I Said No: How I Dealt with Anxiety Waiting for a Backlash

Here's the brief story of how I stood up for my needs by saying no to someone, and then how I dealt with the anxiety for a week waiting for a backlash from that.
I Said No: How I Dealt with Anxiety Waiting for a Backlash

Being rescheduled

I just finished a physical therapy appointment and it actually went just fine. There was no awkwardness, no social backlash. It went just as normal. I’d like to briefly tell you the story of why I thought there would be an issue with it, and how I managed my anxiety for the last week of anticipating disappointment and anticipating that there might be a problem with it.

I also want to share the techniques I used to deal with that, and to get to the point where I was able to express my needs last week, and hold a boundary, and then deal with that tension for a week waiting to see if there would be some issue with it. Those are the same techniques that I present in my anti-anxiety course.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a heavy-handed sales pitch. A lot of this is just good information, but I wanted to let you know that’s coming in case you just don’t like being surprised by that kind of stuff.)

So about a week ago, just after my last physical therapy appointment, I got a call the next day from the office manager saying that she’d already rescheduled this appointment, changed the time for it, canceled the different appointment that I had, and scheduled me with a different therapist (someone I have seen, but I don’t see on a regular basis and isn’t my regular therapist). She just wanted to check to make sure that the new time would be okay with me.

(I just wanted to add in: I forgot to mention the reason why they were changing wasn’t because the therapist’s schedule changed, or the office was closing, or something that I couldn’t say no to, but because they wanted to fit someone else in and give my spot to them. So they would give me to a different therapist, which would have been at a different time, and cancel my other appointment for someone else as well.)

My mind, instead of going to the place of “I need to make this okay with her”, it actually went to the place of “I’m not okay with that”.

All of a sudden, my nervous system went into a big reaction. I could feel myself flooding with feelings and with intensity. It wasn’t quite going to overwhelm and shutdown, but it was heading in that direction. I did my self-calming techniques, I did the slow breathing out, pursed lips kind of “phhh” (because that calms the nervous system. Strangely enough, but it does). And my mind, instead of going to the place of “I need to make this okay with her”, it actually went to the place of “I’m not okay with that”.

I actually didn’t mind the time change. I didn’t want to just cancel the other appointment, and I didn’t want to switch the therapist I was seeing. Even though I was okay with the time change, it didn’t actually matter to me, that particular day I didn’t like not being asked about it in advance.

I wanted to say all of those things.

Choosing the new reality

A year ago, honestly months ago, I probably wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have been able to. I would have just said “okay”, and shut down the phone, and then be really angry. Angry at myself, angry at her, angry at the system, and all these people who always mess me up. I would’ve complained about it for a week to everyone in my life who would listen.

I would have been really really upset about how everything goes wrong, and how people keep doing things to me. And, in one split second, I saw that whole pattern of all of those things that would have happened, that I had experienced many many times, and I also saw an alternate version. It was like there was this witness inside of me that was watching these two realities play out in my head in a split second.

The alternate reality was me saying, “No, that’s not okay. I want to keep my appointments the way they were.” That one felt scary, but it also felt good. It felt like that’s what I wanted.

I wanted to stand up for myself. I wanted to say that it wasn’t okay. And I could feel my throat getting tighter as I wanted to get the words out of my mouth. But this other part of me, that was able to just watch this whole experience happening, watched that too. It reassured me, “Oh, I see what’s happening. I see that you’re having an anxiety reaction. That’s really interesting. This is what often happens to us. Huh! I know how that other reality is gonna play out, I don’t know how this reality is gonna play out, the new one, because I’ve never tried it before. But I want to. I wonder if I could do that?”

I don’t know how this reality is gonna play out, the new one, because I’ve never tried it before. But I want to. I wonder if I could do that?

It was like this witness was just very calmly noticing what was going on and walked me through it. As that happened, my anxiety level settled a little bit. It was still there, I was still having the anxiety reactions. My heart was pounding so hard, and my throat was tight, and my hands were shaking as I was holding the phone. Physically shaking, I could see them.

It was like I could see the anxiety still happening, but it didn’t have to determine what I did. It was like I knew that I could handle it. Handle being anxious, handle the tension.

Then what came out of my mouth was, and I’m pretty sure this is pretty close to a direct quote from myself, “Actually, no. I don’t like that. I don’t appreciate that you didn’t ask me beforehand. I’m actually okay with the time, but you didn’t ask me about it. But I’m not okay with switching to the other therapist. So I don’t want to do that.”

And then it was almost like my heart stopped for a moment. It was waiting to see what she would do. I could hear the note of surprise in her voice, but she just said, “Oh. Okay. Then I’ll put the appointments back the way they were. Thank you very much. Have a good day.”

And that was it.

I had to sit down, because I was going to fall if I didn’t. But that was the entire thing. I got the text message confirmation of my new-old appointment, and I knew I was going to have to wait a week for the appointment to see what would happen when I showed up.

This is the office manager. She has control of the schedule. Is it going to be weird? Am I not going to get the service that I’m used to getting? Are they going to make little comments about things, or am I not going to be treated as well, or is the therapist herself…?

All these possibilities of all the things that could go wrong.

Expecting something

I got there today, and absolutely none of it happened. Absolutely none of it. No one treated me any differently than ever. They just checked me in, “Hi, how are you doing?” No big deal. There was no reference to it, no mention whatsoever. No change in tone. No comments. It was as if it never happened.

I kept expecting something, and nothing happened.

Here I am, kind of settling my nervous system, reinforcing for myself that it was okay. I said what I needed. I said what I wanted. I didn’t want my appointments to be changed and I got it. I wasn’t rude, I wasn’t mean about it, I was direct. I did surprise her by not just going along with what she wanted, but surprise is okay. It is fine. She can deal with that, and I can deal with my stuff.

For the last week, I’ve constantly had to remind myself over and over that, whatever happens, I can deal with it. If it’s awkward, well, I’ve been in lots of awkward situations before and I know how to get through it. Maybe it’s not good or well, but I’ve always survived them. I can handle another one. It’s probably not going to ruin my entire relationship with these people.

I’ve been in lots of awkward situations before and I know how to get through it. Maybe it’s not good or well, but I’ve always survived them.

In the anti-anxiety course, we’re gonna be talking a lot about painful thoughts that add extra layers of pain to an already painful situation. Because there’s plenty of situations that, themselves, are bad, painful, difficult, whatever. But, depending on how we think about it, we can make it worse.

And it’s like, how do you pick that apart? How do you get this distance from the extra pain? How do you sort out which is appropriate pain? Which is just the situation and which is the extra stuff that you’re adding on, so that we’re not gaslighting ourselves or pretending that it’s all fine when it’s really not? How do you pick that apart?

Trusting myself

For me, what I figured out was that the painful thought I was adding to the potentially awkward situation was that, “It’s going to ruin my relationship with these people forever. I am not going to get care, and my hip will be in pain for the rest of my life because there are no other options. I can’t deal with it. It’s just going to ruin everything.”

So that was my painful chain of thoughts. I went through all of the questioning and the distancing stuff, that we’re going to get into detail with in the class, and that’s what got me through the week.

Every time that stuff came up, I would just let myself work through those extra thoughts. Get a little bit of distance from it, see, “Wow, that’s really impacting me. And I can deal with it. I can trust myself.” And that’s really the core of it.

I want to do a whole other video on this, but I think the core of anxiety relief is developing trust in yourself that you can handle situations, even bad situations. Trusting you will be able to get through it.

I think the core of anxiety relief is developing trust in yourself that you can handle situations, even bad situations. Trusting you will be able to get through it.

Maybe not well. Maybe you won’t always know what the right things to say are going to be. Maybe it’s still not going to make it better. But trusting that you can handle it. That you can get through it, that you will survive.

Even when things go wrong, because things will go wrong in our lives, you’ll find some way to get through it. And I think that’s what has been growing in me for several years now.

The more I trust myself, that I can handle things, the more I can bear that tension when it’s not quite right, when it’s not perfect, when it’s not the way I expected things to go, when things change suddenly, or when I say something that doesn’t go over right with the other person. As I have been able to develop that trust in myself, I can deal with those situations better.

Developing that trust in myself was a long process. That’s why the techniques in the class help. The learning how you separate the extra pain kind of thoughts from the actual pain of the real situation, and how to tell the difference.

As well as just physical techniques like that breathing.

When we breathe out through pursed lips slowly, something happens in your parasympathetic nervous system, which creates a decreased parasympathetic reaction, and releases endorphins, etc, etc. It works.

There’s a bunch of physical things that can help. A couple of meditation exercises, if you’re into that. I try to offer a variety of things so that everyone can find one or two things that really appeal to them.

If there’s other ones that don’t, that’s fine, I don’t expect it all to. But there’ll be at least a couple, hopefully, that will really resonate with you. If you use those over time (even inconsistently): it will make a difference. Gradually, as you notice that you are dealing with things, that trust that you can deal with things grows.

If something was interesting to you, and you’re interested in the course, here it is: 

Anti-Anxiety Practices for Autistics

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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