Friday Book Pick Hope and Healing for Your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weeks
For quite some time, even well before the pandemic, the word “anxiety” has been on the lips of young and old, rich and poor, religious and “none” alike. The descriptions and vocabulary around anxiety are varied. There is social anxiety, work-related anxiety, or general anxiety. There are butterflies, plain-old nervousness, ominous fear, clouds of fear, stabbing fear and panic. And because the vast majority of people are familiar with these experiences in one way or another…I’ve got to let you know about this book!
Hope and Healing for Your Nerves might seem at first glance to be a bit dated. No one really talks about their “nerves” anymore. (I can’t help but digress here and note an exception. Those of you who knew †Fr. Robert Stanion, CFR, remember his frequent, exasperated cry of, “My nerves!” Especially if he witnessed you commit some inexcusable offense like throwing away a used tea bag or a dried onion peel rather than compost it or turn it into soup stock, which would have been better...at least for Father’s nerves. Fr. Robert might have been the last holdout on talking about “nerves.” But, I think that he meant any kind of emotional upset like annoyance or frustration when he used the phrase “nerves,” not generalized anxiety.)
Whatever differences in the language used, the experience of anxiety is common enough. And even though this book was published in 1962 and uses words like nerves, nervous breakdown, and other such outdated language, the concepts are solid and the ideas are priceless. Dr. Claire Weeks (1903-1990), an Australian physician, is considered a pioneer of modern anxiety treatment by means of Cognitive Therapy. And through her practice, and even more so through her books which are still in print, she has helped maybe even millions of people overcome crippling anxiety.
Her Cognitive Therapy approach breaks down into four steps: facing the feared situation, accepting the feeling of panic, floating through it, and letting time pass. Before you dismiss her ideas as being overly simplistic, you might be interested to know that Dr. Weeks began her career as a research scientist, and she begins her book by explaining the human nervous system from a scientific perspective. Dr. Weeks goes on to explain the physical symptoms associated with anxiety and what is happening biologically when they occur. With science as the basis of her perspective and approach, she moves into “tough coach mode” as she walks the reader through a variety of symptoms and cases, teaching her simple (but not easy) plan for becoming free of fear.
In addition to being a highly successful medical doctor specializing in the treatment of anxiety, Dr. Weeks has the added authority that comes from personal suffering. She battled with “nervous illness” after being misdiagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 26. When interviewed on the topic of her own suffering with anxiety, Dr. Weeks replied, "Yes, I have had what you call panic attacks. In fact, I still have them. Sometimes they wake me at night." Her interviewer, Dr. DuPont, responded by saying he was sorry to hear that. He described Dr. Claire Weekes as looking at him in shock and responding, "Save your sympathy for someone else. I don't need it or want it. What you call a panic attack is merely a few normal chemicals that are temporarily out of place in my brain. It is of no significance whatsoever to me!" Clearly, her expertise and her authority on overcoming the oppression of anxiety are rooted in her own victory over crippling fear.
There is nothing specifically Catholic or religious about this book. But because it is true and helpful to the human person, you could see it as both. Everything human matters. Isn’t that the meaning of the Incarnation? Learning to overcome fear, the primary weapon of the Enemy, enables us to live in the freedom God always intended for us—the freedom of children of God.
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
Mother Clare, CFR