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It’s not that I don’t want to come. It’s not that I don’t want to be reliable. It’s not that I don’t want to answer the phone or respond to your text. I’d love to jump out of bed with a big smile, eager to take on the day. I want to be a fun friend, a helpful neighbor, the perfect family member, and a responsible adult.

But sometimes I just can’t.

Trust me, it’s not you. It’s me.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Sometimes anxiety and stress consume me. Sometimes I need a nap so  my heart doesn’t race right out of my chest. Sometimes I feel too sad to move. Sometimes my stomach churns and my head hurts and I need a day to recover. I know I said I would come to that event, or I would meet that deadline, but sometimes my body and emotions have other plans.

I feel it sneaking up on me like a mischievous thief of joy. I wish I could tell it to take a hike, but I know it doesn’t work that way. There is no “sucking it up” or “getting over it.” I know too well bad things happen when I fight back too hard. My head will spin, my stomach will erupt, or my breaths will shorten until I’m left gasping for air.

Sometimes I just can’t.

I worry it sounds like a weak excuse. I know some people roll their eyes at “mental health days” and can’t sympathize. But I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I’ve come to understand myself through the process. I know that I cope better when I set boundaries for myself and don’t attempt more than I can handle.

Sometimes I need a moment to focus only on breathing. Sometimes I need a moment to walk aimlessly around the store or just sit quietly in my bedroom. Sometimes I need a moment to follow whatever my heart tells me it needs, even if that thing doesn’t always make sense. And sometimes these moments come unexpectedly, when I was supposed to be doing something else.

The truth is, I often feel guilty about taking this time to recover. I feel like I am letting people down or not reaching my full capacity. But at the same time, I know I have to say no sometimes in order to maintain function. When my body and mind shut down, I often don’t have a choice. And when I do have a choice, it’s often between taking a break now or suffering a much worse breakdown later.

So sometimes, I can’t. I can’t go to the grocery store even though we are out of milk. I can’t meet for lunch even though we’ve been planning it all week. I can’t make dinner even though everyone is hungry. I can’t go to work today even though I scheduled a meeting. I can’t respond to your text even though it seems like a simple question.

That’s not to say I can’t ever do these things, and this is where it gets confusing. MOST of the time, I can. I can do a lot. I want to step up as a reliable and responsible member of society. I want to be there for everyone. I want to take care of all the things and people that need to be taken care of.

But on the days I can’t, please know I’m trying my best. I don’t mean any harm, and I hate to be a burden. But sometimes, I juggle too many balls and I have to let one drop. And sometimes, I need a break from juggling all together, even if the things are usually manageable. Please understand my intentions are pure. I hate that I can’t be there when people expect me to be. I hate that I let things slip when I planned on keeping up. But sometimes, it just gets to be too much.

I’d love to predict these things and give everyone a warning of when I’ll be out of commission, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way. So I guess we will all have to learn to be patient and flexible. I’ll do what I can, as often as I can.

But the other times, I hope you will understand when I say I just can’t.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Julieann Selden

Julieann Selden is a chemistry graduate student and non-profit volunteer. Her husband, Ken, is recently in remission from sarcoma cancer. On her blog, contemplatingcancer.com, she examines the thoughts and emotions of life through the lens of an aggressive cancer diagnosis.

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