When Anxiety Ruins Friendships: What You Should Know About That Flaky Friend

Hello, my name is Alyson and I am the flaky friend. You know me from my unending excitement for all things social and my persistent habit of bailing at the last minute.

I’m sure a number of you just let out an irritated sigh. You all know me because I’m in your group of friends or, well, I used to be. Some of you have stopped trying to invite me to places and events because you got tired of me deciding not to go out with you on Saturday nights or finding an excuse for why lunch actually doesn’t work for me on Wednesday.

What you should know is that I usually really do want to go out and party, or meet up for dinner and drinks with friends, or even just hang out to watch The Bachelor at your house on Monday nights. But I have anxiety, and it messes up those plans.

Anxiety comes and goes over time. The general worry is pretty much always there, especially if it’s bad enough to land you with a clinical diagnosis, but the bouts of real, life-disrupting anxiety can sprout from all sorts of triggers. Everything from a change in daily routine to seeing roadkill on the way to work to finding out a loved one cheated on you – sometimes it’s a totally relatable battle. Sometimes, though, those triggers aren’t immediately obvious to the person experiencing them, and the desire to avoid stressful situations that might encourage those feelings becomes the person’s priority. Going out with friends might be one of those situations.

As an anxious person, I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was in the second grade. It’s something that I share with people because I think mental illness needs to be normalized so that those who really need help can get it without worry of being outcasted. I’m now 23, nearing 24, and very much considering returning to therapy within the month. Why? Well, I’m having a really difficult time with my anxiety and I didn’t see it coming. I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but now I’m back to being that flaky friend.

I was invited downtown by a handful of my friends this past weekend, and five days before the big night, I was thrilled about the opportunity to throw back a few cold ones and get dressed up. Once Friday came around, though, I panicked. I didn’t run around like an injured chicken or anything, I just felt this hot feeling in my chest and a tightness in my shoulders and the urge to run. That’s how anxiety feels for me – this urge to run. If I run, the urge doesn’t go away. It settles around my neck and into my arms and sometimes the only way to make it stop is to sit on the ground with my legs pulled in close to my stomach while I rock back and forth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work and, more unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t even cross my mind because it’s preoccupied with other bothersome concerns.

Anyway, I knew that bailing on my friends wasn’t going to go over well. I knew that these particular friends didn’t know me well enough to know what I was feeling that night. I knew that making up an excuse wasn’t going to be okay so instead I just said, “I’m probably not going to go out tonight.??? I never got a text back and it sucked.

At this point, most people might say that I should know better, that I should force myself to go out when I’m in these situations. The problem is that I know what happens when I go out when I’m feeling this way because, for about two years, I had experience with exactly that. I’d either be miserable all night, staying sober and dealing with the drunks and overreacting because of my state of mind, I’d be drunk and emotional because suddenly my tenseness would melt into a pile of sadness over feeling like something is wrong with me, or I’d have a great time. Those first two, pathetically, tend to be the options that haunt me when I’m feeling anxious enough to not want to go out.

So, while your flaky friend may just be a POS, he or she may also have something else going on and might not be as chatty about it as I am. The friend probably knows that they’re risking their relationship with you and giving in to their worry, and that doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t value you. It just means that those feelings are really, scarily strong and controlling them is harder than it might seem from the outside looking in.

Try to be understanding. We’ve lost enough friends over this – we don’t want to lose you, too.