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Anxiety and Coffee in NYC

Jan 31, 2016

There's this dumpy little coffee place on Broadway.  I pass it on my way home from work.  It was cold outside today and I went in mostly to get warm. I sat down at one of the crummy tables, with my coffee and bagel, and the guy at the table to my right says "Excuse me, do you feel warm in here?"

I told him the temperature felt about right to me, and asked him if he felt warm.

"It's nothing," he said.  "I think it's something that happens when I get a panic attack."

I nodded, trying to show a little empathy. Then I went back to my coffee. 

"I was telling my therapist that I sometimes get warm with the panic attacks, and she said that's pretty common."

I nodded and smiled.  It's unusual for someone to disclose this kind of thing to a stranger. But there was something about this honest and vulnerable guy in this crummy little coffee place on Broadway that I admired. I'm so tired of the top-of-their-game posers, that this humble guy inappropriately disclosing about his panic attacks suddenly seemed like an inspirational figure.  

I asked him "Does it help for someone to tell you that everything's okay?"

"Sometimes it does" he said, nodding.

"Well, everything's okay," I said.  "Thank you," he replied. 

Then he adds, "I didn't tell my parents about my recent attack because I don't want them to be concerned. They're in Florida.  We're very close."

He looked a little like Woody Allen in his 40s, but unlike Woody Allen he's unlikely to marry a movie star (or her adopted daughter) or to fly to Europe to accept a Spanish or French award for filmmaking.  He won't be celebrated, he won't be toasted.  I identified with this earnest guy who struggles with anxiety, and who says things that you ought not say to a stranger. 

He saw that I was typing on a laptop, asked what I was working on, and I told him that, oddly enough, I was writing a chapter on stress and anxiety -- their neurobiological underpinnings.  He asked if I'm a clinical psychologist, and I told him I'm not.

I joked that living with anxiety is part of what it means to be a New Yorker.   He replied that a friend of his said Midwesterners have "even-tempered" disorder.    Then he told me a few lame jokes.

A few minutes later he said "I feel a lot better now, so don't worry."