Chronic Anxiety: Sarah Wilson’s Memoir

Sarah Wilson poses the following question in her chapter called “Why I Stopped Trying to ‘Fix’ My Anxiety” in First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, her 2018 memoir about managing chronic anxiety: “Do you think it might be lovelier if we bundle up our uncertainty, fear, late-night overthinking, and kooky coping habits, tuck them gently under our arm, and see where they take us?”

And that title? Comes from a proverb cited by psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind): The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful.

Best known for her I Quit Sugar program, Wilson reveals in this book that her anxiety and insomnia was diagnosed as early as age 12…”then bulimia in my late teens, then obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) shortly thereafter, then depression and hypo-mania, and then, in my early twenties, manic depression — or bipolar disorder, as it’s now called.”

One bit of advice in the book she received directly from the Dalai Lama. On “how to stop the internal ‘fretty chatter that makes us so nervous’ (‘There’s no use,’ he says. ‘Impossible’)” (Publishers Weekly).

A summary by Wilson of further efforts to recover from chronic anxiety (from an excerpt on Shondaland):

I’ve seen about three dozen psychiatrists and psychotherapists and spiritual healers, generally twice a week for years at a time. I was medicated from 17 until I was 28 with anti-epileptic, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic drugs. I’ve waded through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, Freudian analysis, spiritual coaching, and sand play. For long, lonely slabs, I’ve had to step out of the slipstream of life, missing school, dropping out of university twice, quitting jobs, and unable to leave the house for up to a year at a time. Also twice.
I can now tell you it was all anxiety. All of it. Just different flavors.

Wilson says that she’s quit therapy and medication but has returned off and on when things have gotten too hard. “But this journey is what I do now. I bump along, in fits and starts, on a perpetual path to finding better ways for me and my mate, Anxiety, to get around.”

According to Brigid Delaney, The Guardian, Wilson describes a few different types of anxiety:

“You have this thing I call ‘fair enough’ anxiety, which a lot of people experience. It comes from things like public speaking or going through a divorce. Then you have disordered anxiety – and that can overtake your life. There’s not a rational trigger – it’s in your cells, it’s in your bones.

“Everyday anxiety is on the increase and the things that are part of modern life drive it. We are in a permanent state of frenetic, highly agitated states of being; not getting enough sleep, rushing, too much work, not enough balance – stressful conditions. We’re emulating anxious conditions in our everyday living. It’s in how we applaud A-type behaviour.”

As for managing her own chronic anxiety, “it’s kept in check if I don’t get anxious about being anxious” (Kirkus Reviews). Other alternatives to therapy and meds for her have involved long walks, meditation, and eating healthily, among other things.

“Wilson also points out,” reports Publishers Weekly, “that anxiety can have some benefits: anxious folks, for instance, tend to be good planners.” Judging from the book reviews, maybe it also helps make you a good writer.

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