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Sane New World by Ruby Wax

Not so long ago, we saw Ruby Wax running around on TV, hilariously trying to wheedle celebrities to dish the dirt. All the while, behind the curtain, the comedienne was battling with on-again off-again bouts of depression. Her first-hand experiences with the disease have led Wax to become a poster girl for mental illness, and Sane New World is the latest component in her campaign.

Wax refers to Sane New World as the manual that we don’t have – on running ourselves, and on how to make our time on earth more joyful. She shares her deeply personal ride through mental illness as she discusses the things that drive us crazy, how our emotions work, what happens when depression strikes, and how to tame the mind.

The way of the world we live in is at the very core of our unhappiness: always wanting more, never standing still, and the perpetual search for happiness or a happiness “fix.” Wax looks into the causes of depression and the primitive emotions that drive them. Using diagrams and easy to follow explanations, she describes the brains anatomy, and how its hormones and neurons function. Finally, readers are offered suggestions for alternative practices that will help them to become masters of their own mind. In particular, Wax offers mindfulness as the remedy for “broken brains”, mindfulness being a way of “taming the mind” by looking inwards and learning how to self-regulate thoughts and emotions.

Don’t panic! Sane New World is not just another self-help book (Wax, through her own experience, knows their lack of value). Wax is incredibly enthusiastic about her subject. So much so, that her solution to helping herself was to do a Masters in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford. She uses her trademark wit to tackle some very serious issues that is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, and at other times exhausting. When Wax steps away from the puns and the comedy routine, however, she offers some refreshingly clear and insightful explanations into the brain and human emotions. I particularly appreciate that she uses scientific evidence to support her theories on the brain and its behaviour.

One thing that, for me, wasn’t so great about Sane New World was the section on mindfulness. I’ll explain. I’ve read a lot on the practice of mindfulness, including Full Catastrophe Living, the original “manual” by the therapy’s designer, Jon Kabat-Zinn. So, personally, I didn’t feel that this book offered me any new insights into this subject. That said, if mindfulness is a new concept for you, Wax gives a succinct and practical introduction to it. Also, I found some of Wax’s honesty to be a little too honest – a little too much information. However, she allows readers a truthful sneak peak into the mind of someone dealing with the “black dog”, which is a good thing at this time in the disease’s lifespan. Plus, considering Wax offers guidance about facing oneself honestly, there is the sense of her setting the good example by being unashamedly honest with her audience.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of a nagging, belittling, or abusive voice in your head, you might find it refreshing to read that you’re not alone. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you will appreciate the insight into what happens when things do fall apart. Wax dedicates Sane New World “to my mind, which at one point left town.” The World Health organisation predicts that “by 2030, more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.” This book, then, should really be dedicated to (and read by) the minds of everyone suffering the pressures of today’s world.


Sane New World, by Ruby Wax, is published by Hachette. RRP is $39.99.


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