office holiday party

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.

Office parties can be interminable affairs for even the calmest of humans–maybe nobody in your office is friendly, or there’s no open bar, or worse, your party is kid friendly. Maybe it’s not even your holiday party–you’re just someone’s dumb date who didn’t know that nothing in life, even free dinner, is really free.

A few years ago, Louis informed me that his company would be having a holiday party and that he wanted me to go with him. That was the only information he provided, and I said yes because I am an idiot in love. As December rolled on, more details about the party emerged. Instead of just his company, it would be his company and another, related company sharing the party. The other company was much larger, and it meant that Louis and his coworkers would only know about 30% of the guests. Children were encouraged. We got two free drinks and that was it–they wouldn’t even let us buy more. Two drinks for the whole night. And finally, the most egregious offense of all: it would take place on a boat.

Boats, parties, and social anxiety are a horrible mix. If I have to attend a party, it takes concentrated efforts of psyching myself up, changing my outfit at least four times, and deciding I won’t attend at least twice before finally being cajoled into going. Typically, once I get there I have fun. Most days I forget that I’m actually pretty friendly and likable, and I’m the person at the party who can talk to anyone. Having social anxiety has actually made me a more enjoyable person to be around in a twisted way, because it propagated a whole host of defense mechanism to mask my terror. I’m funny, charming, and a good listener, and I developed all of those skills so that I wouldn’t self destruct into a melting shame ball anytime I was in a social setting. What really makes the crushing anxiety bearable is the prospect that I can leave whenever I want. When my stomach starts to turn as I ring the doorbell, I say “I can just leave” in my head, over and over, like an anti-social, no fun mantra. And it works. But you can’t leave a boat. You just can’t.

Louis had only recently started working at this company, and while he was immediately well-liked, it’s not like he had work friends I had met to socialize with. So I decided to make some emergency coping decisions and immediately walked over to the bar. I try not to drink too much because hangovers tend to make me very susceptible to panic attacks, but I also try to balance that with how much I love drinking and how much drinking in moderation helps to dull my crippling anxiety in social situations. Using drinking to cope isn’t fantastic I guess, but don’t we all use drinking to cope with something or other?

And so, it’s 30 minutes into this party. I’m in a fancy dress, surrounded by people I’ve never met, children are running everywhere, and I’m already pretty drunk.

Louis and I stuck out at the party. We were young and what I jokingly call “alt-looking,” in that there are tattoos, a beard, and two typewriters owned between the two of us. People kept coming up to us and asking if we were newlyweds, which we didn’t handle gracefully. We’d emphatically no, to which people would invariably try to comfort me, and then I’d say something like “oh god no, I don’t even want to do that right now! But it’s great. We’re fine. We’re so happy!” It was even less coherent at the actual event.

After wading through hoards of total strangers, Louis finally found his department and a few of the guys he had become friends with. The most Spanish-speaking operations staff all loved him because he spoke Spanish, and all came over to introduce themselves to me. I’m normally okay with basic Spanish, but I just smiled like an idiot and made Louis translate basic pleasantries because my mix of nerves and steadily declining sobriety made English difficult, let alone Spanish.

There were children everywhere, running around like maniacs. I became very nervous that one might fall overboard, and somehow I would be tasked with saving him or her. I turned to Louis and said “I’m not a strong swimmer” out of nowhere, and he said “no, you’re not.”

I was starving but too nervous to eat, which explained a bit of why I so quickly became shit faced after my two alloted whiskeys (and half of Louis’). At one point, I perfectly hit my stride of gregarious life of the party, and spent a solid 20 minutes talking to a few of Louis’ coworkers who were as drunk as I was. We spent the evening teaching each other curse words in Spanish, French, and Mandarin while children ran around like crazy. We had an amazing time at quite possibly the worst office party in existence.

But here’s where things took a turn. About two hours in, everybody decided it was time to go. Children were falling asleep, people named Celia were starting to slur words together and get handsy with her boyfriend, and everyone was ready for it to be over. But we couldn’t leave, because we were on a freaking boat. We had an hour left before the boat went back to the dock and we could all mercifully go home, and I promptly fell asleep with the rest of the children. I slept blissfully, with no anxiety dreams whatsoever. A holiday miracle.

Photo: The Office, NBC