How I Lost Myself in the Yes

Content warning: This piece discusses mental health issues including anxiety, panic attacks and depression. No explicit or graphic depiction.  

 

It was an average Thursday in November of last year, at roughly 11:30 am. As my friends and peers were in class or studying or working or sleeping, I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor of a bathroom stall in a building on campus, sobbing uncontrollably. Sobbing and shaking, my hands and arms and face completely numb. Because at 11:30 in the morning it had already been A DAY.

This one mental breakdown was not out of the ordinary for me. I was having these little breakdowns, which were later professionally characterized as panic attacks, five or six times a week, and I was hiding them from everyone. I was taking on too much but I would never admit to it. I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping and I was drinking an unhealthy amount of caffeine.

I got up, wiped the tears from my eyes,  fixed my makeup and put on smile to go to my next commitment of the day, and then another 10 more commitments after that. You may be wondering what led me to this unhealthy place, and the only way that I can really describe it is that I am a people pleaser.

woman touching her hair in front of mirror

 

Photo by Mikail Duran

 

A people pleaser or a ‘yes (wo)man’ is someone who has a want or need to please others, so they do so by agreeing with them, or doing what they ask or going out of your way in order make others happy. They are often accused of being ingenuine but instead are so genuine in their love and care for others, that they prioritize others’ needs and happiness over their own. So being the people pleaser I am, I say yes. Yes to activities I may not want to do or places I may not want to go. And I don't mind because for me, making other people's lives even slightly easier or happier or better is worth the extra work I have to put in. The issue was that I was saying yes so often that I had taken on way more than I could handle. Though often recommended to me, I refused to lighten my load or say no because I was so incredibly scared to let everyone down.

It took my a very long time to realize how unhealthy this need to please others was on my physical, emotional and mental health. I was in denial because all I could say is, “well, they need me,” or, “I need to be there,” or, “I can't say no or cancel.” I fell behind in school, my mental health had gotten worse and I dreaded the thought of waking up in the morning. I didn't exactly know when or how my life had become like this, but I did know that I didn't recognize this person I’d become.

Photo by Riccardo Mion

 

After hitting my own version of  rock bottom, it hit me that I couldn't live this way anymore. I ended the cycle, cut down my commitments and started saying no. I was suddenly putting myself first and saying no to things that I know would negatively affect my mental health. I was standing up for myself and about things I believed in and stopped passively accepting the negativity in my life. I was finally free and it felt so good.

Why did I tell this story, you may wonder, and the reason for that is simple. Once noticing this unhealthy habit in myself, I started to see it in others all the time. I see it in my sister, in my best friends, in my coworkers. I hope you use my story as a reminder that it is okay to say no, to put yourself first and do things for yourself.  Putting others before yourself is admirable in moderation, but when it as at the expense of your own well-being and sanity, it is important to take a step back. Saying no is okay and your friends and family and coworkers and peers won't hate you for skipping that one event or passing on that extra shift.

So I challenge you to you to say no today. It is in fact okay to say no to things that don't make you happy. You don't need to make it to everything or to step in for everyone, and that the world is not on your shoulders alone. Once you begin living your life for yourself, the world begins to get a bit brighter and the weight a bit lighter until you can finally breathe.  

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