a person sitting, sad in a key hole while a party goes on behind them

It's Not You, It's Me - Cancelling Plans and RA

It’s not you, it’s me. We’ve all heard that before – usually when breaking up with someone or being broken up with. I realized recently that it applies to living with chronic illness as well, and we deal with the same stigma when we say it. Why? Probably because people always take our absence as a personal insult.

Canceling plans with RA

The reason this came up is that recently I had to cancel an engagement the day of- not because I was terribly sick or because I came down with COVID, but just because I didn’t have the emotional and mental energy left to exist in a place where I barely knew any of the guests other than the host. I dreaded the small talk I’d have to have with people who didn’t even know my name, the mental energy I’d have to expend remembering their names and caring about their car or their mortgage or their kids – whatever falderal their mouth holes spewed.

It's not you, it's me

As I was forcing myself to shower, I realized I didn’t want to do it. So, I texted the person and told them I just didn’t have the energy to make it today and I was sorry. As a bit of humor I added, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Needless to say, the joke didn’t land and chances are I’m not going to get invited again without serious effort on my part, and that’s when it hit me – so what?

I don't have the energy to do it all

It sounds horrible even reading what I wrote above but lately, I have begun to come to terms with a hard truth about living with rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness in general – I no longer have the daily energy to do everything everyone wants me to, and that’s going to leave some broken hearts in my wake.

In a perfect world, people will accept the excuse I give them when I just don’t have the energy and accept that it has absolutely nothing to do with them or our relationships as friends. However, just like in the dating world when you say, “it’s not you, it’s me,” people treat it as a cop-out and come away feeling slighted. Well, I’m here to say it’s inevitable and give you permission not to expend even more precious mental and emotional energy worrying about it after the fact.

Focusing on my closest relationships

Seriously, let’s play it out. Your close friends and loved ones know you well and know by now that if you say you can’t, you probably can’t. Why? Because they have seen you when you can, and they know how good of a friend you are when you are able. That means, all in all, they aren’t people who are going to be offended when you say you have to cancel.

That leaves the acquaintances and “old friends” who you rarely see. Well, here’s the simple truth about that – if they take offense to you canceling, then they don’t really get you anyway, and if that's the case, they probably don’t really care if you come, either. That means you really don’t have to waste some of your precious energy feeling bad! Great, problem solved!

The constant RA guilt

You’re still here, aren’t you? Yeah, I get it, it’s just not that simple. We are going to feel bad about canceling because of our illnesses no matter what. There’s so much more wrapped up in the bouillabaisse of feelings and emotions than simply feeling bad for ruining someone’s guest list count.

There’s the guilt of letting our illness have power over us, there’s the frustration of not being able to grin, bear it, and push through, and then there’s that always-in-the-background base level of shame that comes along with chronic illness because, well, just because.

It’s like that can of lima beans in the back of your pantry – it’s always around, you don’t know who put it there, and it certainly doesn’t taste very good, but you aren’t able to get rid of it for some reason. Just in case the zombie apocalypse hits, and you need food, I guess. Metaphorically, that is.

Everyone needs to cancel sometimes

Here’s the thing – it’s not like “normal,” able-bodied people don’t cancel – especially these days when old-school etiquette and rules of social decorum seem to be, uh, let’s say, in short supply. They use excuses like the kids are sick, or they have to make clam chowder, or they just don’t show up at all. At least we have a legitimate excuse that isn’t complete, weapons-grade, baloney. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, able-bodied people seem to get a pass for transgressions like that while we suffer like a social pariah when we cancel. Or, at least, that’s what we feel like is happening.

It could be that the hosts simply read our cancellation text, shrug, and then head off to have another toaster-oven warmed taquito appetizer, but my experience tells me that people with RA and other chronic illnesses only get 3 strikes before we don’t make the guest list at all when “normal” guests who frequently cancel seem to keep getting invited no matter how bad the excuses they give are. You have to wash your hair?? Come on – try to use at least 30 seconds to think of an excuse.

Be easy on yourself

As you can see, canceling plans and not having the energy to do things isn’t a simple one-to-one exchange when you are living with rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness in general. There is so much more that goes into it and while the party goes on without us, we sit at home, hemming and hawing over something that likely means nothing to anyone but us. That’s why “it’s not you, it’s me,” really does feel most appropriate when canceling plans, both because of what we go through and the response we get! Talk soon.

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