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Finding Freedom in Saying No

Mental Well-Being

February 10, 2023

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Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

by Monica Lynne

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Medically Reviewed by:

Bethany Juby, PsyD

•••••

•••••

by Monica Lynne

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Bethany Juby, PsyD

•••••

•••••

I have days when I just can’t accept a new invitation or, worse, have to back out of one I’ve already committed to, thanks to my MS. I’m learning that’s OK.

Having a chronic illness sometimes makes it challenging for me to have an active social life. I’m often conflicted when it comes to declining an invitation.

I have days when my body is dragging with fatigue. Plus, I’m simply unable to participate in some activities. And some days, I simply may not feel like going, and that’s totally OK — even though it took me a while to realize that, instead of feeling guilty or even ashamed.

As an avid people-pleaser, I always feared hurting my friends’ feelings or being kept off future guest lists. When I learned to gracefully bow out of other people’s plans, I found a better relationship with my buddies and with myself.

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Setting boundaries

Sometimes my social circle would decide they wanted to be outdoors on a hot day, but my MS-related temperature intolerance makes me feel overheated and symptomatic in those conditions. Sometimes they’d propose taking a high intensity workout class when I know I just can’t keep up. They’d suggest recreational pastimes like hiking, skiing, surfing, or rollerblading, but I’m unable to handle those kinds of demanding activities.

Eventually, I had to have a heart-to-heart with my closest confidants to give them a disclaimer of sorts before I received any more of these invitations. This conversation was my chance to explain my capacity for outings, the types of activities I’m capable of doing, and my needs. It ensured they knew in advance not to consider me for intense activities but instead to count me in for more relaxed experiences together.

It cleared us of future RSVP awkwardness, and it was an intimate share that strengthened my relationships with them. I highly recommend setting these healthy boundaries with your network of friends to promote happier, healthier relationships.

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Saying no is OK

A huge lightbulb moment for me was when I realized that invitations do not require my attendance. They request my presence. In other words, I don’t have to be there, but I am wanted there.

Feeling obliged to commit to an invite was an unnecessary burden I created for myself. No one mandated a “yes” response to every friendly invitation. No one said I must go … or else. I created scenarios in my mind that weighed on me, like maybe my friends or colleagues need me to attend for some important reason.

I realized that invitations do not require my attendance. They request my presence.

It took me a long time to realize that it’s OK to cancel for my own well-being. After setting boundaries with my allies, I also became more transparent with them about the overwhelming guilt I often feel after canceling plans because I don’t want to let them down. They assured me that they fully understand where I’m coming from and that they support me. They explained that they prefer that I feel my best when we enjoy each other’s company and that they don’t want me to feel bad about making myself a priority.

This stuck out to me: making myself a priority. Forcing myself to go out, or even wrestling with anxious feelings that arose from assuming my friends were offended when I canceled, was putting my own needs last. I hadn’t considered that doing this was an act of self-neglect.

The last-minute no

Typically, this happens when I have every intention of going to my friend’s event, except right before I need to get dressed and ready, my body suddenly feels like the energy is dripping off my skin, making me melt into my bed in defeat. At this point, I usually can’t imagine crawling out from under my blanket. Putting on shoes and styling my hair seems like a huge feat, let alone fighting traffic to get to the location. The last-minute no feels the worst.

But I’m learning to remember it’s not my fault. Because my energy levels can fluctuate day-to-day, I never know how I’m going to feel when the day I’ve planned to do something rolls around. Fatigue may suddenly sweep down on my body, dooming me to relay the dreaded message that I’m not going to make it.

And that’s still OK. Remember that the people who respect your needs and preferences are the ones who are worthy of your time. Real friends won’t shame you for not going to their shindig, even if they’re a bit disappointed.

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How to say ‘no, thank you’

I’ve found the following strategies helpful when I need to negate a date with grace.

  • Be grateful: Thank them for inviting you, and let them know you’re honored to be on the guest list.
  • Be honest, but don’t overexplain: Too many details can come across as guilty excuses. For an acquaintance, a simple sentence stating you’re unavailable at that time is enough. If you want to offer a reason for the decline, keep it short, like, “Hey, my MS fatigue is intense today, and I can’t make it after all.”
  • Suggest another time or place: If you can’t make it to a date between you and one other friend, propose a new date to get together. If you can’t make a group hang, wish them all a good time without you, and offer another idea for a future outing with everyone. It’s not a rejection. It’s a reschedule.
  • Don’t ignore the invite or wait to reply: Since most events require planning and budgeting, it’s important to give your host a heads-up if you won’t make it. If you know in advance you’re unavailable, send your RSVP ASAP.
  • Sandwich your response: Soften the blow by starting with something positive. Then, include your “no” in the middle before finishing with another positive statement. For example, you might say, “Thank you for inviting me!” (positive), “I won’t be able to join you this time” (negative), “but I’d love to do it another time soon.” (positive)

The takeaway

Politely communicating that you’re unable to accept an invitation is key. Good friends will appreciate learning how to have a good time with you while accommodating your needs, and they’ll respect your limitations. Real pals will value the times they do share with you when you’re feeling up to it.

Medically reviewed on February 10, 2023


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Monica Lynne

As a digital nomad with multiple sclerosis, Monica Lynne travels the world managing her condition and working remotely as a copywriter and language interpreter. She focuses on social media management and influencer marketing with Miami-based boutique PR agency, JLPR. With degrees in theater, dance, and communication studies from Nova Southeastern University, she has a presence in South Florida’s arts & culture community as an actor and content creator.

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