Establishing Healthy Boundaries

crime scene do not cross signage

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Relationships aren’t a quite a crime scene, but sometimes it feels like you’re navigating one when you walk into a conversation. And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships. Friendships, familial relationships, all of it can be a minefield when you’re working with other people.

No one is a mind reader. Unfortunately, that means we all need to learn how to communicate. One part of communication that often falls by the wayside is establishing healthy boundaries. If you’ve been reading my blog for long enough, or even just a few posts here and there, you’ll know my motto is “Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” Boundaries can help you do that, and they can also help other people do that for themselves. Communicating about where you draw any sort of line helps keep relationships balanced and healthy, assuming you actually talk about them before it becomes a problem or a crisis.

People are imperfect. And sometimes, setting boundaries hurts them, hurts us, and just doesn’t feel good. Nobody likes to say “no” to their friends, families, or partners, but for the overall and future health of the relationship, it’s important to draw some lines.

Departing from the abstract, I’m going to use myself as an example. Or a couple of examples, really.

I have one friend who, like me, is in recovery from an eating disorder. She has been in recovery for a longer period of time than I have, and she actually is the one who helped me realize that I had an eating disorder before I went to the doctor to talk about it. But how that happened was, I sent her a text asking her if I could ask her a few questions about eating disorders. She responded, and through text, we had this conversation. The next time we saw each other in person, I wanted to talk about it again, to get more information and support, but she told me that she couldn’t do that. She said she was fine talking about it in vague terms via text, but she couldn’t talk about it with me in person, or in any specifics because it triggered some very visceral memories for her. That was a boundary. My need for info and support is not greater than her need for support and comfort around the topic. I can go elsewhere for what I need, and we can still continue to be friends. If she hadn’t set that boundary, something that could have happened would have been that we would have talked about it, she would have felt very uncomfortable and unhappy, and she wouldn’t have let me know, because she didn’t want to upset me or she wanted to show support as I was figuring this out. However, due to her own discomfort and history with an eating disorder, this could have fostered resentment, not necessarily towards me, but possibly, and possibly towards the situation, which, at some point, would have caused her to lash out at me and possibly harmed our friendship. Now, that might not have happened. There’s no way to know, but boundaries are a way to keep that from happening at all.

Sometimes, it’s more complicated than that, though. Saying, “I can’t do this right now,” or “I can’t be that person for you,” or “I can’t be your therapist,” to a person who may be in crisis may cause them to feel rejected and abandoned. Just because you’re setting a boundary doesn’t mean you’re not there for them, but they might not see it that way. Ultimately, you can’t be in charge of or control other people’s feelings, and you shouldn’t cause yourself harm to help others. Again, this is complicated, and I’m talking about on an interpersonal level here. When it comes to the grand scheme of things, sometimes you have to suffer discomfort for the sake of other people (paying extra for your cup of coffee in the morning, for example, so the workers can have a fair wage is totally something that makes sense. Even something one-on-one, like standing on the bus so the pregnant woman can have a seat, that makes sense too). But on an individual, interpersonal level, with your own friendships and romantic and familial relationships, you can’t do everyone’s emotional labor for them.

As an example, if you have work in the morning, but your best friend just broke up with her fiancee, you don’t have to stay up until 3 AM with her to be a good friend. You can talk to her for an hour, say, “Listen, I really need to get to sleep so I can go to work in the morning, can we meet for dinner tomorrow and we can talk all you want then?” and keep going. Sure, she might say, “That bitch wasn’t there for me in my time of need,” but you can’t take that on yourself. Because you are there for her, but the world doesn’t stop turning. You aren’t telling her “Suck it up, buttercup” – you’re just setting a boundary. And if it really does hurt her that you’re not staying up until 3 AM on a work night, hopefully you can talk about that too. Hopefully, she can say something like, “I really felt abandoned when you said that,” and you can talk it out.

Communication is very important, but it is often misinterpreted. Again, nobody is a mind reader. Moreover, nobody is a perfect communicator.

I think I’ve told this story before, but when I was in the midst of a bad depressive spell several years ago, I was having one of those days where I was certain nobody liked me, everyone secretly hated me, and I didn’t have any friends. So I did what I thought at the time was a good communicator thing – and sent a text to three people who I had hoped were my closest friends that basically boiled down to “I’m having a panic attack and want to make sure you’re still my friends.” I didn’t exactly get the response I was looking for for the most part. While one of them said, “yes, we are friends and I’m not great at being in touch but that’s okay,” the other two basically said, “you’re being emotionally manipulative and basically just sent us a message demanding we reassure you that we’re friends, which gives us no room for other answers.” After those interactions, we set up a time to talk in person, where we sort of talked things out, but I feel like nothing really got resolved. One of them told me during that conversation that if I was going to cry, she would have to leave. Which, I have no idea if that was a fair boundary or not, because it was an emotionally charged conversation in the first place, I’m an emotional person in the second place and cry at everything, and in the third place, I was in the midst of an emotionally turbulent period and she knew that. I ended up crying in spite of my best efforts. She didn’t end up leaving, but was clearly uncomfortable. We’re all still friends, but for a while our friendship was severely strained.

Even with the advantage of hindsight now, I have no idea what to make of that series of interactions. I have no idea what kind of boundaries that we could have set, or how we could have communicated better in the first place to ensure that sort of breakdown didn’t happen.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Communication and interpersonal effectiveness is one of the things I’ve been actively working on and learning in my mental health recovery. But this is not something that everyone works on. People are just expected to know how to communicate with other people, and it’s not that easy.

The thing that I am most afraid of in the whole world is abandonment, and being alone. And as far as I can tell, this is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that many people with mental illness fear and live with. I’m afraid of pushing people away because of my mental illness, so I don’t talk to them about it, so they don’t see me, and think I’m pulling away, and then I see that as proof that I’m pushing them away which causes me to isolate more, et cetera. Or I cling too hard, forcing people to overstep their boundaries which causes them to burnout, causing them to feel the need to leave in order to keep themselves healthy, causing me to feel abandoned and cling harder to the people who are around…et cetera again. Communication and boundaries can fix some of this, at least, but you need to be honest, and know how to have the conversation.

One thing that also scares me, I think, is the fact that I scare other people. I have had two completely different people pull away from me because they were scared of what happened and they had to take me to the hospital so I wouldn’t kill myself. On two separate occasions it has happened that I have been in such a bad place I wanted to die, a friend took me to the hospital, and then pulled away from me because she couldn’t support me anymore. It sounds unfair when I phrase it like that, and yeah, I am that person I mentioned above who is a little bitter about it, but that’s mostly because they didn’t talk to me about it. I found out from other people this is why they pulled away. And because I’m sick, because I’m afraid of abandonment, and blahblahblah, that just makes me want to die more. Because if people can’t talk to me, can’t tell me, “I can’t be that support for you right now,” but instead just try to be and then can’t do it? That’s just going to make everything worse. Because I’m going to keep on reaching out for support from a place where there’s no support to be had, and both of us are going to break.

I’m afraid now. Afraid to even talk to most of my friends when I’m even remotely sad, because so many of them have been there, and then haven’t that I am constantly feeling rejected and abandoned. I’ve been trying so hard to communicate my needs and boundaries…but I think they’re walking on eggshells around me. I think they feel like they need to be there for me, and so they try, but they can’t do it, and then they pull away. And that is 100% worse.

Sometimes setting boundaries hurts. But I’d rather you set the boundary once you realize you need it than keep trying when I step over it not knowing it’s there, and then have you pull away.

Communication. It’s important.

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Hang Ups

This is a blog post about sex and sexuality. I’ve written some on the subject before, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, so I’m going to write some more. It will get explicit, so I’m putting it under a read-more.

couple love bedroom kissing

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Continue reading “Hang Ups”

I have nowhere to be angry (it’s all coming down around me)

Today, as many of you know, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed for the Supreme Court.

There are people in my life, people I live with, who are happy with this situation.

One of them said today, before the vote, that “Soon we can put all this ugliness behind us.”

No, no we can’t. Because while some of the “ugliness” of the process was political maneuvering, 99% of the so-called “ugliness” was just the truth of a man, credibly accused of sexual assault in at least three cases, getting a job he may be technically qualified for, but is absolutely all wrong for.

That same person said to me, “He should be judged solely on his record with the law, and his legal record is impeccable.” First of all, no it’s not, but even if it was, politics does not exist in a vacuum. The content of your character and your political leanings and motivations are what create your interpretation of the law. The process of Judicial Review, where the supreme court can “legislate from the bench,” so to speak, declaring legislative and executive acts unconstitutional, has been utilized since since Marbury v. Madison in 1801. (I researched this extensively in high school, though I have not done any work with it since, so while I can recall the basics, I can’t cite textual examples).

People claimed that he was decried guilty before “proven” innocent, but he was not on trial. He was in a job interview. And in my opinion, and the opinion of many others, he failed that interview.

The problem, or one of the problems, at least, is that it was not enough. The proof of his character – that he was angry, over-emotional, and uncaring – was not enough to dissuade the senate from confirming him. That the trauma he inflicted, and forced many to relive didn’t matter. And some would say that it shouldn’t. Like I said, they believe it’s only his record with the law that matters. But even if you were interviewing with some company or organization, it’s not just about your qualifications, it’s about your fit with the company, the corporate policy, and the office culture as well. What Kavanaugh’s confirmation is saying is that the company he fits with is not a company I want to be a part of. It’s a company that says even if I believe you, it doesn’t matter.

And the fact of the matter is, this tells me that there are people in my life who I can’t trust when it happens to me. And I say “when,” not “if”, because the likelihood is that I will be assaulted at some point, and I have certainly already been harassed and pressured into things that I didn’t want to do, that I felt I couldn’t say no to. I don’t think that last part is assault, because I technically did say “okay,” even if I didn’t want to, and even if I wasn’t forced, I was still scared to say “no.” What kind of culture is that to live in?

What does this tell little girls? It tells them that the rich, powerful white man always gets his way, and it doesn’t matter what he does to her. It tells her not to speak up, because she will get death threats, because she will be harassed for ruining his life, even though he has already ruined hers. It tells them that more people would stick to the status quo, and brush everything under the rug, rather than do the work for change.

I am so, so angry. And I have nowhere to be angry, except here, in this blog post. I’m afraid to post on Facebook, seeking support, because I use my privilege to remain apolitical there. I can’t talk to my family, because they’re the ones I live with right now, and I’ve already had to walk away so many times. My personal life is completely falling apart at the seams and there is absolutely no stability in existing.

I wonder why I should bother. I wonder if this is even a world worth living in. And I don’t know what to do right now.

Authentically Me

Because as per usual, when I come back to this blog, I come back and write multiple things before disappearing again – I have more thoughts to write.

I had a conversation with my friends yesterday about the idea of being authentically yourself and living your best life. It came from the idea that when my friends look at me, they see me and my “brand” – that I am unconditionally and irrevocably myself, whereas they feel they think too much about how other people might judge them for being themselves.

I told them life is too short to not like the things you like, to not be who you want to be. I told them that if you can’t like the things you like, then what do you even have? I told them that so many things eat away at you in life – eat away at me (my depression, my anxiety, my self-esteem) that if I can’t throw myself wholeheartedly into enjoying the things I enjoy – if it becomes another chore to me, another worry, then what would I even have left?

I learned this as a freshman in undergrad. At the time, I was sick of being the “nerdy Pokemon cosplay girl”. I thought that nobody saw the real me. And I didn’t know who the real me was. I was obsessed with the idea that I was just putting on different masks for different people, and that none of them were me, and that that was all people saw. I made a Facebook post. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of “what do you think of when you think of me?”

One of my friends said that they thought of my “triangle hair” (I had a really weird hairdo at the time), but the rest of those who responded, including the guy I was dating at the time, all said something about anime, cosplay, Pokemon, or something similar. And the thought of that made me cry.

In the months after that, I thought a lot about why that made me cry, and why I was trying to turn away from things I liked. It wasn’t making me happier. It wasn’t making me a different person. I was still me, regardless of the “mask” I put on to talk to someone, or whatever subject we were talking about. And so eventually, I just went with it. I like the things I like.

I know that sounds like a tautology, but it was a really significant realization for me. I’m allowed to like things. I’m allowed to throw myself into my passions wholeheartedly and earnestly. I’m allowed to be who I want to be.

My name is Nikki. I like anime, cartoons, video games, and comics. I like cats more than most people and wish I could pull of goth fashion and sometimes try to anyway. I like tattoos and Green Day, my favorite song right now is “Broken” by Lovelytheband, and Yuri!!! on Ice saved my life.

If I have one thing going for me, even as the rest of my life falls apart, I know that I will always be me. Honestly, earnestly, unconditionally, irrevocably, authentically, me.

And sometimes, that’s all I need.

Still Breathing on my own

(Or trying to, anyway).

So once again it’s been a few months and life…hasn’t really been kind to me.

I don’t know if I mentioned, but I graduated from social work school with my MSW in May. That was a good thing. I’ve been looking for a job in my field ever since, and have been less than successful – which is hard on anyone’s motivation and self-esteem.

Job hunting has to be one of the most demoralizing things there is to do, and when you’re already living with depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, et cetera like I do, it just makes everything worse.

On top of that, I had to move out of my apartment in the middle of August, and I was effectively homeless for two weeks – I still don’t have my own apartment, but I have moved in with my parents as a temporary solution.

The hard part was, I fell into another suicidal depression. Even though I passed my LCSW exam in August right before I had to move out, which in theory should make it easier to find a job, I’ve just felt discouraged and beaten down. I don’t have any money. I don’t have the ability to support myself. I feel like a failure as an adult and as a person.

I was hospitalized with suicidal intent right after I had moved out of my apartment and when I was crashing on a friend’s couch. I was there for a week. My parents had to come pick me up and take me to their home, several states away from where I lived and where I want to live, simply because I had no other place to go and no way to support myself. I’m lucky that I had them to fall back on.

I have to do a partial hospitalization program while I’m here, and I need to start looking for jobs again. It’s going to be hard to interview when I’m out of state, but I have to try.

Hopefully this is only temporary, like, a few months temporary and not a year or more temporary.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Originally posted text to my tumblr blog, girl-in-the-library

Sometimes I wonder about what other timelines my actions create

Like the other day, I almost left my debit card in a restaurant. Luckily, the server caught me outside before I left and was able to give it back to me.

But what about that me in another timeline, who lost her debit card? When would she have noticed it missing? I didn’t buy anything else the rest of that day, so I wouldn’t have noticed it gone until a day later at least. But would the other me have?

I wonder about darker timelines too – the other week I was driving at night and a kid ran in front of my car. I slammed on my brakes and everything was fine, but I am scared of the me who couldn’t brake in time.

Darkest Timeline Abed

This image is a joke from the show “Community,” episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” 

It could be something simple, like getting orange juice instead of milk at the corner store this morning. But it could be something life changing. And who knows? Maybe that juice would have been life changing.

I’m scared of what these other timelines mean about the me who is here, in this timeline. What does it mean if in some other universe, I could be something or someone completely different? I can see major points in my life that diverge in many possible ways. For example: if my ex never broke up with me I might not be a social worker. The chain of events that led to me becoming a social worker started with me being hospitalized after my ex broke up with me. On the other hand, I may have become a social worker through a more circuitous route – if my ex never broke up with me, my mental health still would have been in decline and I might have ended up in the hospital anyways, thus kickstarting my desire to be a social worker. But who knows?

I know there are timelines out there where I’m dead by this point in my life, due to my own hand, or maybe a bad asthma attack when I was a kid, or some sort of accident somewhere along the way. Who knows?

I just wonder sometimes, is all.

Life’s Gonna Suck When You Grow Up (It Sucks Pretty Bad Right Now)

I stopped taking my meds a week and a half ago. Why? Because I ran out because I haven’t seen my psych in 6 months because making appointments and being an adult is hard. Luckily, I was able to call and make an appointment for this week, so I’ll have my meds again, but being “off” of them again is…weird.

I’m rapid cycling through hypomania and depressive phases – constantly on the verge of weeping and yet moving through life so fast that I can’t control what I do. I’ve been sleeping less and feeling fine about it, except for the fact that every day I want to cry all the time. I’ve spent so much money that I technically have, but shouldn’t be spending, on things that I don’t need at all, though about half of them are useful (dresses and shoes I can wear to work? Useful. Yuri!!! On Ice merch and Harley Quinn cosplay stuff? Makes me feel better, but not as useful.)

I’m still managing to go to work, but I only have a part time job right now, so I’m actively looking for a full time job now that I’ve graduated from my Master’s Program. But that gives me a lot of empty time where I watch youtube videos, laugh manically, watch anime and listen to podcasts, weep silently, shop online, shop in stores, and text and text and text my friends. It’s also a lot of time on the computer.

You know what else is on the computer? The news. You know what sucks worse than my own life? The things I see on the news. Not the least of which is the fact that we live in some sort of fascist something I can’t articulate right now because my head is both cloudier than it ever has been and clearer than it’s been in years. Separating children from their families and putting them in cages is what this country has come to. And by “come to” I mean “come back to.”

I am a middle class (??) white woman with somewhat severe mental health issues. (The question marks are because if it was just based on my salary and assets, I would live below the poverty line. But my parents are helping me until I get a job post-grad, and then I’m on my own. [did the font just change or am I imagining things?] But I also know I always have the opportunity to go back and live with my parents if I need to, and they’re willing to support me that way/help me get back on my feet if it comes to that. Etc). Point being, I’ve been having a lot of personal troubles since I graduated, but when it comes down to it, I’m /fine/. Sure, I may be having a bit of a mental break, but I’ll come out the other side of it probably. And if I don’t then I’ll be dead and it won’t matter anymore.

But my point is literally everything else in the world is a shitshow. And I don’t know what I can do to help. I know I can’t fix it on my own. I live in a blue state with elected officials who are (theoretically) doing their best to change things, and even though I think the system is corrupt and needs to be thrown out completely, having government officials who think that putting children in concentration camps is immoral, child abuse, wrong, what have you is MUCH better than anything that we currently have. So I don’t know that calling them will help, because they’re already working on it. In theory. I don’t have any money to donate. I don’t have a network of influential anything, and while I have some time to volunteer in between the part time job and the job search, I don’t know where or how to help.

What can I do?

And so my morals and my mental health are also almost fighting with each other – because both of them want me to do SOMETHING, but my brain is telling me that if I’m not in the space to take care of myself how the hell can I help anyone else? (Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others). But then my heart is like, “you silent, selfish bitch.” because if I don’t say anything, if I don’t do anything, then aren’t I just complicit in the acts of violence, cruelty, and literally everything else going on?

So I’m in a constant state of personal and interpersonal distress. And I don’t know what to do.

I just don’t know. I just feel like sleeping and screaming and ahhhhhhhhhhh.

So I make gnocchi in spicy tomato sauce for breakfast, tweet about being rickrolled, and post Waluigi memes on my timeline. I search for jobs, and go to work, and text and text and text my friends. And I lay on the couch and cry without crying, without sound or tears, but with great, wrenching sobs. And I still don’t know what to do.