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.
Something about this year ending has made me very introspective. Maybe it’s because I’m off birth control for the first time in five years because I’m a big idiot who let her prescription lapse and couldn’t get an appointment until next week, so I’ve been a tad emotional. Or maybe it actually has a lot to do with writing this column–what started out as an idea to just tell funny stories about living life as a basket case turned out to be a way for me to think critically about how anxiety impacts my life and connect with you all about your experiences. This is the first year where I feel like I can chart my progress (which isn’t always forward), because it feels like the first time in my life where I haven’t just accepted anxiety as my my lot in life, and instead have thought about ways to get it more under control. It also feels like the biggest period of growth in my life thus far, probably because this year had some big, anxiety-provoking life changes that at the very least moved me in one direction. The movement is key. I would aspire to be a shark and say I have to keep moving or else I’ll die, but any number of things might cause me to die, and naturally I’m now listing them all in my head.
Last year, my professional life was drastically different, and if I’m being honest with myself, it was built entirely around fighting off my anxiety. I worked from home as a freelancer, because there were days when I was too scared to leave the house. I never signed a contract longer than three months, because I always assumed that I was at most three months away from a nervous break down and would need an exit plan. I saved every cent I had left over after rent and food so that I could save up if I became too incapacitated to work. I basically lived in constant fear that my anxiety would take over my life, and instead, the worry about it took over. When I look back on that period, I really can’t believe that I let my anxiety take over my life like that. Or, of course I can.
In that area, I’ve made a bunch of forward progress. I have a job with an office, coworkers, deadlines, regularity, and a contract that doesn’t depend on my mental health. I’m not constantly waiting for the roof to cave in, and most days, I feel less like an anxious person and more like a person with anxiety. And the positivity has spread–I’ve noticed a change in my social anxiety, too. I’m even starting to feel like the coping mechanisms of humor and charm that I developed to mask my crippling terror of talking to people might be becoming less like coping mechanisms and more like actual nice parts of my personality. I’ve started to accept that just sometimes (not always, most people are still out to get me), people like me because I’m fun, and not because I did a really good job of convincing them that I’m normal.
I did something crazy this year, which is to say that I uprooted myself and moved to New York City with no plan. Living with anxiety means always having a plan, or at least, it did for me. I had to schedule most of my life into tiny, manageable blocks, as if I were a tiny bird who was too frail to handle a full day. Uprooting myself completely destroyed any semblance of making life manageable, and I had to adapt. And I had to stop coddling myself, because, as my grandmother has always said, “you are not birdlike.” Then again, she means that physically, but it holds water, emotionally, too.
While completely flipping my life upside down mostly led to wonderful improvements, I did slip a bit in terms of managing my daily anxiety. I can feel that while my panic attacks occur less frequently, my baseline anxiety level has risen a bit. This is probably because I’ve stopped doing the various physical habits that keep me in check, like yoga, running, eating right, and generally taking care of myself. So that’s a pretty big step backward, but it’s not dire. It’s fixable. I’m trying not to beat myself up, because I think back to how I made good choices for myself and my anxiety this year, which were an act of self care. Sure, there were a lot of steps backward, but there were steps forward, too.
The thing that had the biggest impact on my anxiety this year was writing this column. Truly, this may have helped me more than any therapy or medication, yet. At the risk of sounding sincere, I want to tell you that your comments have all been unbelievable to me, and it floors me to feel so accepted by relative strangers. Reading them has made me feel less alone. I don’t respond because, as I suspect you’ve all figured out, Celia Kramer is not my real name and naturally I am paranoid of my comments somehow getting tracked back to me. Hopefully one day soon I’ll start writing under my real name, but that would require bravery that I’ve yet to locate. As such, you all may not really know how much they mean to me. I feel like I’ve found a support group of like minded looney tunes. I owe you all one.
When I look back on the past year, it has been the year of most significant growth in my whole short little life. I’m still scared every day, I worry constantly that my life will always revolve around my anxiety, and I’m always terrified that I will pass this behavior onto my future children, as it was passed onto me. But I’m encouraged and happy to say that this year was a little better, and even a little is significant. For the first time in a long time, I’m ending a year on an incredibly hopeful note.
Photo: When Harry Met Sally