hi, hello, it’s me, your flaky friend. you might not have said this to me, or about me, but I’m sure at some moment I have canceled or amended plans at the last-minute and you’ve sighed and been like “yeah, that tracks.” I might’ve even called myself that in the multi-text message and prefaced it message with 35 apologies and some self-deprecating bit like because of who I am as a person in order to soften the blow.
the truth is, I’m not really a flake.
I don’t cancel because I don’t want to see you or because I don’t care about your time or because I think someone else is more important than you. I just have a bit of, a, cutlery issue and I run out of spoons very often. (not sure what I mean by that? you can read the Unified Cutlery Theory here, explained much more concisely than I could do it. no, really, go ahead. I’ll wait.)
so, how does the cutlery relate to me canceling plans? let me illustrate this for you…
(cw: mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety; discussions of ADHD; mentions of societal fatphobia)
the thing is, I find socialization exhausting. as someone with ADHD, it is really difficult for me to maintain focus on what other people are talking about if I don’t have any visual input, and I am a serial interrupter because I don’t have the world’s best impulse control. moreover, I tend to try and empathize by sharing a similar experience—which comes across as making it all about me, so I also have to consciously stop myself from saying things that are instinctual and try to coach myself through conversations so I can get my intent across and not come off as a self-centered asshole. (sorry to all the people who have been my friends for longer than I’ve known this about myself—y’all are the real MVPs for putting up with my tendency to dominate conversations. I swear I’m working on it.)
what this means is that, even if there were no other minefields, and there are, just having a conversation face-to-face is really hard for me. phones aren’t much better; without the ability to look at someone’s face to read changes in mood or to try and figure out what someone is saying when I didn’t catch it, I am often tongue-tied and awkward on the phone. texts are nice, although I am very wordy there also; I am constantly anxious that I will be misunderstood, so I am often verbose and over-apologetic and even clinical in my responses—which is why all the dunking on people’s scripts on Twitter hit me really hard because, when I am in a bad emotional place, clinical vocabulary is often all I can access. I might not be able to talk about my feelings, but I can say stuff like “I dissociated earlier and I think I am still in the middle of a depersonalized episode.” this is why video chat is my ideal mode of communication—I get visual input, I can mute myself while others talk so I’m not an interrupting asshole, and I can click around and/or fidget if I need to get the omg distraction! part of my brain to do something so I can actively listen without being annoying or disruptive.
okay, so that covers the “interactions” minefields. what about, uh, everything else?
first things first, let’s talk about timing. I am the brunch queen in my circle of friends for a very simple reason: meeting someone first thing in the morning is often the only way I can get past anxiety barriers and make it to the aforementioned date. most of the time, I wake up with enough time to put on the outfit I picked out the previous day and roll out the door—no time for second-guessing or catastrophizing or anything else that makes it so hard for me to make it to dinner plans (my most-canceled events). brunch is also a bit of a defined time frame, so I know sort of how long to plan for… and, if I meet someone for brunch, I know I am likely to have the afternoon and evening to decompress before I have any more social interaction (especially since I often work Sunday mornings).
then, there’s location. now, this doesn’t apply to everyone with anxiety or ADHD, but I have the added complications of being a fat person and eating kosher-style. so, whenever I propose brunch, I tend to propose places I know and trust… I know I can eat something on their menu, I know I’ll fit in their seats/booths, and I know I’m not going to be dealing with snide remarks about my order from the staff. I also know how accessible those places are via public transportation, whether there’s parking nearby, what the dress code (or lack thereof) is, whether we can linger over our food or not—and I don’t know any of that about a new place. so, whenever we go somewhere outside of my usual parameters, I spend at least an hour looking at the menu, looking at reviews, scouring pictures online to try and figure out if their seats will hold me and if their seating configuration won’t have me jutting out into the aisle and blocking the way and if they will accommodate substitutions.
and then, of course, there is the overshare problem. as I’d mentioned before, I have constantly monitor myself so I’m listening to understand, not to respond—and then, when it is time to respond, I have to weigh my options. is this person’s how are you that weird American “pleasantry” I don’t quite understand, or are they actually asking me? either way, is this a what’s been up with you kind of question, or do they want me to get into how I’m feeling? if I’m talking about how I’m feeling, is it going to freak them out if I talk about the overwhelming despair I’ve been feeling? is this a space where I can cry openly if we get into the heavy stuff? (thank you forever, RPM Italian, for not batting an eyelash at my sobfest when I had dinner there with BFF MZ a few months ago.)
and all of these wonderings? all of these questions and all of this anxiety and all of these scenarios running through my head? they are for one brunch date. now multiply this by every single interaction I plan outside of work (which is always emotionally draining no matter what because I work with teenagers, many of whom are at-risk). on any given week, I will have one friend date outside of roommate time at home, and roommate time will involve some of these anxieties abut half the time—so, on any given week, I get to have the internal freak-out I’ve illustrated for you 3-5 times. that’s 12-20 per month. that’s an average of 144-240 of those freak-outs every year.
so, when I cancel plans? it 100% is not about you—because, if I didn’t want to see you, I wouldn’t have put the pressure on myself to make plans in the first place. it is because I talked about my dad’s death one time too many this week and I can’t stop crying. it is because I had dinner with someone else two days ago and I haven’t yet recovered. it is because a student had a really hard day and I gave them all of my emotional energy so all I can do is curl up on a ball and cry. it is because I’m so anxious about going outside that I’ve made myself literally sick so I wouldn’t be able to meet you for a meal. it is because, with every time that we reschedule or I cancel, the pressure rises and rises until it crushes me under the weight of our combined disappointments.