Taking care of ourselves has become increasingly important as we enter into what will be yet another year of social distancing. Many of us no longer work in offices, no longer shop in stores, and no longer stop by the local bar for ambience and a drink. We’ve lost access to the environments and experiences that were keeping many of us going.
And while this time at home has served as the break that we needed, it’s also revealed some much needed housekeeping. Sure, the housekeeping of tightening screws and dusting surfaces in our living spaces, but more importantly mental housekeeping. Things that we were unaware of or could hide from are now staring us in the face. Anxiety. Depression. ADHD. Imposter syndrome. Experiencing and discovering all of this when you don’t exactly have immediate/in-person access to resources can be overwhelming.
So what have we done to ease ourselves?
We’ve cooked, We’ve binged series. We’ve video-chatted with loved ones and friends. We’ve dated online. We’ve started and joined crazes like Tik Tok dances and online challenges. But when we aren’t entertaining ourselves, how do we fill/spend our alone time? How are we holding it together?
In some moments it feels like all that’s holding us together, personally and as a society, is chewing gum and bandaids. With no real end in sight, depending on how you feel about vaccines, we must acknowledge that this is no longer a physical game. It’s a mental one at this point; mental, emotional and spiritual. Essential to all three of these is self-awareness: knowing what we need and knowing how to say no to what we don’t.
And you know what requires? Boundaries.
Not the biggest of words, no, but definitely one of the heaviest. I recently learned that I don’t respect boundaries very well based on feedback from a friend. Hearing this was like taking a bullet for a number of reasons. One because I haven’t known them very long. Two because I enjoy spending time with them. And three because I knew it was true. Up until that point, I’d observed it in myself without any clue what to do about it. Some people tried their best to tell me, but most of them beat around the bush. This particular person who told me recently is just getting to know me and I’m guessing felt like they had nothing to lose in being honest. It was taking a bullet but I had to respect it.
So how did this all begin? Let’s take a short-ish stroll down my memory’s lanes.
I grew up in a pretty tight knit family. My parents raised my brother and I to be very close even when we could barely stand to look at each other – which only lasted into our early teens. We were also very close to the rest of our family often spending entire Sundays with cousins, aunts and uncles for family dinners. Our grandmother would cook incredible meals that we’d wait hours to eat. We played until we couldn’t play anymore and then we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore.
It created a very strong bond between each of us to the point that even when we fought we always came back to each other. It’s a closeness that my grandmother has sewn into every generation of our family. I say all that to say that we didn’t exercise boundaries very often or well. Staying close to one another is what helped my granny, mom aunts and uncles survive.
And because it was essential to their survival, it was ingrained in all of their children as well – my brother and I included. The sacrifices that my family members have made for one another, the levels of protection we’ve exercised to preserve our bond, the closeness of quarters that we’ve lived and celebrated in, the pride we have because our grandmother extended our family’s legacy (beyond Texas and into California) – somehow all of that has made it so that boundaries were often blurred. That and the fact that we never talked about them.
The word was never even uttered and so I never knew them to exist outside of being told not to let anyone touch my body that wasn’t myself or my parents. It left a lot to be interpreted and so some of my relationships have suffered because of it. So, in staying at home and just wanting to better myself in general, I’m taking a lot more things into consideration. Thankfully, in this age of social media, memes and constant theorizing, there’s an abundance of accounts with incredible content created by healers and therapists that remind us to boundary-build.
I think a lot of my boundary blurring has been centered around anxiety and a lack of self-appreciation. While I’ve grown to love myself, I also very much still care what the people close to me think of me and have at times enjoyed their company over my own. Especially now, with boredom at an all time high, I’ve caught myself wanting conversation and stimulation more than usual. All of this is real for me and many of you reading this right now, but it doesn’t take away from the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries as I learn to set my own. It’s fine to miss human interaction, to miss loved ones, to miss outside. However, it’s not fine to see people’s boundaries as grudges or to avoid truly checking-in with ourselves.
Pre-COVID life, for many of us, was characterized by pouring from half-filled and empty cups to the point that now filling our own cups first seems out of the ordinary. Working, loving, moving from a filled cup sounds foreign because we were giving too much of ourselves to jobs, people and “the hustle”. So, now, it’s a matter of figuring out how to fill our cups in a sustainable way. My cup fillers have been working out, cooking, reading, listening to music, journaling and meditation. Journaling, in particular, has gotten me through really tough moments. It’s helped me hold myself accountable. I want and need to spend my time putting myself and my goals first. Similarly, the other activities have reminded me of what I enjoy, who and what’s important to me. It’s been eye opening to say the least.
I don’t always have the answers. I’m not always consistent with maintaining my energy, but I’ve found tools to help me manage. Surviving tough times is very much a matter of having and communicating boundaries. We can’t put energy into people and things without determining whether we have it to give. My energy is restless a lot of days, at peace some days and a mixture of both other days. Regardless, I’m extremely grateful for the people in my life that have been and become my mirrors. I’m determined to continue learning about and valuing myself while exercising that same level of compassion for others. It’s the only way to move now. We’ve lost so many lives to a number of causes. Time is not guaranteed to anyone and making the most of it means treating yours with care