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Ageing gracefully: how to say "no" without sounding like a wimp

(32 Posts)
MandK Sat 26-Dec-20 23:20:28

I'm fairly new to the forum and hope my question is OK and hasn't been covered before. I am a fairly well preserved 63 year old. At least it seems I look that way!
However, I have recently started suffering from a very painful knee and back, and have been told by my GP it is probably arthritis. Until now I have been very active and am used to helping various relatives with decorating, shopping and odd jobs as well as enjoying going on long walks, joining my daughters in zumba classes etc. I now find these activities quite painful. I have quietly mentioned that I have started to be in pain, have told family I have had x rays and let them know the doctors verdict, but this does not seem to have sunk in. I don't want to come across as a "moaning minnie" or be a drag on people and I am embarrassed to refuse to help and to turn down invitations. My family don't seem to be aware that I cannot always do what I have until now and don't realise that I struggle to lift, carry, get up from low seats etc.
How can I get the message across firmly and clearly but without too much fuss?

Kate54 Sat 26-Dec-20 23:29:09

Only by being honest. Adult children want us to be the super mums we always have been. It takes them a while to get the message. On the arthritis front, you may find it comes and goes. Fingers crossed for the going! Apart from that, test and turn down invitations when you have to and keep active when you can.

Spinnaker Sat 26-Dec-20 23:32:02

Welcome ! You just have to stand your ground I'm afraid and repeatedly refuse to engage in any activity that causes you pain. If you say no often enough then the message will get through - but it has to come from you.

sue421 Sat 26-Dec-20 23:36:12

Oh dear but I understand. You probably need to be 'loudly subtle' in asking to sit in a higher chair, if expected to lift ask for help, if you need to sit just do it and say 'I need to sit a moment'. Really time to say 'I'd love to decorate etc but find I cant at the moment' These are your know what you can and cant do....and you need them to keep moving! People should understand, you are not whinging by mentioning you cant run around anymore. Please look after yourself.

Kate54 Sat 26-Dec-20 23:38:12


Esspee Sat 26-Dec-20 23:41:16

Children, in my experience, see you as they remember you from their youth. BC (before COVID) I had a hard job convincing my elder son that popping over to Texas for a week was out of the question.
I feel you need to sit them down and explain you are in pain and cannot do a lot of the things you used to do. Be straight with them and consistent. Do not force yourself to do things to please others.
You might also want to check with your doctor if it is too late to go onto HRT. Lack of oestrogen is the cause of a lot of osteoarthritis.

Juliet27 Sat 26-Dec-20 23:56:58

As Kate said, arthritis pain can come and go and cold, damp and low air pressure can make it worse. Accuweather gives scores out of ten each day for arthritis risk which is handy for knowing whether to take a painkiller in advance.

Lexisgranny Sun 27-Dec-20 00:08:54

I first developed Rheumatoid Arthritis 40 years ago in my late 30s. I also have osteoarthritis.

Firstly I would suggest that you get a proper diagnosis, “probably” isn’t good enough. Ask to be referred to an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist, both of whom should be able to advise you on ways of making your day to day life a little easier. The correct exercises are essential. As Kate54 says, you may find it comes and goes, but I was strongly advised that during a “fallow” period I should not put extra strain on my joints which might damage them.

In my case, it was only when my knuckle joints began to swell that others really noticed that something was wrong. I know that this is probably not what you want to hear, but I found that the only people who really understand arthritis are those who have experienced it.

I think you will have to come to terms with it yourself and accept that whereas others sympathise with a short term illness, quite often something long term, and often relatively invisible is forgotten after a while. Many think of it as a “bit of arthritis that people get as they are getting older”, and do not realise the pain and limitations that it brings.

As for helping people etc, I should drop into casual conversation that unfortunately as a result of your recent diagnosis you will have to limit/give up some of the activities you have previously enjoyed. Don’t announce it as doom and gloom, just a firm statement of fact.

I hope this hasn’t sounded too harsh, but as you can imagine, over the years, including operations on hands, feet and elbows, I have experienced most scenarios! Good luck.

Marydoll Sun 27-Dec-20 01:09:58

Lexisgranny, we could be twins. Same scenario for me, same timescale. I also have both RA and osteoarthritis. I totally agree with your post, that a proper diagnosis is needed.
I covered up a lot, especially at work. I was also embarrassed to ask for help and consequently I didn't do myself any favours, by not telling my children nor colleagues how unwell I was, for fear of upsetting them.
Our children find it hard to accept that we are ageing and no longer supermums.
You really have to be honest.

Viridian Sun 27-Dec-20 08:21:17

Hello MandK, I'm a 'young' 67, previously with boundless energy and ability, but am awaiting two hip replacements so my life has changed massively. I have two lovely sons and daughters-in-law but find they only comprehend my pain when I'm exact about my needs, so now I say I must sit in the back seat of their cars (less agony than the front) and that I can walk this far but no further. The other day I went for a meal with one son and grandson. I knew the bistro seating was too low, so asked the waitress for a high stool, which helped a lot. It means putting your needs first, which I don't enjoy, but I definitely find that hinting doesn't work! Pm me if you want any more tips - I've had a knee replacement and have a very sore back too.

MandK Sun 27-Dec-20 13:01:28

Thanks so much for wise and helpful responses. Its helpful to hear your experiences and insights. I will follow the advice.

M0nica Sun 27-Dec-20 13:09:54

Just say 'I am sorry I can no longer do that (whatever it may be) because of my arthritis' and then walk away and not do it.

Madgran77 Sun 27-Dec-20 13:16:15

Stare clearly what you can and cannot do linked to your arthritis and suggest alternatives that you can eg" I will have to say No to Zumba because of my arthritic knee but how about we on Thursday so we can catch up? "

Lexisgranny Sun 27-Dec-20 13:17:23

Marydoll I agree with you entirely, our children find it difficult to accept.

I do remember small acts of kindness over the years such as the colleague who at lunch time, used to reach over and quietly remove my yoghurt foil top, knowing that I struggled with it. No comment, no fuss, just did it. It’s so hard to admit that you need help, but I find it staggering to realise that this is something that I have lived with for more than half my life.

Viridian Sun 27-Dec-20 13:45:37

For me the breakthrough came when I acknowledged to myself that I needed help and got a stick (now crutches). Made such a difference but it's a challenge accepting our limitations. Well, it was for me!!!

Nanna58 Sun 27-Dec-20 13:53:25

I have Psoriatc Arthritis and I know how hard it is to ask for help or accept limitations, I do it but as little as possible. My family understand this is how I feel , but wish I accepted more help. DGS doesn’t, when he said let’s run up a hill , and I said “ Don’t think I can pet, I’m 62 and have Arthritis “ He looked at me long and hard then shook his head and “ stop joking me Nan” !!!!😳😂

Theoddbird Sun 27-Dec-20 13:59:45

Have you thought about exercises and gently weights to build up muscle to help support your joints? With doctor's permission of course. I have built up my upper body strength gradually...I am nearly 70 I have arthritis in my hands and have really improved them with exercises the doctor gave me to do

Jane10 Sun 27-Dec-20 14:09:18

Get a good stick (even if you don't need one yet!) and let them see you with it. It's a powerful non verbal cue.

Marydoll Sun 27-Dec-20 14:22:53

Lexisgranny, it was my heart consultant, shocked that I hadn't told my family how unwell I was, who insisted I spoke to my children. However, my children were really upset initially, they couldn't quite bring themselves to ask the relevant questions.
For the first time in forty three years, I asked my children to help with Christmas dinner. I had a great time and so did they, I was neither tired nor grumpy! 😁

Cabbie21 Sun 27-Dec-20 14:23:00

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knee some years ago. I was advised to stay on HRT, which I did for a number of years, and to take glucosamine and chrondoitine supplements, which I still do. They are doing a good job of keeping the arthritis at bay, though it flares up in different parts of the body from time to time: hands, wrists, feet, hips. I can always tell when the air pressure is changing.
People’s experiences vary: there is no blueprint. Likewise there is no shame in saying what you can or cannot do, whether you can offer help, or need help yourself.

lemongrove Sun 27-Dec-20 14:29:31


Children, in my experience, see you as they remember you from their youth. BC (before COVID) I had a hard job convincing my elder son that popping over to Texas for a week was out of the question.
I feel you need to sit them down and explain you are in pain and cannot do a lot of the things you used to do. Be straight with them and consistent. Do not force yourself to do things to please others.
You might also want to check with your doctor if it is too late to go onto HRT. Lack of oestrogen is the cause of a lot of osteoarthritis.

Good post Esspee👍🏻

timetogo2016 Sun 27-Dec-20 14:40:56

Just tell them straight that you are not up to it.
That`s the worst thing about pain,you can`t see it, if you had a scar / broken limb people take it in and understand.

ExD Sun 27-Dec-20 14:53:01

My dear husband has been the most difficult to convince I'm not the super-wife of past years, and this Christmas has been the worst. I don't know why I did it, but I have done every single thing this year whilst he literally sat in his chair and watched me.
Finally I lost it and told him bluntly that just because there was only the two of us for lunch didn't mean any less work and took myself off to bed in a huff

Nannarose Sun 27-Dec-20 14:54:17

Oh, I have been there! Tell them, possibly in a letter, or at a quiet time, when it can sink on. Let them know it makes you a bit sad. Also tell them that you will be keeping on doing whatever you can, safely.
Exercises that strengthen your core are wonderful - think pilates / yoga / tai chi instead of zumba. Think cycling instead of walking (not always, it does depend). And do consider swimming & aquafit when you can.
Consider a private physiotherapy appintment:
They will be able to offer sensible, qualified advice. My own NHS Trust has a great physio service that has operated by phone / zoom over lockdown, but it is patchy elsewhere.

My advice is to try to find the balance between keeping moving, keeping active and engaged, and 'doing too much'. You can find it, although there will be hiccups along the way.
And do make space to let your kids be sad as well - I know that mine 'mourn' their mountain walking mum, and I mourned my dancing mum.

ExD Sun 27-Dec-20 14:57:31

That posted itself too soon
Feeling a bit stupid, and ready to apologise for being childish, I found when I got up he had completely taken note and he's come up to scratch and now can't do enough for me.
Sometimes a big fuss can work wonders rather the softly softly "sit him down and explain" approach.