Daily Archives: July 9, 2014

When An Opt-Out Isn’t a Cop Out; Inclusivity and Event Planning

I’ve been kind of surprised lately at how many people I’ve talked to who were pissed off at a friend or relative for not attending an event they hosted.

I mean, how rude, right? Nobody likes to plan a party and have the people they believe they can count on not show up.

Frankly, I’ve been a little appalled at this attitude, because for someone like me… opting out of an event almost exclusively means avoiding a potentially ticking time-bomb (me) going off at said event. If I am not there, there is always a reason, and more often than not having bipolar disorder or severe anxiety means a reason that could potentially include avoiding hostile or aggressive social head-butting, irritable commentary, or panic attack scenes that can bring any good event to its knees.

It seems the like hosts of most events don’t understand the sort of behind-the-scenes time-bomb at work here, and try as I might to explain that having one or two ultra sensitive people take the time to discern their presence might be inappropriate as a positive thing, many people take these actions way too personally. At the same time, I think hosts could do a better job of making events more comfortable for a wider audience… but that requires a level of sensitivity and understanding that some people simply don’t seem to posses.

While I’ve gotten a little leeway the past couple years (simply for being so open about what I’m dealing with) there are many people I’ve seen with similar issues unwilling to be straightforward about them or still in denial about having any issues in the first place. It seems like these folks often get the brunt of the host-hostility anger train, which is unfortunate because they need as much support as anyone else.

For me, it has been really difficult to allow myself not to go to an event I am planning on going to. At the same time, I often have a pretty big struggle trying to get myself to go (thanks, anxiety!) so there can be a huge conflict in my mind in any given situations about whether my actions (or inaction) is justified.

Is the part of me telling me to stay home simply anxiety, or is it something more concerning? Would going out improve my depressive symptoms, or make me irritable and uncomfortable the whole night?

Beyond those internal sort of factors, there are a lot of external factors that go into making a decision to attend/not attend any given event.

->Are there going to be people there that I have had traumatic experiences with?
->Do I have an easy, straightforward way to get there and (more importantly) to get home?
->Are the other guests people I already know, or are they primarily strangers?
->Will everyone be drinking heavily except me?

and so on.

When I am facing an elevated mood, my screening process often goes out the window allowing for me to walk into some potentially dangerous situations. What I’ve found is that no matter how great I feel when I walk in the door, certain factors (like being unable to leave easily and without making a fuss) can flip a switch in me opening the door for aggressive mixed episodes or panic up the yin-yang.

One of the more recent moments where this happened left me barreling into a situation where I went to the top of the Space Needle (big mistake, I have a terrible fear of heights) and had to be escorted back down to the ground after having an earth-shattering panic attack in the revolving restaurant at the top. I was frantically waddling (yes waddling, I felt like I would fall if I stood straight up) and bumping into people’s tables while they spent an inordinate amount of money on mediocre food. My bizarre behavior was, no doubt, a precursor to at least one proposal of marriage that night… I guess that’s a fun story to tell the kids!


I’m in the process now of coming to terms with an opt-out that has been nagging me for a couple weeks. Next month is my 10 year high school reunion, and after relinquishing perceived control (I say perceived because I was the class president our senior year which means people automatically believe I would plan the reunion) over the planning portion of the event, the person who stepped in decided to have it on a boat.

This breaks one of the big Sarah commandments, and I know (especially after the Space Needle incident) I cannot allow myself to walk into a confined space without a fast, easy escape route. For me, the distinction between “fun on a boat!” and “trapped on a boat!” is very, very minute. Throw in mingling with the bullies and assholes of high school and what you have is the perfect storm.

Frankly, the whole situation is more likely to turn into the movie “Carrie” than to go well for me, so I have to face the reality; I simply can’t go.

I felt very proud of myself for stepping forward and telling people an event on a boat wasn’t appropriate for me. There were even a few people who joined in and agreed. I don’t know where my surprise came from when the response was the same it had been 10 years ago in high school; you can set something else up, we will go on the boat. 

That is the part where I’ve always swooped in to try to save things, I did it from 6th – 12th grade. Only this time I already told them I can’t. I’m not willing to sacrifice my health by simultaneously moving and planning an event on an island I don’t even live on anymore. Heck, I’ve been barely hanging on just in the moving department… I know anything more would tip the bipolar scales very quickly out of my favor.

I genuinely wish this sort of thing didn’t bother me, but it always has. This whole situation has been a nightmare where I’m re-living being deemed a second-class citizen by my peers. I guess it was silly to imagine they’d all gotten a clue and grown up (at least a little) but I guess that is something I’ll have to revisit in another ten years.


What can event hosts do to help reach a wider audience of guests? Whether it is a backyard BBQ or a movie night or even something bigger, here are a few tips to promote an inclusive, pro-mentally healthy party or event.

  • Keep the cost of attendance low. It can be easy for someone in a high-paying job to forget friends or relatives may not have the same kind of cash. Having an event with a free or low entry fee is a good way to appeal to a wider audience.
  • Offer a variety of food and beverage options or let people know if options are limited. Having a non-alcoholic beverage available can be a great way to reach out to people who can’t drink due to pregnancy or other health concerns. Another great way to take care of this is with a potluck, so people can bring food or drinks that meet their dietary needs.
  • Consider your venue carefully. With those invited with physical disabilities be able to get around easily? Are there allergens like dogs or cats that people need to know about? Is there transportation or parking around the venue? Is this a place people can leave easily in the event of an emergency (kids, mental-health, etc)?
  • Choose your time period carefully. Have you invited guests far out enough in advance that they can make arrangements to come? At the same time, has the time you’ve chosen for the event make sense for the people you are inviting? It is important to remember that some people can’t stay out late because of their work schedule, children, pets, or medications.
  • Be flexible on timing. Usually allowing guests to arrive late or leave early will mean getting a greater number of guests to attend. Likewise, guests who have health problems may need to change their attendance needs based on their health, which might mean staying only for a short period or leaving abruptly.
  • Don’t take it personally. If guests cancel at the last minute or opt-out of the event, ask if there was something you could do to make things work better next time. While some people genuinely have things come up (health, babysitter canceling, etc.) others might have issues with something unforeseen you may not have planned for. Asking if making a change might help will also let your guests see you are genuinely interested in their attendance, and implementing that change (even if just for one or two guests) can do a lot to show that you want everyone to have a great time!