Growing up we may have been made to do things we didn’t want to do. Having to say “yes” when we really wanted to say “no”. Being raised to think that saying “no” was bad and we have to do everything that we are told or expected to do.
We live in an age where it is hard to say no. Where 79% of British workers force themselves to go to work when they are ill, either physically or mentally (hrreview, 2019). But why? Why do we feel the need to make ourselves worse by pushing ourselves to our limits? If a dog was sick, we would let it rest or take it to the vets. We would care for it. If a child was sick, we would let them take a day off school. So why as human adults do we not do the same? We are animals too, yet we hold ourselves to these unattainable standards which will only make us worse, meaning we can’t enjoy our allocated days off because we are recovering from something that could have been prevented.
So why do we do this?
Is it due to guilt or shame for not being okay, for making our co-workers pick up the slack? Or are we too scared to make the call to our boss? Whatever it may be it is okay to say no and look after ourselves.
Saying “no” to others is important, but so is telling our mind. We may have a long list of tasks to complete but our mind just wants us to stay in bed. Or we need rest but our mind tells us that we are lazy for doing so and we need to keep going. The mind can feed us with negative thoughts and emotions, making us want to conduct unhealthy behaviours which we know we need to fight against, but feels too hard to do so. It wants us to do things that we really does not want us to do. It screams and overwhelms us with bad thoughts and consequences.
The easy option is to follow what it says, even though you may not want to, making it be quiet. However, it is okay to say no. It is so difficult but the more you push against the negative thoughts, the easier it becomes. It’s a step closer to being “okay”.
By following our minds and conducting the negative thoughts that go against our mental illness recovery, before we know it, we could relapse and step back into our old bad habits. However, it is important to remember that one bad day, or one slip up, does not mean relapse. Recovery is all about learning how to not let one bad day lead to another or a full episode. No matter how exhausting and painful it is to keep challenging your mind, ask yourself this question:
“Is it better to challenge my mind to reach the life I want, or let my mind win and go back to the life I am trying to get away from?”
Following this is easier said than done and I would be lying if I said I haven’t slipped up multiple times. Avoiding certain foods, compensating by exercising or other ways of self-harming. Just be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help to say no. You don’t have to fight your mind alone. Recovery does not have to be a lonely process.
Imagine it was your best friend or someone you really care about that were in any of these situations. Would you tell them to go to work on a bad day or if they were ill? Would you tell them to follow the negative thoughts of their mind when they know that they shouldn’t? If the answer is no to these, don’t treat yourself any different. There is no doubt about it that it will be hard, but it is okay to look after yourself. For some reason the only time it seems plausible to put ourselves first is when attaching our own oxygen mask on the plane before helping others. Although we should be doing this in all circumstances as we can’t help others without helping ourselves. Life is about learning to do this. We all need to start somewhere. By putting ourselves first, we can start breaking down the stigma of saying “no” and looking after ourselves.