“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage–pleasantly, smiling, non-apologetically, to say ‘NO’ to other things. And the way of doing that is by having a bigger ‘YES’ burning inside.”
Stephen R. Covey
There is a big correlation between people with chronic pain and people pleasers. Most people I have met who have chronic pain (including myself) try extremely hard to make other’s like them and/or do more for others than they do for themselves. Why? There may be many reasons but I believe the biggest one is because of low self-esteem and self-worth. Chronic pain changes people and sadly for the first few years of living with chronic pain, the disease changes people for the worse. I was terrible for years due to chronic pain but I had this yearning desire for people to like me. I never said no. My friends in high school called me the guinea pig of our group because I always tried something first: smoking a cigarette, drinking, jumping off my roof in my high school home because someone dared me to etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was young and we all tend to do stupid crap when we are teenagers and looking back some of the things I did were hilarious and make me laugh just thinking about them: I only wish I did them because I was a silly teenager and not because I was in so much physical pain that I was terrified of losing the friends I had. So many people I was close to had zero clue how much pain I was in but I choose to look at these memories and laugh as opposed to thinking about the pain behind the laughs and forced smiles. I’ll never forget my friends begging me to try alcohol because we had no idea what it felt like to drink and were mildly scared to even test the waters or in this case alcohols. I volunteered to be the one to try drinking first so we could all see what happened. I drank Jack Daniels of all things and ended up peeing my pants while riding my bike and then spent the day crying in bed because I wanted to feel ‘normal’ again: alcohol and its affects scared the crap out of me: I kept saying to my friends: “Make it go away, I don’t want to feel like this!” All of us look back at this summer day and laugh. I did it because I was afraid if I did not do it my friends would not like me. Chronic pain lowered my self esteem and self worth immensely. I lost so many people in my life growing up that I could not bear to lose the friends I fought so hard to make following my bike accident. You read this and think: so what, she was a teenager and most of us did crazy things during these years between childhood and adulthood. However, I did not grow out of it. I was a people pleaser for fifteen or more years to come. I wasn’t jumping off roofs any longer or peeing my pants on bicycles but I did whatever people expected me to do: high grades for teachers, partying for friends, pretending non stop that I had no invisible illness and hiding my pain until I was able to be alone in my room and cry. I grew out of this terrible people pleasing phase once I put my health and happiness first. I did this at the Mayo Clinic. I accepted pain and practiced every tool to manage it naturally and slowly self hate turned into self love and I began to put myself first and stopped caring (as much) what people thought of me. I lost a lot of friends and people in my life because I changed so much and no longer was the crazy Jessica who would do anything to make people laugh. I had to learn the word: NO and honestly that is a very difficult word to practice except when you are a mother of a toddler. Then the word no becomes one of your most used words during the day.
I will be thirty-five in June and for the most part I grew up. Most of the time I can say no without feeling any guilt or worry. I have to put my health and my management of chronic pain first no matter what people think or if some find my ways selfish. I have fewer friends which in reality can be a lot easier in life than having a ton: quality vs. quantity. The friends I do have support my life and health and understand that I wake up way before the sun to exercise/meditate and write. They do not expect me to go out on a Friday night for drinks because they know the real me and the real me puts her health first. I never want to go back to the years of numbing my physical pain or doing things I do not want to do to make other’s like me. I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am today and with age comes wisdom: people will like me, people will hate me and none of it will have anything to do with me. It is okay for you to put your needs first. Stop feeling guilty. You will be no use to anyone if you do not put your health first. You all know this deep down, I just need to give you a strong reminder.
Happy Birthday to my amazing, strong cousin Barbara who I have grown to respect and love. You are an amazing woman and this post is dedicated to you