I find it incredibly difficult to say yes to myself, and I know I’m not the only one.
Our culture has created a space where saying “yes” to everyone else, never saying “no”, and perpetual busy-ness is not only the norm but the expectation. Earlier this year, I was on vacation and I got a text from someone I was doing a work-related project with. I responded by asking if what she needed was an emergency (knowing full-well it wasn’t), informed her I was on vacation and asked her to send me an email. I told her I’d get back with her as soon as I got home. Her response? She knew I was on vacation because she had emailed me and gotten my vacation responder, so she thought she should text me.
I should admit, this vacation was really, really hard for me. I hadn’t been away from work for any length of time for over two years. I never turned “off”– from the moment I woke up until well after I laid down for the evening, I was doing something. On our drive down, I turned to my sister and my boyfriend and I said, “I don’t know what I’ll do when we get to the beach.” And they both assured me I would be able to find some stillness– I would sit with my feet in the sand, a book in my lap, and enjoy the sun. I nearly had a panic attack at the thought (I don’t say this lightly– I do have panic attacks and I know how serious they are, and I assure you, I was on the edge of it.)
And of course, when I got to vacation it was wonderful. I honestly didn’t look at my phone hardly at all that week– but then that text came through, and it was really frustrating. On the one hand, this woman didn’t work closely enough with me to know how desperate the need for rest was for me. On the other, her assumption that my vacation was a working one, despite a vacation responder that said otherwise, was a red flag to me. I had made myself far too available to far too many.
So then, what would the solution be?
A great many wise counsel have suggested that we teach people how to treat us. Heck, I’ve recommended the same thing to people around me. My dad will look at his phone on a Saturday afternoon, realize it’s a work call, sigh and say “Why do they call me on Saturday?” and then answer the call. It didn’t take me long to make the connection; they called because they knew he would answer (and because my dad is a kind and reliable man who would do anything for anyone).
Even though I recognized this behavior in others, it was hard to recognize in myself.
Very recently, I hit a wall. The heaviness of all that I have taken on– said yes to– had come to a head. Another chunk of wisdom that has often come my way that I have never taken to heart suddenly flashed before my eyes: “If you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else.” It occurred to me that when I say yes to something for someone else, I’m generally saying no to something for me.
This isn’t always a bad thing; serving others often leads to a higher level of self-worth, happiness, etc. But when you say yes to others and regularly ignore yourself– that becomes a problem, quite simply because we have to fill ourselves before we can fill anyone else. A great example of this is on airplanes when you have to fit your oxygen mask on yourself before you can place it on anyone else, otherwise, you’ll likely pass out before you can help anyone. Additionally, once you have your oxygen mask on, you can help a great number of people.
I realized that I was dragging myself, half-conscious, down the aisles, trying to make sure everyone was okay while ignoring the fact that I wasn’t wearing my own mask. So, I did what any young person does when they find their self struggling: I went to yoga.
My current studio of choice is Exhale, just off Taylorsville Road and Hurstbourne Lane. I have practiced yoga on and off for thirteen years, and I have never found a place so safe, so open, and so genuine. An amazing class was led by Cal, and as we moved into our savasana, he began to lead us in a guided visualization meditation.
For those of you non-yogis out there, savasana is both the most incredible and most difficult part of yoga. At the end of practice, the class lays on their backs on their mats, focuses on their breath, and allows themselves to rest at the end of practice. When you can truly center yourself and rest, it is amazing. For the first several years of my practice, I would lay with my eyes wide open, or fall into a deep, drooling sleep. There was no in-between. But I digress because, on this evening, Cal led us in a visualization where we thought about our younger self, then our current self. I’ll admit, I was distracted. I had hurried into class late, I was thinking about all of the things I had to do when I left, and then Cal’s voice cut through my brain noise.
“Imagine your younger self and your current self-meet. What would your current version of yourself say to your younger self?”
“And what would your younger version of yourself say to the current version of yourself?”
And in that moment, it became incredibly obvious to me that both versions of myself were right. I had allowed my self-care to not only slip, but disappear almost entirely. And as I laid on my mat, instantly deeply engaged, tears in my eyes, I realized that I was doing real damage to my person by not taking time, by ignoring my priorities in favor of the dreams of others, and in never saying no.
Learn to say no.
Be conscious of when you say yes.