Friday, October 9, 2015

Please Don't Stop Inviting Me Even Though I Turn You Down

When you battle anxiety - social or generalized, depression, mood cycling, or any other number of mental health conditions, socializing can be a challenge. In fact, being out in public can be downright scary at times.  That's because both of these are double edged swords and with time, become a viscous cycle. 

We go out. We have an anxiety attack or our depression worsens or we slip into a hypomanic episode. We either get really quiet, or we freak out in some way. We're embarrassed, frustrated, upset. So is anyone that noticed (and sometimes it's impossible not for everyone to notice). We hybernate, either by choice or because people stop inviting us for a while. Eventually, we decide to come out of our cocoon. But we're so afraid that it's going to happen again, that we're anxious and worried the whole time. People tell us to just relax and be ourselves. But this is impossible - ourselves aren't relaxed. The more pressure we feel to relax, to not have an episode of sorts, the more anxious we get, and guess what - the more likely we are for it to actually happen. It's virtually a self fulfilling prophecy. We hybernate more. You see where this is going. 

So I understand the tendency for people to not invite me. They think I'm not interested because I've turned them down or left early or cancelled at the last minute or quite simply have been what they consider no fun at times. 

Please understand:
  • My condition is unpredictable. I may agree to plans that sound good when I'm feeling better, and wake up that morning so depressed it physically hurts to move. I don't want to put either of us through that, so I cancel. 
  • I may feel like I'm about to cycle and need to make a game time decision, because I know that being in a certain state of mind while participating in whatever is planned would turn out poorly for everyone involved. 
  • Alcohol can make me severely depressed. If the focus of your evening is alcohol and I know my options are to 1.) drink and wake up severely depressed or 2.) be the only sober person who stands there feeling like a boret while you're all getting wildly drunk and saying things like "come on, just have a drink",  I may not want to go at times.  It's not personal.
  • Lack of sleep makes me cycle. It might seem to you like I can do a late night out here or there, but I know my body and my brain, and I know it's generally not a great idea. Hypomania makes it impossible to sleep in. So staying out late doesn't mean I'll just adjust my sleep schedule, it means I'll not sleep. And I'll cycle. So again, I may decline. It's not you, it's me. 
  • Lots of noise and commotion and crowded spaces often overwhelms my brain. Imagine a train coming at you full speed ahead blaring it's whistle furiously but being told you must calmly stand there on the tracks and solve a complicated math problem. And enjoy it. This is what it's like for me when my anxiety or hypomania are bad. So if that's my mood cycle, I may avoid it. 
  • Having to interact and have small talk with people I don't know, especially when they all know each other, is akin to that dream you have where you show up on the first day of school naked and everyone's staring at you and you have to pretend nothing's amiss. Social anxiety makes it feel like the walls are closing in, slowly crushing you, and you can't breathe. But in small groups with real conversation, I can be really social. It's not all or nothing. 
  • I may be so afraid that I will somehow ruin your time that I decline the invitation. Especially if I've had an episode in a similar situation before, or you've told me that you're worried about me doing so (this is one of the most hurtful thing someone can say, for the record). 
  • I may feel so pressured to "just relax and have fun", when for me trying to relax like everyone else thinks I should is sometimes more of a struggle than my actual anxiety. My brain doesn't "relax". My body tries to, and my brain has this constant whisper, "am I relaxed enough? Do they think I'm relaxed? Am I doing this right?". 
The bottom line is, I do not want to feel like I have to be someone else, or some other version of myself that doesn't come naturally, in order for you to want to be around me and/or invite me out. When you say "just relax be yourself," I need you to understand that those two things don't happen concurrently. And that myself in that current state of mind may not be what you actually want. What you want is a "myself" that you have in your head, that maybe you've seen here or there, when I was really able to pull off trying to be like everyone else. Or when I was having a really "normal" day. 

But none of this means I don't want to be invited. Do you know what makes me want to go into my cocoon and never ever ever come out, more than anything?  When people stop inviting me. It's not because I'm being a baby (I've been accused of this and told to "grow up" on numerous occasions). It's because it feels like when I need you most, when I'm ready to give up on me and fighting not to, that you've already done so. It feels like you're embarrassed or ashamed by me. That you're not willing to take the chance on all of my good qualities in case it's a bad illness day. That those good qualities aren't worth it. It feels like I have to always be ready to go and do whatever you want however you want it, or I'll never be invited. Because of that time or two I turned down plans because I was ill, you've stopped including me all together. It feels like you're saying to me: you'll never get better. I have no faith in you. And you saying "oh I figured you'd not enjoy it" is, quite honestly, a cop out. Who are you to decide if I'd enjoy it on any given day or not? I'm mood cycling. What I enjoy (for the most part, assuming it's not a moral dilemma) depends on my mood. It would be like saying "if you don't to eat french fries every day of your life, I'm going to assume you don't like them and never offer you one again." If you'd truly like me there, what's the harm in saying, "I know it's not really your thing (or you've not been feeling great) but if you're up to it, I'd love to have you there. No pressure though"? Because I, and only I, should be allowed to decide if my body and brain are up to it on that particular day. And because it tells me you still believe in me, still trust me, haven't given up on me. And that I'm worth it. 

Please, don't stop inviting me, or anyone else that is dealing with these types of struggles. We feel bad enough about our conditions. We already feel so different, misunderstood, ostracized because of the stigma, because of the gremlin in our head that tells us we're no good, that nobody wants us around. Don't tell us it's true. 

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