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23 Things Your Friend With Chronic Illness Really Means When They Say, 'I Can't Go'

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When you live with a chronic illness, it truly can affect all aspects of your life – including your ability to go out, do fun activities and socialize with friends and family. All your energy may be depleted just by taking a shower, or eating a meal – not to mention tackling your everyday responsibilities like going to school or work, finishing your chores or taking care of your family. By the time the option to do anything “fun” rolls around, you may be operating on negative energy and have already collapsed into bed to attempt to recover. Or perhaps you know you have to be up and at it again tomorrow, or in a few days, so even if you feel halfway decent, going out tonight and using up the entire week’s energy just isn’t an option.

For many with chronic illness, telling loved ones “I can’t go” is an all-too-familiar experience. Some may choose to explain why they’re not able to make it out so their friends know what’s up, and we support that! But if you’re not comfortable or just don’t feel up to going into detail, that is absolutely OK, too.

Being unable to go spend time with your friends can bring up some tough emotions. No one wants to be home sick – it’s just not always possible or realistic to go out, and sometimes it can cause more symptoms to flare than it’s worth. But of course, even if people with chronic illness aren’t able to go out most of the time, it doesn’t mean they never want to go out, or deserve to be forgotten about completely. Continuing to be invited and included means so, so much.

We wanted to help the healthy friends of those with chronic illness better understand these experiences, and offer some insight into why their sick friends may decline plans the majority of the time (hint: it’s not because they don’t want to spend time with you!). So we asked our Mighty chronic illness community to tell us what they really mean when they say, “I can’t go.” It can be disappointing for both parties when a friend can’t go out, but perhaps through better understanding and communication, you can keep trying, and find ways of spending time with each other that work for both of you!

Here’s what our community told us:

  1. When I tell someone ‘I can’t go’ it really means I really wish I could but I need two days notice to prepare and then another two days recovering and I don’t have the energy to do that most of the time.” – Tess N.
  2. When I say I can’t go, it’s literally not my choice at all. People seem to think ‘I can’t go’ means ‘I don’t want to go.’ When I say ‘I can’t go’ it means ‘I physically cannot go, it will make me horribly ill’ and my body decides that, not me.” – Janelle F.
  3. I am drenched in pain, nausea and sensory overload. Going right now would only intensify my issues.” – Tonya M.W.
  4. “‘You don’t know how badly I want to go and enjoy myself but I can’t trust my own body to not suddenly go haywire and leave me unable to function like a normal person.’” – LaurieJo T.
  5. I really, really want to go. The pain is too bad for me and I am sucking up every ounce of pride to have to tell you this. Please do not stop inviting me because I had to say no this time.” – Anne M.
  6. I actually can’t dress myself and tolerate normal clothing today.” – Kate D.
  7. I’m so mentally tired that I can’t even focus on TV or YouTube so I can’t focus on holding a conversation.” – Samantha S.
  8. If I attend this event, then I won’t have enough energy to work the next day. I may even turn down invites if I have an obligation in the next week. Energy conservation is constantly on my mind.” – Kerrie W.
  9. Do you think we could compromise on some place where we can both enjoy ourselves? You never seem to want to but get upset at me for not trying. While you don’t realize how much I’m going through with my body and that I really am trying.” – Amanda E.
  10. I want to go but I am so very afraid I will have a pain flare that the idea of going is causing me anxiety.” – Sarah N.
  11. For me it means ‘I could go if you have my back.’ I could go if you will be there for me. Help me in any way I come to need while at this function.’” – Beth D.
  12. I always want to go! Who doesn’t love getting out with family or friends?? Unfortunately, it comes at a price too high for me to pay. Not going means I will feel sad about missing something else. I will eventually think about all the other things I’ve missed. Sometimes I feel guilt for cancelling on [the] day. Other days, I get upset about the people who stopped calling and asking me to go places. Then I wonder when will be the next time I’ll get to go out. Each ‘I can’t go’ brings up a flurry of emotions.” – Jennifer L.
  13. I tell them I can’t go. I explain why I’m not up to it. I don’t lie or sugarcoat it for anyone.” – Johnathan J.
  14. If I’m to be truly honest, sometimes it’s the most polite way of saying ‘I’m not interested enough in doing that activity or spending time with certain people to expend my limited energy and resources.’ There are few able-bodied people that understand how much even seemingly low-key activities can cost me in pain and fatigue or mess with my routine, which can (and often does) extend into the next day… I just can’t afford for it to not be outweighed by some benefit.” – Cole K.
  15. I’m stuck on the toilet because of a flare-up and don’t see myself leaving the bathroom for the next 10 hours.” – Megan D.
  16. I can’t go because my mask has slipped and I can’t hide my pain or frustration. I can’t go because I know you will ask if I’m OK and I will lie to you with a fake smile or worse, cry. Thank you though for thinking of me and reaching out because even though I say I can’t be there I would love nothing more than to join you.” – Tawnee T.
  17. I am not prepared for the full battle it is going to be to do anything more than exist today.” – Kimberlee W.
  18. It means I literally am not physically or mentally capable of the stress that surrounds getting ready, never mind that it includes not being able to walk more than a short distance before the pain is unbearable and my legs and back lock up and I actually cannot move. I try my best to cope but sometimes I lose it and anger takes over.” – Doris B.W.
  19. I’m so physically tired that it would be dangerous to drive to go anywhere. And a danger to myself to try and move to go anywhere. I feel horrible for not seeing you. But I physically can’t.” – Tiffany L.M.
  20. I really want to get out of the house and have a life and hang out with you, however, I hurt so bad I can hardly walk and I’m too embarrassed to show you how much I hurt right now.” – Sabrina H.
  21. When I say I can’t go most of the time I mean that I can’t fake being happy anymore or I can’t face all of the questions about how I’m feeling.” – Jacinda F.
  22. “‘I can’t go,’ for me, means that no matter how hard I tried to feel better… I still can’t go because my body is putting me in check and making me stay home. Sometimes I think my body knows more than my mind does and is trying to tell me that staying home is for the best.” – Ashlee A.
  23. I tell them the truth, if they’re a real friend they would understand.” – Angela M.
Originally published: July 11, 2018
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