March 03

What Stacy’s Reading Now: My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

ageofanxietyA footnote found early in My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel’s recent memoir/social history, notes something that I’ve always suspected: “…there are plausible evolutionary explanations for why both intelligence and imagination ten to be allied with anxiety” (18).  I have always hypothesized that anxiety is a “smart person” problem, and now I have evidence to back up the fact that the most anxious people I know are me… and my twin sister… and most of my friends from grad school… and even my super-smart (and super anxious) eight-year-old nephew.  So, it’s not surprising that many people in my life recommended Stossel’s book to me even before it was published, and that I added it to my shopping cart almost immediately afterwards.

Going through Stossel’s thick – at times almost intimidating it its scope and size – volume was a journey for me. A lot of what Stossel argues – ultimately, that “anxiety is at once a function of biology and philosophy, body and mind, instinct and reason, personality and culture” (14) – wasn’t new information for me.  Instead, I nodded along the way and felt vindicated in what I had always suspected about myself and my reactions to my sometimes crazy and unwieldy mind.  I found myself underlining and starring passages, folding over pages, and sending multiple text messages with key quotes to my (anxious) sister and my (non-anxious) boyfriend along the way.  I had conversations with people about the value (for me, at least) of a combination of coping strategies, medication, and a sympathetic, touchy-feely counselor and weekly yoga classes.  And, I also began to realize and think more about the fact that what works for me might not work for someone else.

Mostly, I found a kindred spirit in Stossel, a “smarty pants” writer just a little bit older than me with his own history of an anxious childhood and some of the same seemingly “shameful” enduring fears (a whole section dedicated to his “nervous stomach”?  Preach it, brother.).  Bravo to him for sharing what I sometimes am afraid to talk about with my closest family and friends.

And, bravo to this book for leaving me with more to think about on my own journey with anxiety.  I keep going back to this quote by Kierkegaard found in the book: “He therefore who has learned rightly to be in anxiety has learned the most important thing” (31).  Here’s to “being” in my anxiety, along with Stossel and everyone else.