Be a Floater, Not a Filter
Updated: Aug 6
If you're anything like me, then you might have a hard time saying "no". I recognize the value of saying no, and that I have control over my own time, but for various reasons it's not always an easy thing to do. The word is so harsh and short, often shocking others when it is used alone without any justification.
Whether it's my phone ringing off the hook or blowing up with text messages I feel compelled to answer, or plans quickly filling up my day off after I've been looking forward to just lounging around my house, I find "no" is absent from my vocabulary. I become filled with anxiety that I'm not giving my friends or family enough attention, or if I don't agree to plans then I will regret it and really miss out on having a good time. We've heard of FOMO - and it's a super real thing, especially to extroverts who also happen to have anxiety. An awarding-winning combo, really.
I have sacrificed my mental health far too many times to accommodate others, because simply saying "no" will create a level of guilt that outweighs the pain of having to do something I don't want to. Or, I'm worried my friends will think I'm a boring pile of dirty socks for not hanging out.
It has gotten to the point that anytime someone asks me to make plans, I panic, even if it's something I want to do or they are someone I want to spend time with. I go through my days just wanting to get home, quietly, not making myself known or letting anyone know that I have a free night out of fear that they'll ask me to do something. Which is silly, I know. I love my people. I love doing things. I love caring for them and helping them with their problems. But the balance between my time and my shared time with others is out of hand.
Earlier this week, I found myself exhausted from trying to keep up with obligations. The weekend, a time of rest for me, had come and gone and I barely had any down-time. My alarm was dinging, and it felt like Satuday and Sunday had never even happened. Except it wasn't the only weekend like this. I had felt like weeks were flying by and I was getting more and more tired. Not to mention that my stress levels were giving me regular horrific nightmares.
I drove to work and vented to my boyfriend that I couldn't do it anymore. What if I just got rid of my phone? I asked. Then I could be like, off the grid all of the time. That's how it used to be, right? How did people do it in the 80s? They seemed happier. It must have been the fanny packs. And a young Michael J. Fox.
His response was very thoughtful and perhaps the most important piece of advice anyone has given me:
"Life is like a river, right? Constantly flowing. You treat yourself like a filter, and you worry about filtering all the water in the river, worrying if you don't, you'll miss something important.
You need to learn to just ride down the river, taking what you can, doing what you can, and allowing the rest to just float on by."
My first response was: Uh, did you make that up? Not only was I unaware that I was dating a human fortune cookie, but also that he had been paying so much attention to how I think that he could articulate it with a well-written analogy.
You cannot always be there for everyone, or do everything because you feel like you should or you might make someone upset. Because life keeps moving regardless. It could be better just to ride it out and relax, scooping stuff up along the way when you can handle it. And what you can handle is for you to decide.
I hope you all go through the rest of your week floating down your lazy rivers in inner-tubes shaped like ducks, wearing big floppy hats and sunglasses to block the haters. Make whatever decisions are best for you, and practice saying "no" if that's something you'd like to work on. At first it's hard, but I think it could get easier. Oh, and have a juice box in your hand. Because everything is better with a juice box.