High Anxiety

Anxiety disorders adversely affect the lives of about 40 million Americans. They are plagued by insecurity, dread, persistent stress, and irrational fears. Noted essayist and author Barbara Graham reveals her personal story of a lifelong struggle with high anxiety, and details her expansive search for relief and peace of mind.

Photograph Don Mason/Ocean/Corbis

It’s midnight and I’m convinced I’ll be dead of a brain tumor by first light.

How I even know about brain tumors is a mystery. I’m six years old and no one in my small world has ever had one. Still, I’m panicking, gulping at the air, trembling beneath the covers.My mother tries to hold me and talk me down, but I’m too far gone to be comforted. Finally, near tears herself, she phones an old family friend who happens to be a world-famous neurosurgeon. Fifteen minutes later he shows up at our house and puts me through the paces of basic neurology tests—close your eyes and touch the tip of your forefinger to the tip of your nose, walk heel to toe in a straight line across the room—then he promises me I don’t have a brain tumor. I believe him—for now.

The Brain Tumor Episode was not the first—or last—time I believed I was at risk of imminent death. Worries over nuclear war, fire, kidnapping, and tse-tse flies had all come before. In college, I found my way more than once to the emergency room, certain I was dying of an MI. (I was up on the lingo…

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About the author

Barbara Graham

Barbara Graham is an author, essayist, journalist and playwright. Barbara is the author/editor of the New York Times bestselling Eye of My Heart: 27 Women Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother, and author of Women Who Run with the Poodles: Myths and Tips for Honoring Your Mood Swings, and most recently Camp Paradox.