My anxiety makes me the flaky friend



Sometimes not showing up is a sign of illness, not a lack of consideration.

At the top of my inbox sits a message from a friend asking if I’m doing okay. I scroll down and see that this message is in good company among several others, the first five words of each message a reminder of the plethora of plans I failed to follow through on this week: dinner with old uni pals, drinks with a co-worker, brunch with my best friend.

The plans are dead and gone, but their ghosts haunt me dressed up as that little red inbox notification. What time should we go? Hellooo? Are you still coming? As my friends partake in one-sided conversations about plans that will eventuate to nothing, the guilt is palpable. I can’t help but feel the patience of those I love wearing thin, as I grapple with a particularly heinous bout of anxiety and sequential flakiness.

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Are you doing okay? I read it again, appreciating this question for what it is a recognition of my dwindling mental illness. We were meant to meet for brunch two days ago, but Top Paddock’s blueberry and ricotta hotcake would have to wait, for I had instead spent the interim between breakfast and lunch in bed, mustering up just enough energy to brush my hair before calling it a day. This is anxiety doing what it does best; turning basic tasks into impossible feats that require two to three business days to conquer.

In news not shocking to anyone who has experienced anxiety, depression, or the double whammy, it can be hard to commit to plans when you’re in the thick of it. It can be even harder to articulate why it is that you just don’t have the energy to put pants on or partake in any activity that requires being upright and social. It is exhausting to do, well, just about everything.

More likely than not, the plans at hand were made well before anxiety had grabbed you by the chokehold and convinced you that leaving the house was a no-go zone and that binge-watching the entire season of Bridgerton in a day, stopping only for bathroom breaks, was the cure. So, you do all you can do you bail.

Yes, you and I both know that my car didn’t really breakdown. Or that my cat isn’t actually sick. You know that I don’t even have a cat. When it comes to the catalogue of reasonings for why your ‘flaky’ friend can’t make it, the limit does not exist. It is infinitely easier to lie, or forego the reply altogether than to be open about your struggles, because being open would read like this: Sorry I can’t come to drinks tonight, my anxiety has become so debilitating that I haven’t been able to shower in three days, let alone twerk to ‘WAP’ with you.

You see, I am that flaky friend, a certified failure when it comes to showing up. We all have one; you may even be that friend. The one that never opens the group chat planning the logistics of Sunday’s criminally early walk of The Tan. The one that lets your phone call ring out, texting back hours later feigning devastation at sleeping through your plans. Or maybe they don’t write back at all. Guilty as charged. They’re the one that you’ve grown tired of trying to hold down to a time and place.

I get it, this flakiness can be infuriating and unfortunately, it is often seen as the hallmark of a toxic friend. It’s not unreasonable for those constantly being bailed on to grow tired of the excuses and call it quits on extending an invitation to you in the future, and to play devil’s advocate, there are absolutely instances in which flakiness shouldn’t be excused. Unfortunately, some people truly are drainers and just have no respect for others’ time. It takes two to tango in a friendship and if you’re doing all the leg work it can be unhealthy to continue to entertain the friendship.

But hear me out: before cutting your friend loose, maybe it’s time to consider the cause of their repeated lack of follow-through. The why is an important aspect to consider when defining your friend’s intent and the answer may just surprise you. When I bail on plans, it is not for lack of wanting to see you, or a reflection of how little I value our friendship, but rather a reflection of how much I am struggling to function as a human at that moment. There is an intrinsic link to be made between mental health and being flaky and communication is the key to bridging that gap in understanding.

Without this comprehension, passive-aggressive replies to your bailing can and will ensue. E.g. You’re not seriously doing this tonight? You suck. And my most loathed: you’ll feel better once you’re out. Notice no one asserting you’ll feel better once you’re out when it’s your irritable bowel syndrome that’s flared up. Mental illness is exactly that, an illness, and it should be treated as such. All options are unfavourable and lead to me feeling like a perpetual disappointment, which is why I’m done being labelled as ‘the flaky friend‘.

In my bid to break free of this unwanted title I’ve cut the BS when it comes to bailing on plans and I’m getting real with my loved ones about how my mental illness can at times hinder my ability to always follow through and I encourage you to follow suit. No more sick grandmas (sorry grandma) or flat tyres, just the whole damn truth. Since opening up the lines of communication that pesty little red inbox notification no longer reads Are you serious? but instead Are you okay? And it feels great to ditch the binder of shit excuses and get real about mental health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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