Learning the Art of Refusal
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Every year, I vow to become better at saying no. This is often accompanied by a few other resolutions — smiling more, making more packed lunches—but learning the art of refusal always comes out on top.
It was really only recently that I came to terms with high-functioning anxiety. A kind of anxiety that, rather than causing you to freeze, uses fear and insecurity to relentlessly keep you moving forward. High-functioning anxiety eats away at my sleep. It has me apologizing, overthinking, pulling at hangnails. It denies me breaks, convinces me that success is in the unyielding. It asks me, in its sweet and cajoling voice, if I am doing enough, if I am being enough, if I am enough. And, ultimately, it says yes to everything.
And then there are times where I find myself caught in the space between one breakdown and the next. I have welcomed every commitment and opportunity. I am bending over backwards to find perfection in myself as I complete each one. And yet, saying yes to everything can be both a curse and a necessary coping mechanism. It keeps me from having to confront other hard realities. It keeps my hands and my mind and my heart busy when the last thing I want to do is to sit idle, faced with myself. Sometimes, it is all I need — not particularly healthy, but valid.
So, year after year, my goal to say no more often dissolves by mid-February, caused not only by a persistent need to be perfect and please those around me, but also because life happens and working (or, in this case, overworking) is an often necessary and effective distraction.
This past year, I found myself at a moment in my life I can only describe as a haze. A dense fog that made its home in my days and made my sight, of both the world around me and of myself, unclear. So much was happening and while I felt like I was losing hold of the pieces, work and projects gave me certainty—to make endless lists and complete every item on them gave me structure at a time that made little sense.
At the end of the day, I know that pushing myself to the very edge and filling every second of every day was only a temporary way to prolong a feeling of stasis, until I got into bed and the day’s brimming box of feelings collapsed into my chest. At the end of the day, it was my people that pulled me out by the shoulders. Their hands, their time, their sweet words.
It was their reminders that I am a success even when I am doing nothing. Even if I dropped all of my commitments and never again answered my email, my success is in the way I give and hold and love. It is in my ability to go on.
And so, this year, my resolution isn’t to learn how to say no to others. In 2018, I’m vowing to say yes to myself more. To listen to my body when it is tired, even if working helps me get through the day. To understand and appreciate how hard I worked, the hundreds of list items I checked off to be here, writing this, with all my 2017 achievements in my hands. To ask myself if I am okay before responding to a new job request or commitment. To be honest with myself. And, above all else, to say yes when my body needs someone kind. To say yes to being that person for myself.