Cultivating my ‘Safe Space’

I’ve always described myself as quite introverted. Always more comfortable in a library or with a book in my hand, headphones in my ears, and the world held at arms length. To friends and family, I’m loud, talkative and goofy. I’d probably be described as the ‘funny one’. Perhaps I’m more of an extroverted introvert? Once I’m more comfortable around you, I tend to be an open book and my volume increases; but every now and again, I find the need to recharge my batteries, so I hide away in my safe space.

It’s the end of a long week, rushing to and from meetings, working through projects to meet deadlines; and factoring in a bit of social life afterwards, managing diaries and schedules to work out free evenings and nights. There’s times when work/life balance gets a little wonky. Too much of one, and not enough of the other, can lead to stress, low moods, and pressure; and I am often left drained by it.

The best way to describe it when you’re in this meeting, and you know you should be listening, but your mind wanders. You watch the clock slowly tick by, people marching down the corridor or better still, watching trees swaying in the breeze outside. You want to be outside or somewhere else entirely, but you’re stuck and you need to pay attention to what’s being said; but you can’t understand a word that’s being said. It’s too hard, when your hearts not in it.

It’s imbalance. When one aspect of our lives overshadows another. Usually you can say it’s work as we now live in a 24/7 ‘On Culture’; and it’s true that always being tied to desk can lead you to feel burned out, despite the flexibility it promises. However, it’s not the only part of our lives that can impact our health. By taking on too much, and overdoing it in all aspects of our lives, can also lead to this same stressed out feeling. I refuse to believe people can survive a whole week painting the town read, surviving awkward family dinners or dead end dates.

As my former physio reminded me, our body both needs and deserves a break. If you plough from one thing to another without a rest in the middle – you’ll notice warning signs. That draining feeling, tightness in your shoulders, tiredness, irritability and negativity. I ignored those signs a lot through sixth form, university and the start of my career. My excuse would always be that if everyone else could manage just fine than so could I; and so, I never cut myself any slack whatsoever.

I carried on, rushing from A to B. Any free time I did have, I’d hide away in my room. My inner sanctum. It was away from all the noise of everyday life and the quietness actually felt refreshing. I could lay on my bed for hours listening to music, reading books or listening to thunderstorms I found on YouTube. The downside, you’ve probably guessed, is that I wasted a huge amount of time this way.

There was no balance. I’d work, come home, stay in my room, eat, sleep and repeat. It’s oddly sad how years and months blended into one rather depressing cycle. One that was often interspersed with various people saying things like, ‘I’ve not seen you in ages’ or ‘let’s spend more time together’. I’d nod and say the right things, but I never changed out of my routine.

Instead I stayed in my room because it had everything I needed. Almost. It’s hard to convince others to see the same four walls you did as a comfort. Even more so, when they were more extroverted and wanted to do things. They couldn’t understand that my safe space meant I could recharge and face another day trying to juggle things, mostly work and family commitments (and the odd coffee with a friend).

That time spent recharging did come at a price, I barely spent time with anyone; and I grew tired of the cycle, especially when I saw my my loved ones having amazing adventures halfway across the world or enjoying new hidden gems in the city without me. It put a roadblock between me and those I cared about. They had so much to show for it, splashed across social media. What did I have? A steady job and a room that was just mine (with an old shoebox of stuff I’d collected at uni like old movie tickets and receipts – ghosts of the past). I’d had the odd day out, but that didn’t seem to satisfy this need in me. I wanted more.

The more I ached for it, however, the less I did about it. I spent more hours flicking through ‘things to do in this city’ or blog posts about exhibitions. Exploring online, instead of offline. It wasn’t satisfying.

At the start of last year, I resolved to become less introverted and step outside of my safe space (read: comfort zone). No more staring at websites and coming up with amazing things for a bucket list. I did more, I enrolled on a postgrad course, went to gigs, did girlie trips and weekends – even went on blind dates! There was the worry that I’d bitten off more than I’d chew, but this was exciting and exhilarating.

The voice in the back of my head, however, was that of my physio reminding me to pace myself. Find balance. I still needed that time to recharge, alongside building more of a life for myself. It was a work in progress, and if I’m honest, one I’m still working on. But in the course of a year, I didn’t find that I was drained so much by people. Instead it was a joy. I didn’t crave to be alone in my room anymore.

Activities and crowds could still be taxing and tiresome; but I enjoyed spending time with those I cared about, sharing and making memories. It was something I hadn’t realised I’d missed. It made me wonder if a safe place could even be a room, or a physical space. Could it be a person?

I think by going outside, I was able to enjoy more and create healthier relationships. No more feeling guilty for bailing or not spending enough time with people; and it meant I could share in adventures now rather than watching from the sidelines. It’s massively improved my wellbeing and my connection to family and friends.

Now my room is just that, it’s no longer my safe space. I’ve found that comfort I had in being alone by being with my family and my partner now. I can talk to them to off-load, talk through any problems I had, laugh about something stupid and relax. Everything I’d done on my own before; and as cliché as it sounds, it was better sharing it with someone. I didn’t have to face everything alone.

It was good to have a safe space to run to as a port in the storm, but it’s even better to find that in people to help you through through the bad days; as well as help you pass the good days.

Memories and adventures are always better shared.

~ E

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