Confessions of a Friend Who's Always Canceling Plans
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
I have been struggling with and actively surviving my own mental health since I was in middle school.
I begged my parents to take me to a therapist when I turned 13, and it took them two years to realize I meant it. I felt like I had no one to talk to, which I’m sure is not uncommon for most teens, but this felt more cellular. Like an unescapable heavy void that no one wanted to hear about. Despite the physical presence of my family, friends and small community, there was an emptiness and bad buzz that trudged along with my being, continually telling me I did not belong.
When I noticed I was no longer feeling “like myself,” I sought treatment. I knew in my heart this was not the life I was meant to lead. This was not puberty, this was my real life. I have since realized, though, that I have to grieve the life I thought I once was going to lead and instead embrace the one I have been given. It’s not my choice to be this way, but I am, so let me be. My self-awareness around my struggle doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Before I was afflicted with my own mental health scares, I had an interest in the mental health of others; being raised in a community with a high suicide rate and having friends sent off to rehab before we could even drive. I grew up in a small town associated with wealth and well-being, and from a young age could not figure out the cause of the suffering and suicides. I wanted to go to school for psychology and sociology, focusing on family systems within society, to further grasp this powerful and painful disdain. And eventually I did.
Throughout the four years I was in high school, I experienced my profound depression for the first time. I remember how much of a relief it was for my therapist to confirm that what I was feeling was supported by science, something “real,” rather than just a huge bummer. Don’t get me wrong, I was also a huge bummer, but now I had a reason. I remember sitting at lunch and confiding in my friends that I had been struggling, not feeling like myself and I felt guilty. I thought, these people have always had my back, they will understand. Instead a girl I had known since the sweet age of 7 looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Well I think you’ve just been being a total bitch.”
I have bailed on dinners and basketball games, sleepovers and parties, concerts and comedy shows. But I wasn’t bailing or being an asshole intentionally, I could not go. Neither mentally or physically, my body would not allow it; protesting by weighing my lungs down with a tightening constriction that feels like goopy bricks and allowing my body to be held prisoner by my bed. At one point, a friend came over and physically yanked me up and into the shower to attend her birthday party. (I did not enjoy said birthday party).
Maybe to you, this seems helpful. I should’ve recognized this person was just trying to care. But instead, it just hurt more. I wanted to have the willpower and ability be able to do it on my own. I wanted to want to go. I wanted to feel like everyone wanted me to be there; needed me there. I wanted to stop all of the anxious, obnoxious thoughts and apologies I would dish out to myself in my head and other people throughout the night. Now my actions, and lack thereof, now not only affecting me negatively, but they were reflecting negatively on my relationships as well. How was anyone else supposed to understand? You cannot explain a color you have never seen.
And so there I was, in the shit of it all, grasping an understanding of the semi-toxic environment I was raised in, finally understanding why someone would kill themselves. Because no one wants you when you are that way. And when no one wants you, no longer existing feels like a great option. That’s when I knew I was really sick. And despite continually crying out for help all four years of high school and my gut telling me not to go to college, to take a year off and figure things out, I instead packed up and moved out to Madison, Wisconsin to pursue an education already being tampered with my mental health mishaps.
That was 2012. Fast forward to present day. I have since quit college three times, all beginning with a hopeful medical leave and ending with defeat and a gradual sense of relief. I committed myself into a wilderness therapy program, backpacking and living in the San Juan Mountains for 11 weeks, where I first gained the courage to talk about being sexually assaulted multiple times, by multiple people. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder with rapid cycling along with a myriad of co-existing conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder. I got forced into a transitional living program where I met an abusive boyfriend. I moved in with my childhood best friend and became great friends with my roommates. I stopped drinking because taking my medication became more important than throwing up the entire next day. I shed my social circle of people who did not support or serve me. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I got the best dog. I dated a guy who was diagnosed with and battled cancer. My dad died. I’ve had my heart broken and had to break my own. I’ve moved to three new cities. And I also started embracing my passion of all things comedy and writing; these have truly helped keep me alive.
I have been alive for 26 years and I promise you, I never thought I’d see this day. Or yesterday. I never thought I’d see the day my friends get married, get master’s degrees and have kids. I never thought I’d live long enough to really fall in love (and I still haven’t). I never thought I’d be so old, I could look back on it all and say that I’m grateful to have gone through hell and back because it turns out — it is a beautiful fucking disaster. I try not to think that my mental health will not always be such a strange and constantly challenging struggle.
Every day since the first time I finally went to therapy until today, I am aware that I am sick. Whether I am depressed, manic, anxious, panicky, paranoid or just fine — its ever-present. Sometimes it serves me and other times it sabotages me. Sometimes I feel fine, but I know that’ll flee. I’m learning to surf the waves that make up my mental illness rather than drown in them. Sometimes this means I don’t show up. I can’t. Not for me in that moment, and so certainly not for you. And this isn’t for a lack of trying, I understand the importance of doing things you do not want to do. It is important. I’m talking about a force so fatal, it would rather have you kill yourself than whatever else is on the docket. Regardless of how much you love it, regardless of how much you wish you could be there, meeting up with whoever you are canceling on, for whatever it is. Sometimes, you just can’t make it. I can’t make it.
My disabilities are invisible, I’m sure it sounds like an excuse to most people. But I have a laundry list of conditions that are much more fatal than a broken femur. I don’t have a cool cast for you to sign, but I’d love for you to pay some more attention to me! This is what most people don’t understand; living with a mental illness can be fatal, just as other conditions can be.
So why is what I’m going through not held with the same weight of your excuse? Well, obviously because of the associated stigma; it’s something people are afraid to talk about, the deep societal belief that people who seek treatment are weak; the fact that everyone knows someone afflicted with something, if its not themselves, the construct that one’s value is tied to their productivity, the construct that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to behave. I do not bail. I do not not show up “out of choice” or because I just didn’t feel like it. I do not show up because most of the time, I just need to show up for myself in that moment. There are a bunch of reasons I’ve given to teachers, friends, bookers and guys as to why I cannot make it to whatever or wherever I was supposed to be — a constant reminder that this not only negatively affects me, but almost anyone I interact with. And the response is always different, some more understanding than others. I want it to be clear though that I do not not show up because I am lazy or disrespect you, your time or your project — whatever it may be — but rather, I, in that moment, am trying desperately to just keep myself alive.
Now, of course explaining all of that to people you are conducting business with is difficult without going into much detail as to why you are the way you are and how you often wish with everything you have that things could be different. But I have tried to stop playing down how much I am struggling, because I am. I am struggling. I should be allowed to, although its disturbingly unpleasant. I am grasping at straws somedays and although I would love to do the things I love and show up for the people who show up for me, sometimes I cannot. I believe this does not make me an asshole. This does not make you an asshole. This makes us deeply and divinely human.
I feel deep and I love deep and I hate to let people down! There is no easy way to not show up somewhere you desperately want to be. And there is no easy way to tell someone you feel like you should probably go to the hospital because your thoughts are so scary you don’t feel like you can be at work. There is no easy way to explain to a stranger why you are having a panic attack because of your PTSD, without zippering yourself open and showing yourself inside-out, completely raw. And when that is often not met with understanding or kindness, a thicker hesitancy begins to develop that warns you that you often times will not be well received, that regardless of how you feel, that is not good enough.
It’s exhausting. Everything becomes exhausting. Low stakes or high stakes, I’ve cancelled on all kinds of things. I’ve accidentally slept through work obligations because of adjusting new medications or having my nervous system being absolutely shot from a session of EMDR. I’ve withdrawn from contests because my anxiety was eating my skin and stomach from the inside, scary thoughts crawling on my brain like rude cockroaches. I have missed my class because I was too heavy to move, too heavy to even let myself go pee. I have stayed home because I feel too manic to have a casual conversation with my best friends and god forbid I feel like even more of an annoying burden.
The beauty behind it is that I’m still here, intentionally trying to figure myself out in a life that I never thought I would have to explain, tame nor entertain. I always apologize for the times that I do not show up, because I agree, showing up is important and not showing up is shitty. It’s a poor reflection of myself and my work ethic and damn it, I wish that were not the case. Despite everything, I promise you I’d like to be wherever I am supposed to be. And I know I am not alone in this. I know I cannot be the only person who makes up different reasons for why they can’t show up as a way to keep people from uncovering your own hellish truth. I can’t be the only one missing important moments because of how debilitated they are. This is how I know there has to be hope.
So many people struggle with the human condition, regardless of its a clinically recognized and diagnosed disorder or not. We live in a culture where feeling your feelings is looked down upon and happiness is sold to us as the only solution, the one acceptable way to be. There is an entire market selling happiness via books, podcasts, romantic comedies, fashion and more. If you are not happy, why the fuck are you here? Trust me, I’m curious too!
But that is not right. We are all entitled to feel everything, even if we do not want to, even if we really don’t want to. Because it turns out, there are tons of things you will not want to feel. And that’s OK, too. But if emotions are universal, why is everyone so unforgiving of feeling? I feel big and I have learned that this is OK. Rather, this is natural and human and beautiful. But I am not met with validation, rather with skepticism, misunderstanding and a poor reflection of my character.
I’d like to think of myself as a hard-working, passionate, creative, enthusiastic, kind, funny, empathetic, smart and foolish person. However when I am afflicted with my mental health flare ups, I feel like I am nothing. Like I am worth nothing. Making excuses or apologizing for why I am the way I am when I have little to no control over feels like beating yourself up. I drink so much water, see a therapist, am medicated, eat healthy and do all of the other things you feel like you should suggest to someone “struggling.” Trust me, I’ve tried it. I live a lifestyle that is centered around my well-being because without my well-being, I am useless. I am dead. And as morose as that seems, it’s true. Mental health issues are fatal and should be treated as so. It’s not some made up excuse because I don’t like my job, the drive is too far, or I just don’t like you. It’s because I’m just trying to survive. Aren’t we all?
So, whoever you are, take note of the people around you, recognize and validate their struggle, support each other regardless of how big the emotions might feel. Empathize that maybe, sometimes, someone didn’t show up because it wasn’t up to them, but rather their nervous system or tainted mentality wouldn’t allow for it. Be patient with those who express hardship. There is not much to say, so just support. Listen! Try to grasp an understanding of why someone is late, un-showered and unprepared. Ask questions when someone seems manic, impulsive and like a danger to themselves.
“Please reach out if you’re ever feeling some type of way,” is something a lot of people say. And statistically, people who are struggling do reach out. They reach out to people who don’t know how to receive it or deal with whatever is going on, because none of use really do. Because none of us will talk about it.
So maybe instead of opening your mouth, or casting judgment upon people with what you deem “excuses,” try listening. Try empathizing that someone’s struggle and disability may not be visible, but it is just as valid as the ones you can see. I’m not an asshole, I didn’t mean to bail on your show, birthday party, graduation, wedding or our date. I just couldn’t make it and that should be enough. As compelled as I am to apologize to each and everyone of you that I have ever disappointed or disappeared on, I cannot. I am exhausted for constantly saying sorry for the last few years. For I am simply trying to survive and I ask for your acceptance and understanding. I ask for your empathy, acceptance and understanding of others. It takes nothing to be nice.
To see more from Rebecca, visit her site.
Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash