10 Memoirs That Lifted Me Out Of AnxietyIn 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.
August 5, 2017
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.