When I say can't...

...the response is often:

"There's no such word as can't"

"You need a 'can-do' attitude"

"Don't be so negative"

Consider this conversation between two friends
A: Can we meet up for coffee tomorrow
B: No, I can't make it, sorry.
A: Oh no. When can you?
B: Let's see...
And so the conversation meanders on, hopefully finding a mutually 'can' time and activity.

A stated 'can't' is accepted as fact, and a middle ground that works for both people is sought.

Technically you could argue that the reply should have "It IS possible, in theory - it's just that I have chosen to do something else/financial limitations/lack of time/lack of energy/really hate coffee/am unwell."

Nevertheless, this 'can't' is interpreted as if it is normal to have limitations. 


...it IS normal to have limitations!

And yet, when I, as a person with disabilities, say "I can't", the reaction is often totally different:

A: Can we meet up for coffee tomorrow
B: No, I can't make it, sorry.
A: Oh, but I'm sure you can find a way - you just need a can-do attitude!
B:  I've got other stuff happening that day, and it won't leave me the energy to go for coffee too.
A: Don't be so negative! You just need to think around the problem!
B: Er....no actually, I can't go.
A: Come on! You can do anything if you put your mind to it!
B: But I've told you, I can't
And so it continues, round in circles, causing nothing but friction and frustration on both sides.

Ironically, the trying to insist that I have no limitations prevents me from working around my limitations (i.e. coming up with a date/activity that I can do) - therefore making them more limiting. If the conversation had followed the first pattern, the result would have been finding a 'can'. 

If I say "I can't do anything right, I am a total failure" - feel free to correct me. Because that is not true - not for anyone.

But in any other context, allow me to say 'can't'. 

By acknowledging that I can't stay upright and able to concentrate for long periods, I have discovered I can do a lot better if I lie down every now and then. And I found compression orthotics help control my symptoms too.

By acknowledging that I can't cope with 2 busy days in a row (I end up unable to function for a week, having not enjoyed anything after the first hour) I have learned to take lots of time outs, to have foods which I digest easily all ready prepared, to lie down in public without worrying - and a whole hosts of other little tricks that mean I can cope with 2 busy-with-breaks days in a way that means I get to enjoy much more of them, and recover in a sensible time frame.

By acknowledging that I can't sit for long, I have dedicated hours to learning to pace, building my core strength and improving my posture - which has improved my ability to sit.

I am disabled. 

Let me have limits.

Let me be human.

And then let me flourish as I learn to live well within the limits I cannot change, and slowly expand the limits that I can.


  1. YES! BTW - PANTS! Ha ha, I used that a lot growing up. I may have to reinstate it's use.

    I have your wheelchair parachuting pic on one of your biz cards sitting above my desk. It makes me smile.

    Actually learning to say I can't and NO have been a vital part of managing my illness. My diary has NO MEETINGS written in after days where I have meetings. I have whole weeks of NO MEETINGS, which is not the same as no social stuff. It's a balancing act and I CAN'T and NO are a fundamental part of that.

  2. When I was little I used to have this conversation regularly with my Mum:

    Me: "I can't"
    Mum: "There's no such word as can't"
    Me: "I can't fly"
    Mum: "You can on an aeroplane"
    Me: "I can't grow wings and fly"

    I keep thinking of that when I see your wonderful parachuting stickman. I would love to see that design on a sky blue T-shirt - any chance ... ?

    And oh yes, nowadays I get people thinking I am being negative, just because I am telling them what is or is not possible with my disability, about which they know very little - sooo frustrating.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I don't have a huge amount of difficulty now saying 'I can't' (and I've been saying NO for a long time even before diagnosis), but I do frequently feel the need to over-explain and/or feel guilty, and often feel like I must seem really negative at times. So re-reading this post on occasion has helped me to be okay with needing to say 'I can't' :)


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