There are days when I feel incredibly broken… and I am tempted to believe that this is just my life now – that only being capable of doing very little is the new normal.
But there are times when I stop and look back, and I try to consider myself objectively. In those moments, I am amazed at how far I have come, and at the healing we have experienced in a relatively short time. Some of the reasons for this are still outside my ability to explain, but there are a few ways of living that have helped along the way. They are mostly habits that were already in place that have become all-important for me this year.
The first one I want to talk about has to do with boundaries. In particular, having to do with social expectation and interaction.
I walled myself off pretty closely for a few months. I kept in regular contact with a very few trusted people, seeing them in person or talking on the phone so that I wasn’t isolated or lonely. I didn’t go to gatherings or public places where I might run into someone I knew. I kept in touch with most people through email: which I checked and answered when I was up to it. I spent time only with people I knew were in a place to be sensitive to what I wanted to do or talk about, and didn’t need anything from me.
I needed to protect myself – I have been very fragile. Many of the people we know are amazing, kind, generous, wonderful people. We also interact with a lot of people who are less than whole, or who have their own needs and troubles. (I’ve struggled with how to put this into words, but I expect that many of you will know what I mean.) There is a kind of interaction where the other person is taking something – where they come with their own need or expectation and want me to meet it. Someone needs me to receive or comfort them in a certain way. Usually I have the emotional resources to either choose to give, or choose to respond in another way that handles that person with care. But in a weak place, I’ll either just let them take what they need (out of an empty tank), or say something to get that person to back off (probably a hurtful thing). Both of these reactions have a cost, and I haven’t wanted to pay it.
Another reason is the added anxiety that comes with social interactions – you have no idea what other people might say or do! They might be engaging, insightful, and kind – or ignorant, complaining, and inappropriate. Or anywhere on the spectrum in between.
Plus, as an introvert, social interaction is tiring for me, so I rationed it pretty carefully.
In December, I started expanding those boundaries slowly. Every once in a while, I stretched too far and need some recovery time. I’ve protected the boundaries fiercely, saying no to a lot of things I would normally want to do (and some things Mike really wanted me to do). I’ve listened very carefully to what I feel I can or can’t do. I’ve put off making plans or commitments until I think that I can follow through (I know myself, once I have said I will do something, I’m not likely to back off).
And I’ve seen huge change over the months in my desire and ability to be out with people. We’ve had remarkably few interactions where people have said ridiculous things. (I did just about yell at a woman I had just met – she kept asking questions about the details of “what happened.” It wasn’t the questioning, but the total lack of kindness or compassion in any of the questions that really bothered me. However, I remembered my deep respect for our mutual friends, and just kept quiet. I’m counting that as a win.)
I’m still trying to guard my time pretty carefully. There are a lot of amazing people on the West Coast, that I really want to spend time with. But I know how desperately I need to rest and recover after the last few months of intensely pouring out – and I want to be energized heading into the next season.
Although I think boundaries are generally a good thing, I’m not a huge fan of living in a defensive position. But for this season, to protect time and space for healing, it has served me well.