Did you hear me? Nah bruv.
The word ‘No’ keeps popping up this week; it came up in an email newsletter I have subscribed to, an article in the Pool about saying no to IVF and during an interview with Marian Keyes that I attended on Tuesday.
Just say no.
Went the drugs campaign by the Grange Hill gang back in the 90’s (no, no I won’t stop harping on about the 90’s, just shut up and get used to it). It’s such a simple idea: just say no.
But saying “no” is actually a really difficult thing to do and a vital skill we all need to learn. From the freelancer drowning under a workload that is unrealistic for one person who feels they can’t say “no” because it is WORK and who knows when work will STOP, as if that is even possible, to the Actor who has filmed 6 short films in a year, for free (even though the crew got paid), all of them utter shit who can’t say “no” because it is WORK, albeit not at all fulfilling and not at all paid, to the alcoholic being offered a free drink at an event, to the person with depression who knows that one social occasion a week is probably about all they can manage but who doesn’t want to offend to the office worker presented with a free tin of biscuits.
No is a really, really hard word to say.
Saying no, however, mostly benefits us. Saying no to the biscuit you want to eat because it’s 11am or 3pm and you’re bored at work and want a distraction benefits your health. Yes, take the break, you’ve earned it, but if you were at home and stimulated, would you be craving that biscuit? Probably not, so take a break, find an article online that stimulates, walk to someone’s desk and have a chat, do something to stimulate your brain. Then, if you’re actually still really hungry, then have the bloody biscuit.
Saying no to a drink when you know you have a problem with alcohol, or feel like you just need a week off because you’ve been excessive what with all the joy of spring arriving, or because actually right now, even though it’s free, you just don’t fancy it, saying no is for you. Saying yes is because you want to be polite, the friend with you is having one and you don’t want to spoil their fun by not indulging, insert excuse here, etc.
And that is why we find the word so unbelievably difficult. Saying “No” is about establishing boundaries for yourself, telling the World your needs and we are surprisingly bad at asserting those for ourselves and very good at putting the needs of others first, on a personal level, we are shockingly bad at putting the needs of others before us on a societal level (shout out to capitalist offshore tax barons), probably because on a personal level there is an immediate form of judgement. “Go on, have a drink, it’s Thursday!” “Don’t be a bore, we’re all in the pub, come down!” “I haven’t seen you all week.”
“No” is very often followed with all the reasons why everyone else thinks you should say yes. “You’re my go to insert job title here” “I know you’ve been working late all week but if you could just stay behind because I need a meeting about…” blah blah blah. People do everything to get us to say “Yes.” And it can be incredibly flattering when people want to see us socially, or want us for work, or a partner or parent or sibling needs us and when you have the energy and resources and desire to fulfil those peoples wants and needs, brilliant. But when you don’t, it’s really okay to say “No”, even whilst they protest. In fact, it is important that you do.
Saying “No” is about self-care and as the age old saying goes “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others”. You cannot be of any use to anyone if you suffocate before able to get the oxygen mask on his or her face, so fix yours and then help. This is so true in life, when you are overworked your work suffers and ultimately so to do the clients or company you are working for. When you over-extend yourself socially, those interactions suffer because you are half listening, or too tired. When a relationship starts to make you feel anxious, or sad, or even rejected, even if that person really wants you around but can’t offer what you need, yet, or most likely ever, you do neither of you any favours by sticking around. Least of all you, living in perpetual hope will lead only to misery. In the end someone has to hurt someone and someone has to get hurt. You know the one “he’s just not that into you”. Take the hint and walk away.
“2016 is the year of No”, I declared to anyone who would listen late last year after I had reached summer without a weekend to myself and still had a diary literally full of events to take me to Christmas. I was spent, I was running on empty, I was miserable as hell at work, and I was running from all of it by saying “yes, yes, yes” to everything. So I decided to say “no” more. I meant it as I said it but I had no idea how much I meant it. I thought that I was going to apply it to just social events but so far I have said no to a lot this year. Even this week, despite asking my temp agency to consider me for work, as I really need to start earning more and generating work is still slow; I said “no” when they offered me two days work because I didn’t like the sound of it. I knew it would make me feel anxious and bored and that I wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on freelance stuff whilst there. So no thanks.
I have said no to a relationship, I have said no to countless social events, I have said no to chocolate and recently I have said no to alcohol, consistently and I’m really beginning to feel the benefits, not just of giving myself more time, or eating healthier or drinking less, in fact not at all, but by putting myself first I am finally treating myself with the care and attention I deserve. And by actively doing that my self-esteem is coming back. I am spending my days pitching for work that match my skill set and asserting to anyone who will listen that “I am good enough to write for you” until eventually they crack and agree with me. I am telling my friends that although I totally love them, my brain has limited capacity for stimulation because of my depression and so I can’t see you today, but I will as soon as I can. I am deciding to put my energy to the thing I truly love, being creative, the part of me I want to nourish and encourage and I am so much happier because of it.
Which I know sounds ironic when I recently went back on the happy pills. But even that was me just taking care of me, making sure I catch myself before I fall. Last year someone said to me “maybe it’s because you feel like you’ve been looking after yourself for so long, that you just want someone else to look after you.” They were right, I did want someone to look after me, but it wasn’t because I had been looking after myself for so long, it was because I hadn’t been looking after myself for so long. I didn’t know that at the time but I see it clear as day now, I needed looking after and who better to look after me, than me. I am not going anywhere, if I die, I die with me, I can’t leave me for someone else, I can’t grow apart from me, I can’t move away from me like everyone else can. I’m in this with myself, so of course it should be me who looks after me. Absolutely I need my friends and family and lovers (even the passing ones) because we all need other people and of course I love when they listen and hold me and give me advice and help look after me, but they can only help look after me if I am willing to play a part and also take responsibility for looking after myself. And I can only look after them by looking after myself too, so that when they need help I have the strength and energy to give it to them.
Just say no.
You can’t right now.
Because by saying no, you are helping everyone.
Go on; put that oxygen mask on first.