Friday, August 26, 2016

When Saying Yes Means Saying No

"Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 19:19

“Come on, it will be fun!” she said. “We can drive up together!”

The invitation was tempting. I had already stepped out of my comfort zone, committing to a retreat that was still a couple of months away, all the while knowing that during this season of the year I am prone to chronic migraines. Nevertheless, I wanted to get to know a few of the women in my support group better, and it sounded like a fun way to do it.

The problem now, however, was that my new friend wanted to take it a step further. She wanted me to drive together to the retreat, almost two hours away, in one car. To many people, that – three or four women on a road trip together – would sound like a blast. But to me, it was terrifying.

How does one explain to someone what it’s like to live with the unpredictability of chronic illness? Even more so, living with multiple chronic illnesses? While some people will say “you don’t have to explain yourself,” I felt bad. I didn’t want to appear like I was rejecting my friend, or her offer. But I had been there before.

Three years in a row, I have taken long weekends with my husband in the fall for an annual getaway, and each of them ended up being marred by my illness. This year, we decided to can the whole thing and try a “staycation” with the caveat that if I were feeling up to it, we could go somewhere close by for just one night. It grieves me to have to do that.

Our fall trip was something we hoped to make into a tradition. But who wants a tradition of trips that consist of me in bed, writhing in excruciating pain? Oh, there were moments of relief here and there, when the meds kicked in, but then I was left wandering around with brain fog. Thanks, but if I’m going to feel that bad, I’d rather just be home.

So here I am, with a women’s retreat coming up a few months from now, wondering how to gently explain my situation to someone who is just wanting to have fun, and was kind enough to include me in the group plans. I prayed to find the right words.

“I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and chronic migraines. I have to be able to take care of myself.”

And with that, she said OK. She understood. Or at least I think she did.

The decisions we have to make in order to take care of ourselves are not always easy. As people living with chronic illness, we often get general advice. Eat healthier. Exercise. Drink more water. Reduce your stress. Get plenty of rest. Know your limits! All great ideas, but implementing these strategies can sometimes be tricky.

Sometimes, in order to give others our best yes, we have to say no.

What if getting plenty of rest means taking a nap every day? Try explaining that to an employer who wants to schedule a full day of meetings, to your child who wants to go out and play just when your energy level is dropping, or to a friend who wants to plan an all-day outing. 

Only we know what we can handle and what we can’t. Perhaps we can push our limits and go for it. But that comes with a price. If we push too hard, we may sabotage our health to the point of missing a whole lot more meetings, outings or playtime. Better to just be honest and ask if there’s a way to work around our needs. At work, that may mean asking for a longer lunch hour or more breaks in between meetings. At home, that may be asking your child for rainchecks, with specific make-up timeframes, after you’ve had your nap. And with friends, it may be asking for a half-day outing, or agreeing to meet up later after your daily rest.

Perhaps you’ve discovered you need a particular morning routine to keep you at your best. Maybe it’s exercise, or eating at a particular time, or meditation. Whatever it is, if you have a routine, then you know that if gets thrown off, you may be paying for it not just that day, but for days to come. That’s reason enough to keep yourself from being pressured into breakfast meetings or early morning social activities. And if it is something you can’t avoid, then at least let the organizer know your preference for it to be an exception rather than the rule.

Maybe you know you have to take a bubble bath at night, to stave off morning migraines, and you need a quiet, early bedtime. Then guess what? That late-night scrapbooking group or conference “after party” might not work for you. You can still have fun! Stay as late as you want, and when it’s time for you to leave, leave! Life is too short to worry about whether people will think you’re a party pooper, just because you can’t stay all night.
Knowing what you can’t do opens up you up to exploring what you CAN do.
If you have RA, psoriatic arthritis, or lupus, you might have to limit your physical activities as well. Maybe you can walk well enough to go shopping, but not enough for a hike. Or know you can kayak for an hour, but not for two. Sun, or even temperature, may be an issue. With autoimmune diseases in particular, so many factors come into play that affect what we can and can’t do, including the medicines that we take to treat our illnesses. Don’t worry about what you can’t do; focus on what you can. You may be able to enjoy all your favorite pastimes, in limited quantities, or you may even pick up a new hobby or activity along the way!

Knowing how to care for ourselves comes with time and experience. And for me, the number one rule I follow is to always have an exit strategy. I always, always, always give myself an out. Twenty years ago, when I decided to quit drinking, that meant renting my own car on a business trip, because my colleagues were all going to the Coors factory. Today, it means “penciling in” plans and driving separately to events, in case I’m not well enough to participate or need to leave early.

I am grateful that the experience of planning for this upcoming retreat has given me a new tool for living with my illnesses. Vocalizing “I need to be able to take care of myself” is not always easy, but it’s something we need to be able to do. It is learning to set boundaries, in the kindest of ways. It is realizing that in my quest to love my neighbor as myself, my best “yes” may include the word “no.”

How do you deal with limits and boundaries, as it pertains to taking care of yourself? Do you find others receptive to them, or is it a struggle? What are some specific techniques you use to care for yourself? Do you realize that living by the Golden Rule doesn’t mean just loving others, but loving yourself too?

When Saying Yes Means Saying No originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' #IntentionalTuesday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Arabah Joy's Grace & Truth, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. This week, I am also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.

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  1. For years now, I’ve needed a nap in the afternoon in order to not be a blithering idiot with the pain by the time I go to bed. I got really tired of people commenting about how nice it must be to nap – this isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity. So instead of calling them naps, I now call them Mandatory Rest Periods. Honesty about my needs, both with myself and others, has been very liberating.

    1. There you go! Mandatory Rest Periods - I love it! I never thought about renaming something so that others would really understand that our self-care isn't optional. Perhaps I'll rename my bubble baths "mandatory soaks," LOL. That's truly about right! Thanks for sharing, Lene!

  2. My husband is a disabled vet and his knee pain doesn't allow him to walk for long periods of time. We had to change our shopping and outing trips around to make sure he can still enjoy life without everything being a burden. Also, I home school our 3 kids and he isn't home much as he drives a truck so I know my limits very well. Last year I took on too much at church and had a breakdown almost and had to back out of everything because I couldn't discern what God wanted me to do. We were just going through a really hard time on top of everything else and I truly believe God worked it out for our good anyways. I have to learn that I can't do it all, though I want to help everyone. Knowing all this, I ask for prayer because another situation has arised and I need wisdom and discernment to know what to do. It is regarding another opportunity at church and I am asking God to show me if I should actually say yes to this one or keep everything at the pace it is for now, which I know I can handle. It a is big deal because I tend to get anxiety when overwhelmed. The kind where you get hot and almost pass out! I also don't want to go into something not being able to give my best. Thanks for allowing us to share here, friend, and it is my first time visiting too! Stopping by from Moment of Hope. :)

    1. Hi Meg, I'm so glad you found me on Moments of Hope! Yes, this is always a place you can share your heart - whether it is your struggles or your joy! I completely understand how you feel about your commitments at home and church. I wrestle with the same tendency to over-commit, whether it's about trying to help others or just wanting to make the most of every opportunity to enjoy life! There is a Bible study at church I want to attend, and yet, my question is the same as yours: Do I really have the time?? I think our best answers come through prayer. God knows our needs and our desires, and only He knows how to balance the two. Wise counsel is also helpful, whether it is from your husband or a friend. Sometimes others can see what we don't (like when we are taking on too much). I will keep you in my prayers for you to make a wise decision! God bless.

  3. I have been learning this myself... putting healthy limits on my schedule, commitments and time. Going to bed at a decent time, exercising, drinking more water, eating healthy, etc. are all good things. I'm learning that time... and a good use of the time... is also so important in accomplishing our goals and what I want/need accomplished in my day. Setting timers for certain tasks keeps me focused. Scheduling a menu with the weeks appointments and activities in mind helps the family run more smoothly. Thanks for these reminders and encouraging words! (Your neighbor at #TellHisStory)

    1. Well, hi Rachel! In addition to being in some of the same link-ups, I know you from Twitter! I loved your post this week. It hit SO close to home! While I may not have a dried flower in my purse, there are too many times when my daughter says "remember when I told you about..." and I realize I was only half paying attention, while my mind was off in my to-do list. Yes, taking time for ourselves and for our family members is so important. We just can't do everything. I like your timer idea. What a great way to stay completely "present" in the moment, while still accomplishing a lot. I'm going to try that! Have a blessed day, Rachel.

  4. Linda, thank you for sharing your wisdom gained through walking this difficult road. I pray that you have a wonderful time at the retreat with no episodes. -- Learning what our limitations are is part of life, and even when you don't have a chronic illness, we often make poor decisions to "please others" that are harmful to our emotional, mental, and physical well being. -- I am learning that no is not a bad word, and it's liberating.

    Blessings to you!

    1. You are right, Lyli! I have heard the term "recovering people pleaser" before and I could definitely relate to it. It's so hard when you feel you may have to let others down, and yet, as I learned during this particular episode, when we say no, sometimes that actually enables us to give our best yes! Even though I had to say no to a tiny piece of the trip, I'm looking forward to the retreat itself. Knock on wood, it will hopefully go well! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. There's a lot of wisdom in your words. I don't have a chronic illness but I appreciated reading this because of the greater understanding it has given me for people who do. I like the advice of always giving yourself a way out. I can use that. Thank you for linking with Grace and Truth last week.

    1. Thanks, Dawn! I wish I had thought about giving myself a way out when I was young and single. That's a good safety rule in dating too. Interestingly, the Bible says that when we are faced with temptation, God will always provide a way out. So, hey, even He knows we can't always handle what we want or think we can handle! :-) Have a blessed day!