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'Monkey Mind' Goes to College
August 16, 2012 - 9:00pm

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

Published in July of 2012.

I used to think that I was a worrier. I worry about my family, my job, my country, and the growing gap between consumer and enterprise educational platforms.

But after reading Daniel Smith's very funny and informative memoir of anxiety, Monkey Mind, I have come to realize that I'm an amateur when it comes to worrying.

Perhaps you know more about clinical anxiety than I knew going into Monkey Mind. I had not understood how debilitating clinical anxiety can be, and how difficult the disease is to treat.

Smith tells his story of living with overwhelming anxiety in a manner that is both hilarious and insightful. This could have been a memoir in which one excruciating experience is strung together after another. Rather, Smith manages to find meaning in his battles with clinical anxiety, while never once feeling sorry for himself.  

Some of the best parts of Monkey Mind take place when Smith is describing his undergraduate years at Brandeis.  

I want to quote for you at length from Smith's description of life at Brandeis (from page 85):

"It was bedlam. The campus was bedlam. Everywhere hordes of eighteen-year-olds scurried around as if they'd just thrown off the chains of some vicious bondage. They wore expressions wide with opportunity, of almost limitless choice, of restrictions lifted, slates cleaned, surveillance minimal. They were joyful and unhindered, electric, confident. They strutted and flexed and postured heroically in the vegetal summer air. My parents thought they were dropping me off at a respected liberal arts college, but where they had really dropped me off was Jewish Mardi Gras."

"I shuffled up and down the brick footpaths feeling like a health inspector at an orgy. Dodging errant Frisbees and threatened introductions. I considered every scrap of information on college I had picked up over the years, every campus movie and novel, every off-color anecdote from an older cousin or brother, every damaging revelation about the student life of a politician, and I found, to my chagrin, that I could not come up with a single one that did not proclaim, loudly, that college was a place where a person was supposed to let go. Everyone wanted me to let go. My parents wanted me to let go, Sandra wanted me to let go.  Mahatma Gandhi, had he been available for questioning, would have wanted me to let go. More than anyone, the school's administrators wanted me to let go.  Why else would they have gone to such great lengths to engineer this celebratory atmosphere - all those orientation games and trust exercises and mixers, all those quads primped and planted and manicured to within an inch of their lives - if not to make me feel at home and uninhibited? And why did I feel, in spite of their best efforts, as if I had been shipped off to a gulag?"

I'm not sure of what many of you will make of Smith's description of student life at a small, selective private liberal arts institution - and I'm curious to hear your reactions.

Monkey Mind  is a terrific book if you either want to learn about anxiety disorder, enjoy laughing out loud while reading, or both.

What are you reading?


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