The Literary Salon – On Edge

On Edge - book - Andrea Petersen

We’re all on edge these days.   We live in anxious times and the new worries associated with COVID-19 have made things much worse in a very short period of time.   It seems only yesterday that life was normal and going to a store or restaurant wasn’t a dangerous activity which could cost you your life.   I drafted this blog a month ago before the current crisis exploded, but perhaps it is even more timely today.   This months’ literary pick is by Andrea Petersen, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who has lived with chronic anxiety her entire life.  

On Edge: A Journey Through AnxietyOn Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen

 

 

 

The Publisher’s Blurb:

A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, honest account of living with anxiety.

A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuro-scientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.

Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.

About the Author:    Andrea Petersen is a contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal, where she reports on psychology, health and travel.  During her 18 years as a staff reporter and editor at the Journal, Andrea has covered a wide variety of beats including telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and aging.    On Edge – A Journey Through Anxiety is her first book.

Why I Liked It:

This was one of my bookoutlet bargains, an online site where you can spend hours just browsing, and in this case I was trying to get my basket to $100 so I could get $40 off.   Certainly I’ve known and counselled many patients about the benefits and side effects of the drugs which are often prescribed in the treatment of anxiety, but I’ve never read a memoir about what it’s like to live with it day after day, so I found this book to be an interesting read. 

While most of us think of anxiety as a sporadic or episodic condition associated with a specific event, (like COVID-19), this book delves into what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety disorder.  Patients with.generalized anxiety disorder worry even if there isn’t anything concrete to worry about, as the mind of a patient struggling with GAD can always find something to catastrophize about!   Despite her many low points, the author has led a very successful life,  although her boss at the Wall Street Journal was unaware of her struggles until the book was about to be published.  Worriers can often excel at masking their condition.  She was also fortunate in having a supportive family and friends who understood her condition.   I liked how the author’s history was woven into the various chapters on drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy, research and genetics, so it was a personal story and not just a recounting of scientific research. 

The fight or flight heightened response is an evolutionary adaptation for survival, left over from the caveman days, when our worries were of sabre-toothed tigers and where to find the next meal.   While we in modern times may have new and different things to worry about, like is it safe to go to the grocery store, it’s amazing how adaptable the human mind can be to the new normal, and how it can rise above a current catastrophe and find a way forward.    Something to remember in these, the worst of times.   

PS.   There are many non-drug coping mechanisms that can help soothe an anxious mind and stop the cycle, number one of which is distraction.    Keeping your mind occupied with something creative can be a wonderful distraction, and if you can’t shut your mind off at night, then I find getting up and reading to be a good activity, preferably a non-fiction book.    Basically, any mindless activity such as gardening, painting or reorganizing something is also wonderfully blissful.  What is your coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety in these crazy times?       

39 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – On Edge

  1. Ally Bean says:

    This book looks interesting. I’d like to learn more about GAD. My current coping mechanism is blogging and playing games on my phone. The former is mindful requiring focus while the latter is pure mindless brain candy. Balancing the two each day keeps me feeling mellow. Or mellow enough to not feel anxious most of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Debbie says:

    It does sound like a good read! Right now, I’m too tired to be too stressed out. My fight-or-flight response has evolved into full on rest-and-digest! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anne says:

    My coping mechanism is to keep busy with a variety of fairly regular (although not rigid) chores balanced with more satisfying activities such as watching birds, reading for pleasure, writing, blogging, knitting – and even being a bit more creative about cooking. The main thing, I find, is to take this stressful period one day at a time. I reached my nadir on Easter Sunday and since then have been determined not to try and see too far into the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Maybe that’s the best idea, Anne, just to take it one day at a time and not look too far ahead. I think I’m reaching my nadir this week….partly because we are still having cold weather and flurries! We’ve had a very cool April and a good dose of sun would be wonderful.

      Like

  4. Linda Schaub says:

    Books are a perfect way to hide away and hunker down during this pandemic. Our Governor will extend her stay-at-home Order until May 15th – just as well as we’ve still got abysmal stats, growing 100 a day re: deaths and 1,000 a day for cases. This story sounds interesting and you got a deal since it was a good read though a bargain book and a perfect choice for today which is “National Book Day!”

    Liked by 2 people

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I saw it trending on Twitter yesterday Joni. That was before the disinfectant to cure what ails you took over the trending topics. Also, I follow a site here on WP called National Day Calendar. So if you were creating a blog post tomorrow, it is National Zucchini Bread Day (kind of the wrong season for zucchini though – by Labor Day you can get it for a song). They usually publish around 9:00 p.m. and tell what the next day is. Here is the link for tomorrow’s calendar day for a sample. https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/56504789/posts/2676698155

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        That’s interesting Linda. I followed it. The Disinfectant/Light thing….yea bizarre…..today he says he was being sarcastic…..hardly the thing to joke about when so many people drink his Koolaid?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes, it might be something for fun when you’re stuck for a topic – they are off-the-wall topics sometimes. This site gives you month/year-at-a-glance, so more leeway for topics.
        http://www.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/
        Yes, today he tried to walk it back – my all-news station played back the original comment and I saw it online – he was not being sarcastic in the least and the look on Dr. Birx face was amazing. However, she has today, a few hours ago, been interviewed and said he was still processing information and that’s why the statement came out. They are worried they’ll get fired so “smooth things over” … this is the clip of her saying it was nothing about him saying that. I am amazed on a daily basis.
        https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/dr-birx-defends-trump-s-unfounded-claims-on-bleach-he-just-wanted-to-talk-that-through-82545733707

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I watched the clip – basically he shouldn’t be processing information aloud at a news conference, he should have digested it before he opened his mouth. I’ve read he doesn’t even read his press briefing info as he has such a short attention span he gets bored. I get why they don’t want to cross him, they’ll be fired like so many others, but in the end they come across looking like fools by pretending that kind of stuff is normal? Can you ever imagine Obama musing aloud like that about such nonsense? The FDA director tried to pussyfoot around the question yesterday on CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta came right out and said, hey we already know the answer to that question, ingesting bleach is wrong! So then finally the FDA guy says yes it is wrong. It’s like they’re all afraid of him? So bizarre…..

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        It is bizarre and it seemed like it got more bizarre by the moment. Yesterday he said said he would not be giving as many press conferences and he said a few remarks and left, refusing to take any questions. I don’t know if he gave one today or not. He said he wants to get back on the campaign trail … that’s where his head is at. Obama was a calming force, like Governor Cuomo is – the same kind of leader. The fact that Lysol and Clorox had to issue statements not to ingest their product is just amazing. I heard today on the news that in Florida, the pharmacists will be taking COVID-19 tests/processing them. Be glad you are retired!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Yes I heard that too….it said independent pharmacies, ie not the big chains like Walmart or CVS. Nothing like that here yet…..I don’t think Canada has enough tests to do the general population.

        Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I see – I heard the story once, then not again. That happens a lot and when you try to Google the story, you come up empty handed sometimes. As of midnight we cannot go into any enclosed place without wearing a face mask – I would not have gone anyway given our state’s statistics since early March, although today we have finally seen a decrease in deaths/cases for the first time in weeks. Everyone complains about the strict rules and regs of this Governor, (even a skit on Saturday Night Live last night), but I think it was needed and I’m afraid to see what happens when people have the ability to do what they want again. Free rein might send us back to square one.
        Especially when experts say if we are diligent and do safe practices, things may be normal next year. Some state opened beaches yesterday (thinking it was California) and had to close them again as people were not practicing social distancing. We have a long way to go. I don’t know how our stats are on the test kits – I thought we were behind as there was a shortage of those long cotton swabs as they were always imported from China and no longer available. One company, a small plant, was making all the U.S. long cotton swabs and that company’s owner said he would not run two shifts, nor work his employees on Sundays – he cared for his employees’ welfare. Your long holiday is a week before ours – they might still have the border closed – it was extended another 30 days, but not sure when that additional 30 days would begin. They did not say when it starts tolling.

        Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I did not get back, but wrote a short note to you. I may not have been productive with e-mail (or housework), but I am a few posts ahead anyway. You’d think it was a matter of life or death that I should have a post, but it was enjoyable to do them. Taking the feather duster around the house, might have been admirable on my part though – just sayin’. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I agree with you Joni – I feel bad for guilty pleasures but I enjoyed myself … I never took such liberties before to be honest. A part of me feels guilty but last week was abysmal, as was today, so when I put it into perspective that way, I tell myself “why not?”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes, you’re right so I guess I was justifying my sloughing off. I heard a psychologist say that today – this doc is often on the radio when something tragic happens in the news and they call to pick his brain, and he said that the problem now is that the rewards that we usually gave to ourselves are not attainable right now. Whatever reward we might want – a concert, a night out, even a favorite dinner may not happen so we ultimately end up feeling cheated.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        And then there is the weather – two rainy and dismal days in a row for us – likely you too, and then we are having a real cold snap next week and I heard the long-range prediction on the news today – rainy, all the way to late June/early July then very hot. Well joy – glad we enjoyed our Winter and got out a lot. I think that this worry and lack of events will continue to the end of this year from all I’ve heard and the sports fanatics are beside themselves because they live for going to games or TV sports games. They (MLV) are trying their best to get baseball up and running for a 100-game season despite Dr. Fauci recommending that it is not a good idea. Do they really want to play to an empty stadium? Today I heard if the Summer Olympics do not happen in July/August of 2021, they will be cancelled altogether. I am sure Japan is horrified at that as they spend billions of $$ in advance of the Olympics.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Forecast sounds just like last spring. We are supposed to have a nice weekend, sunny 20 C. I’m sure by 2021 we’ll have a vaccine. The CFL Canadian Football League is asking the government for a $150 bail out??? They must have realized Trudeau has been handing out money like candy. If he gives them something, even $30 million, then every sports team in the country will be lined up….

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Funny about this weekend’s weather – first they said “rain-free and sunny” then they said “well maybe Saturday afternoon could see raindrops” and then it was “perhaps a little rain on Sunday evening” and I think it is like they think we are fragile flowers and cannot deal with any more bad news. Either that or they need to go back to meteorology school.

        As to the vaccine, I heard this morning that Pfizer is working on a vaccine which could be ready by Winter. Earlier would be better as they said to have COVID-19 and the seasonal flu at the same time would tax hospitals, but hopefully it is a workable option and they know soon. Do you think they rush it through to get it approved by the FDA and not follow the usual lengthy process to get it done?

        That is crazy with the CFL – and yes, they’ll all want bailouts then. Why not just face the fact that there SHOULD not be any sports events this year … period. With or without fans – just start next year, finish the hockey and basketball then and baseball starts in April as usual. They are insisting that the NHL finish and go to playoffs in June. The Red Wings were lousy, as was the Pistons (basketball team) and should be glad to quietly exit.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Fragile flowers who can’t handle any more bad news – I like that! Yes it was supposed to be a nice weekend 20 and sun, but now rain Sat night and next week some too. There are so many vaccines in development I don’t know but I would want to know safety and efficacy are being followed. Some of the vaccine techniques they are trying are newly developed so no track record. That antiviral drug they are touting today, I thought it hadn’t shown much difference from earlier studies?? I remember the Canadian government spending millions on Tamiflu (antiviral) in 2010 with H1N1 and all it did was shorten the duration by a day or two, maybe a bit milder, but certainly not a Cure…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I have heard that about Tamiflu also and you had to get it early on when you had the flu or it didn’t do much good. I heard some scientists say this morning that they had to abandon all the studies on drugs for other studies like Parkinson’s Disease and one lamented that he must have special laboratory mice that he breeds just for this purpose and they have to be a certain age for the tests that he conducts re: Parkinson’s, so even if a cure was found right away, he had to get his mice bred, and at a certain age again – he said everyone was pulled off other studies to work on COVID-19. He was upset – it sounded like it was a pet project for him – who knows, he might have found a cure for Parkinson’s. It is sad to me that people are not going for chemo, or having tests or procedures done due to COVID-19 and are afraid to go to a hospital and are dying at home from causes other than COVID-19.

        It is going to get very warm on Sunday – maybe 72 – too warm this early in the year I’m thinking and hopefully it is not severe weather as a result. Always something to worry about these days.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        You had to start the Tamiflu within 72hrs of onset of the flu, in order for it to work well….not sure how practical that would be now. The rest of the system is really starting to backlog here where healthcare has a long wait time anyway….it will take months to catch up, esp the surgeries. Today was beautiful, I managed to sit outside for an hour with some magazines….sun felt good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I remember hearing in the past about long waits for elective surgery as there were not enough surgeons available in Canada but had not heard it mentioned in awhile. It was beautiful today – I stayed out as long as I could, then ran into the house and had to really scramble to get ready for work. Ahh – that first warm day when you don’t even need a coat.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jo Shafer says:

    Thanks, Joni. This sounds like just the book for me. I’ve had chronic anxiety since childhood, along with chemical depression, but only since a proper diagnosis in my perimenopausal years has it been stabilized by Rx and I began to “feel normal.” Music is my soother, so often I have NPR classical music turned on, or YouTube if I’m working on the computer. Of course, prayer and reflection and journaling nourish my inner life — and, on pleasant days, working in my garden. Ah, what would we do without out gardens?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I found it a fascinating read, especially the chapter on genetic tendencies. I hope you are having pleasant weather….the whole of April here has been cool. My gardener/grasscutter came today as the grass was getting long, and also put out my patio furniture but I wonder when I’ll be able to use it. Looking forward to May.

      Like

  6. annieasksyou says:

    As I’ve noted in my posts, I practice mindfulness meditation. There are many free services on line now—and some focused on people who have never meditated before.

    Interesting review of what sounds like a worthwhile book.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. J P says:

    Thanks for this tip. I deeply admire people who share their weaknesses and struggles – perhaps because it is something I do so rarely myself. This sounds like a book that could help many who silently struggle with these tendencies.

    Like

    • Joni says:

      I think we grew up in a more private age JP. I think she struck just the right note in being factual about her struggle without being overly dramatic, probably a result of her journalism background. I found the genetics chapter especially interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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