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Yes, It's OK to Tell People 'No' and Put Your Health First

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Two simple letters. Two letters that are sometimes very hard to muster the courage to say. Two letters that can put a barrier between you and who you are communicating with, because you are choosing to put you first. These two letters can decide if you are going to stay true to yourself and choose to put your health first, or if you are going to heed to the pressures of society and choose to take care of you later. You are probably wondering what those two powerful little letters are. They are “N” and “O.”

No, I cannot miss that doctor’s appointment or reschedule it. No, I cannot attend that social gathering due to my chronic illness, and my follow-up appointment. No, I do not feel like going on a date tonight. No, I need to focus on my healing and health at this time before I can commit to anything further. These statements are all statements that probably sound familiar if you are living with a chronic illness. In my case, I am living with lupus, along with multiple related immune diseases caused by it. Those two little letters can be terrifying to have to say to someone else, because in that instance you are essentially choosing to put yourself and your chronic illness first. Yet, the reality is, when you have a chronic illness, the illness comes first. Then whatever is in your heart that needs to be taken care of comes second.

Employers in today’s society tend to make us feel like the priority is the other way around, but it truly isn’t. The harsh consequences of that type of a mentality is that you eventually have to put the chronic illness first or you will not be able to successfully commit to anything further as the disease progresses, and your chronic illness will eventually take control and make it nearly impossible to follow through on any of the things you are choosing to say “yes” to. The truth is, you are living with your chronic illness. You live with it as you eat. You live with it as you work. You live with it as you go about your daily tasks, such as showering or sleeping at night. You walk with it when you go outside. You sleep with it in bed, and you carry it with you everywhere you go. So please, say “yes” to taking care of all of you, even the parts that are inconvenient or unwanted.

Say “yes” to your health. Say “yes” to putting yourself first. As hard as this concept may seem, it is very vital for your healing and overall morale while working or completing any task that takes a part of you. Say “yes” to choose your health first, and then go about accomplishing the tasks at hand that are important to you. It will make it so much easier on everyone involved. When you are dealing with a chronic illness, especially one as harsh a lupus, your doctor’s appointments are very vital to your quality of life, and gaining or achieving remission. If you neglect to commit to these appointments, then you are jeopardizing your health and well-being in a very big way. There is a reason there are treatment options, and follow-up appointments with testing available for these illnesses. They are medically necessary. Do not be made to justify your actions or your health to your employer for having to miss work to take care of these types of things. What good will it do you if you are able to work another year to make your employer happy, but because you did not take care of your immune disease it is the last year of your life?

Trust me, I have been there as a teacher assistant in special education the last few years. My job was very demanding of my time, and it was very vital that I attend work. Yet, my immune disease was going haywire, and little did I know that putting off those appointments time and time again, as well as ignoring my symptoms, very likely is the reason I have multiple other immune issues to deal with, along with lupus. Please do not make the same mistake as I did. There is nothing more important than your well-being. Do I wonder “what if” at times and get angry at myself for making those mistakes? Yes, I do, but I have learned from them and want to share my mistakes and experiences with you.

I am now in about a three-month-long flare with severe light reactions and am unable to go outside at all, due to the last year of putting off my appointments and not fighting for the answers I deserved. I needed to put my health first, but I thought I could put work and finishing college first, and then deal with my disease after my victories. My disease was in the way, and it was a nuisance to me and an extra burden on my yoke. I was tired of getting pulled into the principal’s office for missing work for another appointment, and tired of having to explain to my coworkers my personal illness, and journey, and justifying the reasons I was missing. I was tired of missing out on my life goals. I chose to brush it under the rug and deal with it later. However, it did not work out as well as I thought. Yes, I graduated college and found a teaching job, but I had to leave my wonderful teaching job recently that I worked at for multiple years due to my immune disease being so bad from being untreated for so long. I missed so many days of work, and have had to commit to so many doctor’s appointments and testing since then, I chose to leave my job.

This time around, I am choosing yes for me, and the time is now for you to choose yes for yourself. There is a common theme when dealing with a chronic illness; you feel the need to justify why your doctor’s appointments keep coming up, or you are missing work. Do not feel the need to justify these actions to anyone; you have a right to your health and well-being just as anyone else in the universe does. Do not be made to feel guilty for putting yourself first and saying yes to your health and committing to it.

Originally published: September 30, 2016
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