“You won’t believe this, but I was just on the phone with a customer who was crying because he couldn’t assemble his bed frame.”
Some people (read: people not living in my version of reality) like to say that there’s usually a method to be found in the madness.
But if there’s a method or a shred of reason to my anxiety, I have yet to find it.
And trust me, I’ve looked.
The truth is, my anxiety is the equivalent of an infant screaming and throwing things in my head all day long.
No logic. Just really disconcerting noise.
One thing about my anxiety that I have yet to understand is why, for the love of all that is good, I can’t seem to do really simple things without panicking.
The logical part of my brain says: “This is easy. It’ll only take a minute.” But the anxious part of my brain starts making a racket until it’s so loud that I just avoid the thing altogether.
Maybe you can relate?
I don’t know whether to laugh about it or cry. Today, I’m choosing the former. Here are 9 of the simplest things that my anxiety does not — under any circumstances — want me to do.
I have a lot of Facebook friends. And it seems like every single day, at least three people have a birthday.
Facebook likes to remind me of this fact with a notification informing me. Sometimes the notification goes straight to my phone, as if to say, “Hey, jerk. Your friends are having birthdays today, WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, CHUMP?”
Nothing. I’m going to do nothing, Facebook.
Because if I wish one friend a happy birthday, I have to wish all of them a happy birthday. If I wish all of them a happy birthday today, what about tomorrow? The next day?
This is a commitment of over 800 well wishes.
Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly can’t handle this kind of pressure.
And don’t even remind me about when it’s MY birthday. Do you want to guess what I did when I received all those “happy birthday” posts on my wall?
Yes, exactly. I did nothing.
I am a 28-year-old adult and the idea of going to a machine to withdraw money stresses me out. Why?
First, I have to find said machine, which means going out in public (which I hate), potentially taking public transit (which I also hate), and handling finances (again, hatred). Then I have to figure out what kinds of fees are involved.
And with a pandemic raging now? Forget it.
Why would I involve myself in this headache when I can just use my debit card for literally everything?
I always know who my best friends are because they never ask me, “Hey Sam, do you have any cash on you?”
No, I don’t. And I never will.
If you’re detecting a theme here, it’s because there is a theme. The theme is, “Why do something that involves multiple steps when I can do something that involves one step or, better yet, no steps?”
If there’s any evidence of intelligent design, it’s microwavable meals. I know that a higher power was thinking of me when said power created this convenience.
What’s the alternative? Cook something?
To be clear: You want me to set aside at least an hour of my time in which I could just be watching “Gossip Girl,” to look up a recipe that fits my dietary restrictions, purchase multiple ingredients from a store, assemble said ingredients correctly, make a huge mess in my kitchen to clean later, and for what?
A home cooked meal?
This sounds very romantic (and, duh, delicious). But try telling my anxiety that. Because all my anxiety seems to understand is that this involves too many steps and therefore should be avoided at all costs.
Until you’ve had a full-blown panic attack over your (need I say it, failed) attempt at making a stir-fry (YES, A STIR-FRY), do not judge me for my frozen meals.
Yesterday, I watched my roommate and my partner assemble a bed frame. I’m pretty sure the bed frame came from IKEA. While these angels were hard at work, I sat on the couch eating Pringles, praying that no one would ask me to help.
If my anxiety could understand English, I think its least favorite phrase would be, “Assembly Required.”
I do not like things that I have to put together — especially things that are easy to mess up. I don’t like reading instructions, even when said instructions are just pictures.
No, I think I’ll just sit in the corner and pretend to look thoughtfully at the instructions, pass you the hammer when you need it, or fake an injury when we’re carrying the thing up the stairs.
The sight of an unassembled project scattered all over my bedroom floor is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. I don’t know why. If there were any logic to this, I would share it with you.
And before you say it, save your breath: All the empty platitudes about “eating an elephant one bite at a time” or about “the first step being the hardest” mean nothing to me.
When I see unassembled furniture, I see a nightmare coming alive. I see hours of hitting my head on the wall, trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing.
And I see the worst case scenario in which I put the wrong screw in the wrong hole and suddenly I’m on the phone with IKEA, trying to get replacement parts and crying about how this all could have been avoided if I’d just never tried.
And yes, I see the IKEA representative hanging up the phone, turning to his coworker, and saying, “You won’t believe this, but I was just on the phone with a customer who was crying because he couldn’t assemble his bed frame.”
They laugh. They laugh at my suffering.
This really only takes like, 5 minutes tops. But when I picture myself going through it, it sounds like the worst 5 minutes of my life.
No thank you. I guess I’m never seeing a doctor, getting my taxes done, or getting a massage ever again.
I don’t care if there are bike lanes. I don’t care if I’m wearing a suit of armor that protects me against injury. I don’t even care if cars disappeared altogether.
I need my feet on the ground. I will ride a scooter or hop on some roller skates but don’t even suggest that I ride a bike someplace. It’s not happening.
I live in a pretty eco-conscious city so it’s not uncommon for someone to suggest that we bike together.
And you would think, based on the looks I get, that I didn’t say “I don’t ride a bicycle” but instead said something like, “My third arm is actually made of pasta and it is growing out of the base of my spine.”
Before you ask, yes, I actually know how to ride a bike. I used to enjoy it.
You know, when there were training wheels and sidewalks and elaborate suburbs where cars seldom appeared and my dad was 10 feet away to carry me back home if I hit a sprinkler and toppled over (thanks, Dad).
The physics of a bicycle alone — the idea of balancing on two wheels and not crashing into the ground somehow — is a kind of demon’s magic that I cannot comprehend.
So I pretend it doesn’t exist. And I don’t ride bikes.
I will ask my phone, thanks. No, I do not want to look at a map. I don’t want to learn street names. I don’t even want to know what direction I’m traveling in.
I just want this robot voice to tell me when and where to turn.
And if my phone dies, guess what? I’m not going anywhere.
You know what’s even more stressful than a messy room? An even messier room. And you know what happens to a mess you avoid cleaning because it stresses you out? Yeah, a bigger mess.
“But wait,” you might be asking. “How does anything get cleaned, then?”
In my house, we are all (involuntarily) a part of this fun competition to see whose anxiety is the least debilitating.
It happens to be a competition I almost never win.
Is there a spider in the kitchen? I guess I’m not going in the kitchen ever again.
Are there ants in our room? Cool, I’ll be sleeping at someone else’s house.
Did you see a cockroach in the bathroom? Great, I will now require someone to accompany me to the bathroom and I will make loud screeching noises the whole time that I pee in an attempt to scare them into hiding.
I am not exaggerating.
The only silver lining here is that I’ve found, at least with spiders, that if I name the insects in an attempt to humanize them, they become slightly more tolerable.
I once named a spider I found in the bathroom Matt and we were actually able to coexist for a couple of weeks.
Until Matt appeared near my bedroom. And then all bets were off. Because we can chill in the bathroom, but when you get close to where I sleep, that’s when it gets personal.
Like I said: laughing. Laughing so that I don’t cry.
Sam Dylan Finch is a wellness coach, writer, and media strategist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the lead editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline, and co-founder of Queer Resilience Collective, a wellness coaching cooperative for LGBTQ+ people. You can say hello on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or learn more at SamDylanFinch.com.