Book Review — On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety

One of the most comforting and helpful phrases we can say to someone is, “Me too.” Knowing we are not alone shines a little bit of light into the darkness of whatever we’re going through. 

I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder as a teenager. I’ve been to several therapists through the years, and have been fortunate to find the one I am currently seeing. I am on medication now as well, and I am doing better than I have ever done when it comes to managing my anxiety. 

I’ve gotten a lot of help, but there is something about Andrea Petersen’s words in On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety* that gave me a gift a didn’t even know I needed. Dark shards of shame floated out of my chest and evaporated into the light. 

Andrea gives readers a big “me too” hug and empowers us with brain science, treatment information, and mental health research and statistics, which she effortlessly weaves throughout her own story of living with anxiety. 

On Edge Cover Image.jpeg

 

You’re Not Alone

From the first pages, Andrea brilliantly brings to life what anxiety feels like:

 

...I feel fine. Groggy from a late night of studying, yes. Touched by a bit of that midwestern late-fall dread, anticipating another long winter of fierce winds and sleeping-bag-shaped coats. But I’m fine.

And then, a second later, I’m not.

A knot of fear erupts at the base of my spine and travels upward. My stomach flips, and I break out in a thin film of sweat. My heart rate shoots up—I feel the erratic thump thump banging against my ears, my stomach, my eyes. My breathing turns shallow and fast. Fuzzy gray blotches appear before my eyes. The letters before me warp, words dip and buckle.

There is no warning, no prodrome. The onset is as sudden as a car crash. Something in my body or brain has gone dramatically and irrevocably wrong. My noisy internal monologue—usually flitting from school to boys to a laundry list of insecurities—coalesces around one certain refrain: I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying…
— Pages 1-2

All throughout the book, as Andrea described panic attacks, GAD, trips to the hospital, and anxiety’s effects on her school, work, and relationships, I found myself saying, “Yes, that’s how I feel. You too? I’m not alone?”

And throughout her stories she shares facts and statistics that demonstrate just how common the anxiety experience is:
 

The estimated number of people who will have at least one anxiety disorder during the course of their lives is staggering: one in three Americans ages thirteen and older. If we look only at women, the number is even higher—about 40 percent. In any given year about 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. And those numbers do not include the millions of garden-variety worriers and insomniacs whose anxiety, though not debilitating, leaches joy and steals peace of mind.
— Page 6

You’re Not a Failure

 

For centuries, excessive anxiety was considered more of a moral failing than a medical problem.
— Page 22

One of the most life-changing things about reading this book for me was the truth that anxiety doesn’t make me a failure burrowing deep into my heart. 

For years, I’ve heard that anxiety is a sin, that I need to have more faith, pray more, try harder, which successfully layered a heavy sheet of shame onto the anxiety. 

But anxiety is not a moral failing, and it’s not something you just “pray away.” It’s a legitimate medical problem, and we need to treat it like one, just like we would a broken leg.

Andrea shares medical research and brain science explaining causes of anxiety and how anxiety works in the brain. And those facts helped solidify my belief that anxiety is not a sin.


 

Researchers have found that people with anxiety disorders have a larger startle response than healthy people to conditioned stimuli—the colored light or tone that precedes an unconditioned stimulus, like an electric shock. And during extinction, the startle response tends to remain elevated. Simply put, anxious people catch fear easily and have a hard time letting go of it, even when there’s mounting evidence they’re safe. The amygdalae of anxious subjects also tend to be hyperactive even when they are not facing a potential threat. It is as if the anxious brain were always scanning the horizon for danger.
— Page 30
Neuroscientists are starting to see anxiety disorders as disorders of brain development that begin in childhood. And as with other neurological diseases—such as Alzheimer’s disease with its telltale plaques and tangles—the brain likely shows signs of the illness long before the first panic attack or paralyzing bout of worry.
— Page 35

Trigger Warnings

One caution I would give to anyone wanting to read this book is to be aware of the state of your mental health when you get ready to read it. 

Andrea vividly describes her experiences with anxiety and panic attacks, and I had to put the book down a few times as I started to feel what she was describing. She also explains some pretty horrific ways people used to treat anxiety and other mental health issues throughout history. That was difficult for me to read.

The parenting chapter was especially difficult for me to read as well because of the statistics about the likelihood that my children could also suffer from anxiety.

I believe that those difficult moments during reading this book were worth it for me for the benefits I got from reading it. But you will have to make that choice for yourself based on how you feel.

It is absolutely OK to put the book down if you need to, or to skip parts if they are too overwhelming for you. 

There were also some parts that were difficult to get through, not because of triggers, but because of lots of scientific language. But again, I think those parts were helpful and worth it, and Andrea does a great job of breaking it down so we can understand it. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has anxiety and to anyone who loves someone who has anxiety.
 

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. My opinions are my own.