Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety

3.2 26
by Daniel Smith

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An uplifting and insightful memoir of living with anxiety—the most common psychiatric complaint in the United States—and one man’s unswerving quest to overcome it.

• The first of its kind: More than 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, yet there has never been a memoir about it. Daniel Smith candidly recounts his own

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An uplifting and insightful memoir of living with anxiety—the most common psychiatric complaint in the United States—and one man’s unswerving quest to overcome it.

• The first of its kind: More than 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, yet there has never been a memoir about it. Daniel Smith candidly recounts his own hilarious and heart-wrenching story: his first severe episode of anxiety at the age of sixteen; his first job, as a fact-checker at The Atlantic Monthly, which nearly drove him to distraction; and his romantic struggles to keep the love of his life. Through drugs, through psychoanalysis, through self-imposed isolation and cognitive therapy and Zen meditation, he finally learns to make peace with the workings of his restless mind and becomes the husband and father that he wants to be.

• Hope at last: Though Smith is unflinching in his description of anxiety’s toll—insomnia, headaches, nausea, constant emotional turmoil—this is far from a sob story. After all, he says, anxiety is first and foremost a disease of absurdity, the human mind’s wild imaginings of implausible ways things might go wrong. Through knowing humor and personal anecdotes delivered with a biting insight that calls to mind David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Monkey Mind empowers readers to “declaw the experience” so they can learn to live with—and laugh at—their anxiety.

• Out in the open: What Darkness Visible did for depression and The Year of Magical Thinking did for grief, Monkey Mind will do for anxiety, giving readers a way to talk about, confront, and ultimately quell their demons.

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Editorial Reviews

By the evidence of this memoir, Daniel Smith's intense anxiety has punctuated every arena of his life; from brushing his teeth to even the most casual social interaction; not to mention, college classes and sex. Under "normal" scrutiny, such behavior would elicit tragic overtones or analytical neutrality, but in the case of Smith's Monkey Mind, panic attacks are described with a verve that veers between rampant wit and naked confession. A.J. Jacobs praises this debut as "so bracingly honest, so hilarious, so sharp, it's clear there's one thing he doesn't have to be anxious about."

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.84(d)

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Monkey Mind

  • The story begins with two women, naked, in a living room in upstate New York.

    In the living room, the blinds have been drawn. The coffee table, which is stained and littered with ashtrays, empty bottles, and a tall blue bong, has been pushed against the far wall. The couch has been unfurled. It is a cheap couch, with no springs or gears or wooden endoskeleton; its cushions unfold flat onto the floor with a flat slapping sound: thwack. Also on the floor are several clear plastic bags containing dental dams, spermicidal lubricant, and latex gloves. There is everything, it seems to me, but an oxygen tank and a gurney.

    I am hunched in an awkward squat behind a woman on all fours, a woman who is blond and overweight. Her buttocks are exposed and her knees are spread wide—“presenting,” they call it in most mammalian species. I am sixteen years old. I have never before seen a vagina up close, an in-person vagina. My prior experience has been limited to two-dimensional vaginas, usually with creases and binding staples marring the view. To mark the occasion, I would like to shake the vagina’s hand, talk to it for a while. How do you do, vagina? Would you like some herbal tea? But the vagina is businesslike and gruff. An impatient vagina, a waiting vagina. A real bureaucrat of a vagina.

    I inch closer on the tips of my toes, knees bent, hands out, fingers splayed—portrait of the writer as a young lecher. The air in the room smells like a combination of a women’s locker room and an off-track betting parlor, all smoke and sweat and scented lotions. My condom, the first I’ve had occasion to wear in anything other than experimental conditions, pinches and dims sensation, so that my penis feels like what I imagine a phantom limb must feel like. The second woman has brown hair done up in curls, round hips, and dark, biscuit-wide nipples. She lies on the couch, waiting. As I proceed, foot by foot, struggling to keep my erection and my balance at the same time, her eyes coax me forward. She is touching herself.

    Now the target vagina is only a foot away. Now I feel like a military plane, preparing for in-air refueling. I feel, also, like a symbol. This is why I am here, ultimately. This is why, when the invitation was extended (“Do you want to stay? I want you to stay”), I accepted, and waited who knows how long in the dark room for them to return. How could I have said no? What I had been offered was every boy’s dream. Two women. The dream.

    Through a haze of cannabis and cheap beer, I bolster my courage with this: the dream. What I am about to do is not for myself. It is for my people, my tribe. Dear friends, this is not my achievement. This is your achievement. Your victory. A fulfillment of your desires. Oh poor, suffering, groin-sore boys of the eleventh grade, I hereby dedicate this vagina to—

    It is then that the woman coughs. It is a rattling, hacking cough. A cough of nicotine and phlegm. And the vagina, which is connected to the cough’s apparatus by some internal musculature I could not possibly have imagined before this moment, winks at me. With its wild, bushy, thorny lashes, it winks. My heart flutters. My breathing quickens. I have been winked at by a vagina that looks like Andy Rooney. I feel a tightness in my chest and I think to myself, Oh dear lord, what have I gotten myself into?

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  • What People are saying about this

    The New York Times Book Review - Ben Greenman
    Monkey Mind is fleet, funny, and productively exhausting.”
    bestselling author of The Mind's Eye and Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
    “I read Monkey Mind with admiration for its bravery and clarity. Daniel Smith’s anxiety is matched by a wonderful sense of the comic, and it is this which makes Monkey Mind not only a dark, pain-filled book but a hilariously funny one, too. I broke out into explosive laughter again and again.”
    author of The Geography of Bliss - Eric Weiner
    “Daniel Smith maps the jagged contours of anxiety with such insight, humor and compassion that the result is, oddly, calming. There are countless gems in these pages, including a fresh take on the psycho-pathology of chronic nail biting, an ill-fated ménage a trois—and the funniest perspiration scene since Albert Brooks’ sweaty performance in Broadcast News. Read this book. You have nothing to lose but your heart palpitations, and your Xanax habit.”
    author of Home Land and The Ask - Sam Lipsyte
    “Daniel Smith has a written a wise, funny book, a great mix of startling memoir and fascinating medical and literary history, all of it delivered with humor and a true generosity of spirit. I only got anxious in the last part, when I worried the book would end.”
    author of The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
    “You don't need a Jewish mother, or a profound sweating problem, to feel Daniel Smith's pain in Monkey Mind. His memoir treats what must be the essential ailment of our time—chronic anxiety—and it does so with wisdom, honesty, and the kind of belly laughs that can only come from troubles transformed.”
    author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically - A.J. Jacobs
    “I don’t know Daniel Smith, but I do want to give him a hug. His book is so bracingly honest, so hilarious, so sharp, it’s clear there’s one thing he doesn’t have to be anxious about: Whether or not he’s a great writer.”

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    Meet the Author

    Daniel Smith is the author of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets and a contributor to numerous publications, including The American Scholar, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate.

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    Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    There are high-anxiety people like Woody Allen and David Sedaris who are able to describe their psychological difficulties with humor, but this author just drones on and on. I was hoping this would be a good book, but when I woke up with my Nook pressed to my face, I realized it wasn't holding my interest. I wouldn't recommend it unless you like to listen to friends ventilate their anxieties to you while you pretend to listen sympathetically and wish they would stop. This book is like that.
    FW2 More than 1 year ago
    I suffer from a few different anxiety disorders. It"s very hard to put into words what it feels like to live with it, most people just assume you're lazy because you don't leave your apartment because you are too scared to do anything, your rude because you never smile or speak, and when you try and tell people how you actually feel they either think you are drama queen or crazy. Monkey Mind says everything I was never able to articulate, and Daniel Smith does it with intelligence and humor. Many, many laugh out loud moments. I recommend anyone who suffers from anxiety, diagnosed or not, should read this book immediately. We are not alone.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Monkey Mind is a memoir written from a person who suffers terrible anxiety. Although I'm not a really anxious person, I'm a physician who treats many anxious patients. Reading this book gave me some insight into how some people really suffer from anxiety. The inability to react calmly in situations that others might just blow off was eye-opening to me. Overall, a well-written book filled with self-deprecating humor. I enjoy reading books where people can poke fun at themselves. For this reason, "Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection" is a great companion to this book. "Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity" is another recent funny one. Stein, a writer for TIME, may be the best writer today at self-deprecating male humor.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Monkey Mind is an honest, moving, and altogether hilarious memoir about the struggles of living with perpetual anxiety.
    The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
    I first saw this book when it popped up in my Goodreads feed. It’s a memoir about anxiety, and it was supposed to be hilarious. A friend of mine had just finished it and said that it was a great book that articulated her anxiety in a way that she was not able to do. Because I myself have a tendency to be quite anxious, I immediately scooped a copy and started reading. Maybe it was my high expectations, but the book wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It was funny and even clever at times, but I was expecting to feel the highs and lows of the anxiety-ridden author. Instead, I felt like I was reading a collection of awkward experiences (which was amusing) and stumbled right along with him. It was hard for me to really identify with the book, and that’s not necessarily the book’s fault. In the book, Smith says, “Anxiety is a narcissism machine. To have found a way to use it for good is unusual indeed,” and I get the feeling that this book was written as a way for the author to unload his burden. In all fairness, there were some really hilarious stories and I’m glad I read the book (overall). Smith is a good writer with a lot of insight into the mind of the anxious, and I think he could go quite far in the world of non-fiction. The book had a very self-helpish vibe, so maybe that’s a genre that Smith should consider. He has a way of breaking down anxiety’s complexities and placing them in nice and neat little sentences. They were so neat and nice that they sounded a lot like the daily affirmations that you would hang on your bathroom mirror.In summation, if you love memoirs or are extremely anxious, then you should read this book. If nothing else, you’ll learn some breathing techniques and take temporary comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Plus, your embarrassing moments are probably nothing compared to Smith’s, and you’ll get in a few good laughs.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I really was able to get inside of his mind and understand his anxiety myself.
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    The read started out ok but then became just someone's autobiography. I felt dooped because i was expecting to learn something new about the disorder
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    If you don't like long sentences and nothing but BIG WORDS don't buy this book. One sentence was 40 words long, I kid you not. He droned on and on. By the time I quit reading at about the half way point he was still in his first semester of college! Definitely not worth the money.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read the positive and negative reviews before purchasing this book. I found this book to be completely unrelatable as an anxiety sufferer. I really think the author held back on the reality of anxiety in order to make it light hearted. The result is scattered and nonsensical at times. Maybe a male anxiety sufferer would get more out of this book than I did.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book is quite the naastyside but i am anxious to read ot
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Hey sorry for being rude yesterday
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book is just everywhere all at once and not in a good way. I kept waiting for the so called funny parts but there werent any notable ones. Im convinced this guy is adhd the way he wrote this book. Alot of the book is him writing about writing this book. I honestly kept waiting for it to be over. I wanted to like it being someone who also deals with this issue but unfortunately it was one of those books I had to read a sentence over and over because it was boring and would not register in my mind.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Wasn't funny. Wasn't insightful. Sufferer of chronic anxiety and panic attacks felt that author didn't express anguish adequately. I felt that author didn't ever decide on audience, too scattered, no bite. Couldn't finish.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    OMG, YOU THINK SO TOO????? IM NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!!!!!! The monkey is creepy though.......
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    You Suck!!!!!!!!!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    That monkey is the same one on toy story 3!!!!!