Did you know that the word ‘panic’ comes from the Greek god Pan who hated to be disturbed in his naps (don’t we all), and so he would leap out and roar and scare the ever-living shit out of you…but he couldn’t hurt you because he carried no weapons. No thunderbolts or poisoned arrows, him. ‘His power to scare lay entirely in his unanticipated appearance,’ says Pearson. Kind of like house guests.
A Brief History of Anxiety [Yours & Mine] – Patricia Pearson
Patricia Pearson knows what it is to be anxious, to have ‘fear in search of a cause,’ to be constantly cruising for the next Y2K, the next avian flu, the next nuclear winter. And if you read Anxiety, YOU TOO can know how it feels to fear, not only ordinary things like spiders, but wack-ass things like clusters (of mushrooms, say, or stars, or googly eyes, that last of which is actually scary as shit).
Pearson takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through history, back when it was considered proper and ladylike to have ‘fits of nerves’ and to faint regularly onto your settee in the drawing room whilst your suitors stood about looking abashed, and your lady’s maid fetched the smelling salts. She takes us further past that, to where ‘nervous dispositions’ were considered a family trait that would worsen with each generation, and so families took to locking their mad aunts up in the attic in order to preserve family honor and marriage prospects. And more previous still, when the mentally ill were diagnosed, rather hilariously, with ‘wedding-night psychosis’ or ‘moon madness’ or ‘masturbatory insanity.’ Oh, the things you could say out loud in those days.
In order to cover all this, as well as anxiety across cultures and the recent tendencies to treat any and all nervous disorders with
opium cocaine whatever free samples your psychiatrist has in in his desk medication in under 200 pages, Pearson has necessarily to be brief. Which is fine, because I’m not writing a paper on this or nothing, but be warned: You WILL NOT KNOW everything there is to know. Things have been left out.
You will come away with, however, a better understanding of your nervous uncle (you know the one), as well as a set of hilarious facts. Patricia isn’t your funny friend, but she’s the friend that you hang out with all the time and who knows a lot of things and says a lot of words, and occasionally outs with something clever. Or interesting. Or neither interesting nor clever, and then you don’t phone her for a week.
She does have a terrible habit of name-dropping, all Ah yes, dear Grandpapa Lester B. Pearson – he was Prime Minister, you know – his wife had just the most terrible case of nerves, you know. And then this one time, you know, I was dancing in this delicious little blues club and Junior Wells – he was a famous blues singer, you know – he commented on my dancing…what? What does this have to do with anxiety? Ermmm, you see, I was dancing at the time to escape my terrible nerves, you know. Etc.
This is one of those books that my husband calls ‘Science books written by not-scientists’ which he hates and I love, and the demographic of not-scientists is bigger than that of scientist, so on the whole, we win.