When To Say No: 5 Questions To Help You Set Boundaries
Tuesday morning, I was supposed to be interviewed by a website and share my story. But I woke up tired. And stayed tired. I ended up watching Facts of Life all day (on YouTube, if you’re wondering what channel). In the past, I would have pushed through the day and forced myself through it. Indeed, there are times when we’re forced to do things when we’re ill like working because you’re denied SSI. But this wasn’t one of those times. This was a voluntary activity. So I contacted the interviewer and told him I was feeling sick that day. He agreed to postpone it to Wednesday. Wednesday was a great day! The interview went well; I felt like I made a good friend. I also sent out the first monthly newsletter with the free Depression Tool Kit for readers who have subscribed to this blog (check your inbox for an email from me if you’re a Fashionably ill subscriber). I also turned in an important application. If I felt fatigued Tuesday, I felt empowered Wednesday night.
There are times when we do need to say “no” like when someone asks you to do something you are not capable of doing or don’t want to do. But saying no can also mean postponing or telling someone “thanks for the offer; let me think about it” and then actually thinking about it. The ability to say no is essential in managing stress and illness. I’ve learned to ask myself these 5 questions when I’m unsure.
5 Helpful Questions:
1. Is this a matter of life and death? When you’re sick, it’s easy to fall behind and you may wonder which task(s) take precedence. But some things are a matter of life and death like making an appointment with your doctor because you won’t get your medications refilled otherwise. If I have to choose between responding to every email in my inbox or seeing my psychiatrist or neurologist, I choose the latter because bipolar disorder and Myasthenia Gravis are diseases that have almost killed me in the (distant) past when they were unmedicated (due to lack of a diagnosis).
2. Does this put food on the table? Meeting a deadline your boss gives you is different than volunteering for the church bake sale.
3. Will the Earth stop spinning if I say no? I was at my previous church for nineteen years. They watched me grow up and knew me long before I got Myasthenia Gravis at 24. For years, my mom and I were in charge of emceeing all the baby showers, bridal showers, birthday parties, and other special occasions. I created all the games myself. I didn’t use anything on the Internet; I would think up unique games for every party based on the celebrant’s personality. After I got sick, people still assumed I could do all these events. One day, when I got a phone call from a fellow member asking me to be in charge of games at an upcoming bridal shower, I politely told her no. But I gave her suggestions for games. Someone else handled the shower and the Earth didn’t stop spinning. People only knew my limitations after I told them.
4. Can my body handle it? You know your body best. If you can’t go on that road trip, then you can’t. If you can’t stay up that late, then you can’t. However, if you can handle the event with accommodations, you should ask for those accommodations. If the host or person in charge can’t give you those accommodations, then you should decline. My Uncle Jun always does a great job of making me feel comfortable at events. When he hosts Christmas and other big occasions, for instance, he always lets me sleep in the spare bedroom because I need a nap.
5. Does this make me happy?
Sometimes, we pay for it when we say yes to things like having dinner with a friend. When I go to a New Kids on the Block concert, I’m bedridden for three days. But how can I say no to my 1989-self? Seeing New Kids is always ecstasy. And I imagine it will be again this summer when I see them with TLC and Nelly.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
Related — Illness: Self-Advocacy in Social Settings; What We Wish You Understood
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