I’ve seen this word floating around cyberspace frequently over the past several months. A litany of self-help and relationship advice blogs speaks extensively about the importance of establishing boundaries.
While perusing such content, I typically feel bemused about the notion of boundaries. Although I can intellectually appreciate the philosophy of drawing lines to protect oneself and one’s well-being, the particulars of this become nebulous in practice.
For as long as I can remember, my life has been highly public. From my birth until the present day, I’ve witnessed many people — medical professionals, teachers, therapists, and others thrust into my life due to the nature of my disability — talk about me.
Others have spoken in humiliating detail about the various parts of my body, disassembling me time and time again into fragmented brokenness. My exposure to this process over a lifetime has presented me with a strange kind of foundation for the meaning of appropriate conversation.
The particulars of my digestion, oral motor function, balance, sleep patterns, and hundreds of symptoms are not socially acceptable topics of conversation. I know this. However, because I’ve been dehumanized over a lifetime and spoken about consistently in such terms, I tend to unintentionally speak about myself in a related pattern. I have no boundaries.
Even as the words pour out of my mouth, I know the acquaintance or friend I’m conversing with likely will be appalled by the nonchalance with which I insert the words “menstrual cycle” into our conversation.
My life has been characterized by an excess of interactions with strangers in highly personal situations. The forced intimacy with strangers has been an ill-fitting placebo for the gradual, reciprocal bond that blooms over time with those whom you choose to become close. Because others have so frequently judged me solely based upon perceived limitations and problems with my health, I can’t help but do the same.
Being reduced to pages upon pages of health failings drives home an unshakable message: This is all that I am. I am my health problems.
Although I’m not consciously hinging my self-image upon the totality of my health and disability, subconsciously, I can never seem to steer away from these thoughts. Assessment and castigation about my body escape into conversation as easily as somebody might reflect upon a recent vacation or job promotion. The absence of boundaries in my life as a whole reverberates into every sphere of my existence.
Medical professionals have discounted confidentiality, allowing the intimate particulars of my functionality to seep into surrounding landscapes. Not only has the repetition of this experience provided me with a social-interaction model based on judging my own body, but also it has repeatedly whittled down my existence to nothing more than a broken body.
It’s interesting how, contrary to my efforts to imbue my identity with tokens of individuality, passions, and dreams, my instinctual compass points toward self-criticism the moment my mouth opens.
Nothing about my life has fit into a predetermined shape; I scribble outside the lines when I breathe.
The concept of establishing appropriate expectations for a relationship, for any particular kind of environment or interaction, seems foreign to me. The basis of my confusion is hazy even in my own mind.
It seems mostly to be built upon a lack of familiarity with the privilege of predictability. While others may move through this world intent upon refining the strokes they draw upon a page, inside the lines, I’m concerned with the fact that I’m still even drawing.
In the befuddled territory of boundaries, I take a shred of pride and comfort in knowing that while uncharted, for me and my unconfined strokes, the landscape is wild and free.
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