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The Perfect Thing My Friend Said When I Canceled Our Plans on a Bad Mental Health Day


When you live with depression and bipolar disorder, you may often feel like you are under a lot of pressure (much of it self-induced) to appear “OK.” As most would assume, this is absolutely exhausting. It can feel like you have to smile and laugh when you’re so sad that you feel like the blood in your veins is made of lead and you might fall to the floor at any minute. It can feel like you have to remain professional when you’re seconds away from tearing your hair out and crying in a ball beneath your desk, or you have to stay calm when anxiety and/or hypomania have you feeling like you should open the door and run as far and as fast as you possibly can.

We live in a culture that doesn’t tend to be warm and welcoming when we reply to, “How are you?” with answers like, “Not well,” rather than the standard, “Fine” — which we all know can be code for, “I’m just being polite and don’t want to make you uncomfortable by telling you about all of my problems.” Thus, it takes a lot to tell someone you’re canceling plans because of your mental illness, rather than making up a lie about why you can’t do something. It’s taken me 10 years to get to the place where I feel I can be honest about calling out of work or canceling plans because “I’m having a bad mental health day.”

It’s such a relief when that honesty is met with support rather than a perceived guilt trip. Today, a close friend gave me the best reply I think I’ve ever received. When I called to say, “I need to cancel tonight, I’m having a bad mental health day and I’m not going to be very good company,” she said, “Well, I hope that I’ll be able make you feel better, but I understand and respect your decision if you want to cancel. I hope you’ll change your mind because I really want to see you. If you just aren’t feeling up to it, then of course do what you need to do. But if you’re canceling because you’re worried about being bad company, that shouldn’t be a concern.” A few minutes after hanging up the phone, she sent a quote via text that read, “When the world has you feeling like a weed in the garden, know that someone out there sees you as a wish and a beacon of hope.”

Through that conversation and text, she basically sent the message that even when I’m depressed, she wants to be around me, that it’s OK to be sad, that I don’t have to be Mary Poppins at all times in order to maintain our relationship. These are not messages I’m used to receiving, but I’m grateful to have heard them today, and I’m grateful for the girl who delivered them.

To anyone who loves and supports someone with depression or other mental health challenges — thank you for letting us be sad sometimes.

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Thinkstock photo via sam74100