You've maybe heard of compassion fatigue, after prolonged exposure to traumatic events, such as healthcare workers experience. This week, the California governor and multiple news sources referred to "caution fatigue," why many people who were once cautious about things like hand washing are becoming less vigilant as their brain is unable to sustain a prolonged sense of alarm.
I'm experiencing some sub-sect of this second syndrome, I believe. I call it "no fatigue." You might call it "boundaries fatigue." I'm tired of saying "no" to things I actually want to do, even though I think saying "no" is the right thing to do.
I had a deep conversation about this with my brother this week, as we sat socially distanced on the beach, our happy place since childhood. He had just texted his small group of men -- who were just about to get back together that night for the first time in three months -- that he wouldn't be joining them. Several in the group had high-Covid-exposure jobs so it felt like the right thing to do for his family, who are limiting contact with others so they can spend time with their parents.
"Don't you hate saying 'no'?" I asked him. "I HATE telling people 'no.'"
"It's not that hard," my enviable brother said. "People are used to me being easy-going so they don't care if I say 'no'. It must be harder for you. You have more baggage about this than I do."
True, that, brother. My inner dialogue has long said things to me like, "You're too sensitive. You're too touchy. You're too afraid." These things were said to me out loud a lot when I was some -- and some of them by my brother, which he would freely admit, since he said it as a boy and is now a very loving and kind adult. As the only girl among two brothers, I was seen as too touchy -- and perhaps sometimes I was as the bossy older sister.
So, yes, I have baggage. I don't even like to say "no" to things I DON'T want to do, because I don't want to be seen as mean or oversensitive. I can do it now, thanks to a lot of therapy, growth, and support from safe people and is in fact something I teach others how to do -- but it's not second nature to me. At the core, I'm afraid telling people no will make them leave me forever. I'm having apocalyptic dreams lately where I'm all alone on a bare planet, or alternatively, that I'm in a large gathering trying to grab the mic and get everyone to go home. People boo. Everyone hates me.
So imagine how hard it is to say "no" to letting my children do things I know are normally good for them -- like hanging out with their friends. Or no to someone who wants to share a home-cooked meal with me -- I'm a manic hostess and a passionate dinner guest. Or no to celebrating family birthdays and wrestling and swimming and being stupid with my nieces and nephews -- whom I love dearly. Sometimes I'm like a teenage girl, afraid everyone is hanging out without me and will have written me off by the time I'm ready to rejoin the world in full force.
And imagine how hard it is to say "no" to standing close to people, "no" to my face which doesn't LIKE wearing a mask, and "no" to going to my beloved church gatherings when so many people on social media are questioning my faith -- the most important part of my life -- for doing it.
And on top of that I'm trying to say no to too many donuts, too much TV, too much ice cream, too much social media. My "no" is all tuckered out. My "no" needs a nap.
My dearests, my reason for writing today's entry is simply to provide support and compassion for any of you who are struggling, like me, to stand by what feels right to you based on the best evidence you can find, even though on some level it feels all wrong. You aren't alone. And I don't believe you are being too sensitive, too fearful, neurotic, germaphobic or any other of the names you're being called inside or outside your head. I believe you are, like me, just trying to find the best way to balance risk and safety in an absolutely unprecedented situation that you probably never imagined.
I also want to brainstorm some things we can say yes to. My yes needs some exercise.
Yes to an extra hour of TV every day, as long as it's some really uplifting and fun.
Yes to dessert a little more often.
Yes to long walks after dinner.
Yes to ice coffee made at home in the afternoon.
Yes to mornings at the beach when the water is glassy and the sand is crowd free. '
Yes to paddle boarding and bike riding.
Yes to water gun fights and running through sprinklers.
Yes to learning new rhythms that will outlast this crisis and enrich our lives.
Yes to lounge chairs six feet apart in the shade, and belly laughs with friends.
Yes to drive-through birthdays and graduation, to care packages on doorsteps, cards in the mail and all the ways to show love that we hadn't bee doing before.
Yes to siblings who have time to become friends -- both children and adults.
Yes to socially-distanced selfies like this one.
Yes to posting encouraging messages and funny memes on Instagram.
Yes to sewing, baking bread, making Popsicles.
Yes to prayer, to worshiping in the living room, to writing down a gratitude list.
Yes to learning to smile with your eyes at people in the store because they can't see your mouth, or bowing your head to say, "I see you. I wish you well."
Yes to thanking essential workers like the grocery clerk and the delivery man.
Yes to big tips to the pizza guy.
Yes to loving the people who you have to say "no" to, and loving the "no" of the ones you love.
Yes to being sensitive! Yes to feeling our own feeling and yes to caring for the feelings of others.
Yes to treasuring our loved ones. Yes to knowing we aren't alone. Yes to receiving love.
May you find your "yes" this weekend, and be secure in the "no's" that you need to say. May you find rest, strength and energy. From one woman with baggage to another. :)