Boundaries

About a week or so ago, I came across a video on Facebook from an interview with Brené Brown. As usual, I was captivated by what she had to say.

In this interview she talks about the importance of boundaries, and how empathy and compassion go hand in hand with having good boundaries, which is something I haven’t realized until now.

Then, a couple of days ago, I also came across an article on the topic of boundaries. It felt like the universe giving me a sign. So since then, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I’m sensitive to other people’s energies, and tend to take their feelings on as my own. If someone is stressed and overwhelmed, even if I was in a peaceful mood, I suddenly become just as agitated as they are.

This leads to me feeling as though I need to “fix” them. That it’s my responsibility to make them feel better. Could this perhaps be a selfish thing? By making them feel better, or doing things that I think would make them feel better in such a situation, isn’t that just an attempt at making myself feel better? Almost like saying “I don’t like that you’re feeling this way, it’s making me uncomfortable because what you’re feeling, I’m also experiencing.”

When I look at it this way, then in this interview, when Brené says that some of the most compassionate people she knows are also some of the most boundaried, then her words make sense. If I have good boundaries, I won’t be taking on the other person’s emotions, but will rather be able to keep a healthy distance. And that will help me better support that person. Does this make sense?

I’ve realized that because I don’t have firm boundaries when it comes to what I let in, I’m almost constantly emotionally exhausted. I can’t, and don’t want to, do this anymore. It’s not healthy.

I got to practice this just yesterday. Elizabeth was upset with someone who had crossed one of her boundaries and was being rude and disrespectful. She had walked away from this person in order to get some distance, because she was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t want to say something she might regret. I listened to her, and really focused on what she was saying and the feelings she was expressing.

Just being present with her there in that moment, but mentally picturing a bubble around each of us, helped me gain that necessary distance between her emotions and mine. I could still empathize with her, and offer compassion, but her emotions didn’t affect me negatively. I wasn’t able to keep it up for very long though, but I think this is one of those things that we become better at with continued practice. The little bit I managed to do already helped quite a lot.

When she was feeling calmer, I told her I’m going to go do my own thing for a while, while she speaks to the person who had upset her. I went to the room, put on some music, and worked on some photo’s. I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed, like I would have and managed to let go of the little bits of negative emotions that she had expressed. Knowing that those emotions weren’t mine, I was able to more easily return to my own equilibrium.

Boundaries are so important. And they aren’t selfish. After all, you can’t be there for someone if you’re so overwhelmed yourself due to having weak boundaries. In 2018 I’m going to focus on strengthening my own, and implementing them more effectively. I only realized, after watching the video, and reading the article, just how much I’ve been negatively affected by other people and situations. Unnecessarily so, because I haven’t had proper boundaries established. It’s my responsibility to look after my mental and physical well-being. Not having the right boundaries in place, has made me give my power over to situations and other people. My goal is to work on that. I’ve already started, and I know I can do this.

Here’s the video for anyone who’s interested:

You can find the article here:

10 Great Things That Happen When You Set Boundaries

Wishing you all a wonderful 2018. Thanks for all your support this year.

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Let Me Disappear

Right now I just want to disappear. I’m feeling overwhelmed, which is strange, since there isn’t actually anything that justifies having this feeling. I’m on leave until early January. I’ve finished up all the client projects I’ve been working on. Done and dusted. Yet, I feel this sense of dread. Impending doom. Why? I can’t consciously find a reason for this one either.

Things just don’t feel right. I want to take my whole batch of Quetiapine and just sleep for as long as it will allow. I’m at that place again where I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die either. I don’t know what I want.

I just don’t want… this. Whatever the hell “this” is.

Impermanence

Last night I was deeply aware of the impermanence of life, and everything it represents.

I was sitting with a sadness that can be described as bittersweet, instead of dark and heavy.

The event that precipitated that mood and experience was what took place during group on Tuesday evening. It was the last meeting for the year, and one I had been looking forward to from the beginning of the week. Little did I know it would be the worst one I’ve attended.

The psychologist who was leading the group opened up with an announcement that they’re changing the way the program runs. It will now only be a 12 week program. Those of us who have been attending for longer than 12 weeks, would be having our last session at the beginning of February. So much for “you can attend for as long as you want.” Such a let down. There are about five of us regulars who are immediately affected by this decision. And needless to say, none of us were happy about it.

This announcement was poorly executed in my opinion. I feel it would have been better had he told us this closer to the end of group, and allowed us to discuss it then. Going into skills training after that announcement wasn’t the wisest decision. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Another thing. Telling us this at the end of the year? During a month that a lot of people struggle with as it is? Perhaps waiting for the new year would have been the safest option.

Two of us left about halfway through. Staying just felt pointless. I had a lot of confusing emotions bubbling under the surface, and I just wanted to get out of there. That safe space suddenly felt unstable. For most of that evening, I was cycling so fast between different emotions, I couldn’t pinpoint just one to deal with.

It was only late that night, while talking to Elizabeth about all of this, that I realized the subconscious driver of these emotions. That of abandonment. I have felt rejected by the OT I had been seeing for a while for individual sessions, and now by the entire team. But this time, I’m not the only one who was being abandoned. There are others involved as well. Some of them more in need of these regular group sessions than others.

Before talking to Elizabeth there were a lot emotions and underlying thoughts that I wasn’t fully conscious of. So when I was speaking with her, and these things were just flowing out of me, I was surprised by some of them. I found I was having a lot of paranoid thoughts. She validated them, and told me that she can see how I made those connections, but that it doesn’t mean they’re true. I was surprised when she told me that in a situation and time like this, we need to look at what we know. Look at the facts. So she helped me with that exercise. I didn’t even know she knew about this. And it’s one my therapist used a lot with me. So it was actually very helpful and soothing having Elizabeth do this with me as well. She also helped me put things in perspective.

One of the fears I discussed with her, was that of losing my therapist. After all, I had just experienced how something that can feel so stable and predictable can so suddenly end. What if my therapist decides our time is up… that I’m ready to end therapy? I told Elizabeth some of the things my therapist had told me over the course of working with her. She told me that she doesn’t think my therapist would go back on her word. That from everything I’ve told her about Therapist, she sounds ethical and professional, and that her care for me is genuine. These days, deep down inside, even when these fears of my therapist abandoning me come to mind, I can still (if only minimally sometimes) feel the secure, stable base we’ve built, and trust in that. Trust in her, and our relationship.

All of this made me sit up and take note of the impermanence of things. I thought of some of the people I’ve lost. I missed some of them so much. But I also felt a great sense of gratitude for these people. Even for those who had hurt me, and abandoned me in horrible ways. The truth is, not everything was bad. There were good moments too. And those are the moments I focused on and felt grateful for.

Nothing in life ever hurt me so badly that I could not survive. I made it through. I’m alive. The good might not have lasted. But the bad also came to an end. None of it was permanent. This is why it’s so important to appreciate those souls we have in our lives, and let them know from time to time how much you value and love them. You never know when you won’t get that chance again. There’s so much I wish I could have said to my grandmother, things I wish I had done differently during her final days, for example. I didn’t get a second chance. But I have the chance now, with those still in my life.

I sent Elizabeth a voice note (I wanted her to be able to listen to it whenever she needs it), telling her how much she means to me and how deeply I love her. I did the same with a few other people I value. By doing this, you’re giving these people a beautiful gift. One that money just can’t buy. So I encourage you, go ahead and tell someone how precious they are to you. How their very existence brings light into your life. Don’t wait. Things can change and end in an instant. Tomorrow may not come.

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The Dangers and Complications of Assumptions

I finished a Wilbur Smith novel a few weeks ago. The ending unsettled me.

In the second last chapter, the main character’s wife finds “evidence” that her husband has just been with another woman. All the signs were there. Her assumption could easily have been correct. But it wasn’t. Things weren’t as they seemed. It ends with her taking her own life.

Because of an assumption, a husband lost the wife he adored.
Because of an assumption, a young child lost his most significant attachment.

This really disturbed me. I felt like throwing the book out the window. If you’ve ever watched the movie “Silver Linings Playbook”, you might remember the scene where Pat (the main character) reaches the ending of a book, yells “what the fuck?”, and tosses it through the window. This scene resembled my reaction upon reaching that part of the book I was reading. The only difference was that I didn’t actually throw the book. I treat books like gold.

I had been wanting to write this post since that evening, but hadn’t gotten around to it. But then today, something came up that reminded me about it. I’m not going to go into what it was, as I want to keep some of my relationship details just between me and Elizabeth, where it belongs. I’m not one of those people who will call up their family or friends to complain about their relationship. It’s okay to discuss these things in therapy, but that’s about it. That’s a personal choice.

I accidentally stumbled on something that looked very suspicious (regarding Elizabeth), and my automatic reaction was one of shock, horror, and I felt the blood drain from my face. I went ice-cold. The assumptions came fast. When I became aware of these thoughts and the accompanying emotions, I decided to take a step back. It wasn’t easy, as the adrenaline was coursing through my body. It was difficult to focus. Once I had calmed myself down enough, through the square breathing technique I read in my CBT for Anxiety Workbook (it works!), I started challenging those thoughts. The strangest thing is that deep down inside I already doubted those assumptions, knowing that Elizabeth wouldn’t do something like that, but the feelings and thoughts were so intense that it kind of muted that doubt every few minutes. I knew the thoughts wouldn’t stop (I struggle with obsessive thoughts), or that I would continue to go around in circles with my thinking, so I did what I believe everyone should do when situations like this arise. I asked Elizabeth about it. I told her what I had seen, and asked what was going on.

Something like this had happened before. Not to such an extreme, and nothing this intense, but still significant none the less. I had held onto the assumption I had made, and indirectly accused her, which she quickly picked up on of course. That day, after talking through that, Elizabeth and I had made an agreement. We would ask one another when things like this happen, and not let assumptions rule until we have a chance to talk things through. I remembered that, so this is what I did.

After we had spoken about this thing today, she thanked me for asking her and not accusing her of something that wasn’t true, or automatically running with, and believing the assumption without having spoken to her about it and listening to her side of it. I feel like our relationship has strengthened as well. I’m more secure in it than I’ve ever been.

Anyway, it was not what it had initially looked like, and those assumptions actually didn’t even make sense. They didn’t add up, but the facts did. What she told me, the truth, made complete sense. She even sent me proof, even though she didn’t have to do that, because I trusted her word. There was no fighting, no argument, just a mutual exchange of information and facts. I chose to trust her. I still choose it. She told me that something like this might come up for her in the future too, and then she’ll also ask me before making major assumptions and letting those assumptions dictate her behaviour. I like this agreement. It works. I do trust her… More than I have anyone else in any of my previous relationships. She’s geniune, and has been completely open and honest with me from the start, so I have no reason to doubt her.

In the past I would have believed the assumption though, pushed her away, and vowed to never trust her again. I’ve dealt with lots of negative consequences due to believing the assumptions my mind threw at me. We can’t stop that initial sting, that initial doubt, anger, or any other unproductive emotions that pop up. But we can choose what to do with it once we’re aware of them. Do we challenge them, or do we let them consume our minds, causing further distress? The choice is ours.

Assumptions can be dangerous, as I saw in that novel. I know it was only a novel, but these things happen in the real world as well. That’s the scary part.

The saying “assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups” is a true one. The “ass” in “assumption” rings true as well.

perceptions

What I Want Now Vs. What’s Best For Me

It’s been a long and busy week, full of stress and pressure. Not all of it external, some of it was self-inflicted. But here’s the thing. Most of it was at a healthy and reasonable level. When I think back to the stress, anxiety, and the pressure I felt to perform at all of my previous jobs, I notice the difference to how I’m experiencing these feelings now. I’m doing work I enjoy, and I’m my own boss. This makes such a huge difference.

I’ve also learned a surprising thing this week. I’m much more passionate about web and graphic design than I am about photography. I’m also so much more confident in myself in this field. There have been a couple of times where I surprised myself this week in doing something in record time, pulling off “the impossible”, or having just figured something out on my own. When that happened, I felt a gentle sense of pride in myself, and gave myself a pat on the back. With my photography I hardly ever felt proud of myself, just like a failure.

There were a couple of moments while working on my design projects where I felt so overwhelmed and just wanted to scream and bury my head under some pillows. But, instead of panicking, I got up, stepped away from what I was doing, took some deep breaths, and started speaking out loud to myself. Telling myself that I’m in control. The work doesn’t control me. The clients (or my dad) don’t control me. I am in control, and I don’t have to give my power away. These conversations with myself really helped a lot. I feel good about what I accomplished this week. Sure, I wish I didn’t get tired and overwhelmed so easily, but I do, and I need to accept that and be kind to myself. I need to know and respect my limits. Know when I need to push myself just a little bit more, and when to step back and take a break. I’m trying to learn how to balance things.

Since waking up this morning I’ve felt low on energy and depressed. There were a few things I wanted to get done on one of the websites I’m building, and starting feeling some pressure to do it. So I decided that I’m not going to work on anything today. I’m taking a break. I’m photographing a newborn tomorrow, and those sessions can last up to three hours, so I want to give myself some time off. I’ve worked hard and long hours this week, and I deserve a break.

All I want to do right now is stay in my room. I don’t want to do anything. Usually when I’m feeling low on energy I enjoy just reading, writing, and maybe watching a movie or episodes of a series I like. But with this depression, I don’t even feel like doing that.

Elizabeth and I have plans tonight. We’re meeting up with one of her friends who’s visiting South Africa from Europe, and one of his other friends. I’m not in the mood. Like I said, I just want to stay home. I know I can tell Elizabeth that I’m not coming, and stay at home instead, but I also know that would not be the best thing for me. If it were just tiredness, and I wanted some time to myself to “re-set” or refresh, I might have cancelled. But I know myself. If I stay here, the depression will just grow, I’ll get bored, and go down a very slippery slope. I just have to look at past experiences to see how good it had been for me to go out when I had felt this way, versus how I had felt when I had stayed at home in this current state I find myself in.

What I want right now, isn’t what’s best for me. Staying here won’t serve any good purpose. Sometimes we have to do what we don’t feel like doing, if we know it’s the best thing for us in the medium to long-term, and for our well-being. So I’m going out.

It might be just what I need.