Fear and Trembling – ‘My Age of Anxiety’ – Review by Dan O’Neill
By most reckonings, Scott Stossel has had and is having a successful life. He went to Harvard, is married with a family, is the editor of the prestigious US Journal ‘The Atlantic’ and has dined with the Kennedys, and he is only in his mid forties. Yet, as he would measure his life so far, Stossel would say he’s a fraud, that he will be found out any minute, that his marriage will fall to pieces and that he will lose the respect of his peers. The problem for Scott is that ever since he was a boy, he has suffered from chronic anxiety. ‘My Life with Anxiety’ is his account of how he’s tried to come to terms with this crippling condition. It is an excellent insight into the angst-driven world of the seasoned anxiety sufferer.
Stossel seeks to define his terms and this is difficult enough. Is anxiety a pharmological disease, to be battered with medication or is it primarily a psychological condition, where the talking cure works best? Unsurprisingly, the jury is still out. Suffice to say, Stossel has tried everything; there’s an hilarious two page description of every treatment he’s ever taken; hilarious because the author never loses his sense of humour, and his litany of despair often makes for cathartic reading. If you think you’re anxious, read Scott’s book. The author has conducted extensive research into the area; he wants to understand what makes him the sort of guy who nearly collapsed at his wedding, has to feed himself a cocktail of drugs and alcohol to deliver a speech, sometimes before mid-day or the type of person who fears vomiting so much (a recognised phobia), that it has dominated a lot of his waking life?
It turns out that there is a history of anxiety in Stossel’s family; no major surprises there. But this is only one element and the author looks at the whole ‘nature versus nurture’ angle. The book isn’t light on science, psychiatry and neurology but don’t let that put you off. It is mostly a searingly honest and well-written tale of what it’s like to live a life in fear. Stossel is aware enough to know that most of these fears will never come to pass; try telling that to an anxiety sufferer though. Humour and perspective seem to be the best armaments to feeling better and the author has both. We wish him well.
‘My Age of Anxiety’ Scott Stossel (Random House) £20 pp 400
Categories: Book Reviews, Books
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