Content Warning: I dive into mental health here, mainly my own.

Dear Fellow Struggling Human Being,

I’m calling us both out, because I see you struggling as much as I am. We all are. Everyone has their struggles, and they’re all valid. You, my friend, are seen. What you’re feeling right now is valid.

(What you’re thinking and feeling is valid, but those thoughts and feelings might not be true. Because our brains and emotions are good at lying to us sometimes.)

The thing is . . .

The thing is.

I can’t make you happy.

No, really. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, I can’t make you happy.

Oh, how I’ve tried. It is in my very nature to want to keep everyone happy. I am the epitome of a “people pleaser”. I will say yes to so many things, because I’m afraid I might hurt someone if I say no. I will stress clean my house when there’s a conflict in my life, when I feel I’ve done something wrong or made someone mad; it’s the best way I know how to use up all that anxious, negative energy. I will pile my plate high with yeses until I’ve left almost zero time and brain space for my own needs and desires. For my own happiness.

And, you know what? I’m tired.

The last couple of years, we’ve gone from building a new house to multiple family illnesses and a couple of deaths to traveling with kids to moving into the new house. This week, we put the old house on the market after weeks of renovations. And on top of all that, I continue to volunteer at my kids’ school while taking care of them and my husband and making sure all of their various needs are met.

I. Am. Tired.

Earlier this week, an online friend shared a Twitter thread about us “people-pleasers” that really hit home. You can read it from the beginning here. The couple of lines that stuck out to me the most were these:

“But relationships involve putting ourselves in harm’s way sometimes. What they shouldn’t involve, though, is self-harm — and ultimately, that’s what “fawning” does. We’re harming ourselves. We’re making ourselves smaller, we’re self-silencing, and we’re punishing ourselves.”

@samdylanlynch, Twitter, March 30, 2019

I have come to realize that I am harming myself when I try to keep everyone around me happy. I’m overly tired and my digestive system is messed up and my nerves are on edge because I’m putting everyone else first. I mean, I’m a mom. That’s what I do. But I’m also a “people-pleaser”, so I do it to the extreme.

I see you all struggling, and I think, “I should help. I should say yes to whatever needs doing.” And I do. Or I see something wrong, something I think (or know) needs fixing, but I don’t say anything at all, because I don’t want to make someone mad. Or I do say something, and then I feel guilty, because I probably did make someone mad. I hate disappointing people. And in the meantime, I wear myself out trying to be the person I think everyone wants me to be.

And the truth is . . .

The truth is.

I have absolutely no control over anything – NOTHING – in this world, except my own reactions to it.

I have a wonderful therapist, and over the past several months, she’s been helping me work on disconnecting myself – the real me – from the me I think others want me to be. I am not the Amanda in other people’s heads. At least, I don’t think I am. I don’t know. That’s where my stress and anxiety lie.

I shouldn’t worry about it, even though I do. Your perceptions of me are colored by your life experiences just as my perceptions of you are colored by my life experiences. All those experiences are real and valid. That doesn’t exactly mean our perceptions of each other true. (See? Our brains are the lying-ist liars in the grand history of liars.)

The point is I can’t control how you see me or how you feel about me, no matter what I say or do. I can’t control how you’ll react if I say no to you. BUT, I can control when I say no, especially if saying yes might lead to self-harm. (Ironically, I have no qualms saying no if something involves my sons getting hurt. The Mama Bear in me is tough as nails.)

Just this week, I didn’t sign up to bake something for an upcoming bake sale. I’m already organizing another school event at the same time we’re trying to sell our older home, which needs more work than we had originally thought. The “no” to the bake sale was a small one, but it felt good. I can let other people do the work and spend some of the time I would have spent baking taking care of myself and my family instead.

So, my fellow struggling human being: How are you doing? I see you grieving. I see you hurting. I wish I could help, but I have to say no right now, because I need a break. However, there are people who are willing to help you. They’ll listen and give you the support you need. If you’re feeling hopeless, please seek help. The National Suicide Hotline is there for you at 1-800-273-8255, and they even have an online chat.

Take care of you, my friend. And remember: I can’t make you happy, but maybe you can.

Thanks for reading.

A. Cook

Amanda Cook is a stay-at-home-mom and writer living in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. When she’s not caring for her family or obsessing over punctuation, she can be found helping out at her sons' school, catching up on her Goodreads list, playing (and sometimes winning, but mostly losing) board games with her friends, crying over her favorite PBS programs, or sewing yet another costume for the local gaming/pop culture convention, where she’ll probably lose at even more board games. Her second novel, "When We Were Forgotten," is the winner of the 2018 Bronze Medal for Best Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror E-Book from the Independent Publisher Book (IPPY) Awards.

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