I’ve written before about the Monkey Mind – a brilliant memoir by an anxiety sufferer that I imagine to be helpful to the millions of anxiety sufferers. Scott Stossel’s memoir is his own brilliant, dense, feverish and scholarly version. He works incredibly hard – as you’d expect from an anxious perfectionist – to get to the bottom of his debilitating battle with a whole set of pernicious anxieties that have threatened to de-rail him throughout his four decades. The book kicks off with his painfully described visceral terror at the altar, moments away from marrying the love of his life. We learn of countless other fight-or-flight led occasions, tracking back into his infancy when he couldn’t bear to be separated from his parents and became reliant on a bedtime ritual with his mother well into his teens.
Stossel grapples, in remarkable detail (footnotes can almost fill an entire page while his bibliography groans in weight) with genetic markers pharmacological interventions, environmental factors, cultural mores, parenting/mothering and all other possible thinking and ideas around the causes and subsequent management of anxiety. He, like many people I work with, clearly wants to get to the bottom of his repeated distress, I’m guessing in part effort to overcome it.
Unsurprisingly, he seems to conclude that there isn’t one cause or one solution – the drugs he’s been on for three decades do work, a bit, some of the time. The therapy he has had and still has also helps/ed some of the time. He’s persistently fair-minded in all of his investigations, as he is, ultimately, about his own anxieties too, asking himself whether they serve to make him the thoughtful, creative, clever and sensitive man he can acknowledge himself to be.
Stossel serves anxiety as Andrew Solomon did depression in The Noonday Demon – making it a compelling, moving and fascinating read.