Burnout is very real and very frustrating. It can keep us feeling left out and as though we don’t belong in our social circles because we can’t always participate like everyone else. But we still want our friends to include usin their lives, because the alternative is being left behind and second guessed.
I want to be there. But sometimes I can’t.
Including your burned out spoonie friends in your social plans means keeping the space open for them but not expecting them to arrive on time, stay long, or come at all. Including chronically ill friends means knowing that scheduled activities, even the most fun and engaging ones, are no match for a pain flare or a day when grief has taken over and I can barely make myself eat something, let alone put on pants.
I love to socialize. It’s an important part of my self care. Quality time is a critical aspect of my love language.
But sometimes quality time is going to mean hanging out in pajamas instead of going to the club.
Here are a few ways you can hold space to honor your friends who deal with burnout:
- Understand Burnout Isn’t Personal: If someone cancels plans because they are socially burned out, please understand that it’s not you — it’s everything. When someone is at the point of burnout, every commitment is a drain on resources. Sometimes taking a shower and washing their hair is all someone can bring themselves to manage.
- Rephrase Your Invitations: Hearing “I want you to come if you can” hits differently than “Come if you want.” Wanting doesn’t have anything to do with ability when you’re in the midst of a fibro flare or your depression has hold of you. An invitation that makes your spoonie friend feel wanted and not like an afterthought is a small change that validates our pain and also helps us remember that we’re important to you.
- Don’t Tease About It: If your chronically ill friend has finally made it to an event after weeks of canceled plans, please don’t make it a huge deal unless they do so first. And don’t roast them about it — “Hey, you finally made it!” may feel like playful teasing, but to someone who desperately wants to fit in and be normal, it hurts to be called out for something we can’t control.
- Be Seasonally Sensitive: Fall and winter are hard. It’s cold, it’s dark, and people don’t always feel like leaving the house. Additionally, the change in temperature and the steep decline in sunlight can affect people with pain, mood disorders, and depression. People may RSVP to every summer event you have because they’re feeling up for it and then retreat to their own home once the weather changes. Invite people to a variety of social plans — at your place, at a local restaurant or bar, etc. — and be aware that their “no” may be seasonal. Please don’t stop inviting us because you’re bummed out when we can’t make it.
- Offer Different Ways to Socialize: If you notice your friend declines party invites, try inviting them over or offering to meet up at their place for a smaller, more intimate social activity. Watch a movie, make dinner together, or do something that isn’t draining. You can even just hang out in proximity to each other both doing your own thing. I once sat down on the couch with my roommate while she watched her favorite show. I didn’t know a thing about the show, but she still talks about how much it meant to her that I spent that time next to her doing something she enjoyed.
- Know Their Signals: Over time as you develop a closer relationship with a person, you’ll pick up their cues and signals that they’re having a rough time. You can also ask them directly. In my case, some my friends online will check on me if they notice my sentence structure change in comments. When I’m burned out, i start typing without much regard for proper capitalization/punctuation and i dont correct my typos. I’m too tired to deal with it, and they know what I mean. At my own housewarming party, I left the party several times to go lay down and recharge because I was really stressed having so many people in the house. A couple of people I’m close to came to check on me because my sudden disappearance was a tell-tale sign that I was feeling overwhelmed. Some people check their phone to escape sensory overload, some go find a quiet place (I spent most of a recent party in the kitchen, honestly), and some simply don’t go to the party in the first place because they know they’re not up for it.
- Plan Accessible Parties: One of the most beautiful things you could tell an autistic friend who you’ve invited to your party is that you’ll have a space set up for people to chat or exist quietly if the party gets to be too much. Let friends with pain issues know what the seating will be like — some people need to have a sturdy chair, and others may need a soft couch to feel more comfortable. Do you have restrooms on the first floor, or stairs to get into the house? Let people know about mobility accessibility up front, and do what you can to have priority parking available for friends who have pain or mobility issues.