Title: My Life in a Nutshell
Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Release Date:May 2014
Pages: 337 pages
From the author of Leave of Absence (read my review) comes another compelling tale of the human psyche. A brilliant and talented man crippled by extreme anxiety and panic attacks, Brian has carefully crafted his world so that his interactions with others are severely limited. Although incapable of changing his situation, he discovers that, somehow, he is the only person seven-year-old Abigail can trust. Having bounced from one foster home to another, she has unexpectedly come to live with a childless uncle and aunt she has never known. For very different reasons, both Brian and Abigail are trapped in emotionally and socially isolated lives. Can they learn from each other?
How did Tanya J. Peterson know what is going on inside my head? Can she read my thoughts? 😉 Life in a Nutshell hit very close to home for me.
As I’ve written on this blog before, I have struggled with anxiety most of my life (Comfortable in My Own Skin, Anxiety Triggers). Brian’s attempts to deal with his anxiety, reminded me very much of my own issues. Here are some excerpts from the book, followed by my personal thoughts.
I hurry to the door but stop myself before I throw it open. If someone’s there, I’ll get ambushed.
For many years, I was afraid to go outside by myself, especially at night. I was also afraid to open the front door if I heard a knock or the doorbell.
He’s always nice to me, but I’m afraid that he’s just pretending.
I still struggle with this one. I have friends, but, especially with new friends, I always wonder if I’ve said or done something wrong or if they are just being nice to me.
Brian works at an elementary school. Part of his job is to check with the teachers, at the beginning of his shift, to see if they have any computer or equipment problems.
First, I knock on their doors even though they’re usually open. I don’t feel comfortable barging into their classrooms or the office uninvited. I know they’re expecting me; however, these spaces aren’t mine and I can’t bring myself to enter without express permission.
I have worked at the same job for five years. My boss has always had an open door policy with his office and no one else has ever knocked. For some reason, I always knock before entering. Every single time. So much so that he knows it’s me without even having to turn around.
The fight-or-flight response is a basic physiological reaction that happens when people (or animals) experience a threat. In people with anxiety disorder this response gets mixed up. Here is Brian’s description:
My fight-or-flight response has kicked in, and my instincts tell me to run away and never look back. My instincts always go there. I guess my response to stressful, threatening situations isn’t fight-or-flight. It’s just flight.
I have had moments where my urge to run was so great that I had to have Art take my hand and nearly drag me into a place (my first and second Jeopardy tests for example).
Door number one leads to a restroom, which my anxiety-irritated bladder would greatly appreciate using. My ridiculously shy and fearful mind, though, will never ask to use it, therefore, my bladder resigns itself to wait for home.
As I mentioned in my post on anxiety triggers, I sat through most of my first group therapy session needing to pee, but afraid to leave the room – afraid of “getting in trouble.”
My anxiety is flaring as I think about what I should do. I don’t want to insult her by leaving, but what if she’s trying to get me to leave? I glance up at her to see if I can tell what she wants me to do.
“Anything is okay. You don’t have to agonize over this,” she tells me matter-of-factly.
Whenever I’m at a party or visiting a friend I always worry about whether I am staying too long or leaving too early. I’ve found that as an anxious person it’s very hard for me to read visual cues. Also, the golden rule of “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” is a nightmare for a person with anxiety disorder. If I don’t even know what I want how am I supposed to figure out what the other person wants?
Another thing we, as anxious people, tend to do is imagine the worst case scenario, and assume it is true. So-and-so didn’t smile at me today like she usually does. She must hate me. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous this sounds, and I swear to you that if someone else said it to me, I would tell them they were crazy. But as Brian says, “it’s true for other people, but not me.”
I look from one to the other in an attempt to understand how each could assert a different position, defend it, and remain not only alive but seemingly calm. I can’t explain it.
This is one I have only recently been able to realize myself. That not everyone comes undone if they don’t agree. Disagreement does not have to mean the end of a friendship, or that someone will no longer like me. Took me almost 47 years to figure it out.
What if I take a bite that is too big or too small or I chew wrong or I choke because I’m nervous?
With my asthma and chronic cough, this is an especially large problem. Every Friday, at my work, the company buys lunch to-go from a nice restaurant and we all eat together. For the first four years I passed up this opportunity because I was afraid of choking or having an asthma attack.
Fortunately, Brian (and me) has some friends (and a good therapist) who give him good advice and care about him. Here are some examples:
Ah, mistakes are such an integral part of the human experience.
This isn’t a judgement of who you are as a person.
I think the best part of the book is Brian’s interactions with Abigail. Helping her helps him come out of his anxiety. I enjoyed reading Brian’s setbacks and triumphs throughout the book, and remembering my own.
I seriously cannot say enough good things about this book. I HIGHLY recommend My Life in a Nutshell for those who are dealing with anxiety, as well as those who want to understand what we are going through.
I give My Life in a Nutshell five stars!!! A must read!!!
About the Author:
Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities, including NAMI Lane County, OR. Locally and nationally, she gives presentations about mental health and mental illness. Tanya is a regular columnist for the Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog on HealthyPlace.com, and she is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell, each featuring characters living with mental illness and addressing themes around mental health.
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I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are 100% my own.