119 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
Knowing Daniel's struggles with anxiety I feel a certain amount of anxiety myself writing this review. I wouldn't want to put undue stress on someone who comes off as a mensch with a whale on his back. Happily, Monkey Mind is a fine book; so the pressure is off.
First, if you're interested in this book to discover anxiety cures, you will likely be largely be disappointed. Although Smith finds some relief through cognitive therapy and meditation, only the last five percent of the book addresses how he handles his condition. What Monkey Mind does do very well, however, is provide a detailed and in-depth look at anxiety in its various forms. Smith knows anxiety the way Eskimos are reported to know different types of snow (apparently it's a myth that Eskimos have tons of names for different types of snow, but the cliche/point seems relevant.)
Smith entertainingly and poignantly uses his own battles with anxiety (apparently excessive sweating is a serious problem for those with extreme anxiety) to explore the various forms and facets of anxiety. As someone who is much more prone to anxiety than depression, these explorations are definitely of interest. Also, Smith's tendency to anxiety is so much worse than mine, that it makes me feel maybe I'm not so bad off.
One Line Summary: Overall, recommended for anyone interested in exploring anxiety in an in-depth, interesting, and personal way.
Possible Related Recommendations
- Anyone interested in a solid (and at moment very inexpensive for used copies on Amazon) practical guide for dealing with anxiety might consider Beyond Anxiety and Phobia: A Step-by-Step Guide to Lifetime Recovery
- For books on the opposite end of the spectrum, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed two books profiling people who have learned to deeply trust the universe and let go of worry: The Man Who Quit Money and I Walked to the Moon and Almost Everybody Waved: The Curiously Inspiring Adventures of a Free Spirit Who Changed Lives. They offer interesting supplements/counterbalance to Monkey Mind.
45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2012
Monkey Mind is a memoir written from a person who suffers terrible anxiety. Although I'm not a really anxious person, I'm a physician who treats many anxious patients. Reading this book gave me some insight into how some people really suffer from anxiety. The inability to react calmly in situations that others might just blow off was eye-opening to me. Overall, a well-written book filled with self-deprecating humor.
I enjoy reading books where people can poke fun at themselves. For this reason, Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection is a great companion to this book. Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity is another recent funny one. Stein, a writer for TIME, may be the best writer today at self-deprecating male humor.
57 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I wanted to like this and was hoping to find a kindred spirit or at least some words of advice. While I ended up sympathizing with Mr. Smith, I didn't end up knowing him. His words read like a endless stream of his suffering but where is the man behind the anxiety? He remained a stranger to me.
A far better read that really touches home from a writer who suffers from anxiety is "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson. You ache for her and cheer for her, and in the end she feels like a close friend.
42 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2012
With humor and honesty, Smith courageously shares his anxiety ridden beginnings. Through his teens, college, career and early romance I traveled with Smith through each anxiety laced episode. Though torn apart nails, and drenched shirts may occupy his appearance, courage, sensitivity and finally humor fill his soul. In parts I connected with him, in others I empathized with him, and in each page I rooted for him. His story captivated me from page 1.
26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2013
The first quarter or so of this book is very funny, describing his severe anxiety in general. It becomes markedly less funny and dangerously boring when the author talks at great length about how he went to college and was basically saved by reading Philip Roth (ugh). Even though he keeps insisting his own family is nothing like Roth's, he winds up blaming a great deal of his problems on his mother (she's too anxious herself, the atmosphere at home was too chaotic, &c &c). He says his father's anxious too, but his father never appears in the book.
More seriously, then he goes on to detail a terrible article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 2001 about ECT. I remember that article, and the controversy about it, even though that was over ten years ago. I bought this book on Kindle so there was nothing on the cover flaps or back that might have warned me this is the same author (I'd be curious if there's anything on the hard copy that might connect him with the article). If I'd known, I might not have even bought the book. That article represented a terrible low for the Atlantic's journalism in general and psychiatric journalism in particular. No, I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know about pro-ECT books written by people who claim they benefited from ECT (I own several). This is deadly serious. He doesn't really accept responsibility for having written such an article at all -- he's just very defensive and his thinking about anxiety is just as bad as the thinking about ECT displayed in that article.
If you want to read a memoir about severe anxiety which starts off very amusingly, descends into boring autobiography and then is infuriatingly defensive ("I hadn't killed anyone or knocked anyone up. I hadn't even acted maliciously") -- then get this from the library.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2012
Monkey Mind is a memoir of anxiety, rather than a self-help guide on how to deal with it. The author's website explains that he set out to describe the experience of anxiety in this book more than anything else. That said, your reaction to the book may vary depending on how much you can identify with his symptoms---or whether you suffer from anxiety at all. One thing that this memoir does not stress enough is how individualized anxiety can be. Because it shapes itself according to the experience of the sufferer, it can make it tricky for the sufferer to find solace in someone else's anxiety. It makes sense, then, that Daniel Smith chose to write a memoir about his own case; it's what he knows best. Still, the (helpful) generalized insights he provides along the way do sometimes clash with the particulars of his own story, which can border on the exasperating towards the end (spoiler alert: he devotes the last portion of the book to the initial failure of the relationship with the woman who eventually becomes his wife...if you empathize with him in other sections, here, you start to wonder if his problem is simply the inability not to be a jerk...although it's a testament to his abilities as a writer that he still comes off as a likeable person overall). The end of the book is unsatisfying, and it also leaves readers with an arguable premise: that there is simply nothing to do about anxiety except live with it, assisted by a combination of therapy, the support of family, and possibly, medication. While it's in keeping with the book's honest approach to paint anxiety as a condition that can recur---and that can in fact manifest itself most strongly in the fear of its recurrence---there could have been some further justification for ending the book on a note of acceptance rather than triumph.** I would not necessarily recommend this book to an anxiety sufferer, but it's a quick and often humorous read, so it will appeal to readers of popular memoir with a literary bent (one of the strongest sections is where Smith discusses gaining control of his anxiety as a college student by discovering the work of Philip Roth in the campus library). And if you do suffer from anxiety, the helpful parts will be self-evident.
**Smith recently published some further thoughts on the subject which are slightly more uplifting for those disappointed with the book's ending. Amazon's review guidelines prevent me from providing the link here, but those interested can search for a piece titled "The Anxious Idiot" at the NY Times opinion blog.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2012
I am glad that someone has written an entertaining book about GAD and brought attention to this wide spread problem. I have to say as a sufferer myself the best self help book on this subject is still Dr. Claire Weeks and her famous but maybe forgotten Hope and Help For Your Nerves. This woman was nominated for a Nobel Prize. She passed away in 1990. Many have used her works as the bases of modern treatment but forgotten the best of her easy and wise guidance. If you suffer from any form of Anxiety or depression please read this book and give it to your Dr. to pass on to all his patients. We all need to quit fighting our anxiety and give our nerves a rest.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you have ever had anxiety or wondered about it, this book will interest you.
Funny & Insightful: What is so wonderful about this book, is the courageous honesty of the author and how FUNNY it is. Isn't reality funnier than fiction? From his crazy Jewish Mother who is a psychotherapist, his youthful ordeal as a writer for The Atlantic and his romantic antics, the book is hysterical.
He makes all kinds of mistakes (like all of us) and then has excruciating panic attacks. I felt guilty laughing at his pain and suffering until I realized I was laughing "with him" about this crazy life we are all in.
I think this book provides a service in looking at anxiety square in the face, not shirking from it. It takes guts. How he made a tale of anxiety not boring and full of joy it the talent of a great writer. Very enjoyable read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2013
I could not finish this book.
I have struggled with anxiety and expected to receive something I coudl relate to, something to bring humor to this disorder, something to possibly give me a few tricks on relaxation.
Instead I got a self insulgent, meandering, boing book with little reference to anxiety. The best way to expalin it would be if Twitter gave him unlimite characters. We learn about his family, his crushes, his every minute thought, almost like he typed without a mental filter. Boring and self indulgent. Dont bother.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
Daniel Smith is the youngest of three sons in an upper middle-class Jewish family. The brothers dubbed their mother "Hurricane Marilyn" due to the chaos left behind in her wake. Marilyn was an anxious sort, and she fed off whatever was going on around her. Her husband also was very anxious, but attempted to harness his feelings of anxiety by stifling them. He spent some time as a mental health inpatient, so it's safe to say that the boys lived in a continual atmosphere of amped-up anxiety.
One son Scott, another anxious type, was a hypochondriac. His anxiety manifested itself in somatic symptoms. Daniel certainly didn't escape the curse. His mind looped over and over the same tracks with "what ifs?" and rarely gave him any peace. Just making a decision of whether to put ketchup or barbeque sauce on a roast beef sandwich was enough of a choice to send his monkey mind spiraling out of control. To attempt to function in a heightened sense of anxiety was his daily and endless challenge. He was a nail biter, a cuticle nibbler, a shirt soaker.
In a chemically-induced haze, Daniel's first sexual encounter as a teenager was anything but normal or even pleasant. He had sex with a lesbian coworker while another lesbian looked on. Prior to that time, his only knowledge of female anatomy was via magazines, the usual centerfolds with staples in unusual locations. He arrived home distraught and ashamed. He guiltily confessed his deed to Hurricane Marilyn, who informed him "You've been raped." His monkey mind (so named by Buddhists who believe the chattering, senseless noise drifting in and out of our consciousness is like an untamed monkey) went wild with thoughts of gloom and doom. He fancied that he might succumb to AIDS. He would have given anything to be able to erase the very existence of that encounter.
Because the incident itself was so unexpected and not at all what he thought it would be, it assumed a huge importance in his untamed thoughts. His mother, a trained therapist herself who counseled patients suffering from anxiety, supplied him with Xanax, which helped take the edge off his out-of-control anxiety that was always ready to erupt.
A few years later, Daniel began college at Brandeis University. With this first taste of independence and freedom thrust upon him, Daniel was overwhelmed not only by the sheer numbers of people everywhere and the utter lack of privacy that dorm life entailed, but by the vast array of choices available to him. Everything seemed like bedlam and chaos. All these noisy, directionless, suddenly independent teenagers --- Daniel referred to this as Jewish Mardi Gras. He called home more than once a day upset and crying to his mother, who tried to calm her son.
Soon the anxious parents arrived on campus and presented Daniel with a choice: return home with them (Daniel quickly rejected that option as an admission of failure) or remain on campus and undergo therapy. Daniel had tried therapy before but felt no real relief from voicing his fears to a stranger. He wanted someone to rescue him, to tell him what to do, to take away the decision-making that kept him stuck in his busy monkey mind.
As the memoir progresses, Daniel graduates from college and becomes employed. But what kind of bad karma causes an anxiety-ridden, obsessive-compulsive person to work as a fact checker? He meets a lovely and kind young woman who seems to have more of a calming effect on him than Xanax. But all is far from well. Maintaining a serious relationship is hardly easy for the perpetually-frantic young man. And being sued for libel over a freelance article he wrote about electric shock therapy just adds to his misery.
With self-effacing humor (Daniel discovered that feminine hygiene products work pretty well as shirt shields), the ability to allow the reader to feel the dreaded icicle of fear that he experiences, and a lengthy stroll through psychotherapy written in layman's terms, Daniel Smith has written a book that will resound with all of us. That is, all of us who have experienced homesickness, stage fright, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, the inability to make a minor decision, and feeling that life is just beyond our control --- which is all of us at one time or another --- can understand and appreciate MONKEY MIND.
Reviewed by Carole Turner