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Why Weekends Are Hard When You Live With a Mental Illness

Ah, weekends! A time to relax, recharge and have some fun. Or is it?

In my experience living with mental illness, unfortunately, weekends can be a particularly hard and triggering time of the week.

Weekends can be hard because my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) makes it incredibly difficult for me to be able to relax and have fun. I usually spend a big part of my weekends going over the past week, overanalyzing things I did (or didn’t do) and said (or didn’t say). Doing that, then, usually causes me to feel bad about myself, and feeling bad about myself usually means I really can’t relax or have fun. Even worse, sometimes I end up feeling extremely guilty about doing anything fun during the weekend if my anxiety makes me feel like I didn’t perform perfectly during the week.

Weekends can be hard because I may even be in the mood to go out and have fun, but my panic disorder can make taking the public transportation I rely on to get places an anxiety-inducing task at best, or just plain impossible at worst. Because my worst panic attack to date took place when I was riding the subway, every time riding it after that day has been a battle against the intrusive thoughts that riding the subway means I’ll have a panic attack again. It’s been over one year since that panic attack on the subway took place, and even though I’ve come a long way thanks to medication and therapy, and can usually ride the subway without any major anxiety, the subway and public transportation in general remain a major trigger for me that, sometimes, no matter how much I may want to go out during the weekend, I feel too weak or too tired to deal with.

Weekends can be hard because they lack the structure of schedule that the rest of the week offers me. And as much as I enjoy not having a strict schedule, the fact I don’t have any obligations during the weekends (no classes, work, therapy or doctor appointments) can cause me a lot of anxiety. A typical chain of thoughts that goes through my mind during the weekends as I struggle with getting things done sounds something like this: “OK, how am I going to manage my time this weekend? I have to work on that paper for school. And I have to do laundry. What should I do first? Well, it’s 2 p.m. and I haven’t had lunch yet. So, I should probably do that before I do anything else otherwise I may pass out. Oh my gosh, what if I do pass out? There’s no one around to help me! OK, Gabi, calm down, you’re probably not going to pass out; you never have before! You just need to get some food. But I don’t feel like getting out of bed… I have no reason to get out of bed… Ugh, I’m such a failure for struggling to get out of bed!”

Weekends can be hard because I can’t drink alcoholic beverages due to my medications, and the truth is it makes me sad that I can’t have a glass of wine when I’m out with my friends. Because of that, if I know my friends’ weekend plans involve going to a bar, I’m probably going to pass on the invite. I know I could still go and just not drink, and my friends would be totally OK with that, but no matter how much I say I accept my disorders, little things like not being able to drink a glass of wine, which I’ve been able to enjoy in the past, can cause me to feel extremely frustrated and even angry about having to live with these conditions.

Weekends can be hard because many times I want to make plans with friends, but my fear of having a panic attack or a sudden bout of anxiety and then having to cancel on them, keeps me from doing so. And when that happens, I usually end up feeling terrible about myself— about the fact that making plans with friends is such a struggle, about the fact that I’m such an unreliable person to make plans with, and most significantly about the fact that my mental disorders keep me from doing the things I want to do and the things I care deeply about, like being with my friends.

Weekends can be hard because if I’ve had a particularly difficult week struggling with my mental health, I’ll probably be physically and mentally exhausted when the weekend comes around. And that means I’ll probably be struggling to gather the energy necessary to do the basic things like showering and getting food, and that probably means saying goodbye to any plans of going out to do anything fun.

My weekends struggling with my mental illness may look very different from how others get to spend theirs. But if I can take away one lesson from the very difficult, and sometimes very dark weekends I’ve experienced, is I’ve survived all of them. However hard my weekends may be, I hold on to the fact that they will always come to an end. And when Monday comes around, I know I’ll be OK again.

Unsplash photo via Joanna Nix