Stossel tells his story in ‘Age of Anxiety’

Posted March 5, 2014

“My Age of Anxiety”
By Scott Stossel


Anxiety has recently become one of the most common forms of officially classified mental illnesses in the United States, more common even than depression.

Scott Stossel decided to “come out” and his long-standing battle with anxiety is no longer a secret. As a father, editor of the literary and cultural magazine The Atlantic, and a husband, he has his work cut out for him.

He uses his new book, “My Age of Anxiety,” to guide us through his everlasting tango with anxiety and while the trip isn’t without a few bumps here and there, he effectively shows gives us a graceful first hand account on this relatively new disorder.

Each chapter begins with quotes from books, scientific journals, diaries, or even lectures on anxiety and he also places them within his writing. Each quote does help further advance his accounts and gives us a better idea of the idea and points he is making. Stossel begins and ends his book with the same quote: “I have an unfortunate tendency to falter at crucial moments.”

But, what it means at the beginning of the novel to what it means at the end is very different as he takes us through this journey. He opens his book with what should’ve been the happiest day of his life — his wedding.

Stossel proceeds to take us through all the motions he went through standing at the altar using it as a means of explaining how he breaks down. He uses a lot of personal stories and worries and thoughts and experiences to let us in. It creates an extremely intimate atmosphere, like he is a close friend telling you this dreadful secret and burden he has had to carry and you cannot help but feel for him.

Throughout the book he explains his history with anxiety and how it has plagued him from an extremely young age, the countless hours he’s spent in hospitals taking tests, and his personal accounts with his therapists. Stossel lists the mountain of definitions of anxiety, treatments and medications he has tried and what has and has not worked.

What is so effective about his writing is how he manages to use these taboo accounts that the reader could so quickly judge and makes it somehow a bit humorous, “A double scotch plus a Xanax and a Dramamine can sometimes, when administered before take off, make flying tolerable — and two double scotches, when administered in quick enough succession, can obscure existential dread, making it seem fuzzier and further away.”

Stossel also uses many, many facts from scientific articles and journals and studies and they add great truth and value to his story, but in doses. In parts of “My Age of Anxiety,” the medical facts and opinions become too overbearing and the reader easily gets lost in translation. In some parts of the book, it works and makes complete sense, especially when Stossel uses his own personal accounts and parts of his files form sessions, but when he uses facts too much, it makes the book read like a scientific journal.

Stossel was sometimes able to find a balance in speaking medically and in his own words and the results were fantastic, such as:

“Recent academic papers have argued that the psychic and physical impairment tied to living with anxiety disorder is equivalent to living with diabetes — usually manageable, sometimes fatal, and always a pain to deal with.”

When Stossel adds his personal touch, all is better with the world.

Each chapter in his book Stossel dives into different parts of his anxiety: the vomiting and nausea, his fear of public speaking (and numerous other things), all the drugs he’s taken and how they have worked, not worked, and/or made things worse, and his genetics, parents and family and how they’ve added, helped, or observed his disorder over the years.

Stossel effectively organizes his disorder and lays it all out for us to see and better understand. At the end, the reader sees a different person than the one who give you anxiety just by reading the book. It’s still the same anxious man, but with a better understanding of himself and his disorder realizing that it may not be all that bad:

“My anxiety can be intolerable. It often makes me miserable. But, it is also maybe a gift — or at least the other side of a coin I ought to think twice before trading in.”

Stossel has a handicap, but is an inspiration to all those suffering form anxiety and shows the world what it’s like living with, dealing with, and trying to overcome this disorder. After reading everything he has dealt with and gone through Stossel, his childhood therapist, and the reader all come to the conclusion that for a person who suffers from his disorder he truly has and continues to accomplish and manage a lot and even, “thrives despite it … You [Stossel] need to give yourself more credit.”

And he (sort of) does giving this book the only happy ending it could have because, “Maybe by tunneling into my anxiety for this book I can also tunnel out the other side. Not that I can escape my anxiety or be cured of it. But in finishing this book, albeit a book that dwells at great length on my helplessness and inefficacy, maybe I am demonstrating a form of efficacy, perseverance, productivity, and yes, resilience.”