Saturday 30th January
Sixteen months ago I stood on a familiar train platform waiting to board a train into the familiar city centre to go to an appointment. I was unsure of the location of my meeting but had a rough idea and knew the train would be the best way to travel despite it being during rush hour. I’d done the journey many times before (though never during rush hour). However, this was to be a very different journey.
I stood patiently waiting for the train with other commuters and as it pulled in to the platform everyone moved to board. I was in the middle of a group becoming more aware of the bustle. Once on board I realised there wasn’t a great deal of room. The seats in all carriages were full as were the aisles. It was definitely standing room only and standing in the door ways at that. I found myself in the middle of the corridor pushed up against a young child who was sitting on the fold down seat with his mum and sibling on the other side. I was conscious that I didn’t want to crowd this young boy or block his view from his mum so ended up stood in quite an awkward position. To my horror, at the next stop a couple more ladies were determined to board and despite it already being cramped, pushed their way in, being very vocal about moving up to make space for them. My heart began to race, my face flushed crimson and beads of sweat poured down my face. I couldn’t physically move to either side to get near a window to get air and I was too frightened to try and move anyway. I was rooted to the spot, face glowing, sweat dripping and heart pounding with paranoia rising that everyone was staring at the strange, sweaty, red faced female. It was only a journey of around 15 minutes yet it felt like a lifetime. I was jostled off the train in the middle of everyone else onto the platform. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to curl up and cry or run and hide. It was the rising fear of the meeting and pure adrenaline that carried me away from the platform to the exit with all other passengers. Once outside and in the fresh air, I could feel myself relax a little, enough anyway to compose myself, dig my directions from my bag and head to my meeting. My face still glowed and my heart still thumped but at least the air had helped the dripping beads of sweat.
This was to be the first of many ‘incidents’ that I now recognise and understand to be panic attacks. It was also the worst (train) journey I have ever had and certainly the last time I’d boarded a train – until now!
I’m now 60 minutes in to a 90 minute journey to Euston station. It’s safe to say phase 1 has gone totally to plan, without any anxiety. Simple things like getting the tickets from the machine, making the connecting train and changing platforms all seemed ‘normal’. I’m not quite sure if I’ll take the challenge and travel by tube but then is a trip to London a full on challenge without the tube? I do have a couple of hours to find my way from Euston to the Arts Theatre so plenty of time to enjoy a walk in the fresh air or time to master the tube! I’m going to spend this last half hour enjoying the scenery fly past the window and just enjoy being in the moment.
Arriving at Euston I decided to ground myself. Having moved with the crowd, away from the platform I stood in the centre of the station and just looked round, took in my surroundings. A cafe recommended by a friend caught my eye. I didn’t need to compose myself but to be kind to myself, I stopped for a celebratory cup of tea. This ‘me’ time allowed me to process my thoughts and calmly head for the tube!
Surely, how hard could this be. I realised you could go through the barriers just by swiping your bank card ‘contactless’. I tried but it wouldn’t work. I turned to a line of people’s faces behind me and calmly walked away toward the ticket machine. As much as I embrace technology, give me the old fashioned ticket through a machine. This was it, there was no going back! I walked with the crowd down in to the platform. I must’ve stared at the map so hard but still couldn’t memorise the stops, but who cares. If I end up riding the tube all afternoon then I’d achieve something. I boarded the carriage, found a seat next to a rather odd looking old gentleman and joined the rest of the miserable faces all just travelling. A slight panic of working out how to reach the door through the crowd when we reached my stop started to rise in my mind but I decided I’d just move into position the stop before. So not only have I ridden the tube, I’ve stood up and ridden the tube!
We pulled in to Leicester Square and I again moved with the crowds back up the stairs into daylight. Once again, out into the cool winter air I took a few deep breaths and just looked around. Yes to appreciate my surroundings but also to take in landmarks for going home. I’m torn between embracing where I am but also being aware I have to get back again – in the dark.
I’d studied maps so knew where I needed to be and expected a walk. However, I was surprised at how close the theatre was. Without knowing it I was outside the Arts Theatre looking at posters of Ms Wax. Tickets in hand, I had 20 minutes till doors opened and 50 minutes till the show starts. Do I stay put or find Covent Garden to do a spot of retail therapy? What challenge would it be to stay put? So off I trundle, following my nose and street signs. I was back in the theatre in my seat with the purchase I’d wanted and a copy of Ruby’s book ‘A sane new world’ by 2:45. Perfect seat – 2nd from the front and on the end of the row. There was a slight apprehension that I was possibly easy picking from the stage but it was a full house so had no option to move.
So the theatre is quite small and a bit shabby looking and the stage is quite bare. There’s a piece of artificial grass with a grass topped tree stump almost like a chaise and a mass of blue and white striped cushions. Then a random green exercise ball. I’m not sure what to expect as Ruby Wax walks on to the stage with a mug of coffee in hand.
I know she has just released her second book ‘A Mindfulness guide for the frazzled’ and it was reading this book that made me realise I had to see this woman, who I suddenly admired live. I guess we all know Ruby Wax as a comedian and writer but very few realise she actually has a masters degree from Oxford university in mindfulness based cognitive therapy. As she puts it “it was like Peppa Pig learning about quantum physics.”
Mindfulness is suddenly a buzz word and there are many fluffy, wind chime, hippie, Buddhist interpretations of it but in Ruby’s words it is “noticing your own thoughts and feelings without kicking your own ass for doing it.” Some alarming facts are that 1 in 4 people will have depression in comparison to 1 in 5 that have dandruff. More alarmingly, by 2020 stress will be the biggest killer!
So as an over view Ruby is going to chat to us about how we think, why we burn out and why we have negative thoughts. It isn’t just for those that have depression but anyone who leads a busy and stressful life. “We all have the same plumbing under the hood” and despite the evolution of man, every cell in our body is rooting for survival; going back to caveman times where man had to be vigilant and aware of dangers.
There is scientific evidence to show the effects of stress on the brain and evidence that with mindfulness based cognitive therapy there is a 60% chance that people with depression won’t relapse. For the 40% that do, they generally climb out of the hole much sooner and easier than the first time. There is no cure for depression, recovery is about recognition and taking a step back to remove the causes.
The show is funny and not lecturing, clear but scientific and illustrated wonderfully on screens with some very child like drawings that Ruby is very proud of.
For just over an hour Ruby entertained and made the very serious topic of depression very amusing with some laugh out loud moments and many statements or Ruby-isms.Suddenly Ruby leaves the stage, the house lights came on and it was the interval. I didn’t rush off with the crowds. Instead, I sat on the stage steps and just observed and watched.
I wasn’t prepared or expecting what was to come in the second half. Ruby sat on a garden chair in the middle of the stage and answered questions from the audience. People were opening up and asking for advice about some very personal issues. Questions were slow in coming at first but as Ruby rounded up this part of the show there definitely looked to be some stroppy people sulking because they didn’t get the microphone in their hand to ask their question. What was clear, was the love and appreciation in the room for the fact Ruby Wax was a ‘poster woman’ for mental health. After all, it doesn’t discriminate, it can, will and does affect every walk of life, even those perceived to have it all with nothing to be depressed about.