Sunday, January 12, 2014

What About Anxiety?

“Is pathological anxiety a medical illness, as Hippocrates and Aristotle and many modern psychopharmacologists would have it? Or is it a philosophical problem, as Plato and Spinoza and the cognitive-behavioral therapists would have it? Is it a psychological problem, a product of childhood trauma and sexual inhibition, as Freud and his acolytes once had it? Or is it a spiritual condition, as Soren Kierkegaard and his existentialist descendants claimed? Or, finally, is it—as W.H. Auden and David Riesman and Erich Fromm and Albert Camus and scores of modern commentators have declared—a cultural condition, a function of the times we live in and the structure of our society?”

Those words are from the new book, “My Age of Anxiety” by Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic magazine. Stossel’s highly reviewed book is both a memoir of his own crippling anxiety and a history of anxiety itself. This book is beautifully written and powerful in its blending of science, psychology, history and personal memoir.

Caregivers and cancer patients know anxiety. It begins on day one—diagnosis (or even before, when the first symptoms appear) and never ends. Doctor’s offices and infusion centers and emergency rooms and even support groups all have a surround of anxiety. Sometimes that hardest thing for a couple in CancerLand is managing their mutual anxiety. Honest sharing about fear is hard but so is the strategy of keeping one’s own fears and phobia’s to oneself.

Stossel’s book, detailing his own brutal experience with multiple phobias and overwhelming attempts to treat and manage his anxiety, is actually a help to us in CancerLand. No, not just because after reading his book we can say, “Dear God even cancer isn’t that bad”, but because –and this is the power of Stossel’s writing and truth-telling—in reading his book we absolutely know that our struggles and illnesses, of whatever kind, make us human and we are bound to each other by this kind of human suffering.

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