In case you have someone in your life with depression and/or anxiety, I wanted to write a guide to hopefully help you know how to deal with them when a social occasion arises.
Stick to the plan. If you’ve invited a friend to lunch, DON’T SURPRISE THEM WITH a sky-diving experience. Obviously I’m being a little sarcastic as that’s a pretty big change…but literally try not to change anything about what you guys have agreed to. If you’ve agreed to meet at a café for brunch – then for the love of God, meet at a CAFE for BRUNCH. Don’t change plans at the last minute and go to a fancy restaurant. Or a random fish-and-chips shack on the beach. Don’t change “brunch” to “lunch” or “early dinner” because believe me, it will put the person you’re meeting at a great unease.
Because when you have anxiety and depression – just leaving the house is enough.
You spend 80% of your happiness and well-being just shutting the front door behind you so that when you reach your friend, you’re running on a very low 20% of logic, happiness, kindness and reason. You’re already on a deficit so you have NOTHING LEFT to deal with EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANGE to plan.
It’s just a change of restaurant, so what?
Is it, though? Just a small change? Because I wore jeans and a favourite top as a wall of defence and safety when I left the house to meet you today. I put on my favourite shirt today because I’m scared and I’ve convinced myself we’re going to a cafe so if you then lead me to a restaurant, I feel ashamed of my clothing/my presentation and it is TORTURE sitting somewhere where you feel INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE. Or I wore my favourite summer dress but now you’ve taken me to a fish and chips place on the bay where my dress is going to fly up and flutter and reveal my underwear. I feel ASHAMED now. I wasn’t ready for this. I wish I’d worn pants.
It’s just a change of food…no big deal
But you don’t know that I’ve psyched myself up for leaving home when I’m scared so I’ve GOOGLED the café we’re going to and I’ve prepared my mind and body for the meal I chose WELL IN ADVANCE. I get anxious ordering in a public setting so if my careful planning and preparation for the “bacon toast and maybe a cheeky muffin” goes out the window, I will have to stare with FEAR at the NEW menu. Do I just order the salad? Would that be ok? I actually want the fried squid – but will I get judged for it? This is all too much.
I’ve invited someone new along to lunch/dinner – that’s ok, right?
Sure it is. WHEN YOU FORE-WARN the person with anxiety you ORIGINALLY made plans with. IN PLENTY OF TIME. Not just on the day of the meet-up.
Why? Because again, we’re scared!!! We have used so much of our energy and bravery just leaving our own homes and fortresses of comfort and safety that we ASSUMED we would meet with JUST YOU (or ‘just the squad’, ‘just a couples date’ whatever) and we have mentally and emotionally prepared for JUST THAT. Throwing ANYONE new in is TERRIFYING to the person with anxiety. It’s a new playing field and a whole new war zone they have to adapt to IMMEDIATELY which takes SO MUCH OUT OF THEM it will WEAR THEM OUT for MONTHS afterwards.
Be understanding and patient.
Your friend is fighting demons 24/7. Demons telling him or her they are useless, ugly, unloved and unwanted. THIS IS SO EXHAUSTING, so adding a social element just throws us all out of whack and we will probably CANCEL ON YOU LAST MINUTE.
THIS HURTS US 1000 TIMES MORE THAN YOU IMAGINE.
On the day we made those plans with you, we were probably feeling very well. Feeling happy. Looking cute. Whatever. I guarantee you, though – the minute the words “Sure, I’d love to” were out of our mouths, the time bomb of fear and anxiety immediately began to tick. By the time it gets to the day and we have to leave our homes, we are usually in a very bad way indeed. I am sometimes so wound up I’m considering KILLING MYSELF rather than cancelling with you. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
This is the truth.
When I am weighing up whether to HANG MYSELF in order to avoid going out, then we all know something is very wrong and that ALL PLANS MUST BE CANCELLED.
When your anxious friends lets you down for the 100th time and you get the inevitable “Sorry, I can’t make it today” text, PLEASE don’t lose your temper. Please. I know you have every right to. I know you get disappointed and I truly know how much it affects your day when plans are cancelled. I know.
For you, what is annoying and disappointing – is for someone else – a choice between living or dying.
When I cancel on friends and they text me “Okay no worries, hope you’re ok?” “Love you, next time honey“
I can breathe again.
Because of that understanding and kindness in response to me cancelling YET AGAIN, I am 100% more likely to meet you next time because you’ve raised that level of trust and I know I am safe in your company.
Reach out/Check in.
When my friends go over and above and even text me LATER THAT SAME DAY “Hey, just checking in…you ok?” OMG THAT MAKES MY DAY!!!
Check in on those you love who suffer with mental illness. I guarantee you, we are beating ourselves up for not seeing you. As annoyed as you are, we are suffering 1000 more knowing we let you down. When you extend kindness ANYWAY, oh my gosh…it’s like magic. It’s the best thing ever.
So that’s it, you guys.
Just 3 things. Do them and you’ll bless a person with depression and or anxiety more than we can ever tell you.
We love you and we’re doing the best we can. Promise.