The Fear Talking: The True Story of a Young Man and Anxiety

By Chris Westoby

Category: Memoir, Nonfiction

Formats available: Paperback, Ebook

Pages: 346

Publication date: 03/12/20

ISBN-13: 9781909954441

ISBN-10: 1909954446

‘For a story that is so much about being scared, this is writing at its most fearless.’Matthew Bright, Everybody’s Reviewing.

A compelling, heartbreaking story of a teenager, his family, and finding the courage to live with anxiety. It’s an everyday story of life, friendship, love, going to school, and terror.

The Fear Talking tells the true story of Chris Westoby, who as a teenager has a life-long anxiety condition, but he doesn’t know it – no one does as he’s undiagnosed. He wants to be alone, all day, forever, and swallows every aspiration that he has to complete his education, be a good boyfriend and live a life without perpetual fear. Deeply ashamed of his own thoughts, he juggles lies to friends and family to keep his anxiety secret. He seeks out secluded places in his hometown of Barton to avoid the world and find a way to get better. He begins investigating the patterns of causes and effect in his anxieties, the meanings and effects of the places that he goes to, the objects that he touches, the music that he hears and the words that he speaks. A sense of control might just be in reach, but it comes at a price that he doesn’t know he’s paying.

‘Chris Westoby shows us what it is to make use of the resonant power of words to offer a portal into what it is really like. A vital touchstone for public and health professionals alike, to understand deeply, to see and to learn from first person experience.’ – Kathleen T. Galvin, Professor of Nursing Practice, University of Brighton

‘This book offers young people an insight into the range of unique ways the world can be experienced and the chance to reflect on their own struggles and know they are not alone in these…, I have recommended this book to my academic colleagues, my students and my children.’ – Dr Judith Dyson, Reader Healthcare Research, Birmingham City University


This insightful memoir of a young man’s life is eloquent and insightful as it deals with the effects of anxiety on his life. The Fear Talking is well written, intelligent and very accessible; it almost has the page turning quality of a thriller. Readers will soon find themselves engrossed in Chris’s struggle to identify and cope with his condition before fully understanding his mental health issues. Surely people facing anxiety issues will find much to identify with here.

- Paul Burke - NB Magazine

The blurbs on the inside of the cover focus on The Fear Talking as a memoir of anxiety and its benefit to readers who wish to understand living with anxiety as the author has. In that regard The Fear Talking does a superlative job; it strikes the tricky balance of using repetition (the cycle of envisioning worst-case scenarios; the obsessive planning of timings to avoid disaster; the counting of tablets; the protective rituals) to create an immersive sense of what it feels like to live this way. Footnotes run throughout as a bubbling ever-present sub-narrative that insert a litany of worries into mundane moments. On a purely practical-writer level, it's an astonishing feat to maintain this without it becoming frustrating to read; instead it conveys a deep sense of exactly how exhausting it is. Much of the tension of The Fear itself derives from the author's inability to articulate his feelings to those around him, but as a memoir it does an inarguably vivid job of putting it into words. As a window into the experience of anxiety for those who have never experienced it in this way, it's illuminating; as a reflection for those who may be experiencing it without yet having words to explain it, it's invaluable... For a story that is so much about being scared, this is writing at its most fearless.

- Matt Bright - Everybody's Reviewing


In The Fear Talking, Chris Westoby achieves the well-nigh impossible, giving us a fully immersive account of adolescent anxiety, allowing the reader to feel and experience with the narrator. If one of the main aims of the memoir form is to induce empathy in readers, Westoby's memoir succeeds brilliantly. The reader comes away with a new and profound understanding of what mental illness feels like from within. Jonathan Taylor

- Jonathan Taylor, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, University of Leicester

As a nurse of many years’ experience I have heard countless stories of human distress and learned how to hold myself apart from other people’s suffering. Chris Westoby’s The Fear Talking expertly but gently slips past my professional guard to engage me in the life of a young man suffering from anxiety. The story is interesting, humorous, distressing, compassionate and intriguing, and as I read, I begin to understand the mental contortions behind the social paralysis anxiety brings, and then to discern its impact on self, family, friendships, schooling, work – the whole of life. Read this book, and you will never forget it. As a narrative it’s fascinating. As the memoir of a life lived with anxiety, it’s incomparable.

- Peter Draper, Emeritus Professor of Nursing Education, University of Hull

Anxiety is the most common form of mental distress and of course overlaps with normal human emotion. Yet it can be overwhelming and disabling and a gateway to other mental ill health notably depression and self-medication with alcohol and other substances. This engaging account throws a spotlight on how anxiety impacts on everyday life and relationships.

- Patrick McGorry, Professor of Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne

Chris Westoby

Chris Westoby obtained a BA in English and Creative Writing, an MA in Creative Writing, and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Hull, where he is now Programme Director of the Hull Online Creative Writing MA. He lectures in Creative Writing, guest lectures in subjects of mental health, teaches reflective writing to Mental Health Nursing Students, and runs cross-faculty writing workshops. He works in research, collecting the stories of others. Chris was born and raised in Barton, on the Lincolnshire side of the Humber, where he still …

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A writer / teacher’s review for THE FEAR TALKING

A review for Chris Westoby’s The Fear Talking from the Winter 2020 edition of Writers in Education (82), from NAWE: The successful memoir sets out to reveal the intimate details of an author’s life, the lessons learned and key moments that shaped who they are. Chris Westoby’s The Fear Talking …

Chris Westoby launches THE FEAR TALKING Chris Westoby launches his debut THE FEAR TALKING: The True Story of a Young Man and Anxiety in a truly open-hearted launch event. Watch Chris in conversation with the writer Edmund Hurst. Here’s a surprising snippet from the conversation. The word ‘anxiety’ only gets mentioned once in the whole …

The Fear Talking: A writer-reader diary. Joseph Coward on reading through anxiety

We asked writer-readers to write us a reader-diary of their reading journey through Chris Westoby’s The Fear Talking. Joseph Coward writes this crackingly honest first piece.  [To meet Chris in conversation with Edmund Hurst, live on Zoom 18.00 GMT Dec 3rd, email] Chris Westoby is the same age as …

Chris Westoby – Why anxiety, OCD & depression are worth sharing

I’ve had a severe anxiety disorder for my whole life. Growing up, I kept my illness secret, even from my parents. Partly through the shame of the things I thought, the things I was afraid of, my hidden behaviours, but also because it was the 00s and nobody seemed to talk about these …