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7 Helpful Things to Say When I Cancel Plans Because of Depression

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When I’m struggling during a depressive episode, I don’t always make it to everything I’ve committed to. The fact is though that I do typically get to about 95 percent of whatever is planned. Making it to that percentage of events can be a serious struggle, but I usually force myself to persist. Therefore, if I’m unable to attend a commitment, it’s important to recognize I’ve truly reached my limit. I’ve likely had a very full day/week, and it’s taken every ounce of willpower to make it up to this moment.

What I wish I could properly explain is the vast amount of energy it takes to get through everyday tasks when you are in the fog of depression. Pulling on my socks feels like wrangling an elephant. Keeping up small talk feels like a panel of 10 conducting a job interview. I want those around me to know I’m not being selfish, and there are valid reasons behind my antisocial behavior.

In the moment, it can be hard to explain what’s going on. So I’d like to take this opportunity to express some of the reasons I might not be at an event. And while we are here, I’ve included some responses that could be helpful.

1. “I can’t attend your bachelorette, birthday or housewarming.” 

I’ve reached my absolute limit of small talk capacity, and don’t have the energy to mingle with strangers or acquaintances.

Helpful Response: Suggest a later one-on-one meet up, or activity with a small group — a type of mini celebration.

2. “I can’t attend your potluck.”

I don’t currently have the ability to plan and make a dish to bring.

Helpful Response: Let me know it’s OK if I don’t bring anything, or ask if I can bring something simple like soda or chips.

3. “I can’t come to your party.”

Being around loud music and boisterous people is too overwhelming. I also prefer not to drink when I’m already in a depressed state.

Helpful Response: Invite me to something more low-key event like a movie night.

4. “I can’t make our coffee date, shopping trip or lunch.”

I’ve been in bed all day, I can’t find the will to get out in time to see you. I can’t get myself showered and presentable.

Helpful Response: Reschedule, and try to find a day and time that will work better.

5. “I can’t attend your sell from home product party.”

I feel anxious about being pressured into buying something, especially when I’m already under a lot of mental pressure. Also the small talk.

Helpful Response: Politely offer a catalogue to look through in a no pressure manner.

6. “I won’t be able to make it to your concert or play.”

Right now being in a crowd is too much for me. Additionally my concentration is low, and I’m likely to become agitated or bored.

Helpful Response: Let me know if I can check out a video or recording. Invite me to a rehearsal or tell me all about it over coffee.

7. “I can’t reciprocate your invite into my home.”

I am too depressed to clean my house, make a meal and plan an activity.

Helpful Response: Be clear that it’s OK if we just hang out at your place and not mine. Reassure me that you don’t care about mess, or better yet, offer to help clean up a little.

These are just some of the reasons I might not make it to commitments, yet I think they give a good general view of what many people with mental illnesses go through. The next time it appears someone is selfishly not attending an even, take a moment to consider why this might be and try to offer some solutions. And for those of you, who, like me, struggle in this way, try to communicate with friends about how events could become more accessible.

And please remember my mental illness may be selfish, but that doesn’t mean I am too.

Originally published: March 6, 2018
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