Brian Tyrrell - Autism and Burnout - a guest post for Ehlers-Danlos, ME, Fibromyalgia, and Mental Health Awareness Month
All artwork copyright of Brian Tyrrell @dungeonsonadime
Brian is a multi-talented creative living in Edinburgh. He is founder of the inclusive role-playing magazine Dungeons on a Dime and secretary of the Edinburgh Zine Library. He has a portfolio of writing, illustrations and graphic design work. You can find him on all good social media at @dungeonsonadime.
Matt Haig, best-selling author of How to Stop Time and Reasons to Stay Alive, talks about his latest release, Notes on a Nervous Planet, in this engaging and hopeful discussion about living with mental illness in the modern world. Chaired by Richard Holloway.
In the follow-up to Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig once again talks about living with anxiety and depression; this time speculating in the wider context of our technologically advanced, fast-paced world. He believes that technology impacts every facet of our daily lives and is responsible for the exponential rise in the number of people suffering with anxiety and depression, explaining that we’re ”old hardware trying to function in a world with new software.”
Haig feels that it’s empowering for a sufferer to understand where their feelings are coming from, and he skilfully relates his own experience of living with anxiety and depression to the audience, his self-deprecating humour provoking appreciative laughter from the audience. He believes that modern technology deliberately creates a disconnect between people, largely cultivated by companies who serve to drive the population towards addiction to their devices. Whether through our phones, games, computers, e-readers, or fit-bits; we’re constantly provided with more and more opportunity to ‘connect’ through screens; rather than face-to-face. And in doing so, we become increasingly dependent on these technologies to show us our value and so we continue to exist in ever-shrinking worlds. If we’re constantly being measured, compared and told we can be doing better; we’re always going to be looking for the next thing that can help us improve – and tech companies know it.
It’s this disconnect which nurtures a state of anxiety and depression, according to Haig. He pointed out that the Aborigines have the worst record of mental illness in the world; correlating this with the colonialism, racism, and horrific loss of identity and sense of purpose they endure. When asked what he fears most in our ever-advancing world, Haig admits his concern that “we are in danger of losing our empathy”. He continued on this thread, raising the issue of online trolling, which he believes is incredibly damaging to our mental health and needs to be recognised as a health issue. He called for action from the public to raise awareness; as only then will our government take action against companies who aren’t regulating their tech and protecting their consumers.
In keeping with the tone of his new title, Haig was authentic and optimistic when asked about labels and mental illness, identifying that relief that can come with a diagnosis – relating that it can make you feel like you belong, and also make it easier to explain how your illness affects you. However he was quick to caution over-use, or familiarity with any label, given that the connotations can be heavy. After his years of self-taught mindfulness, he wisely advised that “diagnosis isn’t a life-sentence: you aren’t in a permanent state.” Reminding and perhaps galvanising the audience, to believe in the power of the self, and not of the machine.
Comedian and best-selling author, Ruby Wax brings her sharp-witted humour and a degree in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) together to the Book Festival via her latest book, How To Be Human: The Manual, chaired by Jackie McGlone.
True to form, Wax heavily relies on the self-depreciating humour we’ve come to expect, in order to share her message with the audience in this hugely engaging discussion. Introducing the idea of mindfulness and what it means to her personally, Wax was quick to point out that she is a prime example of the very neuroplasticity she speaks so highly of, saying “I have literally changed my brain by thinking differently.” As a follow-up to her last book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, her latest title serves to reinforce the positive message of the first book, using the latest evidence.
This is largely provided by Wax herself, who in pursuit of truth, found herself sharing her home with a monk and a neuroscientist. She wanted to find out, if practising daily mindfulness, could actually change her brain, which she argues is still stuck in the cave-man era, whilst the surrounding world is racing ahead. “It’s like you have a Ferrari for a brain but nobody gave you the keys.” She aims to suss out how to make your ancient brain work for you without dragging you into madness. She has condensed their experiences into this book.
Calling herself a “late-bloomer”, Wax told the audience how trauma had “locked her brain” and that brains and genes can change. More than that, they can be passed down generations, something she strongly believes we should be shouting from the rooftops. In a world that exacerbates the biological feedback loop; she stresses it’s important to exercise our thoughts in order to protect ourselves from an over-stimulating world and the resulting heightened cortisol levels – which lead to many diseases. The mind is a muscle, described by Wax as a “pile of sand; shifting in whichever direction you look.”
She tells us that self-awareness and understanding are the keys to mindfulness. “I looked at my rage, my fight, my shame, and I saw that it all came from my parents, my aunt.” It was this understanding which eventually led her to compassion, then forgiveness – and finally the point where she could gain distance from those behaviours.
She believes the need to medicate for mental illness has risen so drastically because our brains can’t keep up with our over-developed world, and told the audience that the next evolution would come from the realisation that our thoughts change our brains. In a bid to promote mindfulness and provide a safe-space for frazzled folks, Wax has set up a Frazzled Café initiative across the UK, in partnership with Marks and Spencer. You can find out where your nearest café is here.
Publications, thoughts and reviews
On themes of mental illness, disability and YA.