This story is a part of our Mental Health Confessions series, a collection of stories from people who open up about times they felt guilty or conflicted about their mental health issue.
I’m pretty tolerant of most types of people, but I absolutely hate flakes. I have cut off friendships because I can’t deal with others’ flakiness, especially when it comes down to repeated incidents of bailing on plans at the last minute.
However, some might say I’m a hypocrite. Why? My mental illness, at times, causes me to become the very type of person I hate.
Friendship is a two-way street. We expect our friends to put in the same amount of time and emotional labor into maintaining a relationship as we do ourselves. Of course, we know this isn’t always the case, and I’ll be the first to admit it: with some of my friends, I feel like I am giving less than I’m getting. I’ve flaked on even the best of my best friends, and I fear one day they’ll decide to cut me loose because of it.
My diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Both of these mental illnesses can — and usually do — present with a slew of physical symptoms on top of all the mental ones (as if feelings of impending doom and chronic worry weren’t enough). If I’m going through a rough patch, there’s likely plenty of horrible thoughts and physiological sensations that are nagging at me, holding me back from something as simple as a lunch date.
It all started at age 11 when I moved to a new town and developed my anxiety disorder. I was constantly plagued by symptoms like stomach aches and chest pains, and I had no idea how to cope with what I was feeling. These ailments caused me to skip out on nearly every birthday party or outing I was invited to, which led to even more anxiety.
How was I going to make friends in a new town if I never socialized? Even if I was feeling alright on the day of an event, I still bailed because I was anticipating having a panic attack there. Staying home and being bored would be better than having a breakdown in front of peers. Sometimes, at age 24, I still have the same thought.
I remember one day, years later, I laid on my floor for about three hours hysterically crying, hating myself, and hating the cards I had been dealt in life. Over and over, I asked myself, “Why me?” Family members came knocking on my door to check on me and I screamed at them to leave. I was supposed to be participating in a breast cancer walk with my best friend and a team that had been assembled, but I couldn’t get off the floor, let alone stop my tears. I sent her the kind of text I dread receiving right before a scheduled plan.
“I’m so sorry, but I don’t think I can make it…”
Of course I elaborated about how I was in a horrible state of mind, but I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t feel strong enough to push through the feelings, leave the house, and go to the walk. I was a flake, and my mental illness was my excuse.
I’m self-deprecating enough, and doing this — annoying my friends, letting them down — makes me even harder on myself. No matter how many times they say, “Don’t worry, I totally understand! There’s always next time!” I can’t help but be overcome with guilt.
So, I know, we all hate flakes, and we hate excuses. We often question if the excuses are some extravagant lie (or is that just me and my trust issues?). But maybe we should cut these people some slack. If someone does truly suffer from mental illness, their flakiness comes with good reason.
I hope that one day I’ll be able to push through the thoughts and feelings that keep me from doing everything I want to do, that mental illness will not hold me back and will no longer be an excuse.
Until then, please bear with my flakiness.