Why is Saying No so Challenging?

I often find myself with too many things to do and not enough time to do them. I am the master of over extending and spreading myself too thin. There’s always someone to hangout with, an assignment to get done, a new job to take, a new hobby to pursue.

In my mind, if I say no to an opportunity, then I am wasting my time. My friends ask me a lot why I commit myself to so many different things and my answer is always the same:

Do you know that feeling…well actually let me put this another way. I feel like most of my teenage years were wasted. While everyone else was getting the opportunity to try new things and figure out what they were interested in and wanted to pursue, I was stuck on the thought that I wouldn’t have a future in which to pursue anything. Now I don’t have that mindset and I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up with the people that were able to figure out who they wanted to be much faster than I did. 

It’s a hard reality to convey in words, but that’s my go-to answer now. I feel like I lost all this time to my mental illnesses and I wasn’t able to develop and figure things out the way people my age without mental illnesses were.

Of course, I can logically recognize the reality of that being absolutely untrue. There are people who figure out who and what they want to be at half my age, there are people that figure it out at double my age, and there are people that are constantly changing. All of that is completely understandable and rationally makes sense.

To me, I struggle with knowing that I “had so much potential” and “didn’t live up to it” (quotes from my brain and my brain alone).

There’s a lot to unpack when you lived a portion of your life trying to find a way to end it. I didn’t think I could come back from that. I didn’t think I would be able to learn about myself outside of the context of mental illness.

Today I was talking to my friend who’s in a completely different situation. He’s worried that he won’t be able to handle the emotional backlash that he fears will come with leaving a commitment he made last year. We talked about it at length, about the issues of pride and judgement. My parting words on that conversation:

Look, there’s nothing you can’t come back from. Yes, getting past your own feelings of failure is hard and it takes a lot of effort, but you can reinvent yourself in any way you want. You have friends and family members who support you no matter what. You’re more than capable of getting past the fear and coming back from it, you just have to do what feels right to you. 

Isn’t it funny how we often give the advice that we need to hear?

I didn’t think I’d ever be in a period of long-term recovery. I didn’t think I was capable of it. With the support of my family, friends, and lots of mental health professionals, I was able to design a life I love and get past the fear of not being enough, the feelings of failure.

Change is hard. Accepting yourself is harder. Knowing when you need to change yourself or your life can feel impossible.

I am working to recognize and respect that I cannot say yes to everything just to make up for the time I “wasted,” just like my friend is working to accept that he needs to change this situation in his life in order to be a happier, healthier person.

What feels right to me is not always what I can accomplish in a day. I am still learning how to progress towards being the person I want to be while maintaining boundaries for myself. Everything is a process, but I am much closer than I used to be.


Photo by Andy Tootell on Unsplash


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