Saying No: The Dilemma of Disappointing Others and Self-Care

I have had A LOT of people tell me A LOT of things I don’t want to hear. You didn’t get the part you wanted; the boy doesn’t like you that way; we can’t accept you to this program; you didn’t get the job; this medication won’t work; I can’t help you – the list goes on and on.

Lately, those things I don’t want to hear are less about not getting things, but about how to be or act or what I have to do. You have to attend, you need to help me, you have to do this for me.

I like helping people. I don’t think most people go into non-profits unless they want to help people (it’s certainly not for the money or the benefits or work hours.) But lately, those requests feel guilt-ridden, imposing, and detrimental to my progress. To clarify, these tasks aren’t imposing because someone is asking me to do something – it’s because A) they aren’t asking, they’re telling, making it not a “choice,” B) they don’t leave room for me to say no, C) they do not accept, believe, or understand how the task can impact my mental health.

Maybe I’ve created this relationship with others. In my depression and fear of disapproval, I have created relationships with unhealthy boundaries where it is assumed I will do what needs to get done, no matter its’ impact on me. But for these past 1o months, I have spent all of this time trying to evaluate what is good for me: what should my life look like; who should be in it; what I should do with it, in order to make me strong, healthy, and happy. Lately, I’ve felt myself being pulled into situations I have managed to avoid while I have been trying to regain strength. It’s not like I didn’t know they were there. However, I was hoping to hold them off long enough until I felt strong enough to deal with them.

Instead, I have people pushing me around, not respecting my feelings, invading my personal boundaries, “asking” me to do things that make me feel uncomfortable, ashamed or sad. All of them fall under the guises of “family,” “friendship,” or “mature responsibility.” But they feel like guilt and disappointment. I was frustrated the other day because when I thought about telling someone I didn’t want to do something because I didn’t want to do it, I knew the only way they would understand is if I was in a psychiatric hospital, on my way there, or dead. Otherwise, my “excuse” wouldn’t be valid enough.

My therapist wants me to take ownership of my choices. She wants me to learn to say no and accept that others’ disappointment is something I have to learn to live with, but still shouldn’t change me from doing what I know is right for me. She wants me to speak up for myself, to feel confident in making my own decisions, and accepting that others might not understand and might not forgive but that is their choice, not mine.

I don’t think she is saying you don’t have to have responsibility in your life. You can’t always not go to work because you just don’t feel like doing an assignment. But you are allowed to tell people in your life, especially people who don’t understand the impact a social event or task might take on your well-being, that you cannot and will not do something.

But life is more complicated than that. There are things you have to do sometimes, even if you don’t want to. Deep in your heart, you can say no, but at the end of the day, you have to get up and be there and deal with the mental implications later.

For me, when someone tells me they are unable to do something for or with me, I may feel disappointed, but I understand why and I empathize with their reasoning. But I don’t think all people do that. I believe some people are programmed to “suck it up” and “take one for the team.” It reminds me of how people often tell those with depression to “think positive” and “work harder.” It’s not that I WANT to disappoint anyone, but I also don’t want to fall backwards and spend months trying to get back to the state I was in. I find myself agreeing or being dismissed and crying later at my weakness, frustration, and fear.

In the past two weeks my anxiety has increased, I have been unable to sleep, and I feel exhausted all the time, unable to go to the gym, cook, or basically do the tasks I find help make me feel better and provide me with strength. I am going to try and do the tasks I have been told to do. I am going to try and create spaces where I can have time alone, try and get to the gym, eat healthy, and take deep breaths. I’m not hopeful I will. I see myself falling back into old habits.

When all is said and done, I hope it won’t take too long to recuperate mentally and get back on track but I’m scared at how long that may take. As for the future, when these moments arise, I know I have to practice feeling the fear of anger and disappointment and siding with myself and maintaining my boundaries. I have to retrain my brain to not think of self-care as selfish but as sustainable maintenance. It’s a laughable goal – but I can’t imagine ever truly becoming stable without it.

Life (and yes, Pat Benatar, love) is a battlefield. Here I go, into battle, with very shitty armor.

The Freak Out Ferris Wheel: Why I’m Not Sleeping Right Now

Well, boys and girls – good news! You can take the chemical depression out of the girl, but you can’t take the catastrophic tornado of anxiety, doubts, fears, and failures out of her brain – especially right as she gets into bed.

This past week I’ve just been so tired. And out of it too. More so than usual since I’m a natural airhead. But today, for example, I sat at a light, irritated that I had to wait, until I realized it was a stop sign. I’ve gotten off at the wrong exits, blanked on basic information, and can’t remember what day it is and my tasks unless I look at my calendar throughout the day.

I’m starting to break out in mini-rashes all over, and I’m getting sores on my tongue. They go away overnight, but I think it’s stress. Like the constant headache that has become my companion as of late. Or my “oldie but goodie” OCD-habits that are low energy.

I’m also really losing track of time – sometimes it feels like it’s been three hours and it’s just been 30 minutes but other times I swear not much time has gone by and bam – there’s those three hours. Usually I lay out my clothes and items I need for the next day the night before but I just don’t have the energy. I actually have dishes still in the sink. Which, for me, is not a good sign.

Look, if you asked me what was wrong, could I list it out for you? Sure. Can I tell you why each thing is anxiety-inducing? Have a seat. But I can’t seem to find relief. During the day, my thoughts are mostly a mosh pit inside my head. It’s loud but unclear. And even when I try to quell the chaos, I can’t focus long enough to figure out what’s upsetting me.

In the past, when a situation created anxiety or doubt in me, I knew there were two to three potential outcomes but just ignored the positive one. Now, I see the positive one, but it doesn’t soothe me. I keep waiting to feel awake, to feel a bit of clarity – good or bad.

I’m having negative urges. I’m not going to act on them. I’m honestly too tired to deal with the process, and then the ramifications of doing it. Plus, my body and mind seem to be falling apart all on their own without my help.

I’ve tried to help myself by doing a few things. My therapist and psychiatrist are both fans of mind maps and I used them when I was planning on moving to London and they were super helpful. I made them for things I have to do and things I want to do to see if I could help my mind separate my anxiety and realize that I really didn’t have that much on my plate, I was just allowing my future possibilities on the plate, so it was feeling overwhelming. I also tried to list out my feelings, list out the things that were panicking me, list out things I am grateful for. I really gave the lists an honest effort and I hate those things, so I swear I’m trying. If you haven’t caught the vibe of this post yet, none of these things have worked.

And each night, it gets worse. I know getting into bed that I am entering into a realm where things can get bad real fast. It’s amazing how terrifying going to sleep can be. Besides the constant frustration of not sleeping well or ever feeling rested or knowing if I will sleep that night or not, my bed, which should be a safe haven of comfort and relief, is where my calm, cool demeanor goes to die.

My anxiety is morphing. It’s growing. It’s becoming…more complex. Instead of just being scared of an event coming up, I’m just feeling nauseous and panicked about “everything.” That vagueness is my demise. And all of this leaves me exhausted. Like, I can’t shut my brain off, but it hurts to hold my head up.

The chemical depression might be gone but I better nip this anxiety in the bud before I start falling backwards and start tumbling down into a descent I just don’t have the energy to fight.

Memories Erased: A Life Forgotten

My best friend of 16 years, came to visit me this past week from the East Coast. As we spent time together, we “reminisced” about college, our time in DC, and our lives since then. As we spoke, we both realized I can’t remember shit. And it’s not just because I have a bad memory, drank a lot in college, or had ECT two years ago – though those all have played a role I’m sure. But I think the depression blurred all my memories into just this swirl of images and deep, painful feelings. And I miss those memories. I miss hilarious debauchery from college; embarrassing nights in DC; weddings; deaths; adventures abroad and stateside. I also don’t remember a lot of my life since I’ve been home. I don’t remember how to get places from my childhood, or people that visited while I was suicidal, or even how to get to where I lived when I first arrived three years ago.

It’s hard listening to other people tell you about your life. Not because I don’t trust them – even if they lie, as long as it’s funny, I don’t care. It’s that I can’t remember a hysterical incident or watching my best friend marry the man she loves. I can’t remember how I set a friend up with her now-husband, or a gym I went to two years ago. Sometimes I get images, or I look at pictures and I feel emotions about the events, but I think a lot of times, I’m manipulating what people have told me into an imaginary memory.

I mean, I remember that we laughed hysterically. I know for a fact that I made an ass out of myself repeatedly. I know that I was so happy for all my friends who found their loves and that my toasts killed. I am so thankful for their love, devotion, and support which I can feel even if I can’t remember exactly what they said, or when, or where.

But I feel so empty without my memories. They are a testament to a life lived. For me, depression is not living, it’s just being. And every time I can’t remember something, I feel like it’s a part of me that was taken away; stolen violently from me to be replaced with images of searing pain and endless crying.

When I mention my loss of memory, everyone always assumes it was during ECT. And yeah, it fucks with your short term memory. While I was getting ECT, I don’t really remember the other things I was doing. I do remember laughing because I would ask the same question twice within a ten minute period. I know I relied heavily on my mom to keep track of the days. But nothing was happening during ECT that really needed to be noted and stored away. In fact, it wasn’t until I got a job and tried to keep doing ECT that I realized I couldn’t actually live a productive or meaningful life while I was doing it. But those aren’t the memories I miss. It’s the ones stolen by this wretched, unforgiving disease. The good ones. The ones you pull when you need to laugh or remember why you forgive someone after they’ve done something mean.

Every year my dad ages, his stories become more and more embellished. Instead of being a faculty member in a story, that person is now the dean. Instead of him watching an event, he was actually there doing it. At times, I can’t decide whether I’m angry at him for lying, or sad that I think he actually believes what he’s saying.

I’m not one to embellish. In fact, I tend to downplay stories rather than pull out narcissistic exaggerations like him. However, I worry that my memories will be manipulated. Like myths and bedtime stories, my life will be put together through the tellings of others. And now, that the cloud of depression has lifted, I haven’t many things that I want to store in my memory bank. A few lovely occasions, one or two kooky nights, maybe a phone conversation that made me feel loved.

I hope to add to that memory bank – to start living a life and have stories to tell from my perspective. But if we are the sum of the experiences that have made us who we are, then no wonder every day I struggle with the terrifying feeling that I still don’t know who I am or who I want to be.

I guess I should have kept a journal.

Holding a Grudge: Letting Go of Unfinished and Unfair Business

At what age does it become unacceptable to have a tantrum? How emotionally relieving does it look? How many times have you done this inside and wish you could have just screamed out loud?

At what age does it become unacceptable to have a tantrum? How emotionally relieving does this look? How many times have you done this inside and wish you could have just screamed out loud?

I’ve never been one to let things go emotionally. Whether it’s a snide remark or the sadness of watching a video of people dying in another country. I suppose it’s partially hurt pride/jealousy/insecurity (the remark) and the other may be empathy (watching the news). Either way, I find myself harboring my feelings into a stew of irrational emotional precipices. Some last for years, some boil up when triggered.

I was bullied quite a bit (though in my day bullying was quite different than it is today, thank goodness,) when I was a child. I took it because I assumed I must have been doing something to warrant it. And the more I was bullied, the more I thought I deserved it. I was at a dinner the other week and an old teacher from third grade was there. (Random, indeed.) I told him how I had to leave one of the schools I attended because the bullying was so bad and I mentioned the ring leader that started and led the abuse. He told me he had just run into her and she was just the sweetest woman ever. I know that I’m 34. I know this was 2nd grade. But inside I still didn’t want to believe she could be good. In fact, deep down I believe I was angry that others saw her as a great person. I still held a grudge for her behavior and how it tormented me and began my process of self-hate – 25 years later.

It’s not rational. And I do believe that bullying is about peer pressure and insecurity and often balloons way out of proportion. I know I am not the same person I was when I was 9 either, but I also know I have never excluded or banned a person from a group – when I was 8, 15, 22, or 34.

Redemption plays a large role in letting go of grudges and begs the question: can people change? Should they be forgiven for their transgressions? When? Why? How do they prove when it’s enough and how do you create a construct of reasonable forgiveness based on the severity of the action?

Now she didn’t deserve to go to jail, but it rankled me that she got to have a good life. As he spoke about her, I still felt something deep inside – an anger for all the nights I spent crying in my room, wondering why I had to be me – someone people did not want.

When I left college, I moved into an apartment with a woman who was one of my closest friends. At the time, I was in the throws of multiple depressive episodes. I tried not to impact her – staying in my room as much as possible, smiling politely and telling her I was fine but just needed to be alone. And then one day, she brought me out to the living room couch and told me that my depression had become too much of a burden on her life. She needed to live and do things that made her happy and coming home to a house with someone who was so depressed was untenable. She didn’t apologize, she didn’t recommend I needed more help, and she couldn’t provide it – in fact, she turned the responsibility of her inconvenience on me – the bearer of her burden.

We both moved out and I stopped speaking with her. It’s been a decade since that occurred. I have seen her a handful of times since that incident and we have been cordial. For the first few years, if I heard that things were going well in her life, I would get so angry. Why should someone who did something bad, get something good? Her word “burden” had scarred me and I spent years hiding my self-harm and ignoring phone calls, canceling meetings, fearing I was a burden to all my friends and loved ones.

I know now that she was scared. I can understand also the feeling of responsibility she may have felt while also trying to deal with her own life. I don’t think she handled it well, and at times I still wish she had apologized, but my behavior after I moved out has nothing to do with her. She hurt me, but I do not believe it was malicious. I still wish sometimes I could sit her down and explain why calling someone who is having a depressive episode a burden is incredibly mean, unhelpful, and has severe ramifications. I am not angry anymore and I do wish her a good life, but I will never forgive or trust her as a person again.

I suppose it’s the same with the girls who bullied me. I just want to understand why. And I also want them to understand their role and what they have done. And perhaps that is why I have such a hard time letting go. I know that the constant bullying led to a permanent character and attitude change in my behavior towards people. I withdrew, held people afar, and always insulted myself before anyone else could. I still have a tendency to do this – or at least try. As I mentioned above, being called a burden crushed me and intensified my intent to hole up and cut off all help and love.

And yet, recently, in speaking to one of the people that participated in some of the bullying, she told me she can’t remember why I was chosen. And so one of the pivotal moments that led me to years of emotional distance is something that she can’t remember. It’s hard to let it go when you don’t have the answers and it was so insignificant, that the ones that did it don’t even remember why.

But the thing I hold the grudge against the most is my disease. It’s the only one I can’t forgive or forget. I can’t let bygones be bygones. It’s past pride, fairness, or reason. My life’s potential was ruined. It ripped my memories apart, tore through my body and soul, pushed me to self-violence and made me plead for death. It held me back from love, growth, opportunity and happiness. And it is evil and its’ action are with malcontent with hopes of damaging me as much as possible.

Until the scientists actually figure out what the fuck is actually happening in my brain and how to fix it for the long-term, I feel hatred, anger, and wrath towards my depression. Every time I have a good day I just want to yell out “Fuck you, depression! Who’s the one in the corner crying today? Looks like you’re the loser this time! I’m smiling and you can’t do shit. Fucker.” But then I get scared, ready for it to lash out against me – waiting for a vulnerable moment to bully me again. To tell me I am a burden, a waste, a fat pig that no one will ever want.

I can’t trust people, and I certainly can’t trust my emotional stability. My grudge becomes a protective barrier against pain, though it’s a shitty one and my hurt constantly seeps through. Grudges are the frustrations and pain I hold because I still don’t know why. Why was I the one to be bullied? Why did bipolar II have to infect my life?

I am slowly trying to break down my grudge barriers. I realize how much energy I spend on things that I cannot change. It’s in the past and “it is what it is.” Or at least that’s what I try to tell myself. I try to understand the impact of past actions, and accept the inability for answers or time machine creation.

I suppose it’s never too late to find peace with others and more importantly, with yourself. I’ve come to peace with some – never forgetting but finding a way to accept it as part of who I am. But I haven’t quite figured out how to let go of the grudge I hold against myself, my depression, and my loss of potential. I’m still angry, hurt, and frustrated by my life – both past, present and future. And while I know kicking and screaming won’t help, and that I really am so lucky in so many ways, I just can’t seem to let go and trust in myself and my strength of self. I can’t let down the barrier of self-inflicted pain that protects me from further pain. I fear if I do I will get side-swiped again, played a fool, shattered of innocence which really may be ignorance.

I know I will eventually have to let go because barriers go both ways; they may protect things from getting in, but they also hold things from getting out. And so to grow, to love, to trust, and to live, I have to find a peace within myself and let go of the pain of the past, and fear of pain in the future, even while knowing it is inevitable. What a terrifying endeavor to face and yet one I know I must make.

Scarred and scared, I’m going to try and give it a go.

My Force Field Sucks: Why I Let People Take Advantage of Me

When I started therapy in college, we talked a lot about boundaries. I was away from home, but the issues that my family was dealing with, or rather the issues I was dealing with about my family, were still with me. We spent a lot of time talking about those boundaries – what they are, how they protect you, and how to create them. I don’t think of boundaries so much as walls, but more like force fields. Because the truth is, you still see what is happening, you are still involved, but your level of involvement and your emotional protection is something you build to protect you. I tried to create boundaries with my family, but honestly, I think I cheated since I was 3,000 miles away. It’s easy to protect yourself when you are physically too far away too see anything.

I’m still really shitty at creating boundaries to protect myself. And not just with my family. While my mother jokes that we have signs on our foreheads that say :”Tell me everything and more,” I think I allow people to take advantage of my sensitivity and empathy, and stomp way past my comfort zone, and straight through my force field of safety. This leads me to feeling enraged and frustrated, resentful, and very uncomfortable.

I have noticed, when I look at the people in my life whom I don’t feel respect my space, they are usually narcissist or strong-willed. (Not surprising.) And I think often fear upsetting them and the guilt of not providing help to them keeps me from setting relationship rules that I’m comfortable with.

But I’m going to be 34 soon and I’m tired of people taking advantage of me and me allowing it. It’s almost like they decide we are friends without me agreeing to it? Friendship should be a consensual relationship where both parties give and receive. These force field-breaking relationships are often pushed upon me and they are a one-way street where I give my time, my energy, my empathy. I leave exhausted, a bit raw, and resentful.

But when I sit down to think of how to tell someone no, to keep my field up and strong, I’m not sure how to frame it. Here’s an example. I decided to take swim classes. I signed up for four half-hour classes. I arrived petrified and was relieved to find a young girl – I would say mid-twenties. I explained my goals but I often look to the teacher as they have more experience and as they watch me, I imagine they see my weaknesses and can make suggestions. The first class was great – I still was a mess in the water, but I was proud of myself for having done it. The second class, she was late. She didn’t apologize or say why. I really wanted to ask if I could have an extra 5 minutes at the end or ask where she had been (a passive way of really saying that I paid for a half hour and expect a half hour,) but I didn’t. I’m not sure if it’s because I look like I’m in my twenties, but during the second class, she had me practice the moves from the first time, and she was talking to me about her personal life. An older woman complained that we were not following the form of the lane. Honestly, she was correct. We were in the slow lane and it was lap swimming. I assumed we would move to the recreation area or have her pass us, but I stood there in the water watching my teacher proceed to ream this woman out. I was embarrassed and kind of scared. She’s supposed to be a representative of this organization and she was literally turning her back on the woman and saying “just turn around and swim, miss. it’s fine. you’re wrong. just turn around and swim.” And then turned to me to roll her eyes as if to ask for my agreement in her technique. I guess now I know what I would have been like if I had ever been in a clique in school because I smiled and rolled my eyes back even though I thought she was unprofessional, the woman was right, and if she had been more kind, I think the woman wouldn’t have gotten so agitated and the process of them arguing wouldn’t have taken yet another five minutes I was paying for away. I kept asking how my form was, and she kept asking me how it felt. She gave me an exercise to try and work on my breathing and then left exactly at 10 to see her 7-year old client. The third time, she was late again. Not only did she not apologize but she spent the first five minutes talking about her boss, and this training, etc. I was listening but the whole time I was really pissed. I’m on disability and found the money to take this class – what the fuck?! But I didn’t say that. At one point, I said “So just to reevaluate my hopes for these sessions, I want to…” and she agreed and tried to show me another stroke. I was floundering underwater to the point where she had to hold me. I told her I was frustrated and asked what I was doing wrong. She told me to just do the breast stroke. She didn’t continue to work with me, I’m still pretty sure I’m not doing it right, and while I don’t know how to teach someone a swim move, that’s why she’s the teacher!? She had another student to which she said “This kid really tests my patience” and she was off. I got out of the water and realized I had a question. I came back and she told me to meet her at the showers. She briefly gave me a tip of what I could do, and then proceeded to wash off for 10 minutes while discussing her cable situation. I’m standing there in my bathing suit, not getting ready for work, and she’s telling me about AT&T. Since when did we become friends? Since when did I ask about her internet woes? She knew I had work, so why wasn’t she saying anything and why couldn’t I just say “I have to go.” I was so worried about being rude I stood there with a grin on my face meanwhile in my head really hating her. I spent the rest of the day in a pissed off huff. She also asked me what time I went to a certain spin class and I stupidly told her. Now I’m worried she’s going to come to my class.

Perhaps because I didn’t speak up for myself, she thought that I was interested in what she was saying and therefore thought we were creating a bond. It’s an odd feeling to think someone sees you not only as closer than you feel, but thinks you feel the same. A part of me feels guilty.

But still, this is about people who when I offer an inch, take a mile. This is about me being polite and talking with my fellow renter below me, and having him text me the next weekend (he lives below so he can hear when I’m home) telling me to “come down now and hang out.” This is about people not listening or attempting to understand my interests and likes, and continue to invite me to things I have no interest in but then are offended if I say no too much. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings because I don’t think any of these people are malicious or even realize what they’re doing.

While I believe the people who have abused my physical boundaries of safety are to blame, I don’t know whether I feel the same about these people. I almost want to be like them. I want to be strong-willed enough to say “You know what. I paid for this and you are not providing it. You are unprofessional and I want my money’s worth.” But then she might mess up my lessons or yell at me, or critique me harshly based on the fact she knows I’m insecure. Maybe if I tell people they are taking too much of my time and energy, they will think I am selfish, or rude, or that I don’t like them. But without my boundaries, I do grow weak. People take without giving back and I find myself tired, sad and frustrated. I am losing myself without getting the energy and fuel back to maintain a steady energy flow – to keep the force field strong.

I only have one more swim class. I can’t afford anymore. I thought about complaining but she’s going to know it’s me because I don’t think the five-year old is mad, and I know her boss is already mad. Sometimes, I want to be a bitch. I think it would strengthen my force field. Every time I tell someone I do not want to do something, I am not interested, I cannot do something they want me to, I actually feel stronger. I feel like I am marking my space, time and self. And I really think if I’m going to manage in the world, while I don’t want to put up walls, I am allowed to say no, and I suppose I need to learn to take care of my own feelings even if I know it might hurt the others.

But it’s a tricky thing. If people need help, I want to help them. Especially if they don’t get that support from anyone else. I do like knowing that people like me and think I’m kind. I’m glad people trust me so easily. But I do not need it as much as I did when I was depressed. I know now that I would rather be lonely than spend time with someone I don’t like.

I recently made a comment to someone about how I was noticing the more I got to know people, the less I liked them and how I wish it could be the other way around. Maybe as you get older, and you get to know yourself better, it takes less time to know who you want to spend your time with and who just does not tickle your fancy. But sometimes those feelings aren’t always mutual. And I worry I give mixed messages because while I do not care for someone, in order to not be rude or hurt their feelings I still laugh at their jokes, nod and ask questions, and even if I don’t agree, allow them to feel entitled to their opinion. And maybe in that behavior I am telling people I like them and they are allowed to proceed.

How do you stick up a stop sign? How do you maintain your force field when people are pushing you hard, and at your weak spots? Why does it feel like sometimes I want to put up a wall of space or time, just so I can catch my breath and sort myself and my needs. How do I learn to stop being afraid of upsetting people and start putting my foot down. This isn’t about asking for what I want – it’s about saying no. And I think it’s a skill set that would be so empowering and I have no idea how to strengthen it. Any ideas?