Anxiety comes in a lot of different forms. And each one has informed every decision I’ve ever made in life. For a long time I listened to my anxiety like directions on a page, keeping myself from the world. It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I began to follow the mantra I live by now. Which is to say yes to social occasions. Because either you’ll have a great time, or you’ll have a great story. And either way you win. Unless you’re attending a party at a high profile music studio and start having an anxiety attack halfway through and need to go hide in the bathroom until you’re good, and then you trip over a fire extinguisher on your way out and everyone is asking if you’re okay to drive yourself home when you’re actually the only sober one there and also you don’t even fucking drive.
Sometimes anxiety feels like a trap. Like you’re snowed in, in a phonebooth with no service and a wolf pacing nearby. Sometimes it feels like that until you’re halfway through, when you come to your senses and, seeing clearer now, realize that you are the wolf. That you are the one that paced and waited and attacked. Your prints in the snow shaming your lack of self-awareness.
Sometimes anxiety feels like a missing voice, forcing you to pack up and leave without saying goodbye. To give a friend your copy of a game because you’re unable to tell him that you lost his. The numbness that strikes your hand as you’re about to turn the doorknob, because you heard a footstep on the other side. The feeling that your “let’s hang out” will come up on their phone and be left on read, when that is all that could pull you out of this pit.
But sometimes anxiety can be banished. Sometimes you’ll meet in the park with your friend and idol, Valerie, armed with a violin and a voice much stronger in ink than in air. And she’s tiny but what she sees and what she says is bigger than anything you think you can reach. And that friend will strike a spark in you when she says that she learns from you. It will reignite the fire held by the green in your eyes. Because if the most creative person that you know is inspired by what you do, then you have succeeded. And no wolf in the snow, or mess on the floor, or twenty foot door will ever be able to lie to you about who you are again.
“I’m sorry. Just walk through the door.”
When I was 5 I was walking back inside from recess when I realized that the grandpa from the rugrats was going to die soon, and then immediately after realized that death is inevitable and is coming for all of us. To be fair, this was around the time that I also “realized” that the government was using top secret caged Pokémon to control the weather, so not all of my theories were spot on. But that was the first time I’d ever thought about death in a serious way (and only the third time I’d convinced myself that Pokémon were real) so I was shaken pretty hard.
One thing I will give my fear of death is that it totally turned my fear of the supernatural into appreciation. Because in my mind it was silly to be scared of dying if I was just gonna become a spooky ghost after and get to haunt people for a living. Which sounds kind of like a sweet gig, and would also give me a reason to put my ability to sneak up on people back on my resume. The only bad thing would be the possibility of an exorcism, which would totally suck. Especially because they always seem to bring a priest along while doing those and I’m a healer main so it’ll just end up being this awkward power struggle the whole time. It’d honestly just be better for everyone if you brought someone more focused on DPS, like a dentist or a gym teacher.
In high school my fear of death, much like my gayness, came out in full force. And one of the boys I was friends with at the time tried to calm me down by suggesting that maybe what happens when we die is exactly what happened on LOST. But that just made things even worse, because I’m super not prepared to survive on a deserted island. If we didn’t find the hatch within the first 7 days of me being dead I would’ve put my own torch out at tribal council and walked out on Jeff Probst before the episode was even over. And then Matthew Fox would come up to me all, “WE HAVE TO GO BACK RYAN” and I’d make out with him for a little bit before I’d inevitably remember that he and I are too different to ever make it work, and I’d have to leave him. Plus once the government gets Kyogre to throw a storm at us we’d be done anyway, because we spent all of our time on the island starting and stopping relationships and none of our time actually planning an escape. Not very responsible, Matthew Fox. I expected more from you.
I finally broke out of my intense fear of death when I grew up and moved to the city. Which is ironic because you’d think I would be way more terrified of serial killers while living with roommates, but almost none of them have actively tried to kill me yet. Which is admittedly super cool of them considering some of the craigslist ads I saw at the same time as theirs were advertising an initiation into a secret brotherhood. Which sounds cool and all but I just know there’s a hidden membership fee at some point and I’m not about it. Unless your secret brotherhood is about recapturing the Pokémon unwillingly being used for government labor, I’m not interested in paying. And if it is then fine, but let me build up some pinap berries first because I’m honestly SOOOOO close to a magikarp evolution.
What if I just really spoke? Without jokes, just speaking one on one. Or one on none, or one on one hundred. Depends on the SEO, I guess. I don’t even truly know what SEO is or how it works, that was just a lame attempt at a joke.
I’m speaking cause I find myself asking, “what is my voice?” And why do I feel the need to justify why I’m speaking?
When I was seeing this guy named Connor he told me that there are two kinds of people: those that walk through doors and those that walk around them. Now, me personally, I vibrate up through the ceiling because I’ve had 7 cups of coffee and my atoms are holding on for dear life as I transform into Shadowcat from the X-Men, but he said it to tell me that I walk around doors. Which is to say that I enter a room already apologizing for taking up space. And that is at the core of everything I do and don’t do. Every joke I make is an apology for having taken up your time. Every edit, every sentence cut, is me saying that you could be doing something better. Because I don’t believe in me. Because I’m sorry for me. And what I can’t bring to the table.
So… what is my voice? Am I the 5 second edited joke? Am I the painting before it receives its colors? Am I the character breaking down on stage? Am I the insider text to a friend? Am I an apology for myself wrapped in lead and code? I don’t know.
And when I find my voice, can I finally say to myself,
Just walk through the door.”
I can’t think of a more boring quality to attribute to myself other than “coffee-drinker” and yet that’s somehow become one of my main identifiers. I don’t even drink that much coffee. I only have about 4-7 cups a day minimum and that’s only so I can fully charge my Anxiety Meter which works a lot like the Limit Break bar in FF7 except instead of it resulting in a powerful limit break attack when the bar is full it results in a powerful anxiety attack that makes you hide in the bathroom until your hands stop shaking and you can hear out of both ears again. I can already hear you asking why I drink coffee if that’s the result and the answer is that I also get anxiety if I’m in a social situation where I don’t have something to do with my hands or something to hide my face, and coffee easily fills both of those roles. So I use it to prevent anxiety and then end up causing more anxiety. It’s a whole thing. And I know what you’re saying, “Ryan just get water” and that’s fine and everything but then I won’t have the energy to stay up until 7am watching “The War At Home- All Kenny Scenes” on repeat while soaking in the nostalgia of the gay twink version of Rami Malek. I’ll suffer through anxiety for the scene where he goes on his first gay date and screams “I DONT WANNA HAVE SEX WITH YOU! I’M BAD AT BEING GAY, OKAY?!” all day every day, thank you very much.
I’ve thought about quitting before, but the migraine is always so painful. You know that scene in X-Men when Professor X puts Cerebro on to try and find someone but then it was secretly poisoned by Mystique the whole time and so his head almost explodes? The coffee migraine is kind of like that, but worse because some of us don’t have telekinesis, Charles. And also because Professor X probably got to have coffee before he put cerebro on and almost died.
When I moved to the city I lost contact with all of my Long Island friends. And I do mean all of them. A long-lasting depressive episode held me in place, not allowing me to reach out. Telling me, whether true or not, that they hated me now. Five years after moving to the city I had to gather the strength to reach out to them. My depressive episode that drove me to isolate myself from everyone that cared about me finally wrapped up in a way like when you’ve finally recovered from crying and realize just how hungry you were the whole time. Your sadness no longer blanketing it, no longer a tourniquet for the pain.
I reached out, finally, to the person I knew I could count on first. Over coffee and food, for the first time in 4 years, I reconnected with Yeliz. It was a story I’d written in her yearbook that I thought would be fiction. The story of us 4 years in the future having had no contact but coming back together like we hadn’t spent a day apart. And that’s exactly how it went. Yeliz was also the start of me reconnecting with the rest of my friends from Long Island. Dragging myself out of the depressed pit that I’d slipped into while moving to Manhattan. My chosen family. And that’s the happy ending.
One time I accidentally actually participated in gym class and it was crazy. I was fresh off of a solid zero hours of sleep because I stayed up the entire night playing Mario Tennis for the GameCube, which is easily one of the best mario sport games and I’m not just saying that because I kicked all of my straight cousins’ asses at it while playing as Peach (okay yes I am.) it was badminton week in gym and that day I forgot to use my normal strategy of standing just outside of the boundary lines to make sure that if the ball was coming to me I wouldn’t technically have to hit it, and instead I just actually played. I was also playing for two, not because I was pregnant (though that would probably be a way better story) but because Yeliz was my partner and she wasn’t feeling well, so she was going back and forth between toeing the boundary line and straight up just sitting down. And nobody even questioned her because she’s a power player. I mean, not a power player in badminton, clearly. But just in life.
Anyway, like some kind of messed up 80s coming of age story, those Mario Tennis skills translated to real life badminton skills (not even the same sport, but whatever brain) and I was returning shots back to the other team like my life depended on it. We still lost every single game and placed lowest in the class-wide tournament, but that’s not important. I mean, it was important for our gym grade, but not for this story.
My hunger for competition only grew through my senior year, even though I was barely there. I missed so many history classes that I almost wasn’t allowed to graduate. Except then we split into teams in our history class to hold an election and due to the perfect storm of one of the other groups arguing for the legalization of lightsabers during military action, some Russian bots (just assuming), and the popular girls accidentally voting for me because they didn’t realize they could vote for their own candidate, I ended up winning the election by a landslide. And I’m kind of convinced that that’s the only reason I didn’t end up flunking that class. I mean, you can’t fail the president. That’s in the constitution, I’m pretty sure. (Or maybe not, I don’t know, I didn’t really show up to any history classes.)
After the election, Yeliz, Gulsah, and I decided to go out and celebrate at an all you can eat sushi place, which sounds disgusting but hear us out. It’s not like buffet-style where it’s sitting out for potentially decades at a time. Instead they hand out these menus where you check off everything you want and pay a flat fee per person and on the bottom of the menu is a vaguely threatening message that says “DO NOT ORDER WHAT YOU WILL NOT EAT.” Which was just sensible and loud enough for us to be scared into only ordering what we knew we liked, which meant lots of generic but delicious rolls. So delicious and generic that it took us halfway through our platter to realize that we’d accidentally been given and were eating someone else’s food. Since we were already halfway through and stuffed completely full, we decided to just shovel the rest into our mouths no matter how painful it was, pay, and never speak of this ever again out of bloated embarrassment. We finished, gave ourselves a congratulatory but exhausted cheer and planned to head out. Unfortunately the sushi place also realized that we’d been given the wrong platter and then promptly placed ours down where our empty platter once was, and the words “DO NOT ORDER WHAT YOU WILL NOT EAT” echoed in the air as if Mufasa himself was speaking to us. Which, we were so full that all of us felt half dead, so communion with the spirit world really wasn’t too far fetched.
I wasn’t hungry, but we were also out with Gulsah’s sister and her sister’s boyfriend (who looked suspiciously like Joe Jonas but just enough where you could never really be sure and it felt too awkward to ask) and when the second platter came out he just started digging in. And then because the Ancient Greek goddess Monica Geller is at the very core of my being, I took that as a challenge and decided I was going to finish it off on my own. I had what I can only describe as a competitive blackout because I couldn’t tell you what happened beyond that except that ten minutes later the second platter was gone, my friends all looked disgusted with me, and I was asking who wanted to go get ice cream.
Sometimes life still surprises you. In the midst of the planning and the grinding and the yawning. Everything’s static and stale until the ground decides it wants to be moved and brings an old friend to your door, or an old crush to your phone. And then spring is here and the flowers bloom and you cut lilacs from the bush near your window, and you’re 13 again. And you lie on your bed and discover yourself and everything is pastel and new.
I’ll never understand when something unique, original, and nearly perfect just up and disappears or gets abandoned. There’s so much mediocrity that gets remade, revamped, and repeated endlessly that sometimes it feels like there’s no space left for something new and exciting. And so the question becomes, where did the original go? And why did it have to leave?
In elementary school I was best friends with a boy named James who was like my more normal, less anxiety-ridden half. We did everything together, hung out constantly, and I was totally in love with him but had no idea because being gay hadn’t been invented yet. We had a lot in common in terms of movies we liked, games we played, and our mutual curiosity/fear of the great demon Beetlejuice who we would try to summon with all of the lights off in James’s basement whenever we were bored and wanted to truly feel alive. It never worked but I think it’s because this was before cell phones were super popular and honestly maintaining a landline when you’re also working full time as a servant of the dark lord Beelzebub is probably pretty taxing.
One thing we were both mutually obsessed with was the game Golden Sun. Golden Sun was like if Final Fantasy was better and Pokemon was worse and then they came together like a Power Rangers Megazord and formed a perfect game that could finally kick Goldar’s ass. While James was better than me at every sport ever imaginable, I had him beat in the not-yet-invented-by-nerds category known as esports. Because of that he entrusted me with his copy of the game under the condition that I help him get past one boss. I agreed, took the game home with me, beat that boss, and then promptly lost his copy of the game into the deep cavern that was my room, because I’ve always been a very responsible person.
I had to think quick after I lost the game, which is really bad because that’s definitely not my strong suit. My strong suit is more in just hiding until all of my problems go away, which wouldn’t have worked in this case because James and I had played a lot of manhunt together so he knew all of my prime hiding spots. The only solution I could think of at that point was to give him my copy of the game, pretend I got him further than I originally intended, and then never speak about it again. And before you ask, no I didn’t consider telling him the truth because that would be stupid.
It took me until about a week after I gave him my copy of the game to remember that you could name all of the characters in the game, which presented a bit of a problem considering his were named after people he knew and mine were interchangeably named after Buffy characters and my favorite beanie babies. But he never brought it up so I’m just assuming he either never noticed or was too nice to call me out on it.
James and I lost touch in middle school and, although we shared a few classes here and there, we never really built our friendship back up. He became one of the jocks that people drooled over, I became one of the theatre kids that people avoided eye contact with, and Isaac from Golden Sun became a Smash Bros assist trophy instead of the fighter he rightly deserves to be because Nintendo abandoned the Golden Sun franchise and refuses to acknowledge their giant mistake. Get it together, Nintendo.
Listen, if Ross hadn’t slept with the copy girl he never would’ve met Emily, they never would’ve gone to London to get married, and Monica and Chandler never would’ve hooked up and accidentally started a relationship. Which is to say that sometimes stupid things need to happen so that great things can follow. And sometimes stupid things need to happen so that more stupid things can follow and that’s what this post is about.
Speaking of stupid, if you haven’t been on Neopets in a while just know that it still exists and is mostly the same, it’s just that now your dragon-squirrels can wear crop tops and jorts. Back in the day, though, my main goal in the realistic capitalism simulation known as Neopets was buying 10,000 books for my magic red goat to read. I was so heavily invested in that goal that when I came upon a shop that said I could get a million neopoints by following a few easy steps, I took my chances. It was kind of surreal getting scammed for the first time, but to be fair it did totally prepare me for the thousands of pyramid schemes I’d be invited to join by my high school classmates later on in life. The weirdest part though was when third grade me made a new account and messaged them telling them to give me my account back. They responded saying they were me and that they didn’t take anything, and that was the first time I questioned whether I ever actually truly existed. Out of fear of unraveling the simulation we all live in and discovering the matrix, I didn’t go back on Neopets after that point and to be honest didn’t miss much about it. Except for the forums (and Cheat. That game rocked and Brucey B can suck it.) Being without the Neopets forums for all my role play and social needs meant I had to resort to the next best step: chat rooms.
Chat rooms used to be the place to go if you were a horny nerd with no friends. So it was a natural fit for me right off the bat. In middle school while I was still somehow convinced that I was straight, I stumbled across one chat room that let you go in as an avatar and walk around. It was like Habbo Hotel but worse and hornier. In there I found a pixelated guy that was super sad (which I could tell because he kept typing “::cries sadly::”) so I went up to him and asked what was wrong. He said he was sad because he was gay and no one would hug him and I was like damn… not being hugged definitely is one of the top 3 problems plaguing the gay community right now. Let’s get political and give him a hug. And that, embarrassingly enough, was the moment that I realized that I was gay. Not when I convinced my best friend to take his shirt off so I could drool over him. Not when I had wet dreams about the skater guy in my class. Not when I found myself watching an extensive amount of gay porn. It was when I typed “::hugs u::” to a sad cluster of gay pixels in a chat room.
His name was Leoni, he was Canadian, and we ended up dating on and off for about 3 years before he pretended his entire family was being terrorized by a demon queen named Kim (her full demonic name was Rymekilb and she was the keeper of the seventh layer of hell) shortly before admitting that he was actually a confused girl catfishing me the whole time. You’d think I would’ve been more devastated about being catfished, but I was really more just annoyed that the whole demon storyline didn’t pan out, because I was watching a lot of Charmed at the time and was so amped to realize my full middle school witch potential and start dating my inevitably hot whitelighter. But you know what they say, don’t hate the sad cluster of fake gay pixels, hate the habbo hotel ripoff chat room that brought you together to begin with. I’m pretty sure that’s the phrase, but I’m always open to constructive feedback.
Probably my biggest failing in life is when I was captured by the zergs, infested, and transformed by the Overmind into their queen, defender, and eternal ruler. It was super embarrassing and overall just a really bad Tuesday for me. (Possible I’m confusing myself with Sarah Kerrigan? It happens sometimes. We’re pretty similar.) My biggest failing beyond that was the beginning of my non-existent theatre career. (See? Basically the same person.)
I have this weird thing about me where whenever I’m not currently having an anxiety attack from being around other humans, I need to be the absolute center of attention. There’s no inbetween. Will I sprint out of the kitchen and into my room at Usain speeds when I hear my roommate coming through the front door? Yes. But do I also want the spotlight on me constantly and get annoyed when it’s on other people? Yes! And so nothing broke my gentle, ego-centric heart more than when I first got into theatre and wasn’t immediately the lead in every single musical that I auditioned for. It was, like, sure I couldn’t sing or dance, but it was 7th grade and we were on Long Island, so nobody else could either and if they could they were already in 13: The Musical.
I did end up getting leads towards the end of my high school theatre career, mostly because in my freshman year I’d proven my worth by landing the written-in part of “title-card changer” during a series of one-acts which I used to come out on stage dancing to Dontcha by the Pussycat Dolls because I didn’t want to have a social life, apparently. When it came to community theatre though, I was pretty much a designated ensemble member. Which I was okay with, considering my singing and dancing are about at the level where you’re pretty sure any audition I do is some elaborate What Would You Do episode where they’re testing to see if you can contain your laughter while simultaneously crushing someone’s dreams. It’s part of why I ended up veering away from the path of actor and into the role of writer.
When I was younger my future career plans changed every week. First I wanted to be a writer, then a firefighter, then the sole wielder of the keyblade, then briefly a newspaper delivery boy when I accidentally misunderstood what an “editor in chief” was during a career simulation fair in middle school, then an actor, and then back to being a writer when I realized I wasn’t all that great of an actor. And while it was disappointing to give up the dream of acting in order to pursue writing, it didn’t feel like a huge loss. Because it was still an art that I loved, and one that I felt infinitely more confident operating within.
I have unnaturally good luck to the point where I have never even needed to memorize the rules to poker because I just get a full house right away every single time I need it. It’s kind of like how Jodie Sweetin has never had to learn how to play a character that isn’t Stephanie Tanner because she just gets a Full House every single time she needs it. Except the main difference is that I’ve never done pants off dance off. We haven’t forgotten, Jodie. And we never will.
My winning streak was discovered by my mom at a very young age and she wasted no time exploiting me for radio contests to win useless prizes that absolutely nobody in the universe ever asked for. I won one radio contest by submitting an essay about why The Lion King was my favorite movie, which, now that I think about it I couldn’t tell you if it really was my favorite movie because I distinctly remember loving Aladdin and Rocky Horror way more. (I had a weird childhood.) I also couldn’t tell you what I wrote at all. In fact, I can’t necessarily promise that I actually wrote it and that it wasn’t just my mom pretending that I wrote it while submitting some of her own work disguised in a 5-year-old’s handwriting.
Anyway, I (or possibly my mom) won the contest and then found out that the prize was a yearly subscription to a magazine. Which is a terrible prize. Even when I was a kid at the dentist about to have someone drill into my teeth, being in that waiting room with no form of entertainment except for a stack of magazines was the most painful part of the day. I’d walk into the office with the dentist after 30 minutes of Highlights magazines, he would say, “Now you might feel some pain,” and I’d think to myself, “Well, at least I’ll feel something.” Having so easily won a completely useless prize made me feel like the girl that sings I Speak Six Languages from Spelling Bee, except I’m not athletic, not musically gifted, and can barely speak one.
The radio contest was the beginning of my competitive streak and the catalyst for waking up the spirit of the ancient goddess Monica hidden within me. (Speaking of course of the Goddess of the kitchen and cleanliness, the goddess of competition, she whose battlecry rings clean and clear across the night sky, as her enemies hear, “..I KNOW!”) From then on I would use my competitive powers only for good. And by “good” I do mean buying someone back into the game of Monopoly after they lose just so that I can keep winning for a longer period of time. What? It’s called being charitable. Try it some time.
Ryan C. Robert is the writer of multiple comedy blogs, most of which are satirical and self-deprecating. He writes about his life in his personal essay series "Before Color," parodies cooking blogs in "Trish's Dishes" and posts writing prompts every single day.