Here’s Why Learning to Say “No” Is Non-Negotiable

In this heart-wrenching recollection, blogger and self-proclaimed chai addict Mahvish Ahmad speaks out about a defining moment in her life. Read on to find out how a seemingly simple yet loaded demand helped her discover that learning to say “no” was a non-negotiable life skill. Additionally, discover how you can benefit from her devastating, but eye-opening experience.

I’ll tell you a story. My nana (maternal grandfather) passed away in 2011. I was on my way to the airport to fly from Karachi to Lahore to see him, thinking that I’d be able to catch a last glance while he was still here with us.

Instead, my dad called to tell me that nana had left us. Of course, his call left me heartbroken and the flight home was extremely difficult. I couldn’t wait to be in Lahore, close to my mother, to offer her some strength and to draw on the strength that only being around family can give you.

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

A day later, there was a wedding on my husband’s side of the family. I was told that I had to attend it. I didn’t feel emotionally ready to step into a festive environment. I didn’t feel physically capable either, being four hours months pregnant with my daughter, Minha, whilst dealing with nausea and fatigue. I had not flown to the city for that wedding. I had come to attend my grandfather’s funeral, and to be with my grieving mother.

Unable to talk my way out of it, I went to the mehndi with much resentment. Being made to be around music and decorations felt insensitive. It was as if my emotions meant nothing. I decided against dressing up and went in regular clothes. My mum, who was at an emotional low, took out a decent shawl and a presentable bag for me to carry to the function.

When I arrived at the event, feeling nauseous thanks to all the pregnancy hormones, I was told, “kaprey tou dhulay hoey pehen leyti” (you could have at least worn clean clothes). My clothes were washed. Extremely hurt by that statement, I remember it still today as a terribly sour moment.

If not attending a wedding one day after my grandfather’s funeral makes me a bad person in someone else’s eyes, so be it.

My nana was an integral part of my childhood, featuring in my life multiple times in a week. Being a professor of political science, an avid reader, and a passionate book collector, he was the man behind all my assignments, from literally grade three to my academic career at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences). When you lose a grandparent, the pain has two sides to it. One is your own; the second is that of your own parent, which takes different type of toll on you.

After all these years, I haven’t stopped questioning exactly how I ended up at a mehndi a day after my nana’s death.

Why were my emotions not understood? Obviously, it didn’t feel right to go to a mehndi a day after my nana’s death. So why was I forced to go?

After all these years, I feel angry at myself for needing someone’s permission to be excused from a wedding event.

I feel angry at myself for not being stronger back then; for not being able to be more vocal about what I didn’t want to do. I feel angry because there’s no way to go back and fix it. My nana left this world only that one time. My mother was upset at the death of her father only that one time.

How the Tables Turned

When I ask myself if anyone would be able to drag today’s Mahvish to a wedding against her will, the answer is most definitely “NO.” And then I ask myself the reason. Why can I say that “NO” today that I couldn’t have said back then? Here are the reasons:

  1. Today’s Mahvish doesn’t allow other people’s perceptions to define herself. She doesn’t let others issue her character certificates. She is who she thinks she is.
  2. She doesn’t care what the world thinks of her, especially when she is taking steps to safeguard her heart and mental sanity. If not attending a wedding one day after my grandfather’s funeral makes me a bad person in someone else’s eyes, so be it.
  3. She has stopped depending on anyone else to fight her personal battles for her. Waiting for someone’s help or intervention is a big mistake she made for way too long. Today, she’s vocal about her preferences, and her voice eliminates unwanted noise.

I can’t go back to the time of my nana’s passing and re-do the situation. But what I can do is make myself strong enough to never allow anyone to drag me to a place, physically or emotionally, where I don’t want to be.

If I do that repeatedly, and if I dodge unwanted situations enough, I might, one day, be able to forgive myself for being so weak some nine years ago.

Edited by Manal Moazzam.