Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life is a fascinating memoir. Amanda Stern takes you right into the extraordinary anxiety she experienced in very early childhood, and then interweaves chapters from her adulthood.
The book helped me gain a more well-rounded view of the ways anxiety presents itself and how we try, and sometimes fail, to manage it. Stern tells such an interesting story in such an engaging way, I think this book would be enjoyable even to someone who doesn't struggle with anxiety.
But if you are anxious, buckle your seatbelt. Stern holds nothing back.
I've never (yet) tried to write a memoir. There are a couple of parts I think would be particularly tricky. Number one is the timeline. If you decide that simple chronological order won't get the job done, figuring out a cohesive structure that doesn't confuse your reader is a hurdle. I've seen this done well, and I've seen it done poorly. Stern does it well.
The other chief obstacle, it seems to me, is letting go of your ego and telling the truth, however it might make you look. Stern masters this challenge as well. If you write a memoir that has the goal of making you out to be a hero in the end, savvy readers aren't going to buy in. People know when you're glossing over the ugly parts. Somehow, Amanda Stern — a perfectionist with a panic disorder — separated herself from the fear of what people were going to think of her and just laid it all out there.
I bought and read Little Panic after coming across Stern's blog post "Is Perfectionism Anxiety in Disguise?" She wrote it as a guest blogger for mental health website Bring Change to Mind. The headline grabbed me.
I'm a recovering perfectionist, but not being prone to panic attacks or freezing up in social situations (awkwardness aside), "anxious" is not really a way I'd describe myself. The article skewered me, though, and I had to admit she was on to something.
I did not read this book and suddenly discover that I, too, have a panic disorder. I don't. But I did recognize some of the destructive thought patterns, and the sound of that voice in your head that (surprise!) doesn't always have your best interests at heart. As the parent of two kids who struggled with anxiety that at times interfered with being able to live their lives the way they wanted to — one of whom then died by suicide — the book gave me a lot to think on.
I recommend Little Panic. In my research, I discovered it got the Brain Pickings treatment last year when it was released, a wholly different kind of book review than I've provided here; be sure to check it out. The perfectionism article and panic book are the first of Stern's I've read, but there are a lot more options, and I look forward to wading in!