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Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life


Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life

“The edges of the room smudge with black fog, and a slow suction pulls me away... Soon my classmates will be far ahead of me. I’ll watch them move without me to the grade above...and they’ll go to college and get married and have babies and families and jobs and houses, and I’ll be right here, still trying to tell time, still trying to understand...stuck and alone and six forever. Maybe like the number twelve, there are two worlds. They’re in one together, while I am in mine alone.”

This passage, one of anxiety, loneliness, sadness and confusion, is found just a few pages into Amanda Stern’s amazing memoir, LITTLE PANIC. In it, she recounts her struggles living with a panic disorder that went undiagnosed until adulthood. Her earliest memories involve frustrations in school and at home, attempts to understand a world of rules and ideas that seemed beyond her. And, more than that, a world of danger. Afraid of being separated from her mother, terrified of loss and death, Stern was most comfortable in the confines of her beloved house and immediate Greenwich Village neighborhood. There she felt loved and safe.

"Courageous, smart, sorrowful and fascinating, LITTLE PANIC is an extraordinary memoir. It is deeply personal but threaded through with the universal, and written in a compelling and original voice..."

Yet every time she ventured beyond, even to her father’s new uptown home, she felt keen distress. This only intensified when a young boy named Etan Patz was kidnapped from his own nearby New York neighborhood. Stern obsessed about his whereabouts, constantly reminded of his absence by missing child posters. This event and other tragedies confirmed her worst fears and fed into her anxiety and panic. She strained in school, even after switching schools and being made to repeat one grade. School was a place of frustration and annoyance despite her intelligence. For years on end, Stern was subjected to testing to assess her learning abilities and emotional state. The tests and meetings themselves did nothing to alleviate her ordeal as they provided no answers or even viable suggestions.

LITTLE PANIC moves between Stern’s childhood and more recent years characterized by less-than-ideal relationships and her desire to have a family of her own. She had long dreamed of a daughter named Frankie. When she begins dating Javi, who happens to have a charming and loving daughter named Frankie of his own, Stern lets herself believe that her familial dreams and hopes for emotional partnership have come to fruition. However, while Frankie is the caring and interesting kid she always longed for, Javi is non-committal and dismissive of her very real mental health issues. The relationship doesn’t last.

Still, even this heartbreak proves that Stern is stronger than she imagines herself to be. And the relationships that give her comfort and strength are lovingly, if honestly, chronicled here: her early extreme attachment to her mother, reliance on her siblings, acceptance of her childhood best friend, tensions with her father, and even the dog she comes to love so much.

Stern is a kind, authentic and forthright guide to her own story of panic and anxiety. She includes excerpts from the kinds of unsatisfactory educational and emotional assessments that she was subjected to again and again. As she relays them, readers get another view of the scared and underserved young girl who couldn’t comprehend why she was different. The focus of the book, though, is on her interior life and how it so often distorted the world that others expected her to understand.

Courageous, smart, sorrowful and fascinating, LITTLE PANIC is an extraordinary memoir. It is deeply personal but threaded through with the universal, and written in a compelling and original voice that gives readers insight into the ways Stern navigates the world and a glimpse into a creative and insightful mind.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 29, 2018

Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life
by Amanda Stern

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 153871194X
  • ISBN-13: 9781538711941