Saying Yes, to Myself

Many Americans have shared how hard it is to say “no.” In our always-on-the-go society, filled with stores open twenty-four hours a day, businesses boasting of operating 364 days a year, and long work hours, we are a busy nation. On top of career demands, we add additional pressure to our lives by shuttling our kids from soccer to piano to art lessons, by trying to throw the perfect birthday parties and events, and by celebrating every holiday to the max. One only needs to scroll through Pinterest or Facebook to see how many people want the world to know how much they’re doing.

Living in such a busy society, it’s hard to prioritize rest, relaxation, contemplation, and quiet hobbies. Furthermore, each time we are asked to serve on a committee, volunteer for an event, bring refreshments to a school party, or attend a function, we feel the pressure to say “yes.” Feeling like we need to please others and prove ourselves, many of us over-commit ourselves. Stretched, overwhelmed, and exhausted, many people want to regain some balance in their lives by trying to learn how to say “no.”

Saying yes to me, saying no to others

The past few months I’ve been working to say “no.” Recently, I’ve stepped down from a board I was an officer on, I told my book club I could no longer organize it, and I declined a request to run for officer in another group I am in. People who know me well have been surprised to see me make these changes, as in the past I’ve always tried to push myself to do as much as possible. While everyone experiences negative physical and mental reactions to stress, I have rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD] and experience an increase in symptoms when I push myself too hard. Yet, even in the face of increased pain, it’s taken years and years for me to truly start prioritizing my health.

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To do this, rather than focusing on what I can say “no” to, I’ve been practicing saying “yes” . . . to myself. When I come home exhausted from work and think, “Wouldn’t it be great if we just ate sandwiches tonight so I could lie down for a few minutes before dinner?” I tell myself, “yes!” When I think about how good soaking in a hot bath would feel on my aching joints, I say “yes.” When I am feeling pressured on the weekend to attend to all the tasks on my to-do list but am tempted to spend a half hour doing a jigsaw puzzle, I say “yes.”

Priortizing myself is powerful

Saying yes to myself is a powerful experience. Each time I do it, I feel that I am important, rather than just feeling that my productivity is what matters. When I try to tackle a never-ending list of tasks, I feel depleted and frazzled, on top of the physical pain that often accompanies a busy day. However, when I comply with the deep-down wishes that spring up, tempting me to do something relaxing or enjoyable, I feel happy, full, and at peace.

By default, as I say “yes” to myself I end up saying “no” to others, as there just isn’t room for it all. Yet, when the focus is on the “yes,” it releases me from the guilt and lack of self-worth I used to feel on the rare occasions when I told someone no. Rather than feeling like I’m letting someone else down, I feel like I am doing something important for myself.

Navigating life with a chronic illness like RA/RD is challenging enough without being hard on myself. Yet, I find that it is all too common for those of us with this disease to berate ourselves for all the things we aren’t doing. When I cut through that way of thinking and instead ask myself, “Am I doing the best I can?” the answer is a resounding “yes.”

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