• Jim Denning

I’m Not Good Company Right Now

Have you ever called customer service at a company you do business with only to be placed on hold? Usually the message is something like “Your call is very important to us, your expected hold time is 12 days.” My immediate thought is “If my call was important to you, you would not place me on hold!” Recently I had someone say to me “Just because I do not text you does not mean I do not care about you.” That statement really struck me. The statement by itself seemed contradictory. My first thought was “If you cared about me you would want to talk to me.” However, I realized the opposite was true.

At one of my last IT jobs I had a great manager. He would tell us regularly, “If you are sick, stay at home! We do not want you to get everyone else sick.” This made sense to me, I was contagious and he did not want me to make other people sick. What I realized when my friend said “Just because I do not text you does not mean I do not care about you” was that he just wasn’t good company right now and I should respect that. So I did.

When I was struggling with depression I would oftentimes not contact friends for an extended period of time. It was not because I did not want to talk to them…I did. However, when I was in that dark place I did not want them to see me. Like a person who goes to work when they are sick, I did not want my depressed mood to infect them. A 2016 Psychology Today article asked the question “Is depression contagious?” Turns out it can be ( I did not want to “bring them down.”

I often felt guilty for doing this so I came up with fanciful ways of saying it like “I cannot people today” or my favorite was “I’m out of people calories.” But what I was really saying is simply “I’m not good company right now.” Why are we not good company? Usually because we are exhausted from trying to explain the inexplicable and describe the indescribable. We do not have the energy to try to explain to someone why we are depressed.

The (not so simple) answer is that people who struggle with depression and especially anxiety have a higher baseline level of arousal, which uses more mental resources in scanning and processing external stimuli. Which makes you more sensitive to light, noise, and especially people. Which causes you to become easily overstimulated. Which makes you quick to tire of all the stimulation and desperate to retreat to a sanctuary where you can turn down the psychological volume.

While this explanation is hard to convey to someone who has never experienced it, just rest assured that you are not broken, or rude or weird…you’re psychologically overstimulated from your brain scanning the horizon for the next threat. This is one instance where you can safely use the age old saying…” It’s not you, its me.”

The good news is that as your depression and anxiety subside, your desire to be around people (assuming it was there in the first place) will return. In the meantime, enjoy your solitude, charge your batteries, watch crappy TV shows and do it all guilt free. You’ve earned it.