saying no to your friends doesn't make you selfish

Now stop telling yourself that and go run a bath, you overstimulated goblin.

I’ve never really liked the whole extrovert-versus-introvert thing. It’s too binary and condescending for my liking. According to their respective definitions, extroverts are party-obsessed attention seekers who may die if they go for more than three days without The Sesh™, while introverts are just sensitive babies who need to be wrapped in a duvet and spoken to in soft whispers lest they’re spooked into an anxiety-induced heart attack. We're made to believe we have to land within one of these two polarising camps, while in reality most of us are just sort of hovering in the middle. Save for a few exceptions, we’re just a weird blend of introverted and extroverted, and it's in that grey area between solitude and socialising that I reckon some of us are going wrong with looking after ourselves. 

I’m a contradiction of natures: I often shun the company of others in favour of pottering about on my own, but I also love performing and entertaining others, be it on stage with a big crowd or retelling a funny story at the pub. My introversion means it often takes a bit of arse-kicking to get me out of my room and into a party, but I almost never regret it. In fact, events that I dread for weeks usually turn out to be the most fun ones of all. So, in an attempt to maximise the amount of fun and feel-good vibes I’m absorbing, I’ll start attending a lot of events. Pub with friends? Yeah! Date with beardy bloke from Tinder? Sure! Holiday with twelve other people? Why the bloody hell not!

Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for me to feel burnt out. I think my social burn-out threshold may be lower than most, because it only takes me about two busy days in a row to negatively impact my mental well-being. Take this week, for instance: on Monday I attended a big Christmas dinner with about sixty other people, and on Tuesday I had an exam for my Japanese evening classes. By the time Wednesday came around, I knew I needed a break. Unfortunately, social burn-out isn’t seen as a valid excuse to take a work sickie, so my only option was to pull out of the event I’d planned on attending with my housemates that evening. They all went without me, and I stayed home alone.

A few years ago, that would have triggered the ultimate FOMO in me. Friends? Attending something without me? Making new memories that I am not a part of? WHAT IF I MISS OUT ON SOMETHING?

 

Thing is, FOMO, or fear of missing out, is exactly that: a fear based on nothing but intangible ‘what ifs’. Sure, my housemates had a good time – but so did I! My evening consisted of taking a bath, watching old Mock the Week episodes from when Brexit was just a funny word, and catching up on some reading and writing. I was able to recharge from my previous busy days and give myself some much-needed mental recovery, and for me that’s well worth the trade-off because it ultimately makes me a better person and friend to others.

When I’m feeling burnt out, I become the worst version of myself: irritable, anxious, and weirdly more susceptible to eating cheese (a forbidden fruit for those with lactose intolerance). By making the conscious decision to take myself out of the crazy circuit that is today’s modern life, I’m able to recharge and become a better version of myself again before returning to the circuit at my own pace. If you keep forcing yourself stay in that crazy circuit and say yes to things when you should really be saying no, you’ll eventually require far more than a Lush bath bomb to heal yourself.

 

Take this from someone who was once in a musical, running an a cappella group, working two part-time jobs and studying full-time for a master's degree - all without a single day off for weeks on end. When that hectic period of my life culminated in a rough break-up and sudden unemployment, it left me thoroughly incapable of looking after myself. For months I’d been feeding off the smug sense of pride you get from being busy, and when that was gone, I had no idea how to cope without it. (Thank you for dragging me to the GP and bringing nutrients and liquids to my Depression Pit™ when no one else would, Mam.)

Since then, self-care has been my number one priority for me. Everyone has different ways of looking after themselves, and I’m a big old hippie believer in meditation, reflection and just spending time with yourself. (I have a lot more to say about self-care and how glossy magazines and mainstream Instagram accounts have absolutely destroyed its meaning by reducing it to consuming products and alcohol, but I’ll leave that for another post.) 

 

What I'm saying is that sometimes you don’t even know you need a break until you’ve taken one, and that’s why it’s vital that you don’t only practice self-care, but practice regular self-care. You don’t drive a car until it runs out of petrol; you top it up as you go along, and we have to apply that same method to our own well-being before we have an irreparable breakdown. 

 

If anyone ever makes you feel like you’re being selfish for taking time for look after yourself, they were never worth your company in the first place. However, this only applies if you were honest with them. We keep saying that transparency is key to removing the stigma of mental health, but most of us would rather lie and say we have a headache than be honest about the state of our brains. If you need a break, don’t lie to your friend and tell them you can’t go to their party because your grandmother's ex-wife's neighbour’s dog’s yoga instructor just died when in reality you're flopped in bed watching The Greatest Showman for the fifth day in a row. It just makes you feel bad for lying.

 

So, next time you're having a bad brain day and have to bail on someone, tell them the real reason why. You don't have to go into detail if you're not comfortable doing so; just say you're feeling burnt out and want to chill your brain. If your friend is a good bean, they’ll understand - maybe they'll have felt like that, too, and will be glad you've started a dialogue about it. If they still make you feel bad even though you were completely honest with them, feel free to bin them for good.

Now, I understand the allure of being busy. Jesus Christ, I was borderline addicted to it at one point. When you’re busy attending parties, rehearsals, get-togethers, dates, cinema trips and coffee catch-ups, you distract yourself from the more unpleasant parts of your mind. But, really, you’re just procrastinating your problems. Distraction is only temporary, and the longer you put something off, the harder your problems will punch you right in your serotonin receptors. Like, proper hard.

So take that morning off from work for no reason other than watching Drag Race in bed. Tell your friends you need a little downtime and that you’ll catch up with them later. Give yourself that night off and don’t feel guilty over it. And, most importantly, be honest with yourself and those around you. Don’t convince yourself you’re fine when you’re not, because life is far too short to distract yourself from it.

Oh, and start meditating. Just trust me and bloody do it.

Mared Jones is a writer and goblin whose hobbies include dissociating, luring cats into her garden, misplacing her tea, and writing about herself in the third person.

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