10 Memoirs That Lifted Me Out Of Anxiety

In the midst of a three-month-long panic attack, I needed friends. Funny, wise, interesting friends who had been through some stuff. Here's where I found them.

Hi, I’m Erin and I have generalized anxiety disorder. (Hi, Erin.)

Three years ago, I went through a particularly rough patch when a trifecta of loss, trauma, and Manhattan winter converged right on my oversized amygdala. I was freelancing at the time and was so blisteringly alone and afraid, I couldn’t eat, focus, or hold still. I hated being confined, but I hated even more being on the icy streets tucked inside my puffy coat, a scarf covering everything but my eyes, which were frozen shut from crying. My head was garbage — it was like the world’s worst death metal band had taken up residence in it and was just clanging away at full volume. I needed a different sound, other voices. 

At first, all I wanted were audiobooks about panic and anxiety. It helps, in the throes of panic, to be reminded of the basics (yes, it’s a physiological thing that scientists are aware of; no, it won’t kill you or cause you to go on a homocidal rampage in the subway). Fortunately, I found Dr. Claire Weekes’ Pass Through Panic. Dr. Weekes is the Australian grandmother I wish upon all my anxiety-suffering brethren and sistren. Her voice has that comforting “knowledgable doctor” thing, but with the sage warmth of someone who’s pouring you tea from a pot with a cozy around it.

No one is doing great all the time, they reminded me. And anyway, how boring would that be?

The worst of the panic passed in about a week, and I improved enough to wander the city in a shaky fugue state, stopping occasionally to weep on a bench (New York City is THE place to publicly cry and still be left alone). As I walked, a voice called out from deep within me: Celebrity memoirs, it said. You need all the celebrities right now. 

This doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, that someone enduring dire internal catastrophe would want something light and entertaining. But the books that I remember most fondly from this time were not necessarily “funny ha-ha.” (Then again, I was in no position to LOL at anything. See: Anxiety.) It was enough that their voices were recognizable, that these familiar people were telling me intimate stories from their lives, which were shot through with fear, misfortune, self-doubt … but also a commitment to getting back up again, loving their messy humanness and bringing it into their art. No one is doing great all the time, they reminded me. And anyway, how boring would that be?

All told, this “rough patch” lasted about three months, and I eventually emerged, raw, tired, and a lot kinder to myself. There’s an Albert Camus quote I’ve always held close: “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Resilience is what awaits us on the other side of suffering. And gratitude.

Thanks to the memoirs below, I remember that winter not as one of despair, but transition; when I was listening to these books, I was not lonely. I was healing alone in great company. 

Bossypants

Bossypants

Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher....

Yes Please

Yes Please

Amy Poehler is hosting a dinner party and you're invited! Welcome to the audiobook edition of Amy Poehler's Yes Please....

The Bedwetter

The Bedwetter

From comedienne Sarah Silverman comes a memoir that is at once shockingly personal, surprisingly poignant, and still pee-in-your-pants funny....

I Must Say

I Must Say

In this engagingly witty, wise, and heartfelt memoir, Martin Short tells the tale of how a showbiz-obsessed kid from Canada transformed himself into one of Hollywood’s favorite funnymen....

Coreyography

Coreyography

A deeply personal and revealing Hollywood-survival story.....

As You Wish

As You Wish

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film....

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye....

How to Be a Woman

How to Be a Woman

Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women....

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Once again, David Sedaris brings together a collection of essays so uproariously funny and profoundly moving that his legions of fans will fall for him all over again....

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things gathers the best of "Dear Sugar" in one place and includes never-before-published columns....

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