In the insightful narrative tradition of Oliver Sacks, Monkey Mind is an uplifting, smart, and very funny memoir of life with anxiety—America’s most common psychological complaint.
Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind is the stunning articulation of what it is like to live with anxiety. As he travels through anxiety’s demonic layers, Smith defangs the disorder with great humor and evocatively expresses its self-destructive absurdities and painful internal coherence. Aaron Beck, the most influential doctor in modern psychotherapy, says that “Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron’s Darkness Visible did for depression.” Neurologist and bestselling writer Oliver Sacks says, “I read Monkey Mind with admiration for its bravery and clarity….I broke out into explosive laughter again and again.” Here, finally, comes relief and recognition to all those who want someone to put what they feel, or what their loved ones feel, into words.
I've been putting off writing this review because it's hard to conceive of doing it justice in a couple paragraphs.
Having struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since I was a little kid, I've read plenty of books about anxiety. Mostly nonfiction from the medical/psych fields, of the "about anxiety" and/or "how to manage anxiety" camp(s). Daniel Smith's book is nothing like that, in that it doesn't attempt to teach or enlighten. Rather, it's his story--his account of what life looks like while navigating through a thick anxiety disorder. I know it's cliche to say this, but it's both tragic and funny, and I admire deeply his ability to be FUNNY while talking about something that can be so harrowing.
Everyone who has an anxiety disorder experiences it differently, I am sure, but there are certain hallmarks that make a sufferer scream, ME TOO! Many of these indicators are tough or embarrassing to admit, but Daniel Smith does so with such honesty and fluidity that it seriously makes me reconsider the way I talk about my own anxiety.
Funny that it's such a relief to read an anxiety book that doesn't have a single "tip" or "trick" or breathing exercise. Thank God. Sometimes, just hearing someone else's story is enough.
4/22/2016 UPDATE: I had a severe anxiety disorder for over 10 years, I reached a point where I was panicking about going outside. I can now say that I haven't had a panic attack in over 6 months and it is the greatest feeling in the world. This book didn't cure me, but it helped me understand I was not alone. There are so many varying degrees of panic attacks, and I felt like I was a little more extreme than Daniel, but it doesn't matter - we all have panic attacks and we all want to be better. So it took me a long time but I can now say what I never believed I would say: I am better. Keep working at it guys - stay on top of it - and know that at some point, maybe not tomorrow or next year, that you will be better too.
To soothe an anxious mind is like trying to stop a tsunami...with an umbrella. Being one of the millions who suffer from anxiety, I have tried everything to "fix" myself. I have panic attacks about having panic attacks. I am in a constant state of "fight or flight" wherever I go and, at some points of my life, considered hospitalization. That is why I connected so well with Daniel Smith's "Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety."
Friends, family, and therapists always console me by saying "You're not the only one who suffers from this," to which I would reply "Well, where the hell are they?" But I finally found someone, and that someone is Daniel Smith. I have never met him in person, even though he mentions walking around the streets of Boston. Could I have bumped into him without knowing? Was I too busy having a panic attack to notice a fellow anxiety sufferer? I picked up the Advanced Reader's Edition of his book on a whim at work. Maybe I could add another useless anxiety book to my bookshelf...like I really needed another book to tell me to "breathe" when I feel that I am at the bottom of the ocean with the pressure of the water crushing my lungs like a tin can.
Something strange happened when I read the first few pages...Daniel was writing about me. Sure, the names of people and places had changed but there I was living and breathing through his words. Even his panic attacks mirrored my own, they were "cerebral...starting with a thought - a what if or a should have been or a never will be or a could have been - and metastasizes from there, sparking down the spine and rooting out into the body in the form of breathlessness...and a terrible sense that the world I find myself in is...threatening." These thoughts are practically unstoppable, they start with small raindrops of what-ifs, then a flood of what-ifs these what-ifs aren't what-ifs, then an overflowing unstoppable tsunami of impending death or doom. And that umbrella you have isn't going to save you.
Anxious thoughts are completely irrational, like the time I thought I was going to die in one of the bathroom stalls at college after a train of thought that went a little like this: "What if the paper I wrote isn't good? If the paper isn't good then I will get a bad grade. If I get a bad grade it will bring down my GPA. If my GPA goes down, no one will hire me when I graduate. If no one hires me, I will have to write erotica for porn websites for money. If I write erotica, some pervert is going to find out where I live. If the pervert finds me, he will rape me. If he rapes me, he will kill me." For some reason, in my irrational mind, a bad grade leads to rape then death just like Smith's anxious mind sees being fired leads to getting aids and dying.
I have done many things to calm my "monkey mind" ( a state of being in which the thoughts are unsettled, nervous, capricious, uncontrollable ) including breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and therapy but nothing will stop my mind from "bouncing skull-side to skull-side, which keeps flipping and jumping flinging feces at the walls and swing from loose neurons like howlers from vines." Because that is what most anxious thoughts are...shit, waste, useless.
Daniel and I have walked the same roads emotionally (and physically through Boston) trying to deal with anxiety. We've both had " six therapists - as many shrinks as Henry VIII had wives - and five out of six have been almost completely ineffectual, like taking aspirin for leprosy." We both stood "curbside in the wet New England heat, a stout brick dorm - my new home...suddenly seized by the impulse, an impulse it took every bit of self respect I could muster to stop myself from acting on, to go bolting down the road after them, an idiot dog chasing a car" at college. We also found short lived salvation in "a small orange cylinder" filled with little chalky tablets. We have traveled a very long road together but on route he saw something I never did. People who are anxious are highly attuned to their surroundings, they see with "sharper eyes" and feel with " more active skin." We are "more receptive to the true nature of thing than everyone else" and, because of our anxiety curse, to be able view the world with such intensity is "to be an artist."
Daniel describes his condition with spunk and isn't afraid to laugh or even cry in his memoir. Through him we learn about his anxious therapist mother, his first threesome, being exiled to college, and his work as a writer. He gives anxiety a body and a voice by breaking down all the technical mumbo jumbo about peripheral vessels and adrenal medulla and transforms it, to what I imagine to be that creepy old guy at the bar, saying "This right here? This right here is probably really bad for you. You should think seriously about taking off."
This book isn't the end all cure, it doesn't have any relieving techniques or new ways to breathe. What it is....is that someone, the someone everyone has been telling you is out there. There are millions of people suffering from anxiety everywhere, and one of them is Daniel Smith. And another...is me.
All anxiety sufferers should add this to their bookshelf!
Following the reaction to my naming of Smith's experience as rape (see comments), I re-read the book, with an open mind, looking for evidence of this consensual but regretted activity some people seem to see. I still see only rape.
It's clearer than ever to me that Smith has been groomed by a predatory adult, does not want to have sex, and doesn't know how to get out of it.
To avoid unwanted sex is not an easy thing. There's a great column by Katie Halper in which she details her strategies to avoid sleeping with a co-worker. Halper is a grown women with experience in the field, dealing with a non-predatory man, and even so it's a difficult thing, because she wants to maintain a non-sexual working relationship. Negotiating no sex is tricky, even for adults.
Children are not trained to give a big, loud, "NO!" when faced with something they do not want to do. They're even less able to handle a situation where it's something they know they're 'supposed' to want to do.
Halper's column is relevant because, as you will see below, Smith explicitly refers to a social "script," and feeling that he had no control to write the ending he wanted.
"Esther," a grown woman, grooms Smith for years, through their work contact, confiding inapproppriate sexual information about her relationship with her husband:
"You're so mature. I have to keep reminding myself you're only fifteen." (p. 48) "I can come just by someone licking my neck" (p. 57) "I want this to be our little secret . . don't tell anyone." (p. 50)
Although initially flattered, Smith doesn't want to be her confidant, but doesn't know how to end it:
"It was dizzying to experience this revulsion and attraction simultaneously" (p. 49)
"All the flattery of her attention took on the spiky surface of unfortunate, unwanted reality" (p. 50)
Then Esther iniates sexual contact. Please remember this is a 16 year old boy:
"For Esther, however, I was not able to muster even the slightest sexual attraction, not even blitzed . . . I was shocked to find that none of this seemed to matter as far as what was going to happen was concerned. Not even physical disinterest could void the remainder of the script, redact and replace whatever ending had already been written." (p. 58-59)
"I would like to shake the vagina's hand, talk to it for a while . . . but the vagina is businesslike and gruff. An impatient vagina, a waiting vagina . . . My penis feels like what I imagine a phantom limb must feel like . . . As I proceed . . . struggling to keep my erection . . . I feel . . like a symbol . . . How could I have said no . . . Through a haze of cannabis I bolster my courage . . . what I am about to do is not for myself . . . Oh dear lord, what have I gotten myself into." (p. 12-13)
"the late-night shower in which I was suddenly overcome by the need to scrub myself raw with a fingernail brush and antibacterial soap, the compulsion the next morning to be tight-lipped, shielding what had happened from exposure; the compulsion the next night to brag, mythologizing what had been at best a blur of confused, mechanical heaving, the unpredictable fillips throughout of doubt, amazement, guilt, pride, anger, lust, self-hatered, self-love" (p. 61)
And here's how it impacted him:
"memory and disgust banded together like some neurological death squad to hack apart serenity . . . there was nothing in the world that did not speak to my anguish" (p. 69)
"the plump blond with a penchant for teenage boys . . . she took my virginity, and going on twenty years later my mind still hasn't recovered . . . Losing my virginity in a way that even my most depraved friends find unfortunate had an immediate and profound impact on me" (p. 14).
Smith's rape is incredibly upsetting. What is even more upsetting is that some readers see this as consensual sex. One commenter on my original review said, "Emma, I realize from your prior debate with Danny that you are fixated on the idea of rape in this scenario, but to me, this felt more like garden-variety remorse."
"garden-variety remorse"?! Jesus Christ!
Original review below:
Woah, this was SO not what I was expecting! Do you see that blurb?
Anxiety once paralyzed Daniel Smith over a roast beef sandwich, convincing him that a choice between ketchup and barbeque sauce was as dire as that between life and death. . . . With honesty and wit, [Smith] exposes anxiety as a pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind a curtain of dread and tames what has always seemed to him, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, a terrible affliction.
I thought this would be a humorous look at a general late-capitalist malaise: anxiety and a bit of choice paralysis. I had no clue that the book would open with the fact that starting when he was 15 Smith was groomed by an adult co-worker from his after-school job, and when he was 16 she and another woman raped him. His mother sent him to a therapist who uncannily resembled his sexual abuser. A different therapist he saw in college seems to have been truly incompetent.
Smith's anxiety stems from believing that he was not raped, but was, rather, weak willed. Defective. A "pushover . . . shamefully, contemptibly, pathetically, unreservedly acquiescent to the wills of others". When you believe, erroneously, that you made a free, uncoerced choice to have sex with someone you did not desire, but actively disliked, of course you will think your decision-making sucks.
Writer Eric Weiner is quoted on the back of the book, calling Smith's rape "an ill-fated menage a trois". *facepalm*. Would Weiner say the same thing about a 15/16 year old girl slowly and carefully groomed then coerced into sex by an adult male and his friend? Because I don't think so. And it sickens me that young men's sexual abuse is so trivialised.
The writing in this book is good, but honestly, Smith's story hurts my heart. I hope this book helped him.
Jess.marie, in the comments to this review, points out that anxiety is a serious and terrible condition. I do not argue against this point at all. I can completely understand that an anxiety disorder is both serious and frightening. Further, I think this book shows that rape can be an extremely damaging event, with repercussions that are long-lasting and life-altering, even if others dismiss your rape as sexual experimentation.
I think possibly Jess.marie and I can agree that the blurb for this book is terrible: in no way does it convey the depth of pain and hurt that Smith goes through.
It seemed like the author was trying to emulate David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs with his witty take on his anxiety. Instead he took a very serious topic and made a joke out of it. Most of the book was spent talking about his sexual relationships that he had as a teenager. He claims those in combination with his overbearing mother gave him anxiety. This book was very incoherent and had no purpose. There was a lucid moment at the end of the book that basically said he would never not have anxiety, he just had to manage it with discipline and action. It is too bad he took this opportunity to have offer some insight on anxiety to help others going through the same thing to just embellish on his messed up female relationships. Wondering how this even got published.
Over the last couple of years, I have read a variety of books about anxiety disorders… books that were targeted mainly to mental health professionals. There is a history of anxiety disorders in my family and several years ago after a traumatic incident, one of my children began suffering from bouts of anxiety which interfered with his quality of life. Although reading the plethora of information about anxiety disorders was helpful in understanding the illness, I was looking for a book that would be more personal…a memoir of course. I then discovered 'Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety' by Daniel Smith. This memoir turned out to be just what I had been looking for.
Daniel Smith, articulately and with a great deal of humor, wrote about his experiences with anxiety over his lifetime, anxiety so crippling at times that he ended up resigning from his job as a fact checker at the 'Atlantic Magazine'. There are points in his story in which Daniel becomes almost a detective in his search to pinpoint exactly when his anxiety became an unbearable force and what event most likely triggered it. For Daniel, his first acute case of anxiety came at the age of 16 after an experience of sexual experimentation that he was conflicted about and unprepared for emotionally. After a night of alcohol and drug use, Daniel found himself in a sexual situation with two older women. The next day he was gripped by a crippling anxiety about what he had been involved in. This anxiety left him unable to function in school or in any other routines of his daily life. This episode of anxiety was just the first of many which would plague him for years to come.
In the course of attempting to understand his anxiety, Daniel discovered that his mother, Marilyn, had been battling anxiety throughout her life as well. The family had never really discussed Marilyn's anxiety. Daniel supposed that the whole family KNEW but had never talked about the problem. I found this particularly interesting and also sad. This confirmed what I already knew… people are often ashamed of mental illness and they sometimes go to great lengths to hide it, even from family members. What seemed especially sad in this case is that Marilyn was also a psychotherapist.
Throughout this memoir,Daniel Smith takes us through the events in his life and demonstrates how these events were often shaped by his anxiety. He writes about his college experiences at Brandeis University. Young people often have difficulty in adjusting to college life and feel stressed ; but for Daniel, those feelings were magnified and in addition to his anxiety, he also felt isolated. He thought about dropping out of college but with the encouragement of his parents, a prescription for Xanax and psychotherapy, he stuck with it.
We are also given glimpses into Daniel's everyday challenges in dealing with his overpowering anxiety. He attempts to describe in detail what he experiences physically… profuse sweating, pounding heart, often headache (which makes him believe he is having a stroke) and what's more.. he describes his feelings during an anxiety attack as an "icicle in his chest". he also describes his thought processes which I can only describe as hyper alert thinking… a sort of 'over' thinking which seems to often culminate in thoughts of great hopelessness and despair. Daniel provides an example of the kind of thinking he typically engages in. He writes of the thoughts he had while walking the short route from his office at work to his therapist….. "My walks to therapy , for example, were spent outlining with great logical precision the manner in which my state of mind would lead me to complete existential ruin…… I am anxious. The anxiety makes it impossible to concentrate. Because it is impossible to concentrate, I will make an unforgivable mistake at work. Because I will make an unforgivable mistake at work, I will be fired. Because I will be fired, I will not be able to pay me rent. Because I will not be able to pay my rent, I will be forced to have sex for money behind Fenway Park. Because I will be forced to have sex for money behind Fenway Park, I will contract HIV. Because I will contract HIV, I will develop full-blown AIDS. Because I will develop full-blown AIDS, I will die disgraced and alone. …….. By the time I arrived .. I was typically so demoralized I could barely stand."
I appreciated Daniel Smith's honesty when writing about his episodes of anxiety. It could not have been easy to describe in such glaring detail what may appear to much of the world as strange thought processes. His terrific sense of humor clearly enables him to cope with the embarrassment and frustration he often feels; and in addition lightens the mood of a painful personal story which often feels so sad and exhausting. Daniel, of course, continues his struggle with anxiety but he has described the philosophy he has adopted…. "The bargain was this: Admit the anxiety as an essential part of yourself and in exchange, that anxiety will be converted into energy, unstable but manageable. Stop with the self-flagellating and become yourself, with scars and tics."
I applaud Daniel Smith's courage to write so clearly and honestly about his daily struggles with an anxiety disorder. I believe that the more people who come forward to talk about mental illness, the more it will be viewed, not as some sort of character flaw, but rather as a disease every bit as 'real' as the physical diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Daniel Smith made four general observations about anxiety that shows how intimate he is with this particular affliction:
1. Anxiety starts from fear. Once anxious, the brain looks for more things to be fearful of, which begets the cycle. Essentially, anxiety is addictive.
2. There is no cure for anxiety. Only treatment and treatment only works if one is committed to the long process.
3. Anxiety sufferers are not "crazy." Crazy implies a break from reality. Anxiety may be a result of being in "too close of touch" with reality. I interpreted this to mean taking a situation and mentally following it to the worst conclusion, then imagining that's what will actually happen.
4. People with anxiety should have plenty of responsibilities and not too much free time. Too much free time is too much worry time, and the mind will use this to focus on present worries or find new worries.
I liked the book because it took the reader on the author's journey. This book however, is about Smith's experience and will disappoint if anyone looking for a self-help book. Anxiety is an individual experience ranging from serious obsessive compulsive issues or panic to the every day grind of chronic, uncontrollable worry where the sufferer is functional and probably hiding the problem from everyone.
I read the first 60 or 70 pages word for word. I wanted to stop reading after the intro but I'd heard good things about this book so I pressed on. However, after about the first 60 or 70 pages, I skimmed the rest of the book.
This is the author's memoir of life with anxiety. That said, the book loses its focus time and again as the author goes on tangents that are unrelated to the topic of the book.
In my opinion, the nervous disorder called anxiety is very complicated, subtle, chronic, baffling, acute and no laughing matter. This does not come across in Smith's book.
Finally, anxiety is extremely difficult to explain to someone who does not experience it and even harder to explain it in a way that does it justice so that others understand it. That said, I personally would not give someone "Monkey Mind" in the hopes that they would come to better understand anxiety.
I'm going to do something that I've never done before in a book review. I'm going to recommend that you NOT read this book. It's not because Monkey Mind isn't an effective expose on what an individual suffering from chronic anxiety lives with; it is. It's at times darkly funny, as Smith has few problems poking fun at his own complexes. Other times it's very informative; you can tell he has done his research, and hasn't relied solely on personal experience. All in all, Monkey Mind is engaging, a little tragic, and sometimes wandering in the way that a storyteller is wont to be as they look back on their life.
One other thing Monkey Mind is, is gratuitous. Only at the beginning, only in the first chapter, and only for a few pages, but it is enough for me to caution any casual reader against picking this memoir up and reading it. Smith believes his anxiety to have been triggered by an incident of statutory rape when he was fifteen; this is something that is understandably traumatic for any individual, and I can both sympathize and grieve for the writer. Nevertheless, I feel that he broached this with the reader indelicately. There are ways to present this to a person that conveys the emotion, the tragedy and the impact, without the use of lewd and graphic description.
As I said, this is literally about two pages of the book, but it was off-putting enough for me to warn off a potential reader. Yes, it was that bad. As you read this, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Who is this prude, who hopes to be a counselor and can't put up with some descriptions of trauma?" And that's a valid question; it's why I kept reading the book rather than returning it to the store, as was my initial impulse. Therapists are privy to the best and worst of humanity, and in each person's own story. I have no doubt that in my practice I will hear similar, if not more graphic accounts. It's the responsability of a therapist to be able to listen to such a narrative and be compassionate; otherwise what good are we?
No, what I take issue with is not the telling of his tale, or that he would disclose what happened. I take issue with Smith's indelicacy and presentation in such a public format. This is a book on display at a bookstore, with a brightly colored, inviting cover. The reader is expecting a memoir on anxiety (which we get) but not a sex-education lesson. If the casual reader wants to learn about anxiety, I suggest that there are other books out there to explore.
Having said that, I cannot deny the clinical pertinence of Smith's story. He writes well, and my eyes were opened to the personal experience of chronic, pathological anxiety. As a therapist, that insight is invaluable and helped to qualify my own personal experiences with anxiety, as well as to understand the spectrumal nature of the symptoms. So often, as we live through our own brand of panic, we come to impart meaning and severity towards the higher end of the charts. After all, what do we ever have but our own experience to compare ourselves to at a given moment? Monkey Mind allows you to place your own experiences into a larger contextual frame of operation, as any good psychology oriented memoir should. As a therapist in training, it was also helpful to compare Smith's own history to the criteria of the DSM-IV-TR from an inside-out perspective, rather than with the externalized objectivity by which it is learned.
In short, Monkey Mind is a dark and frank take on chronic anxiety, but I just can't get past my personal convictions regarding Smith's gratuity to refer this book to anyone, excepting perhaps other clinicians. But, even then, surely there are equally insightful, and less offensive memoirs out there about anxiety?
As much as I like Smith (I heard him on WTF w/ Marc Maron), this book just didn't pull me in. Smith doesn't really convey what it feels like to suffer from crippling anxiety. I kept thinking back to Marya Hornbacher's Madness: A Bipolar Life. Hornbacher drags us into her mind. When she's manic, we feel invincible. When she's down, we really don't see how things could get better. I left that memoir feeling dizzied, dazed, like I'd suffered with her.
Smith, by contrast, doesn't seem to take his subject matter all that seriously. Instead of earnestly describing what it's like to suffer from this type of anxiety, he chooses to treat it all like a joke, delivering his material like a stand-up comic: punchlines coming quickly, every story followed by a funny little analogy. (For this reason, the book reminded me of Shalom Auslander's promising but ultimately disappointing Foreskin's Lament.) "Monkey Mind" would have been better had Smith instead chosen to delve more deeply into his past and let the laughs result from the experiences themselves and not his commentary on them.
The first quarter or so of this book is very funny, describing his severe anxiety in general. It becomes markedly less funny and dangerously boring when the author talks at great length about how he went to college and was basically saved by reading Philip Roth (ugh). Even though he keeps insisting his own family is nothing like Roth's, he winds up blaming a great deal of his problems on his mother (she's too anxious herself, the atmosphere at home was too chaotic, &c &c). He says his father's anxious too, but his father never appears in the book.
More seriously, then he goes on to detail a terrible article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 2001 about ECT. I remember that article, and the controversy about it, even though that was over ten years ago. I bought this book on Kindle so there was nothing on the cover flaps or back that might have warned me this is the same author (I'd be curious if there's anything on the hard copy that might connect him with the article). If I'd known, I might not have even bought the book. That article represented a terrible low for the Atlantic's journalism in general and psychiatric journalism in particular. No, I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know about pro-ECT books written by people who claim they benefited from ECT (I own several). This is deadly serious. I detest Peter Kramer's book about Listening to Prozac, for his shallow and superficial emphasis on cosmetic psychopharmacology, for the same reasons. It's why I detested Frey's "memoir." These are diseases that kill people, and the suffering experienced by people with mental illness demands the most scrupulous research and writing, the best possible thought. Claiming you were victimized by mentally ill people who have actually gone through ECT because they made you feel bad -- I have absolutely no respect for that.
If you want to read a memoir about severe anxiety which starts off very amusingly, descends into boring autobiography and then is infuriatingly defensive ("I hadn't killed anyone or knocked anyone up. I hadn't even acted maliciously"...."I was a junior editor twenty months out of college. All I'd wanted was to write and be published")* -- then get this from the library.
*This reminded me of the infamous defense the same magazine mounted when the internet blew up about a writer who wanted to get, gasp, paid for his work -- "a young journalist in her first week on the job was part of the collateral damage" -- well why the fuck are the "young journalists" fresh out of college fucking up? Because they're cheap labour, that's why, and until someone outside your magazine calls them on it, this kind of incompetence can just slide. Because you're not willing to pay for quality.
I had high hopes for this memoir but ultimately was disappointed. What I wanted (lower my expectations, I tell myself) was a book full of rich anecdotes; an honest journey through one person’s anxiety. What I got instead was a book with some anecdotes but an equal number of dissertations on philosophy. Smith, obviously a smart cookie, mentions Freud a few too many times, but his diatribe on Kierkegaard is the deal breaker. If I ever want to read about Kierkegaard’s take on anxiety, which I most probably won’t, I’ll head for a college textbook. Instead, I had to suffer through pages and pages of boring information right smack in the middle of a memoir. It added nothing to the story of his Life with Anxiety; in fact, it detracted from it.
I guess I’m not being fair because I say I just want him to be honest, and yet one of the times he is just being honest, I complain. He talked on and on about anxiety being the curse of young Jewish men, repeatedly citing the novels of Philip Roth. Even though I know he wasn't saying that an old Gentile woman can't have anxiety, I sure couldn't relate to him and I found his epiphany boring boring boring.
On the positive side, Smith does know anxiety and makes some interesting but overly intellectual observations—the fact that I can remember none at this moment is proof of how convoluted these observations are. It was, however, fun and cathartic to read that his therapist handed down a common and very chant-able mantra: “Nothing bad has actually happened.” (It’s a nice and snappy-sounding tool but it barely, if ever, works against the hurricane that is anxiety.)
So I hated the huge, chunky middle of this book, but the beginning and end made it a palatable and even enjoyable read at times. With humor and suspense, he describes the events that caused his major bouts with anxiety, starting with the bizarre and dramatic way he lost his virginity when he was a young teenager. Later, when he has a stressful job as a fact-checker at a major publishing house, his anxiety is once again heightened, and one of the by-products is excessive sweat pouring out of his armpits. One of the best and funniest parts of this book was his description of this sweat and the absurd lengths he went to in order to hide it. This is good stuff—and stuff that I will not forget.
In the middle of this book, I threatened to abandon it. I huffed and puffed. If I do keep reading, I swore to myself, I’m only going to give it a 2. However, since Smith did redeem himself in the last part of the book, I begrudgingly upped it to a 3. Mostly people familiar with anxiety will be drawn to it, and for those who are—realize that you’re going to be in grad school half of the time.
A horrible and too loosely woven memoir. I would like those past few hours of my life back. Oprah's book recommendations failed me terribly this time. This poor guy is clearly suffering, and there are moments of clarity where he is actually able to articulate what it is like to have an anxiety disorder, but most of the book is an incoherent, self -serving collection of quotations and the author does not do justice to his topic . Booo.
A.J. Jacobs cover-blurbs Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind. This is not necessarily a positive harbinger. Jacobs has spawned a genre of cutsey-but-not-horrible books in which the author does something wacky like buying a Korean deli or living according to strict Biblical tenets then keeps a diary of his travails and insecurities. Monkey Mind ventures into more serious territory but retains the basic formula. Smith outlines his history with anxiety while straddling the “not too serious” Jacobs approach. Another jacket blurb compares Monkey Mind to Styron's Darkness Visible. Not even close. Just...different. Less serious, maybe similar in narrative.
I get the sense low-level magazine editors/writers/fact-checkers, like Smith, Jacobs, and the guy who wrote My Korean Deli, all want to write books like Monkey Mind and/or Jacobs's works. These book sell and I imagine the magazine business isn't exactly, uh, stable. So I understand the motivation. While Monkey Mind isn't a medical textbooks it's not like Smith engages in false advertising. He's telling his anxiety story. That's valuable in its own right. I'm not comfortable with how fast and loose Smith plays with science, psychology and causality, so I wouldn't frame Monkey Mind as anything but a narrative in which anxiety-experiencers may recognize themselves and, I hope, feel less weird and alone. Smith is smart and articulate, and Monkey Mind breezes intelligently until he introduces an awkward romantic angle that seems to exist only to frame the book's climax. That's okay. Monkey Mind stakes its claim describing anxiety with grace and humor. Perfect for your depression-oriented book club.
Daniel Smith's memoir may deserve better than this middling score, but here's where I'm coming from: reading about someone else's anxiety doesn't help me with my own. I knew going in that this wasn't a self-help book – I wouldn't have read it if it was – but I was hoping that by reading Smith's "memoir of anxiety" I might gain some insight into the condition I've wrestled with since my early teenage years. While I felt myself nodding along ("Yeah, that sounds familiar. So does that. And that."), and while the writing is funny and self-deprecating, I wasn't particularly interested in reading the literary equivalent of a mirror. I get it. I live it. You've gotta tell me something I don't already know.
My hunch is that Monkey Mind would be far more interesting to those who aren't dealing with anxiety. It would serve as a travelogue, a chance to venture someplace that might be interesting to visit but where you'd never want to live.
Trigger warning: in review - mention of rape; in book -
This is a memoir of anxiety, as the subtitle states, more so than a memoir of a person with anxiety. While the description presents this book as providing a sense of how anxiety feels for all anxiety sufferers, in reality, it presents how anxiety feels to one person who has moderate to severe generalized anxiety likely triggered by a combination of nurture and a one-off trauma Smith does not characterize as such (but clearly is - see Emma Sea's review). It is important to understand this distinction because this description of anxiety does not accurately apply to someone with generalized anxiety due to complex, prolonged trauma, anxiety which is part of PTSD, or social anxiety. For some readers, this may be a small nuisance, but for anxiety suffers, it is rather significant.
While recently I have enjoyed some memoirs, I tend to not particularly enjoy the genre, unless it crosses over into another genre, like comedy memoirs, and is rather lighthearted. I was excited going into this memoir since it crossed over into mental health and the blurb and title gave the impression it would be a humorous read on a serious subject. I was also hopeful for an interesting depiction of anxiety, how it manifests, and possibly, how the author handles it. There are all these elements, but I found the depiction of anxiety challenging to relate to, no clarity on how it manifested for the author (the lack of clarity around whether his trauma was trauma is troubling to say the least), and little understanding of how the author dealt with/ overcame it. It also is not at all light and humorous but instead covers the topic of anxiety very seriously and goes into extensive detail about a trauma, which is quite clearly rape but which the author claims was instead a weakness on his part. This is incredibly unsettling and the dismissal of this trauma as "consensual" by everyone except the author's mother in an egregious error which feeds rape culture and could be potentially devastatingly damaging to readers who are survivors of similar rape. I am shocked and horrified that a memoir about anxiety would perpetuate rape culture and quite likely fuel the anxiety of the author and readers with similar histories. My last complaint is with how the book ended, with him winning back his girlfriend - the one who helped calm his anxiety - and marrying her. If I wanted a cheesy book where a romance fixes everything, I would have read women's fiction or romance. That ending is doing anxiety sufferers a disservice.
I cannot recommend this book, even for people who enjoy memoirs and even though it is a solid, well-written memoir because of the rape denial. For anxiety sufferers or rape survivors, I would highly recommend passing on this book. Please warn fellow readers who express interest in this book.
So I read this book as part of the #MHAReadathon which focuses on highlighting Mental Health conditions and talking about them. I had never read about anxiety before, and I didn't expect this to be as frank as it turned out to be, but I liked that. This is the story of Daniel Smith's life, it's not made up, it's real, and it's not a story about everything getting better, it's an on-going battle. I think before reading this I understood the concept of anxiety, but I didn't necessarily understand how debilitating it could be or how it was different to panicking and stressing. This book certainly delved deep into the differences and causes (for the author at least) and I liked being able to see a glimpse into an anxious mind and try to understand the condition more myself. I do think that in terms of writing style this didn't work as well for me as some memoirs I have read, but as an overall informative text and life story, who am I to judge. This was easy to get through and highly interesting and insightful at times. 3.5*s overall.
An amusing but slightly long-winded memoir by a writer suffering from severe anxiety. Daniel Smith begins the book by trying to find the origin of his anxieties. What event in childhood caused him to start panicking? His mother, a psychotherapist, also suffers from anxiety and is able to help, but Daniel thinks she may have been part of the problem. My favorite chapter was when Daniel got a job at The Atlantic magazine as a fact-checker. He's thrilled to be working there, but it also causes him to flop sweat and to panic under the pressure.
There are some tips Daniel uses to calm his anxiety, but he acknowledges that there will be no recovery for him, only ongoing treatment. Recommended for psychology enthusiasts.
This book did not work for me on so many levels. I did not want to follow Daniel Smith on his many long egotistical meanderings. I never felt that he was totally sincere or interested in developing a compelling narrative. His attempts to add humor to his saga felt labored. He showed his mother's personality through her actions and that rang true. His own personality was mostly shown through rivers of words that didn't resonate with me. I think that his editors let him down. His struggles with anxiety deserve to be told but in a more engaging way.
“Monkey Mind” is a very interesting personal account of a person living with anxiety. While reading it, I realized that I could easily relate to certain things (compulsive overthinking, disaster scenarios, difficulty concentrating, the dread of social interactions, the need for a certain routine in order to feel in control of the situation, obsession with getting everything perfect or the world will end lol) but I also realized that my anxiety isn’t as severe as compared to what the author had to go through. If you also struggle with anxiety, I’d definitely recommend reading it. It’s very personal, honest, humorous (I actually chuckled out loud in quite a few places) and so very relatable.
Yeah, you can say it piqued my interest. I told (hubby) he didn't have to read it, as he's lived with it for over 20 years. If you have any kind of ANXIETY, the kind that makes you feel on the outside of normal, you might enjoy this book. That is, if you feel it is psychologically healthy for you to do so. You may or may not be as bad, the same as, or worse than the examples given by the Jewish boy-teen-man, but the anxiety is presented in such a way that it's almost a character. It's lighthearted, but still honest.
The part about those things that pop up in our heads and yell at us before we even realize it and the physical response comes so quickly we think that's what comes first, ...true. How all-encompassing anxiety can be? Yes. Who he decides to call and have a fit when he was in college? Not so much me, but it still made me chuckle.
But here's my favourite part, especially after growing up Catholic, but more recently spending time in Dharma classes and learning meditation, keeping Buddha statues around the house and occasionally wearing Mala Beads...
“Buddhism was made for the anxious like Christianity for the downtrodden or AA for the addicted.”
HA! The term Monkey Mind (or Monkey Brain) does come from Buddhism, to have an overactive/stressed mind and having to wait for the Monkey to calm down. Again, it might be all timing and the gods picking out books for me, but this is another one I would suggest to those with anxiety, and those living with them.
I had to finish this book quickly, because when my boys saw the cover they thought it was a book about Toy Story 3 and wanted to make the book one of their play-toys!
A very well written, brutally honest, humorous and semi-dark memoir of living with anxiety. I discovered Daniel Smith via his excellent column about Jews and anxiety in the NYTimes. Though some of the content hit a bit too close to home, it was not anxiety attack inducing but rather provided me with the feeling that I was in good company. Don't read this if you are looking for a book offer solutions and remedies, but rather a real portrayal of what is like living with an anxiety disorder. Great memoir. Highly recommended
This is a really funny book about a condition that is no fun at all. It sums up very well the thoughts that go through an anxious mind. We all experience anxiety on some level, but chronic, debilitating anxiety is a different beast altogether and Smith describes it with a great sense of humor and compassion. If you've ever suffered from really bad anxiety or know somebody who has, this will make a very entertaining read.
The difference between David Sedaris and Daniel Smith is that Sedaris bares his soul for his readers ultimate entertainment and his woe-is-me stories are hysterically funny, as well as informative. When Daniel Smith talks about his anxiety disorders all I can think about is sending him a bill for therapy. He is at times mildly amusing, but not up to the hype he has received. Tell-alls should be more like tell-somes.
I appreciate the writer's willingness to share his struggles with anxiety, but was hoping for more information about how he manages this condition. Unfortunately, this was the final 5% of the book and the other 95% was overly detailed anecdotes about incidences of panic. In this way, the book was too unbalanced for me to recommend it.
If you are anxious, the book will let you feel less alone. I want to hate him for using Philip Roth characters as role models. I want to hate his mother for raising neurotic children. I want to love her for naming violence accurately. Daniel Smith describes anxiety beautifully. That does not make this book feel any better.
Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind is subtitled "A Memoir of Anxiety", and it sounds so promising: a smart, intimate, honest account of one person's battle with an acute, crippling mental illness, combined with a broader perspective of treatments, societal reactions/misunderstandings, etc., like what Andrew Solomon did with depression in his great Noonday Demon, one of my all-time favorites, or Elyn Saks with schizophrenia with her also pretty great The Center Cannot Hold. AND Smith is supposedly "laugh-out-loud" funny, according to several reviewers. Bonzana! And yet... While there are some strong moments here (his metaphors and images of what such overwhelming anxiety feels like, and its specific manifestations, such as extreme nail-biting, or the spiral into insanity when faced with the choice between BBQ sauce and ketchup at rest stop Arby's off the the NJ Turnpike), really, Smith, for me, just didn't have the appeal necessary to keep me caring, nor did he offer enough insight or history into the disease itself to teach me much of anything. You kind of have to like a guy on the most basic level to go with him on such a journey, from his initial attack at age 16 after losing his virginity in a threesome to a pair of unattractive older woman (he freaks out and tells his MOM about it, sobbing and hugging her, and she's a therapist, and, just, I dont know... it's just kind of gross) to his total dickish behavior to his first real girlfriend to his tedious heroic tales of being a fact checker at the Atlantic to finally finding some peace--or, at least, finding the strength and a strategy to effectively deal with the pain--in his 30s, where we bid him adieu. And, I didn't. Like him.
I originally gave this book 1 star. There were just parts that were so boring due to the the author's citing psychologists and other medical speak....It is not that I don't appreciate that. It just not what I was looking for in this book. I just wanted to know his story as I also suffer from Anxiety Disorder. I just wanted to hear another person's story about their suffering. With that said, I did get that out of this book once I got through all psychological jargon.
I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh as much as I did at Mr. Smith's memoir. This is one of the funniest and most insightful books I've read in a long time. Let me be clear - I wasn't laughing at Mr. Smith, but with him. He writes with great candor of the monumental ridiculousness of the various situations in which he has found himself owing to his long-term struggle with extreme anxiety. The panic attack at the Arby's "fixins" counter kept me going for days.
More than a memoir, Mr. Smith includes a brief, interesting account of the philosophical and historical underpinnings of the condition we today call anxiety. Some of these sequences got a bit boggy in areas, and I found myself wishing he would get back to more of his autobiography. I especially enjoyed the story of how he met, and lost, and later reunited with his wife. And even if you don't know anyone with anxiety, it's worth reading for the very funny account of Mr. Smith's hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and the very creative solution he came up with to treat it. I received this book for free from the Goodreads First Reads program.