What Do You Say to Friends When You Have to Cancel Plans?

Having to cancel plans on a regulalar basis is something people with a chronic illness often have to do, much to their disappointment and to the disappointment of others. I decided to ask our Online Community how they explain to people when they have to pull out of an arrangement to meet up.

‘Having to cancel plans is horrid. I often end up feeling both guilty and also angry with this frustrating illness. Then I end up feeling lonely and sad that I’ve missed out, again!’ It depends on who the people are but I generally keep it quite brief. I just explain that I’m not up to it today but that hopefully I will be next time. I also try to forewarn people so that they understand that I may have to pull out at short notice because of illness and not because I don’t want to be there.’

‘I am lying in bed having just phoned a friend to cancel her coming over for a coffee this morning. I am housebound. I am lucky as my friends all understand yet even after 19 years, it still makes me feel very uncomfortable.’

‘I have accepted this is how my life is. Sometimes I can have a visitor without warning and other times, I cannot. I’m past the stage where it makes me feel guilty as there is certainly no room for guilt. I’ve got enough emotional stuff to cope with.I do not choose to be so ill so there’s nothing to be guilty about.’

‘I started thinking of my answer and I realised that I still don’t know the best way to cope with this. I have lost friends over this, as they just didn’t understand why I cancelled plans. Particularly friends with kids; they tend to despise when I say “I am exhausted“, because I don’t have kids… so surely I don’t know the meaning of the word “exhausted”, unlike them.’

‘I don’t make plans anymore. My boyfriend told me the other day, “You never want to do anything” and it broke my heart. It is a mix of tiredness and anxiety, which means I hardly go out anymore. It breaks my heart because I want to go out with my boyfriend, meet up with my friends and go out shopping etc but I am not in the right state, mentally or physically.’

‘My answers vary depending on who it is. With some people, I make up excuses and with others, I can tell the truth because they have a chronic illness too and so they understand.’

‘The sad reality is I’ve stopped making plans so I don’t have to cancel’

‘I don’t cancel I always go and then spend the next few days, or more, ill in bed, I always put a brave face on as none of us know how much longer we are on this earth for.’

‘I no longer make plans. I  just decline everything these days as it makes life easier.’

We all want to live life and enjoy it, to be around amazing company and interact with our friends. It is far from easy when you live with a chronic illness to go with the flow, feel up to going out and meeting people and it’s even more soul-destroying when you have to cancel plans you may have spent days, weeks or even months looking forward to. Often it is the guilt that eats away at you the most. You worry that your loved ones will stop inviting you, forget about you and won’t understand your reasoning for cancelling or your illness.

There is no easy way to make this question hurt less. We have all be burnt by the painful emotions that come with cancelling plans, missing out and upsetting others. We don’t mean to upset others and we feel wracked with guilt. It is difficult to be at peace with our responses. It becomes easier to stop making plans, to stop seeing and in some cases even speaking to friends because we don’t want to hurt them anymore and we don’t want to bring ourselves anymore stress and upset either.

We forget that the people who are family and true friends will always understand as best they can and that they will work around us to be flexible and won’t get offended. We must try to be open and honest with people and be respectful towards ourselves and our circumstances. We don’t cancel out of spite or cruelty. We are listening to our bodies and respecting what our bodies are telling us.

We must try to think about how friends and family would act in your situation. There is no doubt that they would cancel if they were feeling unwell and not really think twice about it. They would know their body was not well enough or that the event was just a little too much for them to handle. That is how we should all look at it. We wouldn’t be mad at our friends and family for cancelling on us, because we KNOW and understand what it is like being in that situation, all too well. We wouldn’t want them feeling guilty or adding to their upset and people who really care will feel the same about you.

Some tips and advice that may help:

  1. Ensure everyone you make plans with knows exactly how you are feeling (mind and body). Express any anxieties, any pain and what symptoms you are experiencing so they know exactly what is going on. It is only fair to them.
  2. Express that they may have to be flexible depending on your symptoms on the day of the arrangement. This will prepare your loved one that you may be late, have to leave early or change the plan slightly.
  3. Let your loved one know as soon as you know you will have to cancel. This will give them time to go out with someone else, work out another plan or reschedule.
  4. Offer alternative ideas. If you can’t go out for dinner maybe suggest that a quick coffee or a night in watching a movie would suit you better.
  5. Listen to your body and your heart. You know when you can’t and shouldn’t be committing to a plan. You know when you need to cancel. Don’t let the guilt take over or push yourself to please others. The people who matter will always understand and if people do start being cruel, then they aren’t true, understanding friends. You are doing the BEST you can, given the circumstances.

There are no rules. Living life isn’t defined by how many times you leave the house, how many holidays you go on or how many events you attend.  You define your life and your legacy. As long as you do as much as you can and always give your best, nobody can ever expect anymore from you. The people who matter will always be our cheerleaders; there for support and they will add sparkle to our lives.

Don’t feel guilty for listening to your body. Take it as a great strength that you have mastered the art of listening to what your body has to say. Congratulate yourself on being so strong and don’t punish yourself.

The responses really did break my heart. I am so proud of the brave people who shared their answers with us. Thank you! You are all so strong because even though the answers meant plans were cancelled due to health reasons, you have begun the process of understanding that YOUR needs are important and that the people who matter will work with you and not against you. You have NOTHING to feel guilty about. So, I thank you for helping to show others that cancelling plans can be a strength, not a weakness.


Sophie Ward