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Permission to Say No

By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director

Two months ago, my husband and I took a two-week vacation. It was a vacation that I really needed, and I made a personal commitment that I would take the time for myself. Like many of you, taking time for myself is somewhat of a foreign concept.

I wanted to be in a headspace where I could relax and be free of anything and everything related to eating disorders. Honestly, it was hard for me to disconnect from work and life. The first two days, I found myself constantly checking and responding to mails. I realized that I was doing an awful job at being on vacation, and I wasn’t being fair to myself, so I mentally switched gears and put myself into full vacation mode. It was liberating and so incredibly relaxing; just what I needed.

About a week into my vacation, while sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, alternating between reading my book and being totally mesmerized by the endless blue ocean, I felt my phone vibrate. I saw that I received a text message from a mom in Israel who was desperate for help. Her daughter was in a similar situation to one that my daughter was in a few years ago; she had an eating disorder plus co-morbid depression and suicidality, and the mom wanted to talk with me ASAP about her daughter’s treatment, which was not going well at all.

I was absolutely torn. The two-week vacation was my time and my space, and I needed it very badly. However, I knew what that mother was going through, and how much she needed support. If I didn’t take the time during my vacation to speak with her on the phone, as she requested, I felt like I was being incredibly selfish. But if I agreed to speak with her, I would be breaking a promise that I made to myself; a promise that came from a place of true self-preservation.

My husband convinced me to put myself first. I messaged the mom back explaining that I was on vacation, giving her some basic advice, but letting her know that she would have to wait a week until I returned home to Israel when we could have a proper conversation. It was a very hard and very unnatural thing for me to do.

I think that a lot of you out there are like me. You are the person who others rely on. You are the class parents, the school fundraiser planners, the field trip chaperones, the community event organizers, the ones who are always offering or agreeing to help. You feel like if you don’t do something yourself, it won’t get done. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. You want to be there for people whom you care about.

Giving to others is wonderful, but I think that sometimes we forget to leave anything to give ourselves; and the older I get, the more I see that this is a problem.

I have come to realize that I have a hard time giving myself permission to say no, both personally and professionally. As a result, I tend to find myself overextended, and it takes a toll on me. I like to pretend that it doesn’t, but the reality is that I can’t keep saying yes to everything, even if I really want to.

We would all like to think that we are superhuman. In many ways, the members of our community are. But we all have limits to what we can give, and it is important for each person not only to know their limits, but to respect them.

There are periods in our lives when we have time and space to help others and there are periods in our lives when we don’t. It’s important to constantly evaluate our current capacity and assess whether taking on anything else is viable. First and foremost, we need to be fair to ourselves, at least about what we can control.

I’m going to tell you the same thing I have been telling myself lately in the hope that it will resonate with some of you: You are allowed to say no without guilt. You are allowed to be self-aware and realize that your capacity is full. You are allowed to prioritize yourself. You are allowed to put down the heavy thing that you are carrying and give your arms a rest.

I never really related to the whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” concept, because if I was on a plane with my small grandchildren and those oxygen masks dropped, you can be sure that I would be putting everyone else’s mask on before putting on my own. But now I realize that is the point. It’s so counterintuitive to put our own masks on first that they have to tell us explicitly to do it.

I still say yes to a lot of things, but I don’t say yes to everything. I have learned to put my hand down and stop volunteering for everything under the sun. That’s progress.

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  1. Diane

    Beautifully expressed, Judy. My mom always told me that if the caregiver didn’t take care of herself, she wouldn’t have anything left to take care of everyone else. Wise woman, my mom!

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