Daniel Smith is an anxiety veteran – the list of experiences, relationships and things that induce his fight or flight response is impressively long. One wonders how he managed to complete this book, although he does let us into a stoic blow by blow account of his struggle half way through. His memoir of his – sometimes debilitating – state of being more or less begins in his teens, curiously at the scene of a threesome, during which he loses his virginity and then, weeping, into the lap of his (sometimes equally) anxious mother. What follows is a brilliant, excitable tour through his ‘monkey mind’ over the years, with forays into how other thinkers have experienced and expressed anxiety – Kierkegaard, Freud, and Beck included.
It finishes on a positive note, having acquired a set of effective tools to manage his anxiety along the way – via therapy (cognitive especially), his mother, his brother and the love and patience of his partner. I’ve read a number of memoirs of anxiety but I reckon Smith articulates its pernicious hold particularly well. Lazily, I’ve reproduced a few lines that I liked:
… Anxiety compels a person to think, but it is the type of thinking that gives thinking a bad name: solipsistic, self-eviscerating, unremitting, vicious.
…(on reflecting of his mothers’ anxiety) Admit the anxiety as an essential part of yourself and in exchange that anxiety will be converted into energy, unstable but manageable. Stop with the self-flagellating and become yourself, with scars and tics.
…The hard work, you discover over the years, is in learning to discern between incorrect and correct anxiety, between the anxiety that is trying to warn you about a real danger and the anxiety that’s nothing more than a lying, sadistic, unrepentant bully in your head. The hard work is learning to step back and analyze the data dispassionately.
…All the potholes on the Future Road, all the risks distraction hides day to day from sturdier minds are, in the anxious mind, omnipresent and snarling. That is why therapists go to such lengths to urge their anxious patients away from intellectualization: The first step toward peace is disarmament.
…If you have ever been friends with a drama queen you know how taxing it can be. To have one in your head is enough to make you comatose.
…Anxiety is the stage a person has to pass through on his way to creating himself.
…On the one hand, your very existence means you can and will change things in your life and others. On the other hand, you aren’t God, so everything is always going to be drenched in uncertainty and doubt.
…Fear ……responds to fear by looking for fear, and the world being the world, it finds it. In this way, the merry-go-round of anxiety is fired up. The loop begins: fear to anxiety to fear to anxiety to fear to anxiety….
…In anxiety, there is no time to luxuriate in abstractions. It’s just you and your mind, which has fists and is using them. It may be dualistic and logically untenable to posit the situation as You vs Head; it may not make sense philosophically. But in the throes of anxiety? In the cognitive shit? There’s really no other way to think about what’s going on.