My Shadow Comforts & Setting Personal Boundaries

About a month ago, upon rounding out my third consecutive hour of MTV’s “Are you the one?” (a must-see), I realized suddenly that it was 4pm and sunny outside. My day was almost gone… Ugh.

I decided to close my computer and get on Instagram. Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Time flew by, dead-eyed, lost in what I was seeing and lost at the bottom of a box of Fruit Roll Ups. This was one of those weeks where I didn’t feel like posting, I felt like hiding in a hole from my life. I felt worlds away from almost everyone I love, the weather had been grey and cold, Phil was working long hours and I was anxious about having no control over the processing of my Visa application, my living situation, money, and an illness that would not relent. With all these anxieties flowing through my head 24/7, it’s easy now for me to understand why.  Feeling uninspired and lonely, I was pouring myself into all the super happy and interesting things that were happening in the lives of the people I know (and a few I don’t know.) And avoiding what was going on around me was making me feel worse. 

Before you start feeling bad for me: what feels like ages later, I reluctantly peeled myself out of bed and cracked open my recent go-to for when I need a boost, “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown. Honestly, I can’t stop talking about this book. What I read was about what Brene refers to as “armor,” or strategies we have accumulated over time in order to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. It may seem obvious but most of us have a variety of little tools we use everyday to make us feel better, often driven by anxiety, and often they don’t work the way we’d hope. This kind of numbing can come in all forms; in the form of food, alcohol, caretaking, staying busy, shopping, constant change, the internet, relationships, social media, planning, television… I think you see where I’m going with this. As I read and read, I started to gain a bit of energy, and started to recognize my own behaviors within the pages.

One of the passages that struck me was: 

“When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, booze and food and work and binge-watching endless hours of TV feel like real comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.” 

Holy shit this is exactly what was happening to me. I felt totally helpless about 3/5 of my life but there were another 2/5 that I was letting fall to the wayside because of it. Feeling bad is such a downward spiral and maybe I didn’t really believe it but spending my time worrying about the love triangle between Bria, Zach, and Morgan, seemed like a lot more fun and less stressful than facing what was going on in my own life. Plus, after my Iphone updated the *casual* two hours a day that I now know that I spend on Instagram seems like something I should really address. Time for Holls to turn on the light (get it? to get rid of the shadows) and go outside. 

This is when my day started to change. Walking around the neighborhood, I saw a hundred new things I hadn’t before. I walked by some dogs, I worked up a sweat walking up a steep hill, I noticed tons of leaves who were also trying their best to change, I called my mom to have a chat, I took deep breaths. I even started to forget what was “wrong” with this week and started to remember why I came to Canada in the first place, and why I had always felt that this city was magic. This little walk was the encouragement I needed. 

After this day I’ve tried to make it habit to take stock in the little things I can gain from taking a walk. Or more generally, what I can gain from expending the tiniest bit of effort toward my day. Just that little boost of energy from a change in surrounding can transform my whole mindset, my whole day. I swear to you, I would hide in my bed forever and eat all the candy with no shame if it actually made me feel good but it turns out, it always makes me feel worse. Now I try to ask myself if I think another episode, another cookie, etc., will actually give me the comfort I want, or if going on a walk would do that. Or perhaps calling a friend to catch up, or writing a little.

For me, when feelings of anxiety and helplessness creep up inside, I have to try so hard not to lean into unproductive habits that give me a false sense of comfort. Instead, I read a couple pages, and take a quick walk (usually to get a coffee) and then reevaluate my life afterward. Sometimes I can set totally normal boundaries on my own like, one more episode of Friends – Yes! Other times, I lean into more drastic measures like, setting a limit for my Instagram app enforced by a password that only Phil knows. Or making only two cookies from the roll of cookie dough at a time. But either way, I CAN have control over many aspects of my life, and I can actively improve my days by being present in the moment, not trying to escape it. 

As my life is becoming more busy with volunteering, friends, and going to the gym, I find that it’s easier for me to get out and make that initial effort. I make a little ‘schedule’ for myself if I’m feeling lazy even if the things I have to do in a day are trivial and don’t have a real deadline. I also take a weekly break from social media on Sundays and this has become one of my most productive and happy days. I’ve declared every Sunday to be “Social Sunday”… because I’m actually way more social IRL without my phone attached to my hand. Lastly, I try to do things that remind me of all the good that I have going on – writing this blog is one thing that does that for me, along with making a proper meal, stretching, and trying out a new cafe across town and watching the world go by out the window. 


4 thoughts on “My Shadow Comforts & Setting Personal Boundaries

  1. This one hit close to home Hol. I am having a problem concentrating on the things that are important to me these day. Instead, I’m reading novels excessively and eating all the wrong foods. So, pulled out my sewing machine and am making a good portion of my Christmas presents. Forgot what good therapy sewing is. It’s always been my go to and I havnt seen for years. Scheduling in time to do that is going to be a must for the new year as I embark on a whole new career. Thanks for your words. They help.


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