I'm Sorry I Didn't Answer Your Text—I'm Just Burned Out

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and nadia_bormotova/Getty

My phone has always been, and will always be, a mess of untouched notifications. There exists an entire contingent of people who immediately clear their phone notifications. Those people have a visceral reaction to seeing all the little red circles with the too-high numbers beside too many of the apps on my phone screen. But messy phones are like messy rooms, and they (whoever they are) always say that messy rooms are the sign of a creative mind, right?

I like to tell myself that anyway. And I have no intention of becoming a person who instantly deals with her notifications. It’s probably not that difficult, but also, my to-do list is long enough, and my general feeling about it is “eh.” I’m ambivalent, at minimum, about the ignored notifications.

But there is one notification bubble that doesn’t feel like “eh,” and that I am more than ambivalent about. Yet it remains, the number inside the red circle swelling, as I continue to avoid doing anything about the red circle at all.

It’s the notification for a new text message.

There are so many reasons I forget to answer text messages. Sometimes I read a new message, and if I can’t instantly answer, I forget to respond because it’s pushed out of my head by a thousand subsequent things that I need to do. (In that case, it doesn’t add to the high number in the red circle, of course, but the text message has still gone unanswered.)

Other times I forget because the answer requires more than an emoji and two words, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth at the moment to compile the words the response needs, or my brain is otherwise occupied focusing on other words.

And sometimes I simply forget because I’m tired of pandemic parenting and COVID living and it’s taking all my energy to just do both. Because I’m burned out and tired and having nothing left to give, even to a few words on a screen.

At this moment, there are a handful of text messages sitting on my phone from June. I never opened the messages to read them, though I know what they say. I had a chance to read them as they appeared on my locked phone screen and then I made the conscious choice not to open any of them. Because the notification, the red bubble with the high number, was going to “remind” me to later answer the text message. It did not. It has not. And as a result, I haven’t spoken to the particular friends who sent those messages since June.

To those friends, I’m sorry I didn’t answer your message. Your messages weren’t about logistics—I respond fast to questions like: Does the local supermarket have paper towels today? Your messages weren’t memes that needed nothing more than a “haha” reaction, and they weren’t messages that required immediate attention for another reason. They were messages that spoke to the heart of this life, of solo parenting and pandemic parenting and grieving while living—even if that’s not what they were meant to speak to. They were largely innocent messages that asked how things were going or what the kids thought about distance learning. They were messages that if I wanted to answer honestly—which is the kind of answer you deserve—would require cracking open the walls I’ve built these last six months and admitting to myself how hard this all is. Admitting the same to you.

The truth is that I can’t admit that. If I do, the floodgates will open, and I’ll have to admit to the simmering guilt constantly telling me I’m not doing enough for my kids, and the weight I’m carrying as my to-do list grows exponentially despite my best efforts. I’d have to admit to the undercurrent of fear I wake up with every morning, hoping today isn’t the day I learn that the choices I’ve made to keep my family healthy and reasonably happy have been wrong. You see, I couldn’t answer your text messages, because then I’d have to admit to you, and to myself, exactly how burned out I am. So I’m sorry I didn’t answer your text message. As they say in the movies: it’s not you, it’s me.

I know there are phones out there where my text messages are sitting unanswered, waiting as little numbers in red reminder bubbles, and I forgive you for forgetting or overlooking or being too burned out to answer my text.

Because I’m sure your reasons for not answering are the same. Your reasons may be identical to mine or they may be reasons that I can’t even begin to imagine. We’re all living through a pandemic and we’re all trying our best.

Most importantly, when you do text me, I won’t ask why my original text went unanswered for so long. I won’t make you feel guilty for holding me as a number in a little red bubble for so long. I’ll know you’re doing your best to be everything for everyone. Instead, I’ll be grateful to see the message from you, because maybe it means that, for the moment, you’re feeling a little less burned out. And I hope that’s true.

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