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.
I was walking up the stairs to get to my office, heels in hand as I do every morning, when I heard an unfamiliar sound—it was the sound of another person in the stairwell. While most people run into their office crushes or enemies in the elevators, I almost never see another soul while taking the stairs. I rounded the corner on the third floor landing and saw him, walking and looking at his cell phone. We exchanged awkward smiles and I kept walking, eventually passing him when he paused to readjust his backpack. I was acutely aware of him, half a floor behind me, for the next five floors. I normally take a break to readjust myself around the tenth floor so as not to show up to work a disheveled, sweaty mess, but when I got to ten, I heard him behind me and just kept going.
This has all the makings of a campy SVU episode: a girl alone in a locked stairwell with a strange man following close behind, the nearest exit three stories up. “Well, what was she doing in that stairwell with her shoes off? What did she think would happen?” But to be clear, I didn’t for a moment feel like I was in any danger. I simply wanted to appear impressive and in shape, and not stop to take a rest before he did, because I am crippled by the idea that I am unimpressive. Even though I could hear his heavy breathing, heavier than my own (afterall, I do this every day), I couldn’t shake the idea that he would look athletic passing me, and I’d look fat, sedentary, and pathetic. I knew that if I stopped, he’d walk past me, and we’d have to awkwardly brush against each other. Or worse, make small talk about how exhausting climbing stairs can be, and I’d have to acknowledge that I stopped first. I was the out of shape one. So I kept climbing.
At floor 16, he abruptly turned around and walked back down the stairs. No goodbye, no have a nice day, no explanation.
Most people assume that I take the stairs because I care deeply about my health—this is a common misconception about people from California. This is not true. The reason I climb up 19 flights of stairs every day is not because I care about my health (which I care about insofar as how it makes me look in clothing). I climb up 19 flights of stairs because I have an acutely pronounced phobia of elevators.