Intimate, compelling memoir exploring the boundaries of the author’s severe anxiety.
Raised in a neurotic family consisting of two anxious parents and a brother suffering from hypochondria, Smith’s (Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination, 2007) anxiety began in childhood. By his mid-20s, he had suffered multiple serious anxiety attacks. On the surface, Smith’s life seemed happy. He recently graduated from college with honors, had a great job, loyal friends, a nice place to live and a wonderful girlfriend. “Yet every day was torture,” he writes. “I slept fitfully, with recurring nightmares—tsunamis, feral animals, the violent deaths of loved ones. I have intestinal cramps and nausea and headaches. A sense of impending catastrophe colored every waking moment.” Combining a droll tone and a sharp eye for detail, Smith chronicles his consuming physical and mental symptoms. He unrelentingly gnawed his nails until they became a bloody mess. Sweat, “the great unspoken foe of the chronically anxious,” receives its own chapter. During a temporary job, the author squashed wads of toilet paper into his armpits, hoping the trick would stem the tide of his sweat. During a chat with his supervisor, he leaned over her desk and “the wad dislodged, rolled down my shirt sleeve, and landed beside her keyboard with a sickening splat.” In addition to his personal stories, Smith describes the character traits exhibited by the different types of anxiety sufferers. He compares homesickness to anxiety and explains the radical difference between anxiety and panic attacks. During college, Smith perused the library, using literature as a diagnostic tool; he found Philip Roth’s writing especially helpful. The author eventually found solace in meditation and cognitive therapy. Smith’s narrative smoothly juxtaposes clinical language with often-excruciating details of a life lived within the painful framework of severe anxiety.
A true treasure-trove of insight laced with humor and polished prose.