A Childhood Darkened by Severe Anxiety Becomes Brighter
Childhood anxiety, even severe and chronic, doesn’t necessarily stand in the way of success and achievement. But caring parents will do anything to help relieve their children of misery. Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic magazine, tells his story of struggling, coping, and living a very productive life.
Anxiety Severe and Chronic
By the time I started nursery school, I had developed severe separation anxiety. By age 10, I had a proliferating array of pretty intense fears and phobias—of heights and enclosed spaces, of flying, and especially of vomiting. So my parents took me for a psychiatric evaluation, and I was diagnosed with a range of anxiety disorders.
I got worse before I got better, but psychotherapy and medication got me through middle school, and I managed—despite intermittently debilitating anxiety—to have a successful academic career in high school (which I mostly disliked) and college (which I mostly loved).
After I graduated from Harvard, my anxiety got worse again—and I spent much of the next two decades cycling through a variety of treatments and therapies, some of which worked for me and some of which didn’t. In recent years, I've tried to come to terms with my anxiety and find redeeming qualities in it. That’s partly what my book, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, is about.
I still struggle with anxiety. But I have learned various coping strategies and, most of the time I am “high-functioning” and productive. Without the treatment and assistance I've received along the way, however, I don't know how I would have fared.
The Benefits of Early Treatment
I was lucky to have gotten the help I needed at crucial times. Unfortunately, many people don’t know that such help is available—or even what such help might consist of, or even that an anxiety disorder is what’s making their lives so miserable.
That’s why the work of ADAA is so important: It reaches people whose lives are ravaged by anxiety and depression and helps them find the resources they need to conquer their disorders or learn to manage them more effectively. It also offers resources to parents whose kids are struggling—and I know from personal experience and my book research—that getting anxious kids help early can be crucial in heading off more serious problems later in life.
Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic magazine, is the author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (Knopf, Jan. 7 2014) and the award-winning book Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Previously, he was the executive editor of The American Prospect. His articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Best American Political Writing, and many other publications. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, D.C.