Managing My Spoons Apparently Means I’m a Shitty Friend


I have one lung. I live with mental illness. I do this amazing Frisky Fairy stuff. I am trying to go back to school.

I’m busy.

Parts of my life need me to consistently manage my spoons in order to continue doing the things I love. What are spoons, you ask?
Well if you haven’t read the original post yet, do so now. I talk about spoons a lot when I’m talking about my life and so, the short answer when asking about the Spoon Theory is this:

The spoon theory is a model used by some disabled people and people with chronic illness to describe their everyday living experience when their disability or illness results in a reduced amount of energy available for productive tasks. -Wikipedia

My everyday living experience changes daily. Sometimes I’m very high energy, I feel like I can accomplish anything. Those days I work late into the night. I write three blog posts in a few short hours. I clean my room, desk, house. I purge my closet of anything that I maybe don’t want to wear anymore. I read book after book until I forget what I’m reading.

Sometimes, I feel fine the next day, more of a baseline. Sometimes it takes me two days to recover. Sometimes the high energy lasts for a few days and then I come crashing down into misery.

Which brings me to Mekita Rivas’ post “You Aren’t Too Busy To Be A Friend, You’re Just A Bad Friend“. Evidently, this post was a written in 2013, but I didn’t see it, and so I’m only just now finding it popping up on my feed with all the rest of the posts about how no one is really “busy” and how “busy” has just means that someone/something isn’t a priority.

When I read Mekita Rivas’ post I came to a very specific section that nearly made me cry

“I’m too busy” is way too common of a copout in modern friendships. And yet as it’s become more common, it’s also become more acceptable – hell, maybe even expected – when doling out reasons for neglecting friends and loved ones.  What’s most frustrating about saying “I’m too busy” is that it’s pretty much a direct slap in the face to whomever you’re saying it to. You might as well tell the person, “Everything else in my life is exponentially more important and worth more of my time than you. XOXO.”

such busy

I stopped and I looked at my friendships and I felt like the worst person ever. How many times have I talked to friends and said “Oh I’m so sorry, I’m too busy to hang out this week”? How many times have they felt like they weren’t worth love, attention, or affection? Was I really a shitty friend? Was I really making people question their own self-worth? I read once that when people say they’re too busy, what they’re saying is that someone is not a priority for them.

They’re right.

Telling you that I’m too busy means that I don’t have to worry about trying to schedule, or finding that I’m leaking spoons because I’m having a conversation with you. I budget my spoons down to the last fucking ladle. When I’m done doing the things I must do (work, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, etc.) then I evaluate the spoons I have left. Of that, I prioritize things in the way I feel that I need to. If I tell you I’m too busy, it’s not because I don’t think you’re worth my time, it’s because I don’t have any energy left to give you.

But how do you inform someone that you’re not comfortable telling them why you can’t make plans with them? How do you tell them that you’re not comfortable being around them when your spoons are so low? At what point do you inform a friend who wants to be a priority for you, who is making you a priority that the mere act of being around them is exhausting for you? If the simple act of coming up with a legitimate excuse beyond I’m busy leaves you drained, how is having a long conversation going to help?

fffb

I say “I’m too busy” because it’s less shameful to me than saying “I’m having a rough go with my mental health right now, and I just can’t be around other people right now”. I do prioritize things. I have a very (VERY) small group of people who I feel comfortable doing nothing with. Most of them are my partners. They’re happy to sit next to me and not talk, or to brush my hair while I fall asleep to cartoons I’ve seen more times than I can count (lookin’ at you Futurama). Even you telling me that we can just hang out and do nothing with doesn’t help me. The mere act of being around people who I am not 100% comfortable with causes me to spend spoons. It requires me to be functional, to smile, to have conversations, to be a good hostess, to shower, when sometimes I just need to sleep, and have a good cry.

Sometimes I don't even have enough in me to snuggle with my cat... Glad he does the work for me.

Sometimes I don’t even have enough in me to snuggle with my cat… Glad he does the work for me.

 

As I write this, I’m laying in my bed, under my duvet. I can feel the exhausted ache in my joints, in my spine, mostly in my rib cage. My head is throbbing, and my fingers are sluggish, bringing my typing speed from 73wpm, down quite far. I spent much of my day being productive when I had very little energy to start out with. I have a friend coming over tonight, and as much as I want to be awake for her, I also don’t know that I’m going to be able to be.  I might throw some deodorant on, and run a bit of dry shampoo through my hair, but likely, I’m just going to have her come and hang out in silence in my room. I appreciate the fact that I have people who I can do that with. I am so lucky to have friends and loved ones who understand my mental health and help work around it. I appreciate that they still take time out of their day to spend it with me, when I know that I certainly wouldn’t be able to do the same.

She's a really good friend.

She’s a really good friend.

We need to encourage people to take care of themselves, rather than require them to be social at all times. If someone is reaching out to make plans with you, be grateful that they are, even if you have to say no. They are making a space for you, and making you a priority. For some of us, that’s a really big thing. If someone is agreeing to schedule something with you, be grateful that they’re taking time to make you a priority as well. If someone says they’re too busy, don’t take it as a slap in the face, take it as a quiet admission that they’re trying to take care of themselves.

Just because someone isn’t a priority for you that day, that minute, doesn’t mean that they’re not important. If your self worth is so tied up in one person’s schedule that their self care, or their priorities make you feel unimportant, it might be time for you to re-evaluate your own sense of self. It’s not my job to manage your self-worth, it’s my job to take care of myself, whatever that means.

So if you think that taking care of myself makes me selfish, that it makes me a shitty friend, then so be it. But really, why would I want to have friends who wouldn’t understand, when I have so many who do?

Until Next Time
-The Frisky Fairy

 

27 Replies to “Managing My Spoons Apparently Means I’m a Shitty Friend”

  1. For me, I try not to tell anyone who means anything to me that I’m too busy. I tell them my truth-I haven’t got the energy to be around people. Everyone who means anything to me knows about my health stuff. Everyone seems to understand ‘I haven’t got the energy’ just fine.

    1. The thing is, not everyone who wants to hang out is a close friend. It can be awkward to reveal your private life to an aquaintance. I want to still be able to meet new people and befriend them somehow! I don’t think my explainations of how my condition effects me ever really conveys what I actually go through to close friends anyway. If I actually went into detail, I would probably just burst into tears because I have to spend a lot of time not thinking about it to cope. I have a rare disease, so there are no campaigns or movie characters to draw conventional wisdom or imagery from. I prefer to focus on my art projects and tell people how much work it takes to be a creative, which is true. My longest term friends are people I see sparingly, and we always love seeing each other when we can. Parties are a good way to see lots of people in a short period of time, and I can save up my energy for that. I think about how the demand for availability puts pressure on people who don’t have a lot of spoons a lot, and I appreciate the post.

  2. A good friend understands about spoons and gives you the space to take care of yourself. I’m not saying your friends are bad, just maybe they don’t know about the spoons. I’m glad you’ll get some quiet time tonight.

  3. You don’t owe anyone your spoons and no one has the right to ask. I have spoons. I have friends. I know they’re disappointed when I can’t spent time with them, but I’ve made it a point to explain to the ones who ask what I go through every day just to manage the day.

    I typically don’t say I’m busy, but that’s a choice. I have said it when it’s “easier” and I don’t apologize for it. The people I’m close to, who are close to me, are the ones that understand what it is and know the value when I do expend energy on visiting with them (in whatever medium).

    Friends don’t have to like every aspect of each other, but they do have to respect the boundaries that are in place. For whatever reasons.

    1. Great points Cerise. Very encouraging to me because I tend to feel bad too much which doesn’t help my battle with depression and anxiety.

  4. In my experience I have found it so much easier to just go with the true. “I’m feeling like shit, I’m sorry, when I feel better I promise I’ll make it up to you”. Chances are, my friend is gonna experience the same situation some day, so I’m happy to let them know that is OK to feel like shit.

    And the people who doesn’t get it? GREAT, I don’t need people judging me, I don’t have time and/or energy for that.

    Loved your point of view, good luck on your spoons!

    1. “I don’t need people judging me!” Precisely Aguzuri. I feel like you all are helping me be OK with doing what I truly need to do for myself.

    2. Love this! Honesty is extremely important in all relationships & boundaries are as well. Congrats for putting both as a priority, which in my book makes you a great friend.

  5. “rather than require them to be social at all times.”

    As someone with several disabilities, this isn’t what most people require of us. What they would prefer is just a straight answer. I think we still need to cultivate the ability to be honest with our loved ones about our health limitations. It’s respectful to them and to us. No one wants to be the friend hit with faint excuses, because then the logical next step is that your friend is avoiding you. Plus if your friend ALSO is dealing with anxiety, that’s a great way to kick BOTH of you in to a vicious mental spiral.

  6. I have chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression. And I’m an Aspie. So hanging out with people isn’t really something I do a lot of in the first place. When I make plans, I usually tell my friends that it’s contingent on how I feel – if I have a *really* bad migraine or fibro flare, I might not be able to make it. There’s a couple of things that even if I’m having a serious spoon shortage I’ll try to make, like kids’ birthday parties. And there’s been times when I’ve seriously regretted doing so. And there’s a very few things like our yearly Comicon that I’ll do no matter how short on spoons I am – those things we plan for the crash afterwards, because we know it’s going to happen.

    A lot of my friends are online friends. Some days I don’t have the energy to do something like a WOW raid. I’m blunt. I’ll tell them I’m not feeling well. And yes, I’ve said that I’m too busy on days when I’ve already got several things scheduled and I know I’m going to be crashing by the time people want to hang out. That doesn’t happen very often, because, well…I don’t have a lot of friends that I hang out with. And most of them have their own chronic illnesses.

    1. I recently have begun practicing saying that it depends on how I feel. The first time I did it, I had a friend give me the silent treatment. It was hurtful. Maybe I haven’t done a good job in letting people know my limitations or why I have limitations but I don’t always want to talk about it.

  7. I tend to just tell my friends that I’m out of spoons. They usually get it, because almost all of us have similar physical or mental (sometimes both!) issues.

    I really do feel like a terrible friend a lot of the time, though, because I can’t give them the energy they need.

  8. This is fine, as long as you don’t turn around later with an Eeyore meme about how on a day you reach out to them they reply that they too are busy.

  9. OMG Rebecca, I wasn’t sure there was another person that understood me so perfectly! This feels like the story of my life lately and I hate to feel bad that I have to choose between caring for myself and what someone else would like from me. I have 4 adult children (2 still live at home), a grandbaby, a fairly new relationship, and I look after my mom. Add to that a fulltime job and I often feel out of spoons. I leave work with barely any attention span left to get home and need attention for usual household things (whether family members or domestics/errands). When my other family & friends come calling and I need to pay attention or be social, sometimes I just can’t. I don’t have enough left and what MAY be left, I need it for me. No one can take my place at work the next morning. I just can’t wear myself trying to accommodate people beyond the several that need me on a daily basis (whether it’s everyone or just one of them) because it isn’t healthy for me. As I struggled more with my mental issues, I often felt people getting mad at me or making me feel guilty because I just didn’t have enough spoons to go around and they didn’t understand. Some people don’t that everyone struggling mentally does NOT have to LOOK like it. Mental illness does not have a look. It looks like a supermodel and it looks like a homeless person. It looks like a CEO of a major corporation and it looks like a teenager suffering in silence. I’m not a terrible friend because I can’t do or be where everyone wants me to be. I do my best and that is all I can do. I am done forcing myself only to regret that I did, just to make someone happy. We ALL have things to deal with that take up our time (mentally and physically) but I appreciate the people who understand all that I deal with and respect me taking care of myself. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I’ve read articles about “bad friends”. I’ve had “friends” call me a “bad friend” and tell me I needed to change. I’ve looked up articles on “friends” who are “bad” and when to dump them. I’ve analyzed most of the issues with friendship like how much is too much, how much is too little, what should they do, what should I do. I came to this conclusion; I don’t care. I realized that I’d have to start bean counting and watching what everyone else did and what I did. That’s way too much for me to do.
    I looked at my life and my relationships. I realized I’ve changed over time. Sometimes I accepted shoddy treatment from certain people for a long time because I REALLY REALLY thought I was going to be alone. Sometimes people dumped me but never told me why. I’ve been able to make new friends as well as maintain long term friendships even though they usually aren’t typical. I’m the kind of friend that doesn’t call for 6 months unless something’s going on.
    And I’m an adult. I stopped kowtowing to people because I thought they were better than me for whatever reason. The less I am concerned with other people’s ideas of what is right the less stressed I become. Thanks for writing this article.

  11. Dear Ms. Frisky Fairy (please correct me if gender is incorrect),

    Gonna be fairly direct here: Your spoons are your spoons, honey. Trust me, people need to check themselves, because let me tell you, when I am ready to give a spoon, not everyone wants what is in it. And I am OK with that, the same way they should be OK with your timeline on your spoons and what is in them.

    I have a husband (20 years at the end of this month!), and he is in remission from cancer. Chemo has fucked his his body. It bothers him. He constantly is in pain. There are things I miss, yes, like sex. My relationship with him doesn’t require him handing over his spoons when I want, need or desire them. I spend a lot of time just giving him massages. I have learned that not every spoon comes the way I originally thought of them, either.

    Because let me tell you this: During our very long relationship, he has had one major health issue after another. He has almost died on me several times. Maybe people need to understand that you don’t always get the spoon you want, but you get the spoon you need. And the spoon he has given me has always been 100% and bona fide the best he can give me.

    My close friends and family understand that I have also given most of my spoons to my husband, because right now, he needs them. I don’t apologize for that. I have no idea where any of this is going, really. I just wanted to let you know you are not alone here, and good people need to understand there is only so many spoons in the drawer. Once in a while, people need to understand that all you can offer is a salad fork. But something tells me that would be a pretty awesome fork if they wish it to be.

    Love and revolution.

    Ben Brown Jr.
    http://www.aceofspadespdx.com

  12. As I read through many 9f these comments, it occurs to me that if these people who want our spoons are friends, then they know our limitations and will accept whatever excuse/reason we give for declining because they are our friends. If not, then we should reevaluate their place in our lives. If you cannot enhance my life in some way and accept me for all that I am, strengths & illnesses, then you are welcome in my life & we will find ways to connect when possible. Otherwise, you get what you get when I am forced to interact with you. Best of luck to all spoon holders. May your dishwasher be ever running & your drawer be replenished frequently.

  13. Yes yes yes yes yes a thousand times YES.

    I don’t have any physical disabilities or mental illness, but I am a busy person. I study full time, work two jobs and also tutor. On top of that I have commitments such as drawing class and singing lessons that I go to.

    Ive found the best way to get around saying “I’m too busy” to people is to carry a diary and make future plans. I’ll say, “I’m super booked up this week, it sucks! But are you free next week? We could get dinner?” It usually keeps people happy because they are hearing “yes, but” rather than “no”.

    It doesn’t work the best because eventually you have to fit people in three weeks later because you still don’t have time to see people. When all else fails, I fake sick.

    But yeah people really do take the attention thing way too seriously. People need to learn to be okay in their own company occasionally. You can’t learn that by constantly surrounding yourself with others.

  14. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories! I feel so lucky that my post has gotten so much movement. I appreciate you all!

  15. Ugh read that whingy post about bad friends. Sounds like she has too much free time on her hands and is very self-centered! I’m so lucky most of my friends understand, even if I just say I’m busy, most of us are busy, or too tired, or too stressed, and we all get it. You gotta look after yourself lovely xoxo

  16. It’s just hard to say a negative feedback to your friend, especially if s/he is very dear to you! Sometimes, honesty becomes a hard thing to maintain. But for me, telling them the real situation makes the situation more easier. I’m pretty sure they will understand, simply because they are your “friends”. You’re not a shitty friend, you just have that personality just like what everyone has.

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