Before I was diagnosed with PTSD, I had been pretty good at saying, “no.” I was working full-time, raising a family, and was extremely busy. If I was invited to an event or asked to join a committee in the evening, it was easy for me to say, “I would love to do (that), but I just can’t fit it into my schedule right now. ” I didn’t feel that I was being rude, or isolating myself, or not participating in society at large. If I wasn’t interested or couldn’t do something, I said, “no.”
Getting easily overwhelmed, and triggered is one (of many) symptoms that is front and center of my PTSD. I love the idea of going to new restaurants, concerts, plays, monthly writing gatherings, trying new classes, and attending house party celebrations. I’m interested and I’m grateful for the invitations. I want to say, yes and sometimes I do; but I’ve noticed that I’m having a hard time saying, “thanks for the invitation, but no thank you. Now when I say no, I find myself feeling guilty and anti-social. Those feelings are triggers and old self-destructive messages. I need to be careful that I don’t press play and begin to listen to the tapes of, all the reasons I’m a failure and can’t control this illness.
I’m not sure what changed. My family and friends do not put any pressure to accept or decline invitations. I appreciate that they ask me to participate in events and gatherings. They don’t forget me or assume I’m going to say no.
In the meditation part of a yoga class the other day, all I could think about (when I wasn’t supposed to be focused on thinking) was how I didn’t want to go to another class later that day. I was afraid I would hurt someone’s feelings if I said, no. Before my illness, I would have said, “no thank you, I already do a yoga class on Tuesday mornings, so I don’t want to do another one in the evening.
Now, I find myself stumbling when asked to do something. In recent years, I ‘ve had to cancel some pretty significant commitments, or have had a really hard time coping once I’m at an activity. I have had to leave early, or I have had to say, “I’m really overwhelmed and don’t feel safe.” When that happens, I feel terrible and very disappointed in myself. I feel like a burden to my friends and family and I feel so…mentally ill.
Intimate gatherings and going to familiar places are recipes for social success for me. If I do go to places that have the potential of becoming overwhelming or triggering, I make sure to go with a good support person. I have some really good coping tools that I employ on a regular basis, but sometimes all the tools and good intentions don’t work as well as I hope when my symptoms begin to ramp-up.
I need to relearn how to say, no without feeling guilty or shame. Recently, I said no to an invitation and the person was quite taken aback. I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t participate in that, I’m doing the best I can, and I just can’t do that right now.” She stopped, for a moment, and said, “of course you are.” All was fine as we continued our conversation, but I felt intense shame for saying, the words, “I’m doing the best I can.”
Since that day, I have been watching what invitations I have been accepting, and paying attention to how I feel when I say, no. I’m sure this is all another layer of accepting my PTSD and learning to live with, not fight against my symptoms, but I find I need to relearn the art of saying, “no.”
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph