How Neuroplasticity Could Help with Depression, with Ruby Wax

About eight years ago in the U.K. I was outed
by a mental health charity because they asked me if they could take a photo of me to raise
money in one of their little, you know, pamphlets. And I said yeah and I thought it was going
to be a tiny fingernail clipping of a picture but they were huge posters all over the U.K.
– gigantic. And I looked like a Lithuanian peasant and it said on it – I don’t know
who wrote this – one in four people have mental illness, one if five people have dandruff.
I have both. I mean, you know, mortified. So I thought you know what I’m going to
do. I’m going to write a show and I’m going to make that look like it’s my publicity
poster. So I did write a show and I did it in mental
institutions for the first two years. And I think they liked it. Well I couldn’t tell
because they weren’t always facing me. And then I made a joke. I said the bipolars used
to say I laughed, I cry. And really if you can make a psychotic laugh you’re halfway
to Broadway. What happened was then we would have – I would do my show. Then we’d have
a little bit of a lunch break and we used to steal food from the anorexics because they
didn’t mind. And then we’d come back. We’d have a discussion, fabulous discussions
– I won’t even go into their questions. Oh, P.S., I wasn’t talking down to them
because they knew I was of the tribe, okay. So you know how people go, “How’d you
do that?” I was one of them. So then the show took off and I did it in all theaters.
In Australia, in Capetown, in London. Everywhere I did the show and the audience would ask
me the same questions and it became a kind of – even for a thousand people one guy
would stand up and he’d say, you know a real butch guy – I’ve been on antidepressants
for 20 years. I’ve never told my wife and she was sitting next to him. And it was like
the Muppets in there like people would be beside themselves, you know, where do I go?
How do I get help? And sometimes it was heavy, you know. One woman said I have cancer and
depression and I said, “Well, which is worse?” And she said well with the cancer all I wanted
to do was live and with the depression I just wanted to die. Other people were quite funny.
So this became a walk in center. And on my days off I would use it as a walk in center
and I’d bring in doctors and neuroscientists and invite people off the street and have
a whole army of therapists so they could get help, bully for me. You know we needed a kind
of AA, have it so organized. And this is like, you know, how did they get it together? They’re
drunks. So I made this a walk in center. And then
what happened was I had a depression. It doesn’t define my life. Seven years ago I had a really
bad one. I ended up on kind of a chair for a few months. Let me just say people think
I’m just going sideways. That depression is about having a bad hair day or your cat
left town. It isn’t sad. Nothing to do with sadness. It’s like your old personality
slowly leaves town and you’re left with a block of cement which is you. I mean it’s
like being in hibernation but you can’t wake up. And so I ended up in a chair. To
take a shower was unimaginable. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell my friends because,
you know, what comes with this disease is a real sense of shame because everybody thinks
well look at you, you know, you have everything. You’re not in a township. You’re not being
carpet-bombed. So I always say you get these abusive voices like – but not one voice
but a hundred thousand voices. Like if the devil had Tourette’s that’s what it would
sound like. So I was sick. I never told anybody. I got a few phone calls from a few friends
saying perk up. Yeah, perk up because I never thought of that. So then I was really interested in how the
brain works because I thought well, every other organ in your body can get sick and
you get sympathy except your brain. So I thought let’s learn about the brain. So I gave up
my career. Kissed that one bye bye and decided I would do research as to how this baby works
because we know so much about technology but we know nothing about the mind. You know,
it’s running us. We’re not running it. So I decided okay, let’s do research and
find out how I can maybe control my chemicals, you know, how I could cool the engine. So
I researched it and mindfulness based cognitive therapy had the best results. Otherwise I
would have gone in a workshop for how to hug your inner elf, you know, I’m not into the
fluffy stuff. So because of the empirical evidence I studied. So I found the founder,
one of the founders. He was a professor at Oxford so I, you know, I have the drive of
a Rottweiler so I drove to Oxford. It was at the time I was sick. I think I smashed
into some trees. And when I got to him I was crazy and I said to him just tell me in a
nutshell what happens in the brain when you do this mindfulness because, you know, I don’t
want to wave crystals. He said you’d have to get into Oxford and
get your Masters if you want to know about the brain. So I did and I graduated in September
and I got the batwings and, you know, the Hogwarts hat. And so it made my life so much
easier because of this thing called neuroplasticity which I don’t understand why it’s not
shouted from rooftops that you could change the wiring in your brain by changing how you
think. Basically we used to think we were at the mercy of our genes but, you know, like
how you come into the world is how you go out. And look, the length of your leg and
the color of your eyes, those you inherit, there’s no question. Because I’ll never
forgive my parents for giving me the legs of a Dachshund because I wanted to go down
that catwalk and now I’ve come to terms it ain’t going to happen. But the genes
that develop your brain, they keep changing because they’re dependent on experience.
So it’s like they hand you a blueprint and a deck of cards but how you play them is up
to you. So, you know, I can’t understand why other people don’t notice information.
I mean it’s 2014. 2014 – I have a girlfriend who sent me this – educated – sent me
to somebody to tell me about my past life. I don’t know if you know this but I was
a window cleaner in 1742. Everybody else, Nefertiti – I’m a window cleaner. I’m
thinking it’s 2014. This stuff is available. Where’s the public on this one? Like ask me about my star sign. What the hell
are you talking about. They know – you can look in a brain with a brain scanner and see
those neurons wire and unwire. And that corresponds to how you think. And every time they wire
together you’re laying down memory. But the good news is you can unwire them and create
new habits and give yourself a more flexible or happier life, whatever that means. I mean
you’re the architect of your own brain. It’s known as neuroplasticity which was
so hopeful to me. So I always say Gloria Gaynor was wrong when she sang that song I Am What
I Am. You’re not. You have many possibilities. So she’s going to have to change those lyrics
because what rhymes with neuroplasticity?

About the author


  1. Nice to hear more about the brains Neuroplasticity which I believed was always relevant in psychology even though there are some psychologist who dont think much of it.  I hope this gets brought back to the lime light so to speak as I get slowly to my end goal in schooling as a Forensic Clinical Neuro'psychologist, thank you.

    ps: Thank you Ruby for shareing your story and bravo on getting on Big Think

  2. Never underestimate the plasticity of the brain. This is why drug addicts, even though they will always be an addict, can eventually get to the point where they can resist doing their drug of choice without much trouble. People tend to think the brain doesn't heal if it's damaged when in fact the brain can do amazing things to help repair itself after it has been damaged. Whether that's physical trauma, drug abuse or whatever the case might be. While the brain cannot regenerate new cells on its own it can repair connections between two living cells.

  3. Ruby.. I am sorry that I can't do for you what you do for me honey but I am sooo glad that you've spoken out and shed understanding on this ass busting shit that me, you and most have suffered with. A pleasure to have you breaking through and expressing, truly grateful and hope that there has been ease for you. Peace out xxxx

  4. what if these were taught to children in grade school, when there minds are still developing, it would make for such an amazing future filled with so many people reaching for the stars cause they felt it actually possible to reach. I cant wait till we as human beings all come together to help each other reach our goals as to just living life and find internal happiness and growth! living positive is so amazing, and wish you all the best in what ever path you set your eyes upon!

  5. She's a very interesting speaker, but this video has a problem that affects many big think videos; it's lacking in actual content. It's pretty much just advertising for her book.

    The title says "how neuroplasticity could help with depression", yet the video does not explain how, it simply restates that it can.

  6. I think I love this woman! I have life long Schizo-affective , ADD, l severe debilitating learning impairments that have interfered with and ruined my life, in which after all the psych doctors with their meds I have seen and therapist that offer mere pep talks, I recently, by advice made an appointment with a neurologist for next month. I hope that if I discuss this neuroplasticity, that perhaps I may be able to start living my life. What if I can? I will be happier than anyone could ever know. 

  7. warm job in explaining…"no thought to have the energy to shower" …the experience of depression is different for the experiencer but there are mainstays… when one hits on a few criteria they are true…the thing about it is that no one understands, a cliche, yet truth…we kinda live getting bye not sharing/revealing the side of us that thinks dark…that says life isn't so great, much pain in the world and I don't approve

  8. i wish this woman was my therapist. You get the sense she's authentic as fuck. Thanks for existing Ruby.

  9. Bravo! I had just commented on the Eckhart Tolle video about a man who woke up with a severe "pain body". I have read enough Tolle to know what he means by "pain body" it is called depression everywhere else in the world. The question was, "why do I wake up with this feeling of doom every day, even when I went to sleep happy? " Tolle asked the man was there any certain thought associated with the feeling and went on to explain he should except the feeling and use "presence" and pacifity, and meditation to eventually erode it or at least make life bearable. I commented that when you are in major depression you are barely capable of sitting quietly for one minute with the mental torment and this advice is basically a prison sentence for the severely depressed. Other people commented that you should learn to live with it because it is part of who you are, and others said "don't fight it, use acceptance because the "pain body" is an entity that will be with you for the rest of your life.
    I was almost outraged because not only was the advice defeatist but potentially harmful. Waking up with my own "pain body" for years prompted me to look into solutions and I found that these depressing feelings are most likely a remnant of some past trauma in the subconscious. I commented that there are major breakthroughs in neuroplasticity that suggest one can virtually rewrite the subconscious down to the cellular level. Science has proven that every cell completely regenerates in a few months so it stands to reason that with enough new experience one could create brand new programming for the mind and subsequently the emotions. This concept gave me hope for the first time in years. I told the Tolle groupies that I wasn't going to accept this tormenting disease with the spiritual action of "pacifity" any more. Can not sit back and let the disease ruin my life nor am I willing to make peace with it. It is time to extract that crap once and for all then replace it with our divine birthright.

  10. neuroplasticity is how the brain can change. when some one was once well or happy but becomes depressed is because they become custom to situations  atmosphere that make them stress or sad and because of no change in  the environment they become depressed. once the brain becomes wired that way its hard to unwire but it can be done by change and with out medication. this is a  thought I have and a theory but because of my own personal experience. my question is has this been proven in any way?

  11. There's a very simple cure for depression. If you're depressed, then stop being depressed and be happy! Yes! Choose to be happy! Depression is something you can stop with your own free will! It's very simple! Just be happy!

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