I am learning how to say no, and when it is important to say no. By saying no to things, even seemingly good things, I am reclaiming my power in the quest of setting appropriate limits around my life. I am creating healthy boundaries.
One of the boundaries I have had to set recently was around my work. Over the summer, I transitioned from full-time employee in the nonprofit sector to entrepreneur. I no longer had an office to which I needed to commute, colleagues with whom to collaborate or a supervisor I needed to please.
I now could create my own schedule based on the self-care practices I have been trying to cultivate. I would wake up and begin my day with spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation. Then I was move in to my asana and pranayama practice. After my daily practices were complete, I would prepare a fresh green juice or smoothie. At least, that is what I thought would happen.
In reality, my life, especially my mornings, was just as hectic working for myself as when I had a boss and a job. I’d skip out on the pranayama and green smoothie to make an early morning appointment. Plus I would stay up late at night working, and be too tired to wake up in the morning. My plans of improved self-care quickly went out the window.
Here is where lupus is a blessing. My physical body will not tolerate poor treatment for very long. After a couple weeks, I started noticing stiffness in my joints. Then I had difficulty bending my knees. Eventually it became difficult to sit, stand or walk. I preferred lying on my back with my legs – and knees – extended (also know as corpse pose). My lupus flared up, because I wasn’t caring for myself.
I knew what would come next. I would have to slow down and rest, while I allowed the medicine to take effect. I would have to cut back on my working hours and allow my body to heal. This seemed like a very healthy limit to set, and it was. I needed the rest. My immune system needed a boost. I had to restart the healing process.
But I never communicated what was going on with those with whom I work. I didn’t tell the community center manager that I was not feeling well, and that I might need to adjust my teaching schedule. Instead, I tried to force myself out of bed to teach my twice weekly, morning yoga classes. Some days I was able to make it; others I was not. When I couldn’t make it, I would call at the last minute to inform the center. Sometimes they were able to find a sub, but there were a few times when they didn’t.
Being sick wasn’t a problem. Setting boundaries regarding my self-care wasn’t a problem. My lack of communication about the setting of my boundaries, and the consequent change in my behavior, was a big problem. My students showed up expecting to take my class, but I wasn’t there. My attendance was inconsistent. The center began to wonder from day to day whether or not I show up. They began considering removing me from the staff – or at least cutting me back to one class a week.
Here’s the problem: I wasn’t filling in the blanks or sharing the whole story with the folks at the center. They saw my numerous absences. They noticed the lack of subs. Students began to complain, and they started to doubt my commitment. Without accurate information, they were forced to make some assumptions and draw their own conclusions. My behavior wasn’t very professional and didn’t demonstrate commitment to my students or the center.
That’s the irony: Because I was so committed to making sure I was at class, I didn’t want to admit how sick I was. I didn’t even think I could ask to adjust my teaching schedule. I was afraid of disappointing the students and center, so I wouldn’t admit – to them or myself – how sick I really was and discuss solutions, such as scaling back my teaching schedule until the flare passed. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. I tried to do what I had learned at a young age: toughen up, suck it up, and do the deed no matter how much it harmed, cost or was unpleasant.
That’s part of my boundary issue. I don’t know when to say no, and I also don’t know how to admit when I need help. Fear prevents me from speaking up and seeking the assistance that I need. I’m working on communicating my needs and asking for help, by practicing in safe environments. It may take a while for the lessons to translate to my professional and teaching worlds.
In the meantime, I have to learn how to communicate with others about my boundaries. If I need to change the plan, that’s okay. I just need to tell the people who are affected by the change of plans. When I don’t, I appear disinterested, unengaged and unprofessional – the very opposite of what I am truly feeling.
When I see a need to say no, I am learning to honor it. Setting a boundary is step one. Communicating about the new boundary with those who it will affect is the critical next step.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.