The freedom that comes from saying, “I can’t.”

CN: Mentions of mental illness, ableism, disability symptoms, and toxic environments

As a person who manages a chronic pain and fatigue disability, I’ve had to constantly “push through” my discomfort in order to have any semblance of a life. Sometimes I have aids like my mobility device to make things much easier on me, but even then, a rollator cannot take away my fatigue, pain, or complex post-traumatic syndrome disorder (cPTSD).

We disabled people are often subject to incredibly annoying and frankly obnoxious inspiration-porn stories about “overcoming.” Someone overcomes their mental illness or disability or whatnot and then this line is hurled at us: “So, what’s your excuse?”

My excuse, buddy, is shut the eff up.

Disabled people are not put on Earth to inspire you. Sorry to burst that bubble. And we are not a monolith. There is diversity of disabled experiences, even within the same disability. So maybe just try learning a thing about our community instead of telling us to suck it up. Because one of these days, we will collaborate and construct a high-tech yeet machine and have you visit the sun.

But back to my reality of “pushing through.” When one lives with a chronic condition, the line gets blurred about when one should just stop an activity or back away if a situation is causing one harm. It’s so easy to tolerate more mental and physical burden than I should because hey, it’s something I always do, right?

Except under no circumstances should I subject myself to further harm of my bodymind. I need to train my brain to act sooner.

There are so many “motivational” memes about saying “I can” to things, we forget the power of “I can’t.” We forget the freedom that “I can’t” brings.

Put up with gaslighting? I can’t.

Put up with being overly scheduled? I can’t.

Put up with a toxic environment? I can’t.

Put up with anyone or anything causing me harm? I can’t.

When I declare the “I can’t,” I’m really saying, “I won’t.” I use the word can’t because in my brain, it means, “I cannot allow that anymore.”

And when I act on the “I can’t,” a huge weight is lifted from my shoulders.

I tend to be someone who is a helper. That’s my nature. I’m told time and time again in therapy to remember to put myself first once in a while and not deny myself the things that bring me peace and joy. I’m a freelance editor and while I love making books shiny, I have to save time for my own writing. I am an author too. Writing stories is one of the most important salves that soothes my mental illness. In fact, I wrote The Stealth Lovers during a year of constant panic attacks, and it doesn’t read that way at all. It’s funny. And that’s because when I write, it’s like a protective dome drops over me that blocks out my stresses, and I just live in my world-building for a time. Speculative fiction is a godsend for me.

I have dedicated over a year to the Nothing Without Us Too anthology, which I love to pieces and am gobsmacked by the talent of our contributing authors. However, my writing got put on hold. So, while I am thrilled to promo this wonderful collection, I have to make my own works a priority.

So, “I can’t” create a work-life where there’s no space for my creativity.

Social media (SM) has offered me the chance to connect with so many wonderful folks, especially in the disability and neurodivergent communities. The ability to use SM and messaging to chat with people is an accessible form of getting together, which has saved my life during this pandemic era. But, as many of you know, SM can really mess with your mental health. I also think because I am autistic, I cannot be pummelled by too many opinions at once. It’s really difficult for my brain to parse through all that, and it becomes too much.

So, I can’t continue doomscrolling or even staying online for too long. I have to reconsider how to use it and who I want to follow.

Publishing has opened doors for me these past six-plus years. It’s been one helluva adventure. And again, I have met so many humans who have enriched my life. Have I ever learned so many things! Attending conferences and participating in and sometimes moderating panels have offered such an opportunity to grow, network, and make friends who share a love for books! Yet, sadly, in every circle, there can be people who maybe aren’t so healthy to be around, or who are outright hurtful.

So, I can’t align myself with publishing folks whose attitudes don’t lift others up or whose egos and entitled behaviour get in the way of creating a thriving and inclusive community.

In conclusion, saying “I can’t” is kind of awesome.

I highly recommend it.

My wish is for you to give it a whirl as you reflect upon your own life.

I bet you can!

(See what I did there?)

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’CosmThe Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too.

Featured header photo by Pixabay on

3 thoughts on “The freedom that comes from saying, “I can’t.”

  1. Funny, I’ve been dealing with a similar situation for much of this past year. I’ve actually gotten rather good in the last couple of decades at identifying my limits, and sticking to them. In trusting that the support I need (or most of it) will be there when I need it and ask for it. (And that was a journey, let me tell you! It only came with a whole lot of support from people in the disabilty rights community, both locally, and online).

    Only the response I’ve gotten this year when I’ve tried to say “I can’t”, and ask for help, was a whole lot of criticism, condemnation, and being told I was being unreasonable, or “expecting too much”. I was even told (by someone who thought they were helping, no less!) that the supports I need, (and they aren’t a lot these days, actually) and have had in the past, not only don’t exist in society, but “will never exist”, “because people like you aren’t important enough.”

    Needless to say, I’ve been struggling a lot with trying to figure out, well, a lot of things, with regards to trust, and hope and optimism (or lack thereof), … and other things. Particularly in regards to other people, and with specific relationships. And, of course, the effects of overexertion. (This time around, it’s mainly language, motor skills, and executive functioning that are experiencing fallout).

    Liked by 1 person

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