Last week I gathered in the London Jewish Cultural Centre with about sixty other people and bargained with my mind to open itself. Who knows, I thought, there might be something in this. And if not, we’re close enough to the door to escape early to the pub on the corner. My mind was most definitely not open, it was barely even ajar, and so I could not have been more surprised by the next hour if Freud himself had made a ghostly appearance.
The smartly dressed woman with the trademark cackle who sat in front of us was not the “Brand Ruby” I had expected. Instead we met an intelligent yet vulnerable woman, who was not afraid to share herself and her story with a room full of strangers. We met a woman whose eyes hinted at depths of suffering, despite her outwardly chic appearance. We met a woman who had crawled back from rock bottom and turned her genetic lottery card into a winning ticket. A ticket not for money, but for the accomplishment of making sense of the darkness and helping others find their way towards that same light.
At times I, similar to many of my fellow “1-in-4″s in the room, glimpsed snatches of myself on that stage. At times I felt almost as if I was facing a woman who was, quite possibly, one of the few people on this earth who “get” me: a thought contributed by one audience member who volunteered “you know me better than my husband of 25 years”. For an hour I felt less alone and more understood than I have in years. And all without me speaking a single word. I found the comfort and solace others find in a church. The air hummed with solidarity, empathy and shared but unspoken pain. When you spend your whole life pretending you’re “fine” moments like that don’t come around very often. And when they do you grab them and wrap yourself in them like a giant snuggly blanket.
I don’t know why I’ve resisted Ruby for so long. When I discovered her illness, active campaigning and studies I dismissed them as publicity. I scoffed at the idea of the firecracker I remembered from TV being capable of serious depth and despair. And for that I am truly sorry. Depression doesn’t operate on a class system. It doesn’t care if you are famous. And I more than anyone should know that the public you might be so very different from your true self as to be a totally different person. My perception of Ruby was based on limited media exposure many years ago, a person she herself admits was brash and aggressive, a symptom rather than her personality. This perception led me to dismiss her contributions as unworthy of my attention all these years later. Now I find myself looking forward to a quiet day when I can curl up with her book and spend another few hours in the comforting company of my newfound kindred spirit