I recently went to a show in Byron with Ruby Wax – the New York comedian who lives in London. She was talking about her new book ‘Sane New World’ – an account of her experiences of being born into a dysfunctional family, being diagnosed with depression after the birth of her third child, having lived with it for most of her life, and how she learned to deal with it. She said she dealt with it by allowing herself to be diagnosed and then trying to understand it – she has just completed a course at Oxford University where she studied neural plasticity – how the brain works and suggests we can rewire it to help us function in a better way – it’s apparently not all in our DNA .
She prefaced her talk, in the usual way, by having a dig at the Byron Bay audience – (apparently we are all hippy-trippy, crystal gazing, new agers – amongst other things). She then proceeded to talk about how she turned her life around by learning about mindfulness – being in the moment and about how we should: realize that the acquisition of wealth and ‘stuff’ won’t give us peace and contentment, stop and actually listen to our children, not try to do twenty things at once and be aware of the here and now etc. etc. It seemed to me that most of the audience were thinking the same as me “No wonder you’re depressed if you’ve only just worked that out” Why did she think we have chosen to be HERE rather than THERE?
We all have difficult times in our life and there is not always a hand reaching out to stop us stumbling or pick us up when we fall, so we really have to learn ways of helping ourselves – for me that’s engaging with nature, being active (having a swim!) and finding the pleasure in small things, because sometimes I could easily just pull the covers over my head and try to blot out the difficult bits. It’s at times like that I go back to Seneca – the Roman philosopher who lived over 2,000 years ago during the reign of Nero, who ended up forcing Seneca to take his own life when he fell out of favour (and we think our leaders can be self-serving, greedy nincompoops!).
I really got to know about Seneca from the marvelous series ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’, by modern-day philosopher Alain de Botton. Seneca’s main message is that we are in charge of our own happiness and if the way we are running our life is making us unhappy – then change it. Be brave – it will make you more resilient.
JUST A LITTLE STORY: When I was growing up my mother was constantly on the latest fad diet – grapefruit, Pritikin, Weight Watchers, liquid dinners in a can, pills etc. etc. The garage was also full of discarded ‘diet aids’ – a belted fat wobbler that you strapped around you, turned on and then fell in a heap of laughter (that burnt up a few calories – the fat wobbler did nothing!), special mats and rolling ‘things’ for doing stomach crunches, a medicine ball that nearly knocked her teeth out and the piece de la resistance ‘the scuba suit’ – as my father dubbed it. This was a flesh-coloured, rubber corset with little holes all over it that my brother and I had to help her get zipped into – don’t ask!. This was supposed to make her sweat, while running around the house with the vacuum cleaner, and bingo the pounds would drop off. Of course, she didn’t loose an ounce. The unzipping of this corset of torture was at least fun to watch – she looked like she was in the final stages of some fatal disease; bright pink and sweaty with little pimples all over her where her flesh had been forced through the rubber holes!
Mum thought there there was a magic answer to all of this. What she didn’t want to do was CHANGE – eat less and exercise.