The Woman Who Cracked the Anxiety Code is a significant addition to Australian biographical history. It highlights the achievements of Dr Claire Weekes, who was a pioneer in the modern treatment of anxiety and other mental health conditions. Weekes combined physiology and psychology in a way that had not been done previously, coining the term mind-body connection well before the link between mental and physical health was commonly accepted. Her bestselling book Self Help for Your Nerves is still in print, nearly sixty years after first being released.
In the retelling of Weekes’ narrative, Hoare has written more than a biography. She delves deeply into the forebears of modern psychology, dedicating an entire chapter to explaining the tensions between the followers of Darwin and Freud. This provides contextual insights into the intellectual debate Weekes was exposed to, and contributed to, through her research. Some readers might find this level of detail distracting from Weekes’ personal story, and perhaps summarising the debate in a few paragraphs would have sufficed without sacrificing readability and flow. The Woman Who Cracked The Anxiety Code does impart readers with a deeper understanding of where the modern focus on links between mind and body began.
Readers with a personal connection to anxiety will appreciate the impact of Weekes’ research and practical approach to curing nervous illness. Hoare emphasises that Weekes’ expertise, and broad public appeal, was not purely based on medical training but was underpinned by personal experience. Weekes’ was, quite literally, surrounded by anxiety. She suffered from a case of ‘bad nerves’ herself in her early twenties, which eventually led her toward the study of what she classified as nervous illness. A serendipitous moment in conversation with a war veteran sparked the beginning of her theory of acceptance – starting with overcoming her own nervous illness, moving into her career as a specialist practitioner and the publication of numerous international best seller self-help guides. At the height of her success as a specialist, Weekes regularly invited her patients with more complex cases to stay in her home.
Hoare draws heavily on quotes from those close to Weekes, primarily her nieces, academics and colleagues. The picture they paint is of a woman who was driven, ambitious, independent and, perhaps most importantly, empathetic. Unfortunately, there seems to be little material available directly from Dr Weekes herself outside of her scientific publications and self-help books. This may result in a lack of familiarity or close connection built between the reader and Dr Claire Weekes, and yet any reader will be hard pressed not to walk away from the book with a deep appreciation of Dr Weekes’ achievements.
This biography appeals to a variety of audiences, from those who have benefited from the advice given in her books, to colleagues in the study and treatment of nervous illness and those drawn to the lives of remarkable women. If you are looking for an easy breezy read for your summer holiday, this probably isn’t it. The Woman Who Cracked The Anxiety Code is dense, both in language and subject matter. It is Hoare’s first book publication after a distinguished career as a journalist and editor. Her background is evident from the depth of research undertaken to inform her retelling of Weekes’ story. Hoare’s reliance on her research to tell Weekes’ story is perhaps a double-edged sword. On the one hand it provides an incredible depth of detail and immediate authority. On the other hand, it delivers the narrative through a more formal tone that may be less enjoyable to read.
As Hoare discloses in the book’s acknowledgements, “When I first considered writing about Dr Claire Weekes, I assumed her story had been told and was astonished to find the field wide open”. In bringing this story to light, Hoare has ensured Dr Weekes’ legacy as a pioneer in the treatment of nervous illness is duly recognised.
Katrina Tite is a freelance content writer and editor who works with small/medium businesses to harness their unique stories. She blogs at katrinatite.com and you can follow her on Facebook at KatrinaTiteWriterEditor.