A lesson in understanding anxiety
A few weeks back a friend of mine accepted an invitation to visit my house for some food and conversation and to help me identify some of the unusual flowers blooming in my new garden. It was a beautiful summer evening for the gathering, the temperatures were dipping down into the 70s, and a stunning orange sun was slowly sinking below the horizon.
I'd spent the afternoon preparing for the visit - there would be four of us altogether - making a salad and some quesadillas and opening some local wine. But my friend never showed up, canceling unexpectedly just a few hours before I was expecting her due to a heavy workload and deadlines.
I remember feeling disappointed and just a little hurt before shrugging it off and welcoming my other guests. I came very close to taking it personally - a habit I'm trying to break - where I feel responsible for someone's actions, wondering what I've said or done to cause them. Thankfully this evening I was feeling peaceful and relaxed after walking a few miles earlier that day.
Looking back, I'm happy that I got to a place where I trusted that my friend made a decision for her own well-being and not based on some action or comment I might have made. I didn’t give it another thought until today, when I saw something that made me rethink the evening and similar cancellations I’d experienced over the years, seeing them all in a new light.
Scrolling through Facebook, a post from The Depression Project caught my eye, suggesting a different way of looking at last-minute cancellations from friends. People who have anxiety, they wrote, don't cancel because they're rude or they don't care about you. They cancel because:
Their symptoms have set in;
They're exhausted from pretending to be "okay";
They're worried they'll have a meltdown;
They're hypersensitized to their environment;
They're struggling and don't want to burden you;
They're "one edge" and need a "safe" environment;
They're in "survival mode; and,
They're imagining "worst case scenarios."
Although the post was specific to people with anxiety, I think it can apply to all of us. I can easily identify and empathize with these reasons. I've been there, both as someone who has cancelled an event and been cancelled on, and maybe you have too.
I don't know that my friend has anxiety, but I can see how any of us, especially in these traumatic and sometimes isolating times, might feel a sudden reluctance to be social or to join in group activities and might suddenly beg off from a commitment. And how all of us can benefit from a little more tolerance and acceptance from others.
And, if that’s true, then it’s not that big of a step to understand how someone who has more serious anxiety challenges might feel. It’s one thing to know in theory how anxiety affects us, this post suggested. It’s another to understand how it plays out in the many small decisions we make every day.
The Depression Project exists to help us all see mental health differently by writing these explanations for what people feel when they experience depression and anxiety and why they act the way they do, according to its Facebook page. It's another way of raising our collective awareness about mental health and helping us accept our own and other's struggles with it.
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