Thirty years ago, Buzz introduced itself to the world with its first cover star, American comedian and TV fave Ruby Wax. In the spirit of celebration and circularity, we thought we’d do it all over again, and got Carl Marsh to speak to Ruby about the long, strange three decades since…
You were on the cover of our first ever magazine 30 years ago, and – like Buzz! – will have done so much in that period. What are the impressive moments that stand out for you?
My most impressive moment about me? Well, what did I do? I can tell you about my fuckups. Yeah. For every one achievement, there were about maybe 10 fuckups so that I could go from there. In how many years, 30?
OK, well, I fucked up some of my interviews when I was still doing them. You know, I did Donald Trump – that was a fuckup, but not compared to what was going to come next [Trump landed his plane when she started laughing]. And before that, there were hundreds of fuckups, such as auditioning for things – or, when I was on stage with The Royal Shakespeare Company, somebody throwing me a wadded up bit of paper saying, “you’d better think of another career!” And this was when I was acting with the big boys, like Alan Rickman. They would throw lots of bits of paper suggesting other career opportunities while I was playing a nymph! That’s a fuckup and a triumph. It’s a double-header.
Your career has followed a different pathway, including a Masters degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University – and a new book out on that very subject, A Mindfulness Guide For Survival. In it, you say you’re cruel to yourself, a slavedriver – but have you changed what sort of slavedriver you are to your well-being?
I’m a different form; otherwise, I wouldn’t have even studied that stuff. Right now [Ruby is waiting for an Uber], if you want to know why I’m getting in the Uber that is coming, it’s because I’m doing this TV show, and I know if I don’t get in a car and go where there’s nothing, nobody, and just trees, then it just might be a serious attempt to flip out. You know, and my triggers have been hit.
So in the past, I’d be like, “oh come on Ruby, just take another job. Stop being a wanker.” Whereas now, that wanker’s in the background, and now this is just mental problems, and they are for real, and it’s not your imagination. You don’t have to feel guilty because you have them.
So that’s the difference, literally – because, weirdly, it’s that you just caught me now, and it’s suddenly become an emergency to go, or I wouldn’t be in my right mind if I don’t go in that car, in a minute. If you can be forewarned, then that is the best as you will know what is coming. It’s when stuff takes you by surprise, or you know that workaholism is ‘just’ addiction. It could have been a drug, it could have been anything, but I chose this one [work].
What is your daily wellbeing routine now?
It’s so funny you are asking me this at this time as I was just getting myself a pair of shoes to put on, whilst 20 years ago we’d be talking in a mental institution!
Every morning, at some point pretty early, I have to give mindfulness for 40 minutes – that’s just me. That’s not what other people require, but it’s just that I’ve studied it. If you or I don’t do it, then don’t beat yourself up. It’s OK, but then you’d better do 40 minutes somewhere else!
It’s like going to the gym: I know my brain would get fat and lazy. I’m not that obsessed with my body, but boy am I obsessed with my brain!
Self-care gets talked about so much these days regarding mental health, as so many people lack self-awareness, don’t they?
Well, if you don’t have self-awareness, you can forget about it. It’s like going to the gym with no body. These are the people that will say, “what is your top tip?” It would be the same as lifting one barbell if you were in the gym. Taking care is knowing what the machine is. You can ask yourself if you’ve got the brain of Bill Gates – or have you got a body that, if you jog, you’re going to have a heart attack? It’s like for me, if I do one more thing today, then I’ve hit my limit. And I’m not lazy – I just hit my limit. That’s it.
When did it click with you, knowing what your limit is? Most workaholics like yourself can’t switch off.
That’s what I am working on right now. That’s why I should get 40 minutes a day and a few other things like your muscle of attention. So, when I need to focus, boy can I pull it! When people say “oh, my mind is all over the place” – mine is too, but if I need to pull it, I can control the brain a little more.
I need to read your book again because I need to focus. Some days when I wake up, I don’t know my arse from my elbow.
Me too, me too. Then if you go back to ‘the gym’, you feel the muscle again. But it’s never 100%. Otherwise, I’d be an evangelist. If you’re really bad, don’t go to the gym, if you know what I mean? If you’re really in the pits of depression, do not do this!
At the end of A Mindfulness Guide For Survival, you write that you are planning to go on a ‘breath and death’ retreat… did you?
I did. Part of the reason was that I thought I could include that [experience] in the book, but my editor really did mean it when she said, “you have a deadline.” She really meant it. I thought it was a joke! So I am now going to the ‘breath and death’ for absolutely no reason. But part of me is thinking that I’m not cancelling this, because the last chapter, about death, to me was the most intriguing.
Ruby Wax’s A Mindfulness Guide For Survival is out now, published by Welbeck. Price: £9.99. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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