Exploring Anxiety Through Memoirs

Book List – There is a variety of self-help books concerning mental health. Memoirs are my favorite genre, featuring real stories from real people who share their raw experiences with mental illness. The following books explore anxiety through memoirs.

Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went From Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things by Courtenay Hameister

In her memoir of goals, the author challenges herself to attack her fears face to face – an admirable task to take on, in a year. I was particularly interested in the chapter on using a Sensory Deprivation “Float” Tank – an adventurous activity, especially for the claustrophobic.  Hameister’s writing can come across as crude, due to her bluntness of storytelling, but I enjoyed how she narrated her inner monologue with each new experience. The book concentrates on fear, which I feel is strongly related to anxiety and the fear that prevents us from venturing into new and terrifying futures and endeavors.

Little Panic : Dispatches From an Anxious Life by Amanda Stern

The author’s memoir details her childhood growing up with anxiety and worry. I enjoyed reading of Amanda’s experiences, but also found them stress-inducing. Plagued by daily panic that her mother will suddenly die, or forget her own daughter exists, Stern lives in constant fear that everyone she loves might suddenly leave her. As a child of divorce, she is also caught between two conflicting worlds: that of the bohemian, free-spirited life with her mother and the strict, cold sterile environment with her father. I appreciate her honest and detailed narration, growing up a child fearing that her whole world could fall apart in an instant.

Other related books include: On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen, and Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman.

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection by Fran Krause

Comic Strips – Do you still pull all the blankets tight around you at night to keep the monsters out? Does a comment someone made years ago still haunt you at inopportune moments? Have you ever wondered exactly why your pets are so good to you (is it because you’re dying and they know it)? We all have a few irrational fears, and it’s surprisingly fun to read about other people’s, even if you run headlong into a few of your own at the same time.

The Creeps is a collection of Krause’s Internet project “Deep Dark Fears,” in which he solicits fears and paranoias from his audience and illustrates them. It’s weirdly compelling reading, seeing what other people are afraid of, what horrifying thoughts cross their minds at perfectly innocent moments. You’re bound to find something in here that makes you cringe, something that makes you laugh, and something that makes you nod your head in sympathetic understanding.

Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman

indexBook Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman is an exploration of anxiety and its effect on one woman’s life.  In 2014,  Kat went public about having General Anxiety Disorder, publishing a blog post on CNN.com titled “Living With Anxiety, Searching For Joy“.  The reception following the publication was incredible; she received an overwhelming response from readers overjoyed to hear a voice that resonated so much with their own lives.

I have to mention first how much I love the cover art of this book;  I’m always a sucker for cute animals, (especially bunnies) and I snatched this off the shelf without a second thought.  It also seems appropriate given the subject matter–rabbits are by nature skittish, nervous bundles of fluff, in my opinion a perfect mascot for anxiety.

Kat Kinsman is a funny, relatable author who does an amazing job showing what life is like for someone living with anxiety.  She delves into all aspects of her life in a format that switches between chronological chapters, and sections titled irrational fear.  The irrational fear segments detail specific activities and instances that incite anxiety in Kat, including but not limited to: “Seeing the doctor,” “Having No way Out,” and “Driving”.  My favorite thing about this book is Kat’s focus on personal relationships–the role anxiety plays in her relationships with others, and specifically its impact on the pursuance of romantic relationships.  Embarking on romantic endeavors is difficult enough without anxiety and I found that Kat’s personal narrative of love and loss really resonated with me.

It’s easy to feel a connection to Kat’s words thanks to the intimate and honest nature of her writing.  Whether or not a reader struggles with a mental disorder, I think anyone can find a connection with some aspect of Kat’s experiences.