Anxiety disorders suck. They really suck. Maybe you’re skeptical when I say that, but it’s true: They’re the pits.

Social anxiety is kind of my anxiety’s specialty. Like, if my anxiety went to college, that would have been its major. It minored in spiders.

A drawing of a shadowy figure sitting at a school desk. The figure says, "This spider degree will help me stand out in the crowded job market.

If you’ve read any of the literature, you’ll know that social anxiety is rooted in the fear of judgment. Maybe that’s even true. You’ll also know that the mind tends to run through all of the possible negative outcomes of any given situation, essentially convincing itself that such outcomes are probable or even inevitable as opposed to just conceivable. Maybe that’s also true.

A drawing of a book titled, "Maybe True Psychology."

I don’t know that I experience it quite like that, though. I mean, sometimes, sure, my brain worries about what could go wrong, but for the most part, I just experience this blind, irrational panic. It doesn’t really tell me that striking up a conversation with that stranger over there will lead to a humiliating incident. It just screams at me, in all caps, that FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T, DON’T, DON’T STRIKE UP A CONVERSATION WITH THAT STRANGER OVER THERE!

A drawing of a single, nonthreatening person. The person is surrounded by alarming red text reading, "OMG! Stay Away! Just No! Red Alert! So Scary! Don't Know Why!"

Seriously, my brain can go fuck itself.

A drawing of a brain having sexual intercourse with itself. The brain says, "Aw, yeah ..."

To someone who doesn’t deal with this sort of thing, it can probably seem downright silly. Such a person—with their remarkable, non-fucked-up, human brain—might be tempted to tell the anxietee to just get over it. Buck up. Stop making a big deal of it.

A drawing of a dictionary definition: "anxietee: Noun. Person with anxiety. Sentence: I just made up the word anxietee."

Let me tell you …

Bucking up does jack shit.

A drawing of a pile of shit next to a sign reading, "Jack Shit: Ten percent less than regular shit."

Have you ever seen a jack shit? It doesn’t help.

A drawing of a Venn diagram. There is a circle labeled, "Things that help," and a circle labeled, "Jack shit." The circles do not overlap.

I don’t really have any advice for dealing with anxiety. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be here writing about my terrifically fucked-up human brain. But, maybe I have a framework that will help the terminally non-anxious empathize with the struggle. Because, everyone has some kind of irrational fear. Yours might be spiders. Or airplanes. Or immigrants.

A drawing of a light-skinned person pointing at a dark-skinned person in terror, shouting, "Ah! Immigrant!" The dark-skinned person replies, "God damn it, Jerry. I just got a tan."

Whatever it is, there’s something out there that freaks you right the fuck out.

And, as scary as spiders are, they’re typically harmless unless you’re a bug.

A drawing of an insect saying, "I will not sit idly by while the plight of my people is mocked."

Even the bites of the so-called dangerous spiders—like widows and recluses—are rarely fatal. Whatever threats they do pose, are generally minimized by the administration of antivenins, though I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider can result in priapism. Priapism, named after the Greek god Priapus—whose giant, wooden erection is quite literally the stuff of legend—is the medical term for that condition long warned of in Cialis advertisements: a prolonged, painful erection.

A drawing of a Brazilian wandering spider saying, "So THAT explains it! All this time, I thought y'all just had SPIDER BITE FETISHES!"

So, spider bites: usually not a big deal, bad-to-the-boners notwithstanding.

A drawing of a woman looking over her shoulder as a man bursts through the door shouting, "Break out the lube, Barbara! I got bit by a BONER SPIDER!" Attached to the drawing is a sticky note saying, "Disclaimer: Don't use a Brazilian wandering spider to give yourself a boner," signed, "Zoey."

But, we’re still afraid of spiders. Now, if your big fear is spiders or airplanes or immigrants, it’s usually not a whole, big thing. More often than not, you can step on a spider, avoid getting on an airplane, or build a big, stupid wall.

A drawing of a giant wall. A solitary person stands in front of it shouting, "Take that spider planes!"

But, I can’t step on social situations.

A drawing of me looking terrified while stepping on a man lying on the ground. The man says, "I just wanted to say your shoes look nice!"

So, imagine that, as you go through life, every conversation you ever have is a great, big, hairy spider looking to eat you. When a stranger sits next to you on the bus, that’s a spider. When a coworker asks you how your weekend was, that’s a spider. When an employee at the Burger King mistakenly gives you a hamburger with mustard, and you try to take it back, and she says she could have sworn you said mustard, and you tell her you said no mustard, specifically mustard with a no in front of it, and she asks why you don’t just wipe the mustard off, and that’s no good because you can still taste the fucking mustard, and she says fine, she’ll get you a whole, new hamburger with absolutely no mustard on it at all, but you’re pretty sure she just wiped the mustard off and gave you the same hamburger … You bet your ass that’s a spider. That’s, like, one of those Lord of the Rings spiders.

A drawing of me at a restaurant counter. Written on the counter is the phrase, "Your Way Right Away with mustard." Behind the counter is a giant spider menacingly brandishing several bottles of mustard. I say, "That's OK. I'll just eat the mustard."

The point is, no matter where I go, no matter what I do, I’m surrounded by spiders.

A drawing of me looking uncomfortable. There are several spiders around me saying, "Zoey!" "Hey, Zoey!" "and "How's it hanging, Zoey?"

If you try to set me up with that friend of yours that you’re so sure I’d hit it off with, you’re sending me on a spider date.

A drawing of me looking upset on a date with a giant, anthropomorphic spider. The spider says, "It's so nice to meet a girl who won't just use me for sex and then eat me."

If you invite me to a party, you’re asking me to come to a spider dance.

A drawing of me looking upset and uncomfortable surrounded by dancing spiders singing, "Watch me whip, now, watch me nae nae."

If you tell me to just make a phone call, you’re asking me to shove my hand into a bucket of spiders and then put the spiders up to my face and then try to talk to the spiders.

A drawing of me looking sweaty and horrified holding a bucket of spiders in one hand and with the other holding a phone-shaped mass of spiders up to my face and shouting, "Is this TECH SUPPORT!"

I really don’t like telephones.

A drawing of an old rotary dial phone saying, "Hey. Fuck you."

This is my life. Make no bones about it.

A drawing of a factory named "Making Bones About It, Inc." From one side of the building, a voice says, "I'm sorry, everybody. We're gonna have to close the bone factory." From the other side of the factory, another voice says, "Aw, man."

For me, there are spiders everywhere. When I go to a restaurant, I order my food from a spider. The cashier who rings me up at the Piggly Wiggly is a spider. The people on voice chat when I try to play video games online are all spiders. If you try to get me to open up about myself, then you’re the spider.

A drawing of an anthropomorphic spider looking into a mirror and saying, "I could SWEAR I wasn't a spider YESTERDAY ..."

Even if I see a literal spider, that’s also a spider.

A drawing of a spider saying, "Hey. Fuck you."

For me, everything is spiders. My entire world is made of spiders.

A drawing of the planet earth made of spiders.

And, yet, somehow, through some great force of will, I manage not to run around screaming all the time.

A drawing of me running with a frightened expression on my face. A handful of spiders crawl on the ground.

Somehow, some way, most of the time, I manage to pretty much get by.

A drawing of me dressed as a superhero saying, "I'm actually kind of a bad ass."

Barely.

A drawing of me dressed as a superhero with a look of terror jumping away from a single spider.

And when I’m not getting by? Well, it probably looks pretty weird to the spiders.

A drawing of me running with a frightened expression. A handful of spiders crawl along the ground. One spider askes, "... the fuck is her deal?" Another spider answers, "Probably just an asshole."

So, if you ever see me, and I seem awkward or standoffish or just plain out there, please try to have some sympathy. Try to reach down in your heart and understand that you might have a hard time too if your world were made out of spiders.

A drawing of a single light-skinned man surrounded by spiders. The man calmly says, "They're really not so bad once you get to know them."

Or airplanes.

A drawing of a single light-skinned man surrounded by airplanes. The man calmly says, "Safest way to travel."

Or immigrants.

A drawing of a single light-skinned man surrounded by dark-skinned people. With an expression of fear, the man screams, "No!"