An Open Conversation
Ruby Wax, Comedian, writer, mental health campaigner and founder of Frazzled Cafe.
Being ‘frazzled’ isn’t a mental illness, it’s just the state most of us find ourselves in when our lives got faster than we could live them, and so we went into a tailspin.
We’ve always known that the 1-in-4 with mental illness need immediate help and there are now burgeoning sites offering on-line therapy and emergency services. But I wanted to do something for the rest of the population as well, so I created a meeting place to help the 3-in-4 who are frazzled (which is everyone else).
Even before Covid, it was isolation that caused so much misery. In the past, we could turn to a sense of community to make us feel we mattered, but now we’re scattered – and none of us have been taught, or given tools, to lower our anxiety.
This is exactly the reason I started my charity called Frazzled Cafes. I wanted to create a safe place where small groups of people could meet and speak honestly to each other without the fear of appearing weak. My belief is that being vulnerable isn’t being weak, it’s being human, which is why I thought: ‘Why not find a group of like-minded people who also want to find where the ground is?’
A meeting place where we could cut the cocktail crap and talk straight from the heart. This mode of communication isn’t mutual moaning, nor is it delivered in pofaced seriousness (I’m often at my funniest when I’m most honest). It’s where we mutually abide by the rules of authenticity. It’s not therapy or self-help, it’s more like a club where you have to go as close as you can to being genuine.
It is an idea that is based on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where people provide a sense of community and a safety net for each other.
(Unfortunately, AA wouldn’t let me in because I'm not an alcoholic, or an addict). At Frazzled, our principles are similar; nobody is an expert, but they are frazzled like you. We're not trying to cure anything. We’re just looking at our human condition and talking is the cure for that.
For the first four years, we held in person meetings and the attendees would meet in different Marks & Spencer's cafés. Then after lockdown we began running it virtually three times a week for between 100 and 250 people in the evening.
The results just break your heart. We hear from people who have issues and anxieties, but they don’t want to tell their friends or families or put a burden on them.
In the past few years, I've a series of written books about this complex inner monologue that many of us have, and my obsession to find out where it comes from. In studying for my master's degree in mindfulness at Oxford six years ago, I was fascinated to learn about the physiological effects of toning down the stress hormone – cortisol – and how effortlessly that happens when we’re in a community; when nuns pray, or when prisoners are together.
“The results just break your heart. We hear from people who have issues and anxieties, but they don’t want to tell their friends or families or put a burden on them."
This really resonated with me, alongside the idea that if you can instead turn on your oxytocin instead, you would even live longer, because stress acts to wipe out your immune system. Talking has always been at least half of the cure, which is why my solution to solving it was to connect to a community.
The irony is, that so many different types of community exist all around of us, but so often they’re not there for the purpose we need them for. For example, social media, which was set up to do that, but it backfired. Family units, that often prove to be dysfunctional, and friends, who we often don't have time to meet. You can opt to join Tinder for sex, or a book club, or go wine tasting, but very often there’s no space to just to be human - and that's what I wanted to create.
The community in Frazzled is of all ages, economics status, rich, beautiful or old. It’s everybody and meetings are well organized with a format and a facilitator. We begin with mindfulness every day and everyone has one or two minutes each - and they’re not allowed to talk about the news.
It’s so great to see a young, beautiful girl start nodding her head when a woman who's very old says something, they almost become the same person. Often men will say things like: “I've never said this before, but all the people that I'm friends with aren't really pulling through.”
When I go to a Frazzled Cafe meeting and listen to people spill their lives, with no frills, I leave feeling liberated from my feeling of isolation. No theatre, concert or lecture can ever give me that same feeling of elation as when a meeting is over and we all feel that universal bond, like our hearts are all chained together on the human charm bracelet. These people are strangers when I walk in but each time I leave, I love them because they were brave enough to show me a little piece of who they are.
Frazzled has taught me to throw all the rules I lived with until now out the window. It’s a safe space. A talking space and that’s when we humans are at our best. We’re bonding and it's healthy.
It isn’t therapy. It is just what we were supposed to be.
Frazzled Cafés are now virtual with daily meetings of 100 attendees at a time. Sign up on FrazzledCafe.Org