By Ellen Scott
Hey friends, colleagues, potential dates, and family members whose texts I’ve left unanswered, whose conversations have stopped dead, and whose calls I’ve ignored.
I don’t hate you, I promise. I’m not trying to gently ease my way out of our relationship. You haven’t pissed me off, you haven’t said the wrong thing, and I’m not ghosting you.*
*Apart from you, Charlie. I’m definitely ghosting you.
The reason I keep failing to message you back is a more complex and definitely not personal: my brain’s a little messed up and sometimes, it makes me a rubbish texter.
I have depression and anxiety.
What that means, in the simplest possible terms, is that a lot of the time I feel very, very low, think bad thoughts, and spend hours in bed, either doing nothing or crying. That’s the depression.
I also overthink things. I worry about things that might never happen. I have obsessive thoughts about things setting themselves on fire, or people hating me, or everyone thinking I’m a terrible person, or getting fired at work. That’s the anxiety a bit.
These two things culminate into a glorious swirl of being absolutely bloody awful at keeping in touch with the people I care about.
When you text me, here’s what happens.
Step one: you send a text and ask how I am, or try to make a plan, or try to make a joke.
I’m in the midst of a depressive period, so I’ll read into whatever you’ve said as a way to make myself feel even more miserable.
Asking how I am makes me think about how I really am (that’s not great, to be clear). I don’t want to lie and say I’m okay. I don’t want to drag down the conversation by admitting that I’m not in the best place. So I say nothing.
Making a plan to go out and see people and do things sounds impossible. When you happen to send your text, I’m in the midst of feeling like I can’t get out of bed, let alone get drinks next week. So I say nothing.
You make a joke. I know it’s funny, but I’m feeling too low to say anything back. I hate myself a bit. So I say nothing.
In the moment I put the phone face down on my bed and roll back over, I tell myself I’ll text you back when I’m feeling better. Maybe it’ll just be half an hour or so. Maybe longer. It’s fine. I just don’t feel up to it right now.
I’m too filled with shame about my depression to just send a text saying: ‘hey, I’m feeling low right now, but I’ll text you back’. I’m scared of being judged.
Then hours pass, and the anxiety sets in.
Suddenly I’m convinced that it’s much, much too late to text you back.
You’re probably angry with me for not texting back sooner. You hate me now. If I text you, you’ll just get irritated.
On a logical level, I know that’s not the case. But that’s the thing with anxiety. It tells you that the worst case scenario will happen. Logic and likelihood doesn’t apply anymore – if you leave a switch turned on, your house will burn down. If you get an email from your boss, they’re definitely about to fire you. If your friend doesn’t add a smiley face, they hate you.
So I tell myself that if I’ve massively f***ed things up by not replying immediately. Then I tell myself that the longer I don’t text back, the more you’ll hate me.
I look at my phone. I try to come up with a relaxed, breezy reply.
Then I spend an hour overthinking it. Nothing feels right. I feel like anything I send will expose me as a terrible person you won’t want to be around.
So I just let your text sit, unanswered, knowing that I’m being a rubbish friend, knowing that I’m being annoying, and knowing that not texting you back at all is what will break down this relationship, not a rubbish response or a delay of half an hour.
But I can’t help it. My depression tells me everyone hates me anyway, so it’s not worth putting myself out there by texting back. My anxiety tells me that anything I send will make things worse.
And so I let my phone become a graveyard of unanswered texts, hanging questions, and plans that never materialise.
I know it’s frustrating, especially when I’ve been messaging back and forth then suddenly go silent (depression just comes out of nowhere sometimes).
I get that it’s even worse when you get fed up and try to call, and I don’t pick up.
I know that every unanswered text puts you through the same swirl of nerves and worry that I’m going through, making you think I don’t want to be your friend, that you’ve pissed me off, or that something’s wrong.
That’s unfair, and that’s a big part of why I’m really trying to change my failing-to-text-back ways. Because I love the people in my life, and I’m tired of letting my mental illness make me treat them like I don’t.
I know not texting back is sh*t. I’m working on it. And I’m sorry.