“My Age of Anxiety” by Scott Stossel

My anxiety remains an unhealed wound that, at times, holds me back and fills me with shame—but it may also be, at the same time, a source of strength and a bestower of certain blessings. Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety

Out today is the stigma-busting My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic (click on the link for a related article), in which he admits his many anxiety-related conditions. In this book Stossel also offers an extensive history and explanation of how the world has tried to understand and treat this wide-ranging category of disorders.

States publisher Knopf in the book description:

Stossel reports on famous individuals who struggled with anxiety, as well as on the afflicted generations of his own family. His portrait of anxiety reveals not only the emotion’s myriad manifestations and the anguish anxiety produces but also the countless psychotherapies, medications, and other (often outlandish) treatments that have been developed to counteract it. Stossel vividly depicts anxiety’s human toll—its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze—while at the same time exploring how those who suffer from it find ways to manage and control it.

The gist of his own personal history? “In short, I have, since the age of about 2, been a twitchy bundle of phobias, fears, and neuroses. And I have, since the age of 10, when I was first taken to a mental hospital for evaluation and then referred to a psychiatrist for treatment, tried in various ways to overcome my anxiety.”

Stossel provides a long list of therapies and medications (and types of alcohol) he’s tried over the years. Of everything, he credits certain medications as helping the most—albeit only somewhat and “for finite periods of time.”

And, whereas meditation has been the most “reliable” form of therapy he’s used, “none of these treatments has fundamentally reduced the underlying anxiety that seems hardwired into my body and woven into my soul and that at times makes my life a misery.”

On the nature of anxiety in general, Stossel offers this concise explanation:

The truth is that anxiety is at once a function of biology and philosophy, body and mind, instinct and reason, personality and culture. Even as anxiety is experienced at a spiritual and psychological level, it is scientifically measurable at the molecular level and the physiological level. It is produced by nature and it is produced by nurture. It’s a psychological phenomenon and a sociological phenomenon. In computer terms, it’s both a hardware problem (I’m wired badly) and a software problem (I run faulty logic programs that make me think anxious thoughts). The origins of a temperament are many-faceted; emotional dispositions that seem to have a simple, single source—a bad gene, say, or a childhood trauma—may not.

Just a Few Positive Reviews of My Age of Anxiety

Kirkus Reviews: “Throughout, the author’s beautiful prose and careful research combine to make this book informative, thoughtful and fun to read. Powerful, eye-opening and funny. Pitch perfect in his storytelling, Stossel reminds us that, in many important ways, to be anxious is to be human.”

Booklist: “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, transcendence. Absolutely fearless writing.”

Publishers Weekly: “Stossel’s journey through his own life is unsparing, darkly funny (a nervous stomach tends to flare up at the worst times, like in front of JFK Jr.), but above all, hopeful. As with many sufferers, Stossel’s quest to find relief is unfinished, but his book relays a masterful understanding of the condition he and millions of others endure.”

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