I think one of the hardest things to do as an adult is say “no”.
It’s easy for toddlers and young kids, because they haven’t been conditioned to please other people just yet. Young toddlers in particular are still learning how to care what others think about them.
Most adults, women especially, have been conditioned to make life easier for other people and get approval from them. If you listen to the beauty industry, we’re expected to appeal to complete strangers by staying young and meeting some unattainable version of “perfect”.
When you bring any form of disability, neurodivergence or chronic illness into the picture, things get more complicated.
Part of advocating for ourselves is saying “no” to things.
Do you have a food allergy? You need to decline certain meals cooked by friends, family or co-workers.
Disease triggers? There are certain tasks you just can’t do when triggers are unavoidable in doing them.
Executive functioning challenges? Well, unless you want to put up with huge amounts of frustration and potential unfair punishment, it’s just easier to avoid some tasks.
In my case, I avoid working with numbers or words when under high pressure situations. It’s not a matter of being down on myself so much as knowing myself. There may be some tasks I can’t avoid, but the ones I can without any real repercussions, I do.
I also have asthma, which knocks out tasks that involve a lot of cleaning chemicals or dust. I make my own cleaners at home, or use the mildest ones I can find. I also wear a dust mask when I clean to further cut down on my triggers.
There are certain jobs, however, that I will not do, because the risk of a serious asthma attack is too high. Why risk my health when there are alternatives?
Over the years, I’ve gotten good at saying “no” or finding alternatives.
I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m trying to contribute as best I can without killing myself in the process.
Not everyone realizes that, though. Even when I explain my motives and the ways I’m willing to help out otherwise, I still sometimes get stuck with the labels of “lazy” or “insecure”. In their ignorance and frustration, some people refuse to entertain the idea that chronic illness and neurodivergence limits what I can do.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one this happens to. My current situation isn’t too bad, so far, since most of my co-workers accept my limits and see how hard I work otherwise.
That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel guilty about it. There have been many times I’ve wanted to effortlessly do what others can. It comes with the territory of being different. Whenever possible, I assume other people’s’ tasks in exchange for them doing what I can’t.
As the world stands now, we still need to advocate for ourselves in almost every aspect of our lives. I know understanding comes more easily than it did just a decade ago, but it’s still a hurdle everyone who thinks or lives differently must overcome every day.