First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety by Sarah Wilson
Published by Dey Street Books on April 24th, 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
“I believe with all my heart that just understanding the metapurpose of the anxious struggle helps to make it beautiful. Purposeful, creative, bold, rich, deep things are always beautiful.”
Happy Boxing Day! I had a wonderful time in Hawaii celebrating the holidays with my family. As someone who lives in Toronto (I’m on my way back there now!) and has absolutely zero sunlight in the winter, it’s been nice to get some vitamin D.
I read most of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful in the jacuzzi of the hotel. It was raining so nobody was out there. It was the perfect reading environment!
Wilson came across a Chinese proverb that said before you can conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful. It became the key to understanding her lifelong struggle with anxiety.
She directs her intense focus and fierce investigating skills onto her lifetime companion, looking at the triggers and treatments, the fashions and fads. She interviews fellow anxiety sufferers, mental health experts, philosophers, and even the Dalai Lama himself, processing all she learns through the prism of her own experiences. Through it all, she offers readers comfort, humour, companionship, and practical tips for living with the Beast.
I’ve been eying this book for awhile. It’s been on my radar since I’ve embarked on my own journey to understand my anxiety.
Now this book isn’t for everybody. Most people will probably struggle with the meandering structure. But I found Wilson’s conversational style and approach to a complex problem to be extremely helpful and readable.
She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. From my experience, books about anxiety tend to have a cheerful, “Don’t worry! Just do these things and you’ll be fine. In fact, it’ll make your anxiety disappear forever!”
Wilson lays it all on the line and is very honest and straightforward about how complicated our relationship with our anxiety can be. She perfectly captures how lonely, heartbreaking, and tiring it can be to have this lifelong companion by our side.
She’s upfront about how anxiety tricks us into believing BS even if there’s evidence suggesting that our worst fears are simply untrue.
In this book, there’s a good mix of dispelling myths, advice from the medical field, spiritual traditions, and science.
There are facts, stats, and anecdotes from people who suffer from anxiety. There are also quotes from philosophers, psychiatrists, and other authors who have anxiety.
Yeah, some of the advice can be a bit eye-roll inducing. And I found her incessant writing about cutting out sugar to be a bit much. But most of the advice is sound. There’s stuff that I’ve tried out myself that worked, and others that I’m going to try out in the future.
This isn’t a perfect book. It doesn’t cover everything and you likely won’t agree with everything Wilson writes about. But there’s something to be said about her approach to this book. She tackles anxiety from all fronts: pressure from society to be “high-functioning”; taking care of your body, mind, and soul after trauma; and tips on how to be a better partner to someone who has anxiety.
There’s something wonderful about knowing that you’re not alone. And it was helpful to read about the reality of others’ experience of this painful and harrowing condition.
I loved Wilson’s honest and vibrant account of her struggle with anxiety and I hope to read more about her work in the future! It’s definitely part-memoir and part-self-help. And I normally am not a fan of self-help, but this didn’t come across as preachy or entitled in any way.
If you’re looking for a book about how to cope with anxiety, I definitely recommend it!