How to take up space without guilt or apologies

A columnist practices healthier responses when interacting with others

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by Noura Costany |

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I’ve always had difficulty with taking up space. But after I became chronically ill with Cushing’s disease, it’s been even harder for me to simply exist without feeling like a burden. I often worry about how my illness affects others.

I’m unable to go places without an elevator since my wheelchair can’t make it up a flight of stairs. I require pain management wherever I go, and I need constant breaks. I’m often tired and need space and time to recover. This has been a major change in my life that both family and friends have been forced to adapt to.

I’ve found myself feeling bad not only about people who are close to me, but also strangers. When someone opens a door for me or moves out of the way, I tend to apologize. Because I’m in a wheelchair, I can’t see as well as others who are standing, and people often move aside for me.

One of my friends recently suggested that I reframe my thoughts, feelings, and words with a more positive spin. The following are some examples of how to speak more positively:

Say ‘Thank you’

  • Instead of “I’m worried about taking up space,”
  • Reframe it as “Thank you for making room for me.”
  • Instead of “I’m worried I’m in the way,”
  • Reframe it as “Thank you for letting me sit here. Can you see OK with me here?”

Affirming the other person makes them feel good and prevents you from being self-deprecating.

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The do’s and don’ts of friendship with someone who is chronically ill

People also often apologize to me because their children cut in front of me. I’ve actually responded, “No, I’m sorry.” Lately, instead of apologizing for something I haven’t done, I’ve tried to accept their apologies with a smile. It’s OK to simply accept the apology or let them know there’s no need to apologize.

Respond with ‘No worries!’ or ‘No problem!’

  • Apology: “I’m sorry about my kid.”
  • Response: “It’s not a problem!”
  • Apology: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cross in front of you.”
  • Response: “Don’t worry about it.” Or, “No worries.”

Say nothing

I’ve found myself apologizing even for entering a bathroom because it takes a minute for me to wheel in and enter a stall, particularly because I have muscle weakness in my arms. One of the hardest things for me to do is recognize when a situation requires no response. If a parent grabs a child who is running in front of you, you don’t have to say anything. If someone steps to the side to give you more room to pass, you don’t have to say anything. Nothing is a response, and it says enough.

Remember, you deserve to take up space. You are perfect exactly as you are. Try removing the word sorry from your vocabulary and see how much better you’ll feel.

You can also follow my journey on TikTok and YouTube.

Note: Cushing’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cushing’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Cushing’s.


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