Plans, changes, anxiety, depression, and conflict

I have anxiety and depression and probably some other shit I get very scared and panicked when someone says “I’ll be right back” and walks away from me and if I’m supposed to meet someone and they are late or don’t show up. I guess it’s abandonment.
So my question is: how do I keep from flipping out on my boyfriend when he accidentally distresses me, like when I’m supposed to pick him up but he finds another way home. His phone is off so he can’t tell me.
And I guess my other question: is it fair for him to get frustrated and angry with me when I tell him that doing this is inconsiderate? He said he thought he’d get home before I left to get him so it wasn’t intentional, but I still feel disrespected.
realsocialskills said:
   
This doesn’t sound to me like it’s just a depression and anxiety problem. It sounds to me like either something is going wrong with your communication with friends, or people aren’t treating you well, or a combination of both. It’s hard for me to tell which from a distance.
   
Having anxiety and depression does not mean that you are wrong every time you are upset about something. Sometimes, you’re going to be upset because something is actually wrong. 
  
It is not unreasonable to want people you make plans with to either show up or let you know that they’re not going to make it. It is not unreasonable to want people to tell you if they are going to be late. It is not unreasonable to want people you’re supposed to pick up to let you know if they found another ride. Those expectations are normal, and not something unusual caused by mental illness. Most people would be upset if others habitually made plans and failed to show up.
 
(It might be unreasonable to expect people to refrain for saying “I’ll be right back” and walking away, depending on the context. For instance, that’s sometimes a euphemism for going to the bathroom. So if you’re, say, eating at a restaurant and someone says that, it’s probably not reasonable to object.  But if they’re, say, leaving you in the middle of a crowded park without any clear plans for how you’re going to reconnect, that’s a problem. There are any number of configurations for that; it’s hard for me to tell just based on the phrase.)
 
It is entirely reasonable to want people to care that they flaked in a way that was distressing. Even if they did it for a reason or thought it would be ok, they should care that they flaked on you and apologize if it caused you distress. They should also be willing to think about how to avoid that problem in the future. In close relationships, people make mistakes from time to time that cause one another inadvertent distress. If someone gets angry and defensive every time you feel upset about something they did, something’s going wrong.
  
That said, it’s not ok to regularly flip out at people close to you for making mistakes. It’s hard for me to tell from your description if that’s what’s happening. Like, I could see a few possibilities:
 
Possibility #1: You’re actually flipping out in a way that’s not reasonable. Eg:
  • You: WTF?! Why didn’t you show up?! You’re a terrible boyfriend. You always do this. Why don’t you respect me?
  • Him: I thought I’d get home first. I’m sorry.
  • You: That’s not good enough. You’re awful. Why can’t you be considerate ever?

If this is what’s going on, you flipping out may well be part of the problem (but not the whole problem, because wanting people to either keep plans or let you know that they’ve changed is entirely reasonable even if the way you react is not.)

If actually flipping out on people is part of the problem, then it’s important to learn how to distinguish between how it feels to have anxiety triggered and what someone actually did. If you’re freaking out, it might be best to hold off on talking about what’s going on until you’ve calmed down. It might also help to say explicitly something like “I’m not rational right now; let’s talk about this in a few minutes.” (This is also the kind of issue that a lot of people find therapy helpful for. I don’t know if you’re someone who would find therapy helpful, but it might be worth looking into.)

But even if you are doing things that look like flipping out, that may be misleading. It’s possible that he’s intentionally provoking you in order to make you look unreasonable to avoid dealing with the problem. That brings us to possibility #2:

Possibility #2: He’s accusing you of flipping out as a way to avoid dealing with the thing you’re complaining about. Eg:

  • You: I went to pick you up and you weren’t there. What gives?
  • Him: Chill. I thought I’d be home by the time you got here. Why are you flipping out on me?
  • You: Can you please call me if plans change?
  • Him: Why are you accusing me of being inconsiderate? I didn’t do anything wrong.

For more on that kind of dynamic, see this post and this post.

Possibility #3: You’re responding to a pattern, he’s insisting that you treat it as an isolated incident, and that’s pissing you off. Eg:

  • You: I went to go pick you up and you weren’t there and didn’t call. Can you please let me know if plans change.
  • Him: Oh, sorry, I thought you’d come home first and see that I was already here.
  • You: Ok, but this happened last week too. Can we figure out how to stop it from happened?
  • Him: That happened last week. That’s over and done with.
  • You (raising your voice): This keeps happening! I need it to stop!
  • Him: Why are you flipping out? I *said* I was sorry.

Possibility #4: You both mean well, but you’re setting off each other’s berserk buttons inadvertently. Eg:

  • You (visibly close to melting down): You weren’t there?! You are here? Why weren’t you there?
  • Him (freaked out by the idea that he did something seriously upsetting, also visibly close to meltdown): I tried to be there! I did! I thought it would be ok!

If that’s the problem, finding an alternate way to communicate about problems might solve the problem. For instance, it might mean that you need to type instead of speaking, or use IM in different rooms, or talk on the phone. Or it might mean that you need ground rules about how to communicate in a conflict without setting each other off. For instance, some people need to explicitly reassure each other that this is about a specific thing and not your judgement of whether they’re a good person (sometimes judging people is appropriate and necessary. This kind of reassurance only help if that really *isn’t* the issue).

This is not an exhaustive list. There are other patterns of interaction that could be going on here. But whatever is going on, it probably isn’t just your depression and anxiety making you unreasonable. It is ok to expect people to either keep plans or let you know when they have changed.