A wall is a serious structure. You can’t just walk through them. Boundaries may be meant seriously, but they are not always taken seriously. While walls are obvious, the markings of a boundary are not always clear and often open to interpretation. It can be pretty easy to just disregard a boundary. Each, however, is useful for maintaining a certain level of separation and safety.
Walls are meant to block out the outside, and protect the inside. A window lets light in, and a door can let people in, but walls are impermeable. A wall is a serious structure, but people can put walls up in a hurry. I think there are situations in which it is important to put walls up, but this requires careful consideration and planning. Why am I putting this wall up? What do I want it to block out? Something like a restraining order qualifies as a wall. Although it is not always easy to build and maintain walls, it may be necessary for a short or extended period of time.
“You can come this far, but no further.”
Boundaries are a great tool. They allow you to value yourself and teach others how you would like to be treated. Creating boundaries is as simple as drawing a line in the sand. So they can be easily adjusted. It’s important to watch for those who try to adjust your boundaries without your say so. Take time to consider what each instance of boundary crossing means to you. It may or may not be intentional. You may dislike it, or it could cause you to reconsider just where you want your boundary to lie. They can be readjusted numerous times and also require a fair bit of determination to maintain, so boundary setting and management are valuable, lifelong skills.
It’s my thought that there are few instances in life where it’s fully feasible to put up a true wall. It may only be possible for a period of time. It might not be possible to put up a wall, even when necessary. When you do build a wall, make sure you have doors and windows in the appropriate places. Don’t isolate yourself. Determining which boundaries are actually helpful and meaningful to you will take some time. Boundaries are hard to get right, for those setting them and for those encountering them, so don’t be too hard on yourself. With practice, you’ll get better at navigating your own, and others.
“I bet you’ll never do that again.”
You might hear a phrase like this when something you’ve been involved with goes wrong. But a lesson learned can mean a number of different things. There are some things that I would not like to try again. There are others I would not try in the same way again. I seek advice from trusted people around me, and choose what to learn from each situation. Life doesn’t just teach us lessons. We can decide what to learn from it.
Avoidance isn’t always bad. Take time to consider the situation carefully and identify possible reasons for the negative outcome. You may choose not to do something again and that is okay. For instance, some people realize that a certain type of job is stressful to the point that it negatively impacts their physical and mental health. Deciding not to enter into a job like this again may be a very healthy decision.
You may return to the exact same situation you were in. Now, you will have to navigate it. Navigating a situation involves knowing what resources would be helpful and which resources are available. Who do you need to support you? How can the knowledge you have gained from past experiences help you make different, more effective choices? How much time do you need, and how much time is available before returning to the situation?
Neither is fundamentally right or wrong. The skill of navigation will grow in importance, and so will avoidance. It can be equally as tempting to completely avoid one situation that we really shouldn’t, while wanting to jump back into another situation, thinking we are ready to handle it. Even if I choose to avoid a situation, it’s still important to reflect on it and learn what I can. And returning to a negative situation doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t learned my lesson. Sometimes it’s not safe to take your boat out on the water due to the current. Other times, with the right skills and support, you can navigate it.
In the first magic blog I described how a full work schedule resulted in the disappearance of my low moods, at a time when I felt depressed virtually all of the time. Because I experienced low energy and motivation, I was surprised how constant engagement with people or some task made me feel less depressed, not more tired. However, once the job was over, I felt depressed again. Since then I have learned more about how activity and engagement are helpful in combating depression or low moods.
Recently I discovered something else that changed like magic. Last semester I was volunteering with an organization. I felt a lot of anxiety at that time, which influenced every part of my life including my volunteer experience. However, this position was different from other work/volunteer positions because I found meaning in many of the tasks I was completing. On the eve of my volunteer shift, or as I traveled, thinking about the project that I was going to work on resulted in something that I have never experienced before. My anxious energy transformed into excited and happy energy. If I remember correctly from my high school physics classes, all energy is just energy. It is only different because it shifts. For instance, potential energy doesn’t disappear when a ball drops. It simply becomes kinetic energy. Until this time, my anxious energy had only felt pure and potent.
My recent experience made me think of model and actress Naomi Campbell, who said that she always felt some nervousness before going on the runway, and that modelling was still exciting for her. This was interesting to me because I had only associated nervousness with dread, not enjoyment. She has said many times that she still loves modelling and the day that she doesn’t, we will not see her modelling anymore. Perhaps the fact that she enjoys modelling so much allows her energy to shift from nervousness to excitement.
Excitement about the tasks I would perform that day did not make my anxiety disappear. I still felt nervous of course, but the rest of the energy became positive rather than negative anticipation. It took me a while to recognize what was meaningful and exciting about the work I was doing, and that was when I experienced the shift in my energy. Let me tell you, it felt like a magic at the time. I was amazed because it had never happened before. I had only focused on reducing or eliminating anxiety. I have experienced positive anticipatory energy towards many activities, but I don’t remember it being transformed from or mixed with anxiety. I had not considered the possibility of shifting it. It makes me feel grateful to be gifted with another method of improving my experience with anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience, so I hope that I can continue to learn how to shift my energy and gain more control over my mental health.
My first year of university was when my anxiety levels first got out of hand. A lot of good things were happening, but many difficulties arose and I was facing pressure to remain in a program I very much wanted to leave. My anxiety levels became overwhelming because of school, and anticipation of this anxiety caused me to become very sad and eventually depressed. The doctor told me I could try medication and/or counselling and I chose counselling.
Sometime later, I was given a temporary diagnosis which included major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. Normal activities were very difficult at that time. School seemed to require so much energy and I found little enjoyment in anything I did. I was used to low moods because I had always experienced them as a child, although not to that extreme. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point, but the levels that I was experiencing were very unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me. The physical manifestations of anxiety were probably the most surprising and worry inducing.
At the time, I think I dreaded the anxiety more than the depression, but I see now that my anxiety could be considered useful. When I was deeply depressed, I couldn’t feel joy or happiness. I had a hard time feeling in general. Therefore I had no motivation because there was nothing to look forward to. Everything began to lose meaning. Had I been depressed only, I likely would have given up on a lot of things, including school. Anxiety made me fear consequences while depression made consequences lose value. Anxiety made me study, go to class, church, because I couldn’t be comfortable lying in bed with chest pains and loud, racing heartbeats. Anxious thoughts made me escape into texts books, rather than staying miserable with my own thoughts. Anxiety made me plan for a future I didn’t even want. As terrible as it was, I can see that anxiety was what pushed me forward at that time in my life.
I hated being anxious, and I still do when the symptoms are more severe, but depression alone would have stopped everything. It’s funny because I think the depression came as a result of prolonged anxiety. My mind and body probably had had enough of being so on edge. But the anxiety continued to interrupt all the effects of depression, just enough to keep me from sinking into a pit that I couldn’t get out of. I like to think my brain was doing the best it could to bring balance to a completely unbalanced situation. The level of anxiety that I experienced was serious and could have led to other issues if not addressed, but I am able to see the value in it as well. The pain wasn’t pointless. Now that I am in healthier condition, that level of anxiety has no positive effect. I also rarely experience that level of anxiety now. But I believe that at that time, in those conditions, despite all the pain it caused me, my anxiety was good to me.