English Professor Daniel Smith Pens Opinion Piece for New York Times
Professor Daniel Smith, Critchlow Endowed Chair in English and author of the bestseller "Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety," has written an opinion piece on anxiety for the New York Times, titled "Nothing to Do but Embrace the Dread
Alice James, the celebrated diarist and doted-upon sister of Henry and William, received a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer in 1891. She could not have been more delighted.
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Alice was 42, and her life had been crippled by a series of mysterious ailments: nausea, vertigo, cramps, spasms, fainting spells, fleeting paralyses. For years at a time she was a nervous invalid, staggering, as she put it, under a "monstrous mass of subjective sensations." After more than two decades of this vague but unremitting suffering, the solidity of the lump in her breast and the finality of her prognosis filled Alice with "enormous relief." No one would choose, she wrote, "such an ugly and gruesome method of progression down the dark Valley of the Shadow of Death … but we shall gird up our loins and the blessed peace of the end will have no shadow cast upon it."
The blessed peace of the end. For nearly 20 years now anxiety has been a powerful, often determining force in my own life, and the longer I live with the experience, the more this sadly exultant phrase strikes me as emblematic of one of the great dangers of the anxious life.
I don’t mean the danger of wishing oneself dead, although at anxiety’s heights suicide can, indeed, have a terrible appeal. I mean the more subtle and insidious danger of wishing anxiety dead. I mean the hunger, which invariably comes over the anxiety sufferer, for a definitive conclusion to the sensation: a bright line, a capping off, a total defusing of the anxious charge. I mean the desperate allure of the endpoint.