As you get older and you gain some experience, you learn just how important your relationships are. The people you choose to spend your time around greatly impact your well-being: mind, body, and soul.
Even knowing this and how grateful I am for the friends and family I have, the throes of depression and anxiety often result in me assuming a certain role: the flaky friend.
Can you relate? Are you someone that is quick to cancel plans? Do you have times where the last thing you feel like doing is just talking? Can you leave texts and messages unread for days on end, overwhelmed by that simple task?
You might feel like you’re broken. Like you should be more social and open and carefree. Like you’re often on the far edge of others’ lives that you might as well isolate and not disappoint them.
Guess what: you aren’t alone. And today we’re going to discuss every potentially uncomfortable detail.
Growing up, I was never someone with a large group of friends. I think any introvert can understand that just a few high-quality people are all you need to feel satisfied.
But that doesn’t mean I was very self-conscious about my seemingly inactive social life. I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in on what is considered a “normal” social life. I always felt like I was behind somehow, that I was missing out.
A lot of this stems from my chronic mental illnesses, all of which actively contribute to me wanting to avoid those uncomfortable situations that socializing can put you in. With anorexia and anxiety, it’s all about having a very strict regime in your head. Facing uncertainty is the equivalent of chaos. With depression, the condition that is the most chronic and rampant in my life, I lack the energy and motivation to connect, and I beat myself up enough to rationalize that nobody actually cares about me anyways, so why try?
At the same time, I’ve almost become so used to these influences and lifestyle that I just accept it. I’m already an independent person in general, as well as a workaholic. I’m someone who makes plans in my head of what I want to accomplish each day, even if that’s just getting me time. Unless I’m in the mood to be spontaneous, just getting up and doing something can actually be quite nerve-racking.
Is it just introversion?
Especially when I was unaware of my mental health and its impact on my daily life, I made excuses. You could call me the Queen of Excuses if you so choose.
One of those excuses is my introverted nature. For every type of temperament test I’ve taken, I’m virtually always 100% introverted. I will always find social situations draining. I will always need solid lengths of time completely alone to recharge. I know this, and it’s not something I’m ashamed about, even if people misunderstand introversion for shyness or standoffish-ness.
Most often, after a long day, the last thing I feel like doing is going out and seeing others. It’s not that I don’t like doing it. I love my group of friends. I just instinctively crave alone time more often. So yes, I’m more likely to back out of social gatherings in favor of a quiet evening at home.
However, too often I use my introversion as a crutch. I give myself that identity as an introvert, or even the flaky friend, and I slowly embody where my thoughts lead. It’s almost feeling like I’m too aware of my own nature, and I completely become that role.
Being an introvert and a flaky friend don’t have to be synonymous with one another. At least one third of the population is introverted, and not all of them likely face these problems. So if you relate to being the flaky friend, what’s the difference? What’s standing in your way?
Being real about mental health.
In my case, despite being very open and honest about my chronic mental illnesses, I still struggle with balance. When do I let myself feel and acknowledge where my mood’s at, and when do I challenge it and push myself to be somewhat uncomfortable?
It’s hard to describe to other people, when I’m feeling particularly anxious or depressed, why I’m letting those emotions potentially hold me back from making memories and seeing other people. I know my friends would be very understanding of those reasons for missing out, but they both happen quite often and are way too convenient of excuses that I could use them even if I’m feeling okay and just don’t feel like leaving the comfort zone of my bed and computer. It’s dancing on a fine line between recognizing my health and recognizing my tendencies to become a hermit.
If you deal with mental illness and you feel like it’s impeding upon your life, that’s when you need to seek outside treatment. I believe we all need those moments of being depressed or anxious and not being able to do much else, but once that becomes your life and it holds you back from fully experiencing life, you need to reevaluate your wellness.
I stress the importance of treating yourself well and balancing your well-being, and your social health is another piece of the puzzle. Just like physical, mental and spiritual health, we’re innately equipped to be connected with others. Some of us can embrace aloneness better than others, but we all need relationships for a well-rounded life.
Once prioritizing and taking care of your health, also turn your attention to your social health.
Fight the flakiness.
First off, define for yourself what you want your relationships to be like. Set yourself some goals that you can strive to accomplish. Don’t just make these goals based off of what you see others doing and what you think you should be doing. Other people have different temperaments, circumstances, and preferences. If you don’t like parties, then don’t do parties if you don’t want to. Don’t surround yourself with people for the sake of saying you have lots of friends. You can and should be nitpicky with who you choose to spend time with and what you do together.
Define your values. Don’t put yourself in triggering situations if all they’ll do is make you anxious. What kind of person are you, and who do you want to be? Just as we portray ourselves in the role of “the flaky friend,” we can write our stories to fit other values that actually make us fulfilled and happy. Don’t enter situations just to say you did; do things because they align with your values. For example, if a friend randomly contacts you because they need help, and you value being a caring and loving, how would you decide to respond? Being flaky, or following those values?
Define those people you want to prioritize, the people that really make you feel fulfilled and happy, the people that don’t completely drain your energy or you feel you have to “win over.” We’ve likely all been in friendships that weren’t healthy for us: they just call on you when they need something, they treat you poorly, talk about you behind your back, etc. You don’t deserve that.
COMMUNICATE with these people you love! Even if that’s simply sharing tweets or texting consistently. Even though we have more ways to stay in touch with people than ever before, that doesn’t mean we’re actually utilizing them. If possible, make sure to also see these people in person when you get the chance. As we grow older, our lives seem to diverge and we go separate ways as we build our individual foundations, but the relationships we treasure most don’t have to dissipate. Tell people you love them and care about them regularly.
Acknowledge and be open about your circumstances and mental health, if those are factors in what has made you a flaky friend. If you need time alone, say it instead of dropping off the earth for a week. If something makes you anxious or uncomfortable, say it. True friends will love and accept you no matter what, and they want you to be your best self. If you’re like me and automatically isolate yourself in depressive and anxious periods, try something small like reaching out to someone and see what happens. Turns out, people do love and care about you.
There’s nothing wrong with loving and craving solitude, nor is it wrong to practice self-care in times of mental illness and introverted “recharging.”
But you don’t have to feel lonely or guilty. You don’t have to be the flaky friend. You can make small steps and decisions to balance your wellness and embody more love and kindness each day. It’s not easy, believe me, but it’s worth it.
Do you consider yourself a flaky friend? How do you fight that habit and push outside your comfort zone?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie