star and a medical professor, she would try to impress the medical man rather than the rock star!

One question - which was more of a request - was that mindfulness should be taught as a subject in primary schools as it would be a great help to children. Wax said that she would be very happy for this to happen but this would need another curriculum change which the authorities might not support.

This was another fascinating and witty session from Ruby Wax and she had the audience spellbound throughout.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled(January, 2016) by Ruby Wax is published by Penguin Life.