Like Donald Trump, I know words. I have the best words.
As a child, my favorite word was “No.” As an adult, it’s only slightly changed to “Hell no.”
Although this stubbornness has pissed people off, and continues to do so, I’ve come to learn that it is often absolutely necessary in order for me to obtain even the slightest bit of sanity. And in this new year, I’ve decided that I need to up my game and stand my ground even more rigidly.
For the past three years, I’ve been suffering from chronic pain. Just recently, I found out the cause after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a group of connective tissue disorders that primarily affects the skin and joints.
As time has gone on, my physical and mental limits have shrunk as my pain has increased. The fatigue I experience often cripples me and confines me to my couch or bed the minute I get home from work. Because of this, my social life has suffered the consequences. My friendships have significantly been altered, and my extracurricular activities and hobbies have fallen to the wayside. All because I’ve learned that I have to say “No.”
At first, this really killed me. I loved my life. I loved how I could work from 9-5 and then go hang out with friends or catch a live show or go grab dinner. When my pain kicked in, I was left grieving everything I felt I had lost.
But after three years of intense physical pain, and after a 2017 that emotionally kicked my ass, and the asses of many other activists and, you know, anyone with a heart, I’ve realized that sooner or later, I was going to have to learn how to do that.
I cannot show up fully for anyone or anything if I’m run ragged. It’s just not possible. And if I am going to show up for anyone or anything, I want to show up all the way.
Of course, this means I’ve pissed quite a few people off. I’ve had to say no to accepting positions on committees, to late-night parties with friends, to evening Skype calls, to all sorts of events and offers thrown my way. And I’ve seen people’s reactions. But it’s not my job to coddle someone who doesn’t understand the concept of self-care.
It shouldn’t be yours, either.
We all have to know our limits. And we have to make sure we stand firm with them. The second we waver is the second people will think they can take advantage of us. It’s happened to me thousands of times. And it doesn’t do any good for anyone involved.
What’s interesting is that through this practice of saying “No,” I’ve truly been able to commit wholeheartedly to a few select things, and those things have become richer as a result. As an example, I’ve been able to set aside vast swaths of time to work on a novel, something I’ve always said I was going to do but never had the time. Because I was always saying “Yes.”
In many ways, I feel more like myself now than ever, regardless of the many other parts of my life that have disappeared.
So I’ve learned to watch my schedule and guard it with my life. For instance, I won’t schedule anything past 8 pm, especially on weeknights. I don’t care what it is—a massage, a meeting, a phone call, a poop—I’m not doing it. My brain is in shutdown mode and my body is aching. And I refuse to give anyone or anything an ounce of my nonexistent energy.
And this year, I plan on being even more stringent.
I will be taking more time before responding to people’s messages, if at all. I will be clearing my schedule to make time for the things I genuinely want to focus on. I will be making it crystal clear to people that my self-care has nothing to do with them.
We all deserve to be our best selves. And it’s up to us to do what we need to do to achieve that.