Life lessons #4: Oui!sí!no- The art of saying no and self-care
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
I’m a people pleaser. I always have been- but I don’t want to be forever. For a long time the word ‘no’ seemed to evade my vocabulary. You may have noticed that my blog’s fundamental message is learning to say Yes to opportunities. Somewhere amongst the pandering to people and putting others interests before my own- I somehow lost myself. I hate saying ‘no’ to people- especially my friends. "No" equates to disappointing people. The past month I’ve had many different experiences which have allowed me to learn how to say no- I now know that it isn’t a dirty word and that often it may be required to keep our mental health in balance.
Learning to not give a F**k
Last month I started reading Sarah Knight’s “The Life changing magic of not giving a f**k”. Despite the language of the book not being too difficult- the self- reflective element was tiring. I had to pick apart the things which I overanalyse in my day to day life; forcing me to look inwards and ask myself "Why do I care what my high-school friends think of me?'" or “why does it bother me so much that Spanish people stare so much?”. A wave of guilt arose within me- I didn’t realise how much I cared about other people’s opinions of me. I read somewhere that it isn’t my responsibility to care about what people think of me. Its true- I have no influence of changing people’s opinions on me. I like who I am; I’m starting to like my imperfections and the things that make me ‘Tash’. For the longest time I always imagined ways that I could improve or rather change myself- most of the time it meant altering inherent personality traits and characteristics unique to me. I’ve never been a follower or a sheep- my mother instilled in me the importance of being true to yourself and being your own person. Throughout my adolescence and early twenties I’ve been struggling with that- but now I feel like I’m coming to a point of inner peace in myself. I shouldn’t have to- or want to- change anything about myself, especially not to satisfy the opinions of others.
"it isn’t my responsibility to care about what people think of me"
I used to worry that I would annoy people by posting about my blog- I didn’t want to come across as needy or desperate- god forbid begging people to read the posts! Of course I want people to read my work, its something that takes a lot of time to cultivate. I want to share my passion, my stories and experiences- its natural. A lot of people don’t realise the hours- yes multiple hours- it takes or write and edit a 5-7 minute post; to add photos, videos and weblinks. This isn’t a "woe is me situation" and I'm still extremely grateful to those who do to the take to read my blog. It isn’t a job or a chore for me- it's a hobby which I’ve decided to invest in and share with you all. This isn’t shading anyone who doesn’t read my blog either- I get it, my writing may not be to everyone’s taste or that my topics may be too niche and I’m well aware that sometimes my posts- like this one- take a while to read. That’s okay, what I have learned that it isn’t personal when someone may choose not to click on my posts. Even if it is personal- if they choose to ignore my work because they have a personal issue with me, I know for a fact that it isn’t my problem- it’s on them to deal with that.
Saying no to friends
As humans we seem to disregard our mental health in a flippant manner. We don’t equate a broken arm with someone dealing with depression or anxiety. One of my favourite quotes, which I’ve found this year is ‘You’ve got to nourish to flourish’ and it’s so true. We understand that our bodies are precious- we only get one in life. We take the time to exercise and eat well, drink water and try and get enough sleep per night. Even if we don’t follow these guidelines accordingly we at least know that we should do these things in order to follow a healthy life . Whereas in terms of our mental health these rules simply don’t apply. We wouldn’t surround ourselves in a room full of poisonous chemicals if we knew they could do irreparable damage to our bodies, why do we surround ourselves with toxic people who do the same thing to our mental health?
‘Toxic’ is a strong adjective but what I mean is toxic people are those who damage your mental health and don’t bring anything positive to your life. As a kid I was so good at ‘cutting’ people out of my life- almost too good. I let go of friendships too easily- if someone did something, which I deemed ‘unforgivable’ to me, they would be gone in a flash. However for years I would hold onto a sense of resentment, unable to forgive and forget; something which was more damaging to my mental health. Hence why my friendship group of ‘good’ friends is extremely small. I like it that way because I have a lot of acquaintances and people that I’ve met along the way but my true friends know who they are. As I’ve grown up I’m learning that cutting people flat out isn’t always the best approach- so I’ve started to adopted a three strikes and you’re out method. It may seem harsh but as I mature I am learning that my time and energy is valuable- friendship is something that I truly invest in. I try to be emotionally available for my friends- I give my best advice when they’re in their time of need, I want to spend time with them- I give them everything. What I’ve learned is that sometimes I give too much of myself away. I’m not a perfect friend but I give my all and try to be the best person I can be.
I would describe myself as an Empath. According to Merrim-Webster an Empath is: one who experiences the emotions of others: a person who has empathy for others. Naturally we are all Empaths in one capacity or another- however I’ve found that I go beyond understanding someone’s emotions- I subconsciously start to take them on and this isn’t always the best thing- especially when I’m trying to help friends with their mental health. My mental health can be fragile at times too, I go through episodes of depression and my anxiety is omnipresent in one way, shape or form. It becomes debilitating when I’m trying to help friends who are in depressive states- I don’t mean to allow myself to get so deeply involved but sometimes I can’t help it.
an Empath is: one who experiences the emotions of others: a person who has empathy for others.
I have one specific friend that I really struggle with this. I find it difficult to separate my own issues from theirs. I would say that our relationship has significantly shifted since we started university- its due to the fact that we study in different cities, my interest have changed and so has my attitude. I would say that a few years ago I would bend over backwards for them- I only wanted the best for this person and I wanted to help when they was struggling with their mental health. This went on for a few years- they would call me whenever they felt low and I would be there straight away- I would rack my brain for solutions, chastise them when they weren’t taking their medication- I became in a way kind of like a confidante and support system. It drained me mentally and when my own bouts of depression came and went I wanted to make sure that I was always there for that person. I then realised that this friend only seemed to want my support when they were in times of crisis- I would send lots of unopened unread messages, they never asked how I was doing, nor would randomly would message me to check in on me. My friendship wasn’t being reciprocated. They only called me when they wanted something. This person isn’t a fundamentally bad person, they just took my kindness for granted and that isn’t friendship.
So I came to a natural crossroads- do I cut this person out or do I give them another chance? That’s when the three strikes rule applies. My mind-set also reached a crossroad because I learned that cutting out people doesn’t resolve anything, instead you have to create a distance. Learning to separate myself from the person and their issues is a big part of saying ‘no’. I always try and make sure that the person I’m checking in with knows that I’m there- but also I am not their babysitter, I’m not their mum or counsellor- I’m their friend and a person too with my own issues. It’s damaging to relationships when you put a lot on one person, even if you don’t realise that you’re doing it. Saying ‘no’ this this person doesn’t translate to ‘No, I don’t care about you and your problems’ or ‘no I don’t want to help you anymore’. What I mean to say is that ‘I can no longer give all of my energy to you completely right now, I need to take time for myself and prioritise my mental health right now. I love you and care about you but I need to change my perspective about this situation’. If that person makes you feel guilty for making sure your mental health is in check then maybe you shouldn’t surround yourself with them. Paulo Coelho, the author of ‘The Alchemist’ puts it perfectly ‘When you say yes to others make sure that you are not saying no to yourself’. I recently commented about this on an Instagram story, I never want it to appear that I’m indirecting or shading someone- these affirmations are a reminder to myself that I can always do better, be better and take care of myself.
I learned that cutting out people doesn’t resolve anything- creating a distance is what is key.
Sometimes I take on too much, I say yes before I think about the repercussions and I’m learning to change that. I always try and follow through on a promise however if I’ve pledged to do something with someone that I perhaps am not wholeheartedly committed to- I at times can become a little bit bitter. I hate this trait about myself- it is something learned and not inherent. This year has presented me with lots of pathways and challenges- some that I have navigated well- others not so well. Each time I get one step closer to learning to say ‘no, I cannot take this on right now and that’s okay’ or ‘no, this doesn’t benefit me or my mental health at the minute’. Putting yourself first sometimes isn’t the worst thing in the world; it isn’t selfish and it doesn’t mean that you’re lazy. On the contrary, listening to your body and mind enables you to make better decisions for future you. It is okay to take time for yourself, you can simultaneously be receptive of other people and their feelings but you must remember that you are the most important person in your life and you have to do what is first and foremost right for you.
As much as I advocate for Ouisiyes-ing, it is also perfectly acceptable to say no occasionally.