Hi, Anxiety

I have just finished reading Andrea Petersen’s On Edge, which chronicles how she medicated, meditated and investigated her way through a 25-year journey with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (and a constellation of related syndromes).

Despite, or maybe because of the challenging symptoms, she has nevertheless lived what on the surface would appear to be a charmed life and has maintained a successful career as a contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal. She is an excellent writer, integrating the scientific with the personal so seamlessly that the book reads like a novel.

She catalogues the symptoms of anxiety (racing heart, hypochondria, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, phobias), the neuroscience, the genetics, the treatments (pharmacological and psychological) and the very profound effects it has on a person’s life (isolation, despair, stigma). She feared the effects of psychotropic meds on her unborn child and worries that she has passed on the anxiety gene to her daughter. Her husband is a mensch.

Only once did my attention flag. It was toward the end after hearing about yet another siege of panic attacks and weight loss. Ok, we get it, I thought. Enough….yet, imagine how she, or any other sufferer feels. You think you have this thing under control, and then, boom, it’s back. Putting readers in someone else’s shoes like that is a gift.

While both men and women can suffer from anxiety, women, from childhood on, are made to feel that they are “responsible for [their] own negative outcomes…” As a result, girls become more anxious, self-evaluative and self-critical. They withdraw from the things that scare them. They withdraw from life.

Unlike fear, which is rooted in the present and resolves once the threat is past, anxiety is fear of some unnamed future and is governed by catastrophic thinking. It never goes away.

Anxiety, Petersen says, is a thief that steals your life. You may not be able to “avoid” a diagnosis but when the symptoms strike, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Study the science (it’s really interesting and empowering), ask questions, be open and receptive to treatment. Keep fighting.

On Edge can be a roadmap to finding your bravest, strongest { self }.