My Life in a Nutshell Book Review

My Life in a Nutshell Book ReviewTitle: My Life in a Nutshell

Author: Tanya J. Peterson

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Release Date:May 2014

Format: Kindle/paperback

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?


My Life in a Nutshell book reviewMy Review:

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:

Image of Tanya J PetersonTanya 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, 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.

Follow her on blog/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of review.  All opinions are 100% my own.



Anxiety Triggers

anxiety triggersI have talked in the past about my issues with anxiety (Comfortable in My Own Skin).  Over the past year or so I have learned how to handle my anxious thoughts and feelings, to some extent.

Last month, after Art and I had our mini vacay at 3 Peaks Resort and Beach Club, I realized that I needed to get a few more tools to help me deal with my anxiety.  One of the few things left that can completely paralyze me is fear of conflict.  While we were at the resort, we had a couple of problems.  Each time Art diplomatically approached the management, who very graciously handled our problems.  But each time something went wrong I was afraid to go with Art to the office.  I was so afraid that someone would get mad at us.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but there it was.

So last week I met with a psychiatrist for the first time by myself (I have met with counselors in the past and seen a psychiatrist with a family member, but never for myself.)  The woman I met with was so friendly and open.  It was easy to relax with her.  She asked me about some of my anxiety problems and how I had been dealing with them.  I told her some of my tricks but that I mostly “power through” and usually the anxiety passes.  She told me I have a lot of good tools, but she suggested an anxiety class would help.  I was given a referral to a six week support group.

How crazy is it to send a person who is afraid of other people to an anxiety support group?  It took a lot of self-convincing for me to go to the first class.  I got permission to get off a half hour early from work so I would have plenty of time to get to the class.  Then I had Art pick me up at work and drop me off at class so I would be, in essence, “stuck” there.

I was pretty confident as I sat in the waiting room, but once the moderator called us into the classroom, my symptoms started.  First, the room was unbearably warm to me.  However, I noticed everyone was wearing sweaters and no one else seemed to be uncomfortable.  I was the only person in a skirt and I worried about how I sat in the chair.  Halfway through I had to pee, but I was afraid to leave the room or tell the instructor.  The minutes ticked by and I forced myself to listen to the description of panic symptoms (have had most of them at some point and probably had 2 or three that night).

At least once I thought I would cry.  I had cried after my psychiatrist appointment, just because I think it stirred up a lot of feelings I had pushed down for a long time.  During class, I started tearing up because even though I know I have come a long way, I felt like the craziest person in the room.  Most of the other people in the group had just started having panic attacks and anxiety triggered by a recent traumatic event.  I have had anxiety since I was 3 and panic attacks for the past 18 years.

At the very end, we did about 5 minutes of deep breathing exercises.  Finally I started to relax.  By the end, I was able to joke with the instructor, and actually left the room in a great mood.  I will definitely be going back to the rest of the classes and I hope it will be a little easier every time.

Do you have anxiety?  What are some ways you cope?