Last week, I had a semi-melt down at 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m lucky to have a roommate who just “gets it.” She saw it all over my face. I was tired. Probably nearly exhausted. I answered a phone call in the middle of the night from someone who was having an “emergency” and though the person felt much better after we talked, I felt awful. The nervous/angry/frustrated energy she had was transferred to me. I think I probably got an hour of sleep after that, and it showed. When I finally dragged myself out of bed to get ready for an hour-long drive to work and a day full of interviews, I was in tears. Ricks reached to give me a hug, and I was too done. It was that moment when I realized I really needed to evaluate the boundaries (or lack there of?) that I had in my life. And that’s just what I did.
The next day, I sat down for a long, uninterrupted journaling session to think through the boundary setting process. A cramped hand and nearly two hours later, I had journaled my way through self-care and and reflected on my relationships. I identified five self-care things I need to do regularly:
- SLOW DOWN. This is probably the hardest but most necessary. I am not superwoman. I do not have super natural powers. I don’t always have to be busy. It’s ok to have nothing to do. It is not a privilege to slow down; it is a necessity.
- Turn off g-chat, turn my phone on silent when I can, and stop checking in with folks so much.
- Keep discovering things that I love and do them–with or without other people.
- Quiet time is a priority. This time for me might include journaling, meditating, reading, or just sitting but it is the time I take to commune with the universe. Doesn’t matter what I do or how it’s done, but it has to happen. Other stuff can wait.
- Let other folks do stuff. Period.
I also thought through the different relationships in my life and created categories to reflect their degrees of closeness to me. Starting with a circle with “ME” in the middle, I drew five circles around it, labeled them, and defined them:
Inner Circle: I know these people would do anything at the drop of a dime for me and would sacrifice for me. I’d do the same. They know my whole self as much as another person can, and they will always be honest with me. As far as I’m concerned, these are the only people who have near-unlimited access to me.
Outer Inner Circle: There’s aren’t necessarily the first people I’d go to for help, but they absolutely have my back. They are close, but most of them know me in parts. Checking in with them regularly is a priority; regularly meaning 1-2 times a month at least. I might not always stop to pick up the phone when they call, but I will always call back.
Casual Friends/Family: These people show care and concern for me when I need it, but they don’t “know know” me, and I’m ok with that. Some of them bring “their stuff” to me regularly, and it can be a lot. I love these people and what they bring to my life, but this is probably the circle that takes most of my energy. I need to set more boundaries here and be conscious about my availability. Many of these people are closer to me than I am to them, and I don’t feel bad about that but I need to be mindful. At the very least, I need to check in with myself to and be honest if I can’t deal with communicating, because while the inner and outer inner circles understand how I communicate, sometimes these friends might not, and I don’t want any hurt feelings.
Acquaintances: I don’t mind knowing what’s going on in these people’s lives, but we aren’t close. No need to feel compelled to check in regularly, and if they contact me, I can handle that on a case by case basis. Let the spirit lead, but remember these people are not necessarily invested in my day to day life. They probably just need something and I get to decide if I can or want to meet that need.
Peripheral: These are the folks who contact me out of the blue for advice, info, connections, etc. They are not priorities. Period.
In some cases, I attached the names of people I talk to on a regular basis to those circles. What I found was really eye opening. I had been spending most of my energy/time on folks who weren’t even in the inner circles. I also realized that some of these relationships are draining because I wasn’t getting much in return. Not every relationship will be equally reciprocal, but it wasn’t until I did this exercise that I really sat down to think about my role in letting those relationships suck the life out of me.
Here is my truth: there are only 24 hours in the day. I had to make some changes to be a better steward of my time. I’m learning to say no unapologetically. I value my relationships, but I am no good to anyone if I don’t take care of myself first.
I don’t typically believe in fixed categories, and this exercise for me wasn’t about banishing someone to the outer spaces of my life. It was about really thinking through how I want/need to spend my time and energy, and sadly, some of the people closest to me have been getting the short end of the stick because I was exhausting all my energy on things and people who could really do without prioritizing. There’s always room for intuition and judgement in the moment to decide how you want to handle a situation. But there should never be a time when you say “yes” so much to others’ needs that you have to say “no” to your own.
If you’re a person who is feeling drained, I encourage you to do this exercise or something like it. As you know from reading our blog, community is something very important to me and I know I sometimes take on a lot of responsibility for that. But the reality is if you are truly in community with others, they want the best for you. The people who love you will understand if you need to reshape your life to better serve yourself and the world around you. Give it a try. Take charge of your time and your life.