Thin Slices of Anxiety: An Illustrated Meditation on What It’s Like to Live Enslaved by Worry and How to Break Free
A guided tour of this pernicious prison of the psyche, honest and assuring in its honesty.
BY MARIA POPOVA
Kierkegaard called anxiety “the dizziness of freedom” and believed that it serves to power rather than hinder creativity. For Darwin, it was a paralyzing lifelong struggle — he accomplished his breakthroughs not because of anxiety but despite it. “Anxiety,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary, “makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you.”
Anxiety belongs to the broader complex relationship between creativity and mental illness, and although the causal direction of that relationship might forever evade us, it is strangely assuring to know that other minds — especially minds of above-average intelligence and creative ability — have been savaged by this blunt-toothed beast.
Such solidary consolation is what Montreal-based designer and illustrator Catherine Lepage offers in Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind (public library) — an illustrated meditation on what it’s like to live enslaved by one’s own worries and what one can do to break free.
Through a backdoor of disarming and almost lighthearted honesty, Lepage takes us on a guided tour of this heavyhearted prison of the psyche, its symptoms, and its side effects — from the trap of people-pleasing to the toxic allure of conformity to the sense of outsiderdom.
Reflecting on her lifelong on-again, off-again relationship with this cyclical companion, Lepage distills the common pattern and extracts from it the four habits most certain to set the Rube Goldberg machine of anxiety into action.
Laced with the meta-stressors familiar to anyone afflicted with anxiety — shame for being gripped by anxiety in the first place, self-blame for putting oneself in situations known to trigger it, exasperation upon realizing that its predictable trajectory of anguish is underway yet being unable to stop it — the book radiates a wistful yet warm assurance that these overwhelming emotional states, as all-consuming and singular as they seem, mark our membership in a larger fellowship of tribulation in which we are never as alone as we may feel.
Under the self-conscious heading “Cheesy Quotes to Remember” — for, lest we forget, self-consciousness is one of anxiety’s most persistent symptoms — Lepage offers a number of truths so helpful and true that we tend to dismiss them as truisms, bounced off the maladaptive psychological shield of our cynicism.
Complement the wonderful Thin Slices of Anxiety with Scott Stossel on the culture and costs of anxiety, Harvard social scientist Amy Cuddy on how to combat its causes, and philosopher Alan Watts on the antidote to our age of anxiety, then revisit artist Bobby Baker’s eleven-year visual diary of living with mental illness.
Artwork courtesy of Catherine Lepage / Chronicle Books