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I’m Not as Well as I Thought I Was by Ruby Wax: Vivid account of depression that defty balances comedy and sincerity

The comedian ensures the reader feels held in this journey into her descent into a ‘typhoon of mental torture’

I’m Not as Well as I Thought I Was
Author: Ruby Wax
ISBN-13: 978-0241554890
Publisher: Penguin Life
Guideline Price: £18.99

Accounts of mental illness are often written in the past tense. They are told when the speaker is on the other side of their struggle. This may serve to protect them against the stigmatisation of mental illness and it also enables the speaker to take time to reflect upon and process their experience.

Ruby Wax’s memoir, on the contrary, is written in the height of a mental health crisis. In fact, the author pens much of the diarised narrative while resident in a “mental institution”. However, the comedian, who has been honoured with an OBE for her contribution to mental health advocacy, ensures that her reader feels held as they journey with Wax in her descent into a “typhoon of mental torture”.

Wax informs us, that originally the proposed concept of the book was a guide for people seeking meaning and self-fulfilment. With the comedian’s characteristic gusto, she attends a month-long silent retreat, goes swimming with whales, volunteers at a Greek refugee camp and tastes faith in a Christian Monastery. The outcome of which reminds me of Patrick Kavanagh when he writes; “I loved too much and by such and such, is happiness thrown away”. In Wax’s desperate attempt to achieve fulfilment, happiness is eroded. After 12 years of remission, Wax finds herself hurtling towards The Big Dip once more.

Wax’s experiential account of her depression is vivid. She compares her experience with rTMS therapy to the scene in Frankenstein where the doctor uses an electrical storm to wake up his monster. Her transcribed sessions with her shrink, on the other hand, are an effective device in revealing a more vulnerable side of our gregarious narrator.


It strikes me, that as a comedian, Wax must face a unique challenge in approaching a sensitive topic with both humour and sincerity. On the whole, Wax strikes this balance deftly, let down only by the times she opts for the shock factor over authenticity.

Ultimately, Wax leaves her readers with hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I specifically employ this cliche as in Wax’s actual account, this is her experience. Without attempting to distil a complex narrative into a simple adage, I cannot leave the book but being reminded that “life is something which happens while we’re waiting for something else”.

Brigid O'Dea

Brigid O'Dea, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health