As a person with anxiety, I always worry about being labeled a “flake” when I can’t make your birthday party. Sometimes, when my emotions are at their worst, even a simple coffee date can feel like an obstacle I simply can’t get over. It doesn’t make any difference how much I want to go, or how sociable I can feel when I’m at my least anxious.
So what happens behind the scenes when I “bail” on your barbecue?
I bargain with myself.
Like a parent of a young kid, I try to make my anxiety an offer she can’t refuse.
Typical examples: “So, you have two hours until you need to leave. If you watch another episode of ‘Friends,’ you’ve still got time for a shower and you’ll feel well-rested.”
“If you go, and you don’t enjoy yourself, you can leave after an hour. I promise.”
I feel angry.
Sometimes I want to go, but for some reason my bum stays planted to the sofa.
“Why do I have to be like this? I’m 24. I should be able to go for drinks with friends without an internal battle. This sucks.”
I feel guilty.
A textbook reaction, and probably the worst of all.
“My friends deserve better than this. They must be so sick of me canceling on them all the time, and I don’t blame them.”
I want to get out.
Even after spending hours wanting to stay in the house, the sudden realization that I’ve “missed my chance” to do something makes me want to leave it.
“I’m not housebound. I will leave right this second and take the train to the next town, just to prove I can.”
I want to stay home.
“I’m going to sit in the bath for the rest of the evening and no one is allowed to speak to me.”
I promise to go next time.
“When X invites me again, I’m going to be the first person there and will wow all the guests with how funny and friendly and mentally stable I am.”
It might seem incomprehensible for someone who has never experienced anxiety, and I can see why: If you have been invited to something — hell, you may have even organized it — and you desperately want to go, and physically you are able, then what’s stopping you?
To answer this question, I’m going to start being more honest with the people I “bail” on. I will tell people I’m nervous or feeling low instead of inventing an illness or other arrangement. It might not always be easy, and it might not always get the reaction I need, but if change is going to happen, perhaps it needs to start with me.
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