Anxiety in the City

Moving to New York City didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. I thought since I was moving into another dorm, it wouldn’t be a bit deal. I’d lived in a dorm in the city during the summer for NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. And that was really great. I couldn’t have asked for a better room or better roommates.

But moving into the New School’s 20th Street dorms did something to me that even now I’m not sure I’m completely recovered from. The dorm looked great online. Kitchen, bathroom, and three bedrooms—two doubles and one triple. It wouldn’t be too bad to live with six other girls, I’d thought. I was in one of the doubles, so surely it would be okay.

Wrong.

When I walked into the main area of the suite, it seemed alright. It was a big, empty space except for the kitchen area and a table with four chairs, just enough to not seat all seven of us. Looking at the kitchen, I made one stark realization.

There was no oven.

Now, for a normal human being, this probably wouldn’t be too big of a deal. But having Celiac Disease kind of limits you when it comes to food—no wheat, barley, oat, or rye. So seeing that we only had a stovetop and a microwave, I blanched. How was I going to make my daily dinner of chicken nuggets and baked sweet potato fries? How was I going to bake? The answer was that I wasn’t.

I calmed myself down. There were plenty of microwavable gluten-free meals. And I had my gluten free pasta with me, so I could at least make that. It was time to brave my bedroom, the room I’d have to share with another person for the next two semesters.

It was tiny. This, of course, is what you can expect from a dorm. But I mean tiny. There was no way this room was meant to be a double. There were two beds, but they were both upper bunks, so close to the ceiling that my roommate would bump her head nearly every morning. Under the bunks were a desk and a dresser. Then there were two tiny closets to fit our hanging clothes. Between both of the bunks, there was about two, maybe three feet of space. I could easily plank across both of them, if I was one of those asshats who planked.

I couldn’t believe I was going to have to share this tiny space with another person. I sat there, praying she would never arrive, but, of course, she did.

Ilia and I got along great actually. For that, I was extremely grateful. We had a lot in common. Both of us were into film and obsessed over our respective television shows. In many ways she was a younger version of myself. While I was just starting grad school, she was transferring for the third year of her undergraduate career so we were both new in some sense.

We shared a lot of anxieties. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a lot of social anxiety. And every time I say that, someone says, “Amelia, everyone has social anxiety.” I’m not saying that this isn’t true. But I’m not talking about just being nervous to talk to new people. I’m talking about how it becomes impossible to leave my room because I know there are people in the kitchen, or making myself physically sick thinking about some horribly embarrassing moment. I nitpick over every little thing that happens in my life and decide whether or not I should be embarrassed by it. In the end, I’m usually quite embarrassed and dwell on the matter all night, sometimes into the next day as well, no matter how much I try to tell myself that nobody really cares about whatever it was that happened.

It was better when I was in college. I had my group of friends, those beautiful ladies who I miss so much, who told me I was beautiful and made me feel beautiful and funny and smart and talented. It was the first time I found people who liked the same things as me and didn’t feel like they had to apologize for it. I always liked anime and sci-fi and fantasy and books and videogames—give me Zelda or Pokemon any day—but I always felt like a loser for it. These girls helped me accept myself, maybe even love myself just a bit.

And I was okay at NYU because of the aforementioned roommates who were so fun and understanding and crazy. Again, I was with people who were like me. Erica could understand my stomach issues along with my love of Benedict Cumberbatch and Katherine my obsessions with Tumblr and Sailor Moon. And I met so many other brilliant people in the program that even once it ended, there was still that feeling of community and friendship between us all.

But now we’re all scattered. My friends live in the heights, a far trek even on the subway, while most of the others moved to Brooklyn. And I was never that person to seek someone out. I know that sounds lazy. It seriously doesn’t occur to me to text someone and see what they’re doing. I’m always thinking about what I absolutely must do, not what I should do in my spare time.

And now I was in this dorm, this tiny little room, surrounded by seven girls I didn’t know, who, besides Ilia, had no interest in knowing me, who made a lot of noise and complained about the fridge smelling—buy some baking soda if it bothers you so much!—and always had their loud friends over late into the night. I constantly felt stuck in my room, like if I went out, I would have some kind of embarrassing moment with one of these new people. If I can put this in perspective, it got to the point where I was having certain urinary tract issues because I wasn’t going to the bathroom when I had to.

I called my mom crying every day. Now, I’m not a person who cries a lot, and if I do, it’s usually quite private. I couldn’t deal with this by myself. I felt worse every day and I couldn’t explain why. That Friday was my twenty-third birthday, and here I was sobbing like some ridiculous child. What was worse was that my mom had decided tough love was the best way to deal with the problem. “You have to force yourself not to feel this way,” she would say. “You have to deal with it.”

I never felt so alone and isolated in my life—granted most of the isolation was self-inflicted. My sister, Molly lived in the Upper West Side. She was just a subway ride away, and yet I was stuck in this place by myself, berating myself for being such an utter loser.

Random House was the only light. Even there, there were moments when I panicked, when I thought, Oh God, they’re going to think I’m an idiot. It still happens. But I still felt like it was the right place for me. Reading unsolicited picture book manuscripts probably doesn’t sound glamorous, but I was having so much fun. I was seeing so many amazing projects come to life that the embarrassing moments were completely eclipsed by the beauty of the artwork and the feeling of being a part of this brilliant process. I didn’t care that I wasn’t being paid. I’d happily scan illustrations without earning a cent for the rest of my life if I didn’t have to worry about paying for school and housing and food and a few pretty things here and there.

Within a few weeks, another problem arose. I realized that I was living on microwavable rice noodles and gluten-free mac and cheese. I was barely hitting a thousand calories a day. I’d lost enough pounds to put me back into double digits pound-wise and inhibit me from getting my period each month.

I think I only survived knowing that in a few weeks I was going away with my family to Disney World. Not only would I be able to spend time with all three of my sisters—a rarity now that the older three of us have moved out—and see our autistic younger sister, Lily, get to go on some of her favorite rides. I would be able to eat. Disney World restaurants are prepared for all kinds of allergies and intolerances, including gluten. I had so many bacon cheeseburgers on tapioca rolls, I cannot even tell you.

But even there, I cried every night, knowing that the week would go quickly and that I would soon be back in that horrible place, where I saw no one and no one saw me.

We really had an amazing time though. I don’t care if Disney World is the clichéd family vacation spot. Lily had so much fun and can experience so much outside of her own world there. And I had eaten enough to feel healthy again.

When it was time to go, I couldn’t deal. I was to wake up in Orlando and fall asleep on that stupid upper bunk in New York. The worst was leaving Cait at the airport. While most of us were going back to Jersey, she and her boyfriend, Desmond, were going right back to Baltimore. All morning I had held in my uncharacteristically hysteric crying, but when we hugged to say goodbye, I lost it. Her leaving really meant that it was over, that we were all separating again. I was going to be all alone and hungry again.

Once I got back to the city, even Random House couldn’t pull me out of the funk I had fallen into. I started making really stupid mistakes on a normal basis, and soon the embarrassing began to overpower the beautiful. My goal each day was to get by, to make the time go as quickly as it possibly could before I could be home again.

I had also started talking with Student Housing about getting out of the housing contract after the semester. No dice. But what they did do was suddenly offer to let me move to another dorm. I went to see Loeb Hall, where I would share another double. The kitchen was much older and a bit grungy looking, but there was an oven and stovetop. The bathroom was neat enough. And the bedroom I’d be sharing was about twice the size of the one I was living in at the moment. Other perks was how close it was to my classes, to Union Square, and to my favorite gluten-free restaurants and food stores. There was also the fact that the East Village had a lot more character than where I was living in Chelsea. In the end I couldn’t say no. In three days, I’d gotten the offer to move, packed up all of my shit, and moved.

So here I am now with a new roommate, new suitemates, and a new room. Already I’m beginning to feel more like myself. I have space to stretch and food to eat and a park to sit and read in. Even if I’m still isolated, still kind of lonely, I can walk around and see so many people.

I think I’m going to be okay.

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2 responses to “Anxiety in the City

  1. I relate to this so much! I am living in Loeb right now and I am gluten free and I have similar anxieties. We are not alone! (Also I know this post is old but I am glad I just found it)

    • Gosh it’s been some time since I’ve read this. It’s so strange to remember that time. Thanks so much for commenting. I hope Loeb is treating you well! There are a lot of awesome things in that area, especially for gluten-free. Feel free to reach out if you ever need someone to talk to about any anxieties. 🙂

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