Sane New World by Ruby Wax

Fascinating and honest look at mental illness and ways to recover, perhaps too technical for the brain foggy
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Image of the cover of the book 'Sane New World' by Ruby Wax

I’ve dealt with depression since my teens, so of course I’m aware of Ruby Wax, not only as a comedian and writer, but as a mental health campaigner. I picked Sane New World up out of interest, to see how her mental health experiences compared to mine and whether she could offer any helpful insights for my health management.

What’s the gist?

From the back of the book:

“Ruby Wax shows us just how our minds can send us mad as our internal critics play on a permanent loop tape. She has been on a tough, but enlightening journey through depression which has taken her from the Priory to now having an MA from Oxford in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy.

“Here she helps us all understand why we sabotage our sanity, how our brains work and how we can rewire our thinking to find calm in a frenetic world.

“Helping you become the master, not the slave, of your mind, here is the manual to saner living.”

What did reviewers say?

The reviews on Amazon are mixed with a heavy leaning towards the positive. Most of the complaints seem to be that it is jumbled, and not ‘happy’, but given the subject matter and the autobiographical nature of this book, I don’t see how it could have been different. I felt very clearly like it was showing what it felt like to live with mental illness. And the author was very honest about what she went through.

Some professional reviewers said:

“Ruby Wax has an extraordinary mind, and she has brought it to bear with trademark wit and searing honesty on the subject of that mind, and the minds of all us. Very few will be able to read this wonderful contribution to the literature of mental health without recognising some part of themselves, and certainly of someone they know. A ruby beyond price. (Stephen Fry)”

“Ruby Wax is at her best in this wonderful book. Its acute observations are both extremely funny and deeply moving. Many people will be grateful for her courage, openness, humour and wisdom. (Mark Williams, author of Mindfulness)”

Finally — a map for the troubled human mind. And it’s funny. (Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman)

What did I think?

This book is part autobiography, part self-help, part science textbook. Which sounds weird, but it really works. I enjoyed it, and found it fascinating the way the author explored the brain and what caused her flare-ups. The book is separated into five sections, each with its own focus, and is full of anecdotes that Ruby uses to punctuate her points. It was fascinating to read about how she fought to find coping mechanisms for herself, and in doing so came to help others do the same.

It was also enlightening: I didn’t know Wax had given up the comedy circuit to become a therapist. I knew she had struggled with her mental health but I hadn’t realised just how much of a fight it had been.

I found some of the coping mechanisms Ruby talks about were new ideas, and some were things I was already familiar with from when I tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy – which I didn’t get on with). I found the coping mechanisms that relied on mindfulness much more my speed than the more CBT styles. That’s one of the things I really loved; the author understands that when it comes to therapy, ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all, and has tried to give plenty of different options, so if one doesn’t work you can try another.

Would I recommend to other spoonies?

Firstly, a content warning: this book deals heavily with mental illness, as you’d expect, and discusses being committed to an institution.

The book is entertaining, but it does get technical in some places, and tends to jump about, so if those are things you struggle with it may be a problem to read. However, I would still recommend it, especially as I found the way it is broken up to be quite helpful in making it easy to read.

Sane New World, 2014, Hodder, is available from Amazon [affiliate link] and other bookshops.

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