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It's OK to Say 'No' and Set Boundaries When You're Sick

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Setting boundaries can be extremely difficult, especially when living with chronic illness. Being sick doesn’t mean we don’t want to be included in plans with our family and friends. It means that when asked to do something, we may have to turn it down because we’re in so much pain or experiencing other symptoms related to our pain.

With chronic illness, you never know when symptoms are going to pop up or worsen, which isn’t our fault. But we still feel guilty if we have to cancel plans or unable to do something.

Remember, it’s OK to say no.

If you say yes to something and then feel miserable later wishing you hadn’t said yes, you are only hurting yourself.

Nobody knows how you feel, so it’s important to speak up for yourself. Boundaries are healthy and necessary for your physical, mental and emotional well-being. One person can’t say yes to everything in life. We have to decide for ourselves, “No, I don’t want this in my life.” An example: you get asked to go hiking, but don’t feel up to or like the idea of hiking. This is a boundary. You’re not going hiking. So you say something like, “No, I don’t want to go hiking or feel up to it, but thank you so much for asking.”

Some things we have to do no matter what, like eat, sleep etc. We don’t have a choice in that, but we do have a choice with how we spend our time and with whom. It’s OK to help your friends and family. It’s not OK to let them walk all over you.

One boundary I’ve set is scheduling time for myself, usually watching Netflix. I usually go to my room around 9 p.m. and if I don’t go to sleep then, I’m in my room watching Netflix or listening to music by myself. I do a lot during the day to help me and my family so scheduling “me time” has helped me relax and decrease my stress, which is a boundary.

Another boundary I’ve set for myself (probably because of my health) is not agreeing to plans until the day before to see how I feel. I say something like “I would love to do that! Is it OK if I let you know the day before if I feel up to it?” That way I’m not committing to something and don’t have to back out of plans if I don’t feel up to it. I can talk with the person the day before or the day of if there’s enough time and say something like, “I’m so sorry I don’t feel up to it. Can we try another day?” It’s also important to set boundaries for you and people who may be stressful, toxic, or draining. You only get one life and have to make yourself a priority.

Once you’ve set a boundary, you have to enforce it. For example, if I don’t go to my room at 9 p.m. to relax, I might not get time to myself that day and might suffer physically, mentally or emotionally because of it. That only hurts me. If you say you don’t want to go hiking and someone tries talking you into it, you have the choice to either stand by your boundary or cave and go hiking.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these three books: “Boundaries,” “Beyond Boundaries,” and “Safe People.” I have struggled with boundaries my entire life, so my counselor recommended I read Boundaries. It helped me tremendously with how to effectively set boundaries and I hope it helps you, too.

When setting boundaries, it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up if you can’t agree to plans. At the beginning you may feel guilty, but stick with it, as it will get easier with time.

Have you had to set boundaries because of your illness? What does that look like for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally published: August 20, 2019
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