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My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind Paperback – February 3, 2015
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*Starred Review* Stossel, editor of the Atlantic magazine, is a very nervous man trying awfully hard not to be. “I have since the age of about two been a twitchy bundle of phobias, fears, and neuroses.” He suffers from lots of physical symptoms and a panoply of phobias (most notably, a fear of vomiting). “I’m like Woody Allen trapped in John Calvin,” he confesses. Psychotherapy, multiple medications, and alcohol provide incomplete relief. He ponders the possible causes of panic attacks and anxiety: a strong genetic component, environmental influences, and childhood upbringing. He wonders whether anxiety is purely a psychological problem or something else—a medical disease, spiritual disorder, cultural phenomenon, or evolutionary survival mechanism. For a layperson, he has considerable knowledge about prescription anti-anxiety drugs (perhaps based on three decades of using them). Tying together notions about anxiety culled from history, philosophy, religion, sports, and literature with current neuropsychiatric research and his extensive personal experience, Stossel’s book is more than an astounding autobiography, more than an atlas of anxiety. His deft handling of a delicate topic and frustrating illness highlights the existential dread, embarrassment, and desperation associated with severe anxiety yet allows room for resiliency, hope, and transcendence. Absolutely fearless writing. --Tony Miksanek --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I always used to feel sorry for myself, having suffered four debilitating episodes of clinical depression and many years of moderate-to-severe dysthymia. No longer. In fact, I feel rather fortunate not to be Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, whose lifetime of psychic agony—suffering is too weak a word—is chronicled in excruciating, enthralling detail in My Age of Anxiety. […] Stossell manages to describe the most painful and embarassing experiences in a style that is candid but not melodramatic, heartrending but not self-pitying, wry but not cute. The book is not quite [...] a work of art. But it is an extraordinary literary performance nonetheless. […] In an age inundated by memoirs and psychic self-help books, My Age of Anxiety is the rare memoir that tells an entirely compelling story and the rare self-help book that really helps. You, and many thousands of readers along with you, will laugh until you cry. —George Scialabba --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The author is a highly successful author/editor with a personality make-up that would keep most of us in bed 24/7, for years. He is startlingly frank, and brings "Listening to Prozac" (also highly informative for a person with depressive or anxiety disorders) up to date. I've been through the historical mill with these emotional disabilities and the medical/psychiatric community's ever-changing response to them, but compared to Stossel, I've been relatively lucky--deeply unhappy and sometimes completely frozen; unresponsive to the continuously evolving but never very different approaches and medications; and at the mercy of the sometimes brilliant and sometimes abusive professionals I've seen in the past 45+ years.
It is critical to understand that these conditions are NOT the patient's fault ("you just don't want to be well"), and that about 30% of patients don't respond to any current treatment. Available medications can cause terrible side effects (we're just beginning to understand that the SSRI/SNRI sexual dysfunction may be permanent for some; "just hang in there, these meds take time to work"; "caution, this medication may increase the potential for suicide"), alone or in combination with an ever-expanding array of off-label adjunctive prescriptions. One of my friends now takes five, and the mix keeps her functioning, but not without economic, social, and emotional costs.
A few years ago I was finally diagnosed with GAD, generalized anxiety disorder. It took Stossel's literate, humane, and well-researched book to make me realize my symptoms haven't changed--it's the politics and philosophy of the "helping" professions and the diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders (DSM) that changed.
He provides insightful side-views into genetic/familial roots of psychological conditions, the pharmacological and other influences that govern treatment, some common early symptomatology, and the reality that most of us who fall into this community cope the best we can. He offers no prescriptive assistance, but he shares his own experience compellingly. He's imperfect, and aren't we all.
My only real criticism is that the book simply stops. There is no conclusion. I understand why, and perhaps that is the only possible conclusion.
Scott's research shows there are a few pros to being extremely anxious (we're not likely to kill ourselves mountain biking) but there are also very real challenges that people have been facing since the beginning of time. Even Darwin suffered anxiety.
There's a joke there somewhere.
Anyway, this is an awesome book, both for the anxious and those who love them. I highly recommend it. -- Rita Arens, author of contemporary young adult novel THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013) The Obvious Game and editor of SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK (Chicago Review Press, 2008) Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers Including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and More! (Blogher Book)