10 things that give me anxiety (and shouldn’t)

1. Giving up my seat on the train.

Every time someone who looks remotely old, handicapped or pregnant gets on a train on which I am seated, I take four to six and a half seconds to evaluate just how old, handicapped or pregnant they actually are. This is not some kind of stall tactic I use to get out of having to give up my seat; this is a deep-seeded fear of offending a woman by making her feel old or fat (this has happened, people. I’m scarred). I don’t care if she’s 87 and holding a colostomy bag; what if she’s young at heart and I insult her? In the time it takes for me to figure this stuff out, a seat will have been offered by someone else, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of guilt and a shirt soaked through with sweat.

I should just always stand.

2. Turning down an invitation.

When I am invited to do something that I would like to do but can’t, or see someone I would love to see but am unable to, I spend roughly 20-25 minutes explaining that I can’t, why I can’t, and how much I really would love to. Then I stew in the endless, heavy guilt. What I mean to say is, when I don’t want to do something, I don’t sweat it and say no; but when I do want to do something but can’t, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a fear that the person will think I don’t want to do it or that not being able to make it is a lie. A friend recently conjectured that the longer the excuse, the less sincere it feels. “Just say no or you’re lying” she said. I am proof that that theory isn’t true.

My anxiety is due to the fact that I over-schedule my time with other people, and then need to schedule alone time. The latter is much harder to explain and is often taken as “I’d rather do nothing than hang out with you”; however, the intentional act of being alone is nothing more than insanity prevention for an introvert such as myself. I really do want to see you, but I’ve seen four different people four different days this week and I need to go home and do nothing for one, maybe two more. (I appreciate that this doesn’t make sense to everyone, especially when extroverts recharge by being around other people.)

Then there are the people that constantly feel rejected because every time they ask me to do something, I always (actually and legitimately) have other plans. So I’ve now spent 20-25 minutes three times this month rejecting you and apologizing profusely for it. Not only am I going to have great anxiety not hanging out with you, but even greater anxiety hanging out with anyone else until the next time I do see you.

“I am very much obliged to you for sending me cards for your parties,” Charles Darwin once wrote to the famous mathematician, Charles Babbage, after being invited to one of his dinner parties, “but I am afraid of accepting them, for I should meet some people there, to whom I have sworn by all the saints in Heaven, I never go out.”

Everyone just assume I love you. Okay?

3. Parties, crowds, small talk, general living and breathing.


from xkcd

4.Choice and decision making.

Deciding on where to go to dinner is the water-boarding of my relationship. Once, at a job I loved, another great opportunity came along and tried to recruit me. Instead of being flattered, which would be the normal human response, I desperately wished they would go away because knowing that they were there and I would eventually have to make a decision between what I had and what I could have was too much for me to bear. I hate choice. I hate big decisions.

The little ones aren’t that great either. For Christmas, Joel gave me a spa day, but told me to choose where the spa should be (by home? by work? elsewhere?). After spending fifteen minutes thinking about it out loud and falling further and further into my indecisive spiral, he yelled out “oh my god WHY DID I GIVE YOU THE GIFT OF CHOICE FOR CHRISTMAS?!”

I don’t know what it is: the fear of making the wrong decision, the fear of making a decision that is not what the other person wants, or a combination of both; but I have repeatedly joked that I should just move to North Korea and never have to make a decision again.

5. Talking on the phone.

I worked for five years as a legal secretary for two public defenders in college. They handled criminal cases, juvenile delinquency, and dependency cases. One time, I spent half an hour on the phone talking to a mother with Munchausen by Proxy who wouldn’t get off the phone until I told her that I believed her when she said that her boyfriend wasn’t a drug addict molesting her children. So yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of talking on the phone.

Luckily, my closest relationships are handled mostly in writing. One time I called my good friend Brian to relay a hilarious story that was easier to speak than write. After leaving him a long message, he immediately text messaged me back saying “sorry I didn’t pick up your 1987 telephone call.” See? He gets it.

6. Walking around my apartment.

My very first week after moving into my current apartment, I walked in a new pair of heels from my couch to my kitchen and back to see if they would be comfortable enough for me to wear to work. I live in a studio apartment: the distance between my couch and my kitchen is roughly seven steps. But in those seven steps, my downstairs neighbor came up and complained that I was making too much noise, that she would tell the landlord if it happened again, and that my walking around sounded like a herd of circus animals (bitch, is that a fat joke?). Now, I know what you’re thinking: I had every right to say “you live in a 40 year old 30 unit building with hardwood floors on a busy street in a bustling city” but instead I muttered an astonished “okay” and closed the door. Despite knowing I live there too and have my rights and DAMN IT I PAY (SAN FRANCISCO) RENTS!, I now creep around my apartment in the early morning and late evening without shoes on like a black and white silent movie villain stalking the female lead.

Meanwhile, I’m convinced that my upstairs neighbor is a meth-cooking prostitute who vacuums four times a night.

7. Youths on the train.

Seriously. When did 14 year olds become so god-damned terrifying?

8. Finding Nemo.

The ocean gives me panic attacks. I think it’s beautiful and peaceful to listen to, and I’m perfectly happy to walk beside it; but the idea of the vastness, the endlessness, the bottomlessness and the unknown gives me great anxiety. I’m not alone here, and so this is not an unreasonable fear (though I have to admit that I don’t have the same fear when faced with the thought of going into space); but it ceases to become reasonable when you consider the great anxiety I felt whilst watching the adorable animated film, Finding Nemo.

fiding nemo


9. People who are deathly afraid of silences.

I had this friend once and one time when I stepped away from the dinner table to go to the bathroom, she came up and continued talking to me through the bathroom door while I peed.

10. WebMD.

WebMD terrifies me. It’s always giving me cancer, rare diseases, and tumors. When I lived with my sister, a woman who has a nursing degree, a clinical nurse specialist degree, and a nurse practitioner degree, (in other words, she knows “sick”), I used to thoroughly and inadvertently entertain her with convictions of the latest cause of my on-coming death.

One time, Joel complained to me that when he breathed deeply, you could hear a crackling noise. Plug that shit into WebMD and you will quickly learn you have pulmonary edema (when your lungs fill up with fluid because you’ve gone into heart failure). I had heard this term before since my sister worked in the heart transplant clinic at Stanford at the time so I knew she was the one to call. The odds were low, I knew, but a professional consultation never hurt anyone.

“Hey,” I started. “Joel has this weird liquidy crackling noise when he breathes. You don’t think it’s pulmonary edema, do you?”

My sister didn’t answer, but instead repeated my words aloud for all medical professionals around her to hear. Cue uncontrollable laughing.

“Oh Courtney,” she finally said, composing herself, “if only you knew how sick actual sick people are.”

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