Today it is expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the greater New York City area. At midday the heat is already close to unbearable — except of course that one has to bear it. What choice is there? You can lay down and die, but that hardly seems honorable. What would people say? “It got too hot for him to handle.” If they use a common idiom in a literal way, you know you’ve really screwed up.
For an anxious person, heat as intense as this is added burden, because anxious people tend to sweat more than average. Sometimes they sweat way more than average. I’m one of these people. Since I was in my early twenties, I have sweat so copiously that it has warranted a diagnosis. The dermatologists call it “hyperhydrosis,” and the condition mainly afflicts my armpits. Even in mild weather, the sweat glands beneath my arms become so hyperactive that it seems appropriate to refer to them as faucets rather than glands. As with much in anxiety, there’s a kind of cyclical thing that takes hold: first the underarms begin to sweat a little, then I get nervous that they’ve begun sweating, then my nerves make my underarms sweat more, which makes me more nervous, which makes them sweat even more, which makes me more nervous … until pretty soon my shirt is drenched through and I’m walking around like Frankenstein, hands pinned to my side in a futile effort to hide my affliction.
I suspect that this, above all is, is why I became a writer. It wasn’t so much about loving the English language or having something to say. I just wanted to work alone.
I talk about sweating at some length in Monkey Mind (which, incidentally, comes out in two weeks), but I bring it up here because since I handed in the manuscript I’ve begun taking advantage of a medical procedure that it is fair to say has changed my life: Botox injections.
I don’t know where I first heard that you can use Botox to paralyze the sweat glands under your arms, but I imagine I felt the way the Elephant Man would have felt if someone had told him they could make him look like Matthew McConaughey. Why hadn’t I known about this? What was the catch? There has to be a catch!
But there’s no catch. It doesn’t even hurt that much. The needles are really thin, the procedure doesn’t take long at all, and best of all … it actually works! When I first had Botox injected into my underarms, the doctor told me that, in very rare cases, a patient can suffer from “compensatory sweating.” Translation: the body gets confused that the underarms can’t sweat anymore and transfers the impulse to some remote and strange region of the body.
This freaked me out, because I have terrible luck. So of course I pictured myself having dinner with some friends when all of a sudden my nipples started sweating profusely. But for once my luck held out, and the procedure has worked perfectly. For six months, until the Botox wears off, my armpit sweat glands — my hated glands! — are docile, inactive, dormant. Yes, it looks a little off when I run, because everything else sweats. But I don’t really care. Particularly in this heat, all I care about is being dry and unhumiliated.
God bless modern medicine.
Welcome, all those who come via my NYT op-ed on Jews and anxiety.
If you’ve got a moment, check out this site’s Tales from the Amygdala project. We’d love to have your stories about anxiety. Take a deep breath, make a video, send it in. Tell the world.
And Happy Memorial Day! Or is it Crappy Memorial Day? “Happy” seems somehow … wrong.
It’s been a little while since I posted the first Therapy Log. More than a month, actually. I’m sorry about this. Things were going well at first, then they weren’t. And when they weren’t I didn’t want to talk about it—because I was ashamed. I was so ashamed! I should have been doing better! Therapy costs so much money! So I ate Ding-Dongs, watched TV on the Internet, and stayed away. I’m not proud of it, but there you go. Don’t judge me.
In this second installment, I explain why I wasn’t doing better, in my estimation, as well as a new anxiety-battling technique that my shrink taught me. He calls this technique “Reductio ad Absurdum,” and he believes it suits my brand of anxiety rather well. I still haven’t decided whether to take this as an insult or a compliment. It’s probably a bit of both.
Yesterday, my friend the artist Karen Azoulay alerted me to this:
It’s a billboard made by David Shrigley, a British artist best known for his strange, jarring, and uncomfortably funny cartoons. “It hovers above a parking garage in Chelsea,” Karen write, “and is best viewed from the High Line.” In fact, the piece is the third contribution in a year-and-a-half-year-old project called High Line Billboard, and will be on view for only a few more days.
According to Friends of the High Line, Shrigley’s work “stand[s] as a reminder of our fears, insecurities, and paranoia, which are so familiar to our contemporary society.” I’m not sure we require such a reminder, but check the billboard out anyway. It’s like having your brain tapped and its contents put on display.
The recent death of Levon Helm, which saddens me to no end — he was, as Bob Dylan says, a great spirit — seems a good opportunity to revive our Anxiety Jukebox feature with one of The Band’s most beautiful songs, “Stage Fright.” Levon doesn’t sing, with that tragic nasal twang he had, on this one; he’s playing drums. But he’s playing them with his customary brilliance. And hell, it’s a great tune.
This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt/adaptation of Monkey Mind that it called “The Maniac in Me.” Which isn’t a bad title, I think, though it does make me picture one of the inmates from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” miniaturized and tramping around inside my skull. Particularly, for some reason, the character played by Christopher Lloyd:
Which I realize is in itself a maniacal thought.
In any event, as the magazine was going to press the editors asked my brother Scott to write a blog post about his ongoing project “The Book of Scott,” which I discuss in the excerpt. “The Book of Scott,” as I describe it and Scott confirms in his post, emerged out of a desire — a need, even — to benefit from the same kind of equanimity and comfort that people of faith often gain from their scriptures. The Smiths aren’t religious folk, for the most part. Should we suffer for our faithlessness? (God-fearers, don’t answer that question.) As Scott explains,
When my own life stresses bunched up one year — I’m a strategist for a design studio in Portland, and also a writer — I started thinking about what I believed in: self-reliance, mindfulness, the power of creativity as play, radical honesty about the brevity and disappointments of life. Also: fart jokes…. I started collecting my own set of scriptures, proverbs and psalms from secular sages and prophets.
It’s an ongoing project, and will no doubt take a while to complete. It isn’t easy to develop your own spiritual canon! But the epigraphs, quotations, and injunctions he has in there thus far — from Flaubert, Hemingway, and Mel Brooks, to name just a few — are pretty damned great. Check out the full “Book of Scott” here.
I recently went back into therapy, and I’ve decided to track my progress — and lack of progress — in a series of videos. Below is the first in that series.
Anxious disclaimer: this video is longer than it probably ought to be. Future installments will be shorter.
I was interviewed for a Brazilian TV show called Saia Justa. The experience has reminded me, once again, that my nose is enormous.
I’m delighted to have received a new “Tales from the Amygdala” video from the brilliant, profane, enlightened, rage-twisted, soulful, frighteningly hilarious comedian Eddie Pepitone. Eddie is simply one of my all-time favorites comics — a great master of the rant and one of the most raw, honest performers I’ve ever seen. His own website refers to him as “a modern day cross between Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles, and Eckart Tolle,” which is pretty damned accurate.
Eddie is the subject of a new documentary, directed by Steven Feinartz (who also shot this video), called “The Bitter Buddha.” Late last year he released his first album, “A Great Stillness.” Get it. It’s fantastic.
Submit your own videos to “Tales from the Amygdala.” We’d love to have them. Full description of the project — and a great video by Jason Good — here. Video archive housed here. Email: email@example.com.
Most Fridays, when I’m not too overwhelmed by work and life, I publish an exchange with my mother, Marilyn Smith — psychotherapist, anxiety expert, and genetic wellspring of my neuroses — about anxiety and anxiety disorders. Sometimes I forgo these exchanges and publish questions from readers, and my mom’s responses. If you have a question about anxiety you’d like me to share with my mother, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note: I reserve the right to edit submissions [delicately, lovingly] for grammar, length, etc.)
Dear Dan’s Mom: I have been thinking about having my first child within the next year or so, but I’m anxious about weaning myself off of Klonopin (which is the only medication that truly helps me, after a decade of experimentation) and Neurontin (which was prescribed to me years ago for racing thoughts). Of course I will be doing this under medical supervision, but I was wondering if there was any general advice you could offer about going through the process. (more…)