Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Review: My Age of Anxiety

I checked this book out way back in November, in the hopes of reading up on what someone with social phobias experiences because the main character in the novel I wrote in November-December suffers from social anxiety. Even though I am not working on revising the first draft yet (it still needs to simmer for a few weeks before I begin to tackle that monumental task), it was an excellent read to prepare me for presenting a believable character. The author not only outlines his struggles with anxiety disorders, but also provides historical accounts of the attempts of philosophers and scientists to understand this perplexing condition.

This was a far more academic memoir than the previous book I read for research purposes, Wish I Could Be There. Although Stossel's experiences with anxiety are peppered throughout the book, it is more a history book than memoir. The historical bits were informative and interesting. The memoir parts were shocking and devastating. Parts of the book were excruciating to read. I had to read aloud to my husband the bits about the author's intense fear of vomiting (a fear my husband experienced as a child) and the therapy attempts to minimize the intensity of the fear. My heart went out to the poor author as he recounted a particularly embarrassing bathroom fiasco.

While I doubt this book will be on many people's radar (unless, of course, you struggle with anxiety disorders or have a close friend or relative who does), it was an interesting read and perfect for my research purposes. I gleaned beneficial passages explaining exactly what happens in a panic attack. Moreover, I was able to see how social anxieties diminish when real fears step in (as in the examples he cited of Holocaust survivors who lost their social anxieties during the horrific events, only to have them resurface once the real threat was over). At this point, my character still struggles with some of her anxieties in the midst of the real terror and perhaps I will need to change that in the manuscript. I'm glad this book was available to inform my treatment of the character.

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