Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith

I do not suffer from anxiety. Occasionally, if I'm very overworked, have a looming deadline, and my To Do list has gotten as long as my arm, I might have a day or two where I feel stressed, and a couple of times in my life I've had an anxiety dream. But to understand what it means to actually be anxious is something I can't even wrap my mind around. I thought it just meant extra-stressed until reading Mr. Smith's account of his anxiety, which isn't particularly debilitating or on the disturbing end of the spectrum. But I do now know how much I don't understand. It took one simple story of how his brain works for me to see how off-kilter anxiety-thinking is. Here was his worry: Because he is anxious, he won't be able to concentrate at work. That will lead to him getting fired, which means to afford to eat he'll have to become a prostitute. Then he'll get AIDS and die. He went from just "I am anxious" to dying of AIDS in very few short steps that gave me whiplash.

Daniel has some theories about when and why his anxiety started, but to me it seemed like if it wasn't one incident, it would have been another, since his mother and brother are also both anxiety-riddled (his mother interestingly is also a psychologist!) I'm guessing there's a genetic component, and also a big learned-behavior part to it that would have manifested even if he hadn't had such an odd and disconcerting first sexual experience.

Along the way, we learn what an awful boyfriend he was initially to his now-wife, how he got into journalism, how he has at times copes or not coped with anxiety. And I was worried when, only twenty-five pages from the end, there didn't seem to be enough time left for him to get some real help. But he does. He finally has a fantastic therapist who makes some real concrete progress with Daniel and gives him practical help for dealing with anxiety (he clarifies that of his other therapists, only one was incompetent, but the rest still weren't particularly helpful.)

This memoir was interesting generally and eye-opening about anxiety in particular. While I will never be able to wrap my mind around getting from "I am anxious" to dying in a gutter of a sexually transmitted disease in six easy steps, I have a lot more understanding and empathy for an issue that I did not fully understand before. Well-written, it read fast and smoothly.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

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