Celia Kramer is a writer living with debilitating anxiety. In her weekly column, Celia will write about the horrible and hilarious world of fear, dread, paranoia, phobias, panic attacks, and trying to function as a halfway normal person. Some names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in her life.
Anxiety is marginally tolerated in Woody Allen movies–it’s only put up with when everyone’s in the joke. When you live with anxiety, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this recently, but I’m a nervous wreck, the shame of it can be crushing. When people realize the effect that your anxiety has on your everyday life, they don’t want to hear about it. It’s ugly. They recoil in revulsion, and you’re some kind of broken monster they don’t want to deal with. It is exceptionally isolating because good or bad (always bad), it’s a huge part of your life that you can’t share. Sometimes I joke that anxiety is my hobby, and what would you do if you couldn’t talk about your dumb life passion with the people in your life? This is why anxious people need anxious friends. You’d think that the anxiety would multiply, and certainly, sometimes that’s the case, but anxious people are also extremely empathic, and know how to handle it when you start to lose it. And helping other people when they need to be calmed is a lot easier when you know exactly what they’re going through.
I have a lot of trouble relating to people who don’t feel anxiety. Some people (therapists, everyone) say that this is because I have a limited view of the world wherein it’s a solely dangerous place. I think it’s the opposite—my view isn’t limited. My eyes are open.
You know that aggressively shrill bumper sticker that says something along the lines of “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention?” If you take out “outrage” and replace it with “anxious” (and while you’re at it, take out the self righteousness and replace it with self loathing), you’d have a pretty great bumper sticker, which would still be humiliating to put on your car, as all bumper stickers are. If you’re calm and moving through life not letting things like terrorism or lack of expressive punctuation in work emails get to you, then you’re probably stupid. The world is dangerous and you aren’t good enough for anyone or anything, but instead of having the decency to dedicate most of your life to self-loathing and disaster planning, you’re oblivious. You’re too dumb to see the danger lurking everywhere. And I have nothing to talk to you about.
So a requirement for friendship for most anxious people I know (myself included) is that you experience neuroses or anxiety or at the very least, you have to be anxiety-adjacent–my least neurotic friends have all had serious relationships with nervous basket cases. Because we’re still socialized to hide our neuroses and constant dread, the ability to talk about what makes us anxious and to recognize a friend—a person who’s been there, too—is a huge relief. You can breathe a little easier and come out of the bomb shelter you’ve built. She also knows what it’s like to agonize over unintentionally racially insensitive statements you made to a telemarketer during the 2010 senate races, and to spend the next three years replaying the conversation in your head anytime anyone mentions politics, race, or telephones.