I like believing in basic human good, and that most people are trustworthy and honest. My anxiety, however, assumes that everyone is a James Frey-caliber liar that harbors a secret hatred of me.
Here are some very nice, or at least very benign, things people have said to me and how my anxiety interpreted them.
“I love those boots.” — Acquaintance
What my anxiety thinks she said: I can’t think of anything nice to say about you as a person, so I’m going to compliment your boots, which somebody else designed and made, and you just chose to put on.
“I’ve really seen improvement in your work. Good job!” — My boss
What my anxiety thinks they said: But I remember your mediocre old work, and if you backslide just once, I am going to fire you. Actually, I'm not just going to fire you. I'm going to wait until your birthday, have everyone in the office sign a card where they write down what they hate about you, and pretend to hold a birthday party for you that's actually a "f*ck you; you're fired" party. There will be a cake, and you won't be allowed to have any, but you also won't be allowed to leave until you watch everyone else eat the cake.
“Cheers.” — My boyfriend, at the end of a phone call
What my anxiety thinks he said: That’s how he ends business phone calls. Oh my god, this call is the first sign that I’m being downgraded from a girlfriend to a business interest. He’s going to break up with me when he gets home tonight. Oh shit. Maybe he’s already broken up with me via email, and I just haven’t checked it. If I never check my email again, can he never breakup with me? I better text everyone I know and let them know they can only contact me via phone and text from now on.
“That was a great comedy show. I loved the part about the hospital clown.” — Someone talking to me after seeing a show I wrote
What my anxiety thinks they said: I hated your show, but I don’t have the guts to tell you to your face. I especially hated that part about the hospital clown, but I’m telling you I liked it because I’m hoping that you know it was one of the weakest pieces in the show. Then, if you correctly deduce that I couldn’t possibly like that bit, you’ll know that I hated the whole show, but I’m just trying to protect your delicate little ego, which I assume is as weak as a sparrow’s hollow bones.
P.S. — Don’t quit your day job. Oh wait, you won’t have to, because I bet you’ll get fired the first time you backslide.
“...” (silence) — Anyone, anywhere, anytime
What my anxiety thinks they said: YOU ARE TERRIBLE AND THERE IS FOOD ON YOUR SHIRT RIGHT NOW BUT I AM NOT GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT.