Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of extremely difficult things to deal with, all compounded by being very ill. I’m fortunate in that while I am very frustrated that the plethora of doctor’s that I’m working with don’t seem to have been able to give me a reason for my breathing issues beyond diagnoses that involve the now hated phrase ‘Just give it more time’ they have all been extremely supportive of me.
My friends, both near and far, have been great and there are major advantages to having travelled so much when your sleep patterns are so screwed up as it means that I can pretty much always find somebody to chat with by text or messenger anytime of the day or night.
However, ultimately the only person who can really take care of me is me. This means that I have had to really radically change the way I look at the world recently.
I have always been the one who puts others first. If somebody needed something I was there. Often seeing the need and meeting it before they even recognised it. It wasn’t about recognition or praise. It was just the way that I was.
However, that came at a very high cost.
My own health.
Being housebound for weeks on end provides a lot of time for self-reflection. Being repeatedly told by doctors that have known me for years, and those that have recently met me, that I have to learn to say “NO” and take care of me first is starting to get through to me.
I’m starting to truly understand that it’s OK to take care of me first. That saying no to others is healthy and that I don’t have to explain myself to anybody.
That last part is where I really struggle.
I’m getting better at saying ‘No’.
It’s relatively easy when you know that you can’t do it anyway.
I can’t go for a walk.
I can’t meet for coffee.
I can’t help you move.
I can’t do whatever it is that you want or need from me.
I literally can not do it.
Yes, I appreciate that you are used to me always being there for you and that this is difficult for you. However, the answer is still ‘no’.
The problem is that saying ‘no’ because I just can’t actually do whatever it is is relatively easy. The hard part for me is that I then feel guilty for not being able to say yes, or that I should find a solution to their problem for them. I also always feel the need to provide an explanation.
Over the last couple of days, I have had to come to a very difficult decision for me that will involve my saying “NO” to something that will have huge consequences.
I’ve been fortunate in that a very good friend, who knows me and the situation well, has been able to talk me through this. As I work out how best to actually say this specific ‘No’ my friend has reminded me time and time again that I need to take care of me first. That saying ‘No’ is OK. That I have nothing to feel guilty about and the one that I really struggle with – that I do not have to provide explanations. I can just say ‘No’.
I’m so used to explaining everything and justifying myself if I ever do say no that this is a radical thought for me.
I don’t need to explain?
But what if…?
No. No. No.
I think that my problem is that I grew up in an environment where things were rarely explained. The expectation was that children did what they were told and didn’t need to know why. As a very curious person, I really struggled with that. It’s what makes me a great researcher but as a child, it caused nothing but trouble.
So as I became an adult I decided that I didn’t want to be ‘that adult’, the one that said ‘because I said so’. However, over time, I learned that there are times and places where no explanation is needed.
Ironically, dog training really helped me to understand that. I don’t explain to my dogs why they can’t run out of the house or ride in my car without a seatbelt and harness. These are not optional choices. Believe me, if either of my dogs tried to make these optional they’ll hear the word “NO” and they know what it means instantly. (I train my dogs that ‘No’ means stop whatever you’re doing and stay still immediately).
With my students, I’ve found that there are times when they don’t need the explanation or rationale; they just need to know the expectations of them. I may have spent hours working out the best date and time for their assignment deadlines. That really doesn’t matter to them – they just want to know when it is and when I’ll have their work marked and returned to them.
So I do know how to not provide explanations.
I just somehow lose the ability when it’s paired with the answer of ‘No’.
So I’m learning.
I’m learning to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty.
I don’t have anything to feel guilty about.
Taking care of me (and my dogs) is my only job right now.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Saying ‘no’ to anything else is the only healthy choice for me right now.
See, there I go again. Explaining myself.
This is hard.
I am learning to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty.
I am learning to say ‘No’ without providing an explanation.
I am learning that I can just keep saying ‘No’ and walk away from those situations and people who won’t accept the answer of ‘No’ and that that’s OK.
Thankfully, I have a great coach in my corner who keeps reminding me – just say ‘No’. If that doesn’t work, just say ‘NO’ and keep repeating myself like a broken record.
So hopefully, if nothing else, I will have learned something new and healthy for myself out of this experience: how to say ‘No’ without guilt or explanation.
To help myself I keep reminding myself of the Polish idiom “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy” or in English: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”.
The next step will be reminding myself that just because the circus is still in town (after I have said No), that it doesn’t mean that I need to feel guilty or provide explanations after the fact either!
I still need to just say “NO”!