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To Friends and Family Who Think My Mental Illness Makes Me a Flake


I have canceled on my friends and family a lot. I don’t usually hear it, but I know you don’t like it. I know you complain. I am sorry. I hope my note below gives you some insight into my actions.

The idea of going out and hanging out with friends is something that is exciting to lots of people, or at least something they can look forward to. Seeing people you care about is a positive thing.

But when you live with debilitating depression and anxiety like I do, it is not at all like that. The idea of “going out with friends or family” is something I dread.

The dread begins 24 hours ahead of time when I realize it is just on the horizon. I try and tell myself how much fun it will be, but the anxiety and depression fight it. I begin trying to think of ways to get out of it. Can I tell them I am sick? Can I tell them I have a dog emergency? What about work? People have to work at 9 p.m. on a Saturday, right?

The day-of is a slowly growing sense of anxiety and stress. With every minute I get closer to leaving the safety nest of my apartment, the panic gets worse and my mind races faster. I am practicing conversations in my head, coming up with hypothetical responses I might receive. I make sure I have an arsenal of stories to tell, so there is not a moment of uncomfortable silence. I think about who is going to be there — do I like them? Do I have a bad history with them? I then think about everything that might go wrong and how I can fix it. Minor things like me saying something stupid or inappropriate, to the major things like a fire. This cycle repeats itself on an endless loop.

Even while this cycle of hell is happening, I try and fight my mind and tell myself that I like these people, that it will be fun, that I should not be so nervous. But it is of no use. By the time I leave, I am either about to have a panic attack or I am already having one.

There are physical symptoms too — shaking legs and hands, heart racing and exhaustion. The last one is one of the worst parts of all of this. The simple act of going out to see my friends or family can sometimes make me so tired it knocks me out for the day after, or longer.

These symptoms do not depend on who I am seeing or what I am doing. Even if it is friends I consider as close as family, the anxiety is there. And if someone who I have a bad history with, or is a trigger for me, will be where I am — this whole experience is 10 times worse and can result in me having a major depressive episode.

I write this so my friends and family know that while I do care immensely about them, if I blow them off, or cancel on them at the last minute, it is because this anxiety has taken such a strong hold of me and I just can’t break free. It is not their fault. I am not a flake. Sometimes, I just lose the battle to myself. I hope you can understand.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic