The Power of No and Spoon Preservation

My kids started tee ball last month and absolutely love it. Last week, though, the coach was out of town and asked for a volunteer to help organize the game and team pictures.

I said No. I have no experience with tee ball (or any other ball for that matter.) Another parent stepped in.

A few hours before the game, I managed to sprain my foot. I iced it, wrapped it, and hobbled off to watch my boys. The parent who took over asked me, limping and grimacing in pain and all, to help out.

Again, I said No. She countered that I could sit on the bench and just mark off names as the kids came up to bat. “You’re so good  at organization. You’d be great at this!” Maybe from the pain of the foot, maybe because I thought she didn’t hear the original No over the din of the preschoolers in the room, I raised my voice. “NO! I sprained my foot this morning! I’m on the kidney transplant list, and I’m just here to watch my kids. Get someone else.” I unleashed. Without guilt, I herded the boys into the gym and plopped on a spot on the bleachers where I could prop my throbbing foot up on our backpack.

Those of you who’ve known me for awhile, know I have a difficult time saying no to volunteer events. For years I was on everyone’s short list of Absolutely Will Do It. I thought of myself as a “Yes, and” type of person. If I needed to beg out, I gave a good excuse, and yet still felt guilty about it. Lately, though, saying No has gotten a little easier for me.

My priorities shifted over the last year. I realize that every day I’m here, I’m on borrowed time. While I used to live for my career, I’m realizing that my new career is taking care of myself and my family. If I burn out (or collapse) I can no longer do my “real job” of taking care of those I love.

I do need certain projects in my life: I love having a reason to get dressed and a task to accomplish. It makes me feel like I still have worth. The difference is, now I will prioritize commitments. I no longer will be your warm body, just a place filler on the roster. I will gladly help out with certain things if I have special talents to share, but will stand by my No when I need to.

I’ve deleted a few more “volunteer needed” emails without even responding over the past several months. At first saying No felt foreign and uncomfortable. Now I see it’s a survival skill. I cannot do it all, and I need to budget where I spend my energy.

It’s easier to say No if I think of energy as a budget. I know that on a good day, I have x much energy. I have to limit myself to one big or two smaller events a day. These days, I tend to have three or four really good hours in a row. If I can get a nap or put my feet up for a bit, I may catch a second wind, but nothing is in concrete. As I grow sicker while awaiting a kidney transplant, I know my energy will wane even further. It’s time now to get people used to my No.

I can relate to the Spoon Theory. It was written by Christine Miserandino to help explain chronic illness and fatigue. When you’re out of “spoons” (energy) you’re just out. There’s no amount of “trying harder” or “sucking it up.” Out is out. It’s up to me to balance my remaining spoons and what I need to accomplish. Coaching Little League did not prove spoon worthy that day. I don’t feel bad about that at all. My boys needed to see me watching them, and I needed to be stationary. I will save my Yes for a better use on my spoons.

Keep It Renal,

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