Self-soothing or opting out?
May 10, 2013 7:41 AM   Subscribe

When is it a good idea to cancel trips/plans when you're feeling badly?

I feel like this questions has only been dealt with indirectly in the askmefi canon. I am dealing with some acute discomfort from missing a pill the other night, and feeling like I'm sliding into a low period. I am bipolar. I've yet to figure out when to do something social because it will make me feel better, or when to not do something social because I will feel down about feeling down and not enjoy being around other people. I feel like the best answer is to throw myself in earnest into any plans or things I genuinely want to do, but lacking that kind of energy now, I'm disheartened by both options: doing the trip half-enthusiastically and with private sadness and frustration, or not doing the trip and feeling guilty and crummy about that.

Do you have any suggestions for a general rule for how to discern when to self-soothe and in what way?
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My general rule is that usually doing things and feeling crummy while I do them More Often makes me feel better than Not doing things and wallowing.

That said, if you have access to a therapist who knows you and your personal situation better, it seems like a fine question to pose to them.
posted by ldthomps at 7:45 AM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is there a way to modify what you were going to do to maybe make it a bit more low key and intimate, maybe with just a few people who get you and understand? Some times rather than go out to a big hullabaloo and be social, an easier thing to do is to hang out with just one or two people and maybe grill some food or play cards or what have you. It is okay to let people know that you want to be with them, but that you can't handle an uncontrollable environment.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:50 AM on May 10, 2013

Very depressive here, and I haven't found the time where sitting at home doing nothing has made me feel better than going out and doing something. It may be that I choose to leave early, but just the effort of getting myself ready, getting myself moving, and accomplishing that something, no matter how small, tends to help.
posted by xingcat at 7:50 AM on May 10, 2013 [17 favorites]

In this case, I would say that since you missed a pill you can say you're not feeling well. Do this as early as possible.

In future cases, I would say: try not to miss any pills, and do your best to stick to your arrangements.
posted by tel3path at 7:59 AM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Historically I have always canceled plans, waffled obnoxiously, or flaked out day of when I've been depressed and it's made me feel even worse, for being lame, for disappointing friends, for feeling like I'm wallowing. There's a difference between making yourself get out and do exciting things when you don't want to, and following through with the things you've already planned to do.

For the past few years I've made myself keep plans even if I feel too sad at the time, and they always make me feel better. (I was going to write "almost always", but that's not even true.) But to balance I also refrain from making new plans or taking on new hobbies until I get some private, low-laying time in.
posted by Sayuri. at 8:08 AM on May 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Not bipolar, but I can definitely relate to this. What I can say is that (and I'm sure you know this intellectually), you definitely don't need to feel guilty for not feeling well. But it can be difficult to predict how you will respond, i know. That said, here are some ideas:

Are there any triggers that you know from past experience that may make you feel worse? For me it's really loud bars where I don't know anyone.

Alternatively is the activity potentially one that could bring some peace or a welcome diversion?

Is there an off-ramp in case you're not coping well?

Will there be upcoming opportunities to spend time with the same people (i.e. there's always next time)

Any other similar past events that you can compare to?

Good luck. Whatever you choose, it will be a fine choice and the weekend will be over soon anyway.
posted by SpicyMustard at 8:11 AM on May 10, 2013

To some extent, I think this depends upon whether you're naturally an introvert or an extravert. I'm a true introvert, and even when I am feeling good, hanging out with most people feels like more of a chore than a pleasure. If I'm feeling less than good, having to summon the energy to put on my happy face and be social is almost guaranteed to make me feel worse. I honestly really like my own company and just find it more enjoyable to do things on my own. When I need self-soothing, my inclination is to do solitary things I find comforting.

So, how do you feel about these social arrangements when you're feeling good? Do you draw energy from hanging out with groups of people, or do you need down time to recharge after a social event? If the former, maybe you'll feel better if you force yourself to get out and do things with people.

If you do have to cancel plans, don't be too hard on yourself about it. There's nothing shameful about doing what you need to do to take good care of yourself. I feel like sometimes people are reluctant to treat mental illness like physical illness in this regard. If you had a bad cold and were feeling totally awful and just wanted to lie on your couch, you presumably wouldn't feel embarrassed to cancel plans with friends.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think it makes a difference whether the "accute discomfort" is mental or physical. If it's mental, being social might very well make you feel better. If it's physical, I'd probably bail and stay home and take a nap.
posted by decathecting at 8:19 AM on May 10, 2013

Sounds like you're talking about a whole-weekend trip, which is harder to decide about than a night out... if it were "dinner and drinks and movie" and you threw yourself into it for a while but went home early, that's one thing, but if you're deciding whether to back out of travel plans and a day+ of spending time with people, that's different. I would be cautious about flinging myself into it, too, and I don't think that the "it really helps to do something, no matter how small" advice really applies when the "something" in question is a very large commitment. If you're going out of town and sharing a hotel room with people and you feel emotionally awful, it's okay to back out - BUT, try to make alternate small plans to keep yourself from wallowing.

Honestly, there's no metric for this - it's about how you feel, and how you think you would feel, and how you think your friends would feel... feelings are hard to make a decision-tree about. But consider the particular plans:
- do you think your friends would be kind and concerned and flexible if you told them you're not feeling well? (hey, so I missed a pill, and I'm going to be really tired and a bit hair-trigger this weekend)
- Are there ways you could modify the plans to make them easier on you?
- do you think you could create some down time? (gosh, you guys enjoy the museum, I'm going to go back to the hotel and sleep for a bit)
- Is this a particular event that you won't have a chance to do similar things again, or are these friends you often see, doing something they often do?
- If you went, would it be because you're worried about what your friends would think/do and sociall fallout from it? Counterintuitively, I'd say in that case, don't go - because it'll be even harder to enjoy yourself if you're resenting them while you're there.
posted by aimedwander at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far! I appreciate the affirmation that I'm not being absurd to treat feeling bad mentally on a similar level as feeling bad physically.

Part of the reason why mustering up the energy is difficult is that it's a bike-camping trip with a 3-hour bike trip to the destination. Though being physically exhausted might help me mellow out. I also have the option of coming back a day earlier (so just spending a night) and so I could easily take advantage of that.

easy, lucky, free: I actually am an ambivert. I prefer mostly one-on-one interactions and alone time like most introverts, but also become frustrated with alone time and seek out groups like extroverts. So I try to walk that middle path. In this instance, there will be plenty of opportunities for lowkey time and splintering off into one-on-one things, so it's not so bad.

aimedwander: I appreciate that list and the need to get a personal sense for these things. I tend to be way swayed by worries of others' experiences and not so good managing my own needs, so it can be difficult, as per your last point.

I'll probably end up going and electing to bike home early, but will feel out how my energy levels progress through the day. any more thoughts and opinions certainly welcome! thanks
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2013

I have an anxiety disorder that kept me from doing so many things. Finally I decided that I was tired of missing out. I made a promise to myself that I would accept any invitation to do anything, so long as it was affordable, morally sound, and legal. Before every thing, I want to cancel, I want to chicken out, but I force myself on. I have never once regretted making myself do any of it. So, I say go. Worse case scenario, you are a little grumpy and fall into solitude- at least you are out of the house. I also find that it helps to fake it until you feel it- smile at everyone, no matter how you feel. All those smiles back will perk you up.
One last tip, it helps me to take myself out of myself. Instead of focusing on my anxieties, I find something or someone else to think about. Prayer/meditation is helpful in this. Sit quietly and commit to thinking about anything else for at least 15 minutes. Commit to making at least one person's day better, even if it is just getting a smile out of them. It helps, it really does.
posted by myselfasme at 9:00 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me it really depends on whether or not the thing I was planning to do would be mentally/emotionally exhausting even if I was operating at 100%. If it is, then I will always bail if I'm already feeling crappy. There's no sense in pushing myself to do something that has a high chance of making me miserable, and worse, making my friends miserable as well.
posted by elizardbits at 10:38 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

How committed are you to what you want to cancel out of? Were tickets booked? Are you doing it with other people? Does someone depend on you for a ride? If stuff like that is the case and it does affect people if you bail, then don't bail because people will be ticked at you.

If it's un-crucial stuff, like a general invite to a party, then play it as you feel it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:18 AM on May 10, 2013

If it were me, I'd also consider what I'd do if I opted not to go. I try to be honest with myself: am I going to stay home and gorge on chips and season 3 of Buffy? And is that what I need right now? (Because sometimes I need, NEED, to do that.)

Or will I use the time to get into a better headspace -- by, say, cleaning my apartment and catching up on laundry or by taking hot baths and taking long walks with the dog -- so that when the next invite comes, I'll feel rested and rejuvenated and ready to go.
posted by LynnDee at 7:39 PM on May 10, 2013

It really depends why I feel bad. And what I'm actually going to do if I don't go.

If I'm going to spend the time catching up on sleep, eating properly, having a hot shower, cleaning up the mess at home, and doing things I enjoy - all things that I very often end up getting behind on when I'm feeling crummy, and all things that will make me feel a lot better when they're done - then yes, opting out is often a good idea.

If staying home isn't really likely to help me much, and it's not something that'd make whatever situation I was in worse, I try and make myself go. Sometimes this doesn't go so well. Quite often it does, and I end up better off. You have a 'go home early' option here which is a good thing to have too.
posted by Ashlyth at 12:41 AM on May 11, 2013

Maybe I'm odd, but I tend to genuinely do better cancelling plans if I don't feel well. When I feel bad I genuinely want/need to rest and going out makes me feel irritated and I often get sick. Sometimes just having the obligation looming is enough to stress me out. I'm an introvert to a large degree, though.

I would guess it varies from person to person, but I feel like I started making progress when I quit pushing myself to do stuff. I try not to wallow, but I don't go ~out among the world~ when I feel bad. I do something by myself to take my mind off stuff or focus my crazy emotions more constructively. Having other people around during that process is irksome for me at best.
posted by Nattie at 3:09 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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