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How I Learned to Be OK With Canceling Plans Due to Anxiety

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If you’re an empath, have a borderline personality disorder (BPD) or you’re just a kind, considerate human being, you probably feel intensely guilty if you’ve had to cancel on someone because your anxiety is just not having it.

You’ll probably avoid confronting the person about it as long as you can, then finally hit them with an excuse that will grant you freedom from expectation of attendance, then stew about it for hours, days or even weeks afterward. You feel guilt for not showing up for your friends. You may feel shame for not “being able” to just go and have a good time. Having to lie about what’s really going on because you know they wouldn’t understand, or that they’d pressure you to drop it and come out anyways is a whole different story.

These emotions affect us deeply. Shame and guilt are incredibly powerful, and I understand completely how you’re feeling when this experience happens to you. You might be happy to know, however, that you don’t have to sit with those feelings anymore. Easier than it sounds, I know. Just trust me on this.

I wanted to share my own experiences about it because I’m currently in one of those situations right now. One of my friends from college knows I’m super into beekeeping and all things honeybees. When I woke up yesterday, I had an event invite from her on Facebook for a “Bee Ball” in her city, which is essentially a party with dancing, food and raffles hosted by a company that works with bees where fellow bee-loving people can meet one another. It sounded fun — something I might be into, but not right now. The Christmas season has me running around like crazy, stressing out over which gifts are left to buy and getting held up in traffic whenever I hit the roads. (Oh, the joy of the holidays, am I right?)

So I didn’t respond right away, but intended to tell her now wasn’t the time. Not to mention it’s three cities away from me; that’s quite the drive! And I would have to spend $30 just to get in, let alone buy drinks and food while I’m there. But as the day went on, and I had time to wake up and socialize with the world, it started to sound like a good networking opportunity. Plus, re-connecting with my friend that I see once or twice a year couldn’t hurt either. I told her around 8:00 last night that I was into it and would love to go with her. She was stoked.

But there’s something else very important to this story that I need to explain first.

Less than a week ago, I attended a Murder Mystery Night four cities away with my Gramma, whom I’ve never really been that close with. It all started with a text message from her about a month ago, telling me that she had randomly bought me a ticket for so-and-so day in December in my hometown and that I couldn’t make other arrangements for that day because I was going with her. Woah. Woah. Woah. Woah. I was ab-so-lut-ely pissed. That is not how I make my plans. Instant panic. Instant sweating. Instant fight-or-flight (can you relate folks?). I was powerless; I had zero control over that situation, and it made me super uncomfortable.

Now… my Gramma is an old woman in her mid-to-late 80s, and despite us not being super close, I know she loves me a lot and would do anything for me. We’ve rarely gotten to do any Grandmother-Granddaughter type things in our lives, so I knew this was something I had to do for her. Not to mention she spent $90 on the ticket. (90 dollars! This woman can’t even pay her rent.) So here I am on my way to my hometown, stuck in traffic for an additional two hours, giving my anxiety ample time to brew. What frightened me was the fact that I was going to have to walk around and converse with strangers in order to “get clues” to figure out the murder mystery. What a nightmare for me.

I was worked up the entire time I was there. I had entered into a dissociative state, I was completely zoned out and guess what? I haven’t been able to snap out of it ever since. This is because doing something that made me uncomfortable caused me to leave my “window of tolerance” and fluctuate between hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal (meaning my emotions were so incredibly high and overwhelming that they eventually crashed down into feelings of emptiness and nonexistence). It’s been about five days now, and I haven’t been able to bring myself back up to a comfortable level. Maybe you can relate to that. The point is, I was on the right track by wanting to spend time with my Gramma, but doing something that made me feel so anxious and disrupted, for days afterwards as well, was not worth it, and I bet if I had just told my Gramma that, she would have understood.

Trying to see how this ties in with my friend asking me to a party?

Well, after I told my friend around 8:00 last night that I would go the event with her, my mind started to reel, the same way that it did when I was expected to show up at the murder mystery night, be super social and outgoing and have a wonderful time. I told her I wanted to go, because I did, but I’m still in recuperation mode after dissociating a couple days earlier because yes, it can be traumatic, and I need to be fair to myself and allow myself as much time to heal as I need. If you’re going into an experience absolutely terrified, then maybe that’s not the experience for you at that time. Think of anxiety as a pop up advertisement — it’s annoying and unwanted, but it’s trying to get your attention, and it serves a purpose. You need to pay attention to what’s going on inside, so you can properly deal with things and close the pop up for good.

I texted my friend before I fell asleep (because it was going to keep me up all night thinking about dealing with it the next day) that I couldn’t go with her after all. I didn’t explain why, because I’m not required to. That’s something I think a lot of us struggle with — saying “no” and giving a million reasons why they should accept it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. It doesn’t matter if your dog died and you have a stomach flu and that your boss wants you to come into work. If you can’t go, you can’t go. It doesn’t matter why. If you want to tell your friend what’s really going on because they’re super supportive, then by all means! But you’re not an asshole because you don’t want to do something. You’re not an asshole for thinking you were up to it, and then changed your mind.

The thing that no one wants to admit is that we’re all looking out for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about others or can’t feel their pain; we don’t have to be rude or disrespectful about turning them down, either. We apologize, and mean it, for not being able to attend. Perhaps you can offer a counter-plan or opportunity to reschedule (or not — your choice) and move on. The moment you get caught up with wondering what would have happened if you just went to the party, or what not going means for your friendship with that person now, you’re only hurting yourself. Stop it. Make a decision and own that decision to your very core. When you doubt yourself, it means you don’t trust your own judgment, and nobody else will either. People can sense when you’re nervous and unsure; bad people will see that as a vulnerability and a chance to manipulate you. That’s the sad truth.

So, please give yourself a break. Go easy on yourself. Put yourself first, and show up for yourself when you need to.

There will be other Bee Balls. If my friend still wants to go, then she’ll find someone to go with; that’s for her to worry about. If she’s angry with me, well, that’s OK! I can’t change her feelings, and she can’t change mine. A good friend has your best interest at heart, always, no if’s and’s or but’s. If someone expects you to do whatever they suggest, anytime they suggest it no matter what, well that just isn’t the type of friendship that works for someone who has anxiety or certain sensitivities. Just like how my Gramma made plans for me without asking, that isn’t a style that works for me. Develop your boundaries and stick to them like your most valued health regimen.

I know it sounds like I’m telling you to be this super harsh, unfeeling person. I know you don’t want to let people down, and that’s because you’re an incredibly kind, thoughtful and sweet person. Pat yourself on the freakin’ back for that! I don’t want you to be anything less than who you are or be a less emotional, feeling person — I just want you to have less of the unpleasant feelings and more of the “in control” feelings. Because you’re not wrong to cancel. Everything that you feel inside makes sense.


Photo by via Unsplash.
Originally published: January 2, 2020
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