The American people are, it seems, a fretful and anxious lot. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults. [These] disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.”
A lack of treatment is not the issue for Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, who chronicles his jumpy and jittery journey through life in My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.
“I have since the age of about two been a twitchy bundle of phobias, fears, and neuroses. And I have, since the age of ten, tried in various ways to overcome my anxiety,” he writes. In his quest for relief, Stossel has tried a passel of therapies, drugs and alcohol, with little effect (“Here’s what worked: nothing.”). His current therapist, Dr. W., has advocated facing down these mental disturbances head on, and Stossel admits that perhaps writing this book could be “empowering and anxiety reducing.”
Years in the writing and impressively researched, My Age of Anxiety rigorously examines the “riddle” of anxiety, delving into the history of the disorder and its permutations (i.e., depression, performance anxiety, separation anxiety). He cites the thoughts of teachers, medical experts and philosophers through the ages, from Hippocrates to Spinoza to Freud. Along the way, he embellishes his reporting with accounts of his personal trials (many of which are imbued with dark humor).
Stossel’s final chapter on “Redemption and Resilience” is especially poignant. For while the author realizes that the book’s focus might be viewed as narcissistic, he also hopes that divulging his “unhealed wound” might just be “a source of strength and a bestower of certain blessings.”
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Scott Stossel for My Age of Anxiety.