By Caitlin Kelly
For some people, including me, setting and keeping tight boundaries around our time, energy, bodies, and psyche presents a real challenge.
I grew up in a bossy, often angry family that rarely, if ever, asked: “How do you feel?”
It wasn’t deemed relevant. Or I guess they assumed I’d speak up, which I rarely did.
I left my mother’s care at 14 when she was suffering from mental illness and not doing a great job with it. The stress was too much for me.
So I did set a boundary and a major one, early. But every time I hear the Cat Stevens song, Father and Son, it wrings my heart — the father pleading, “Stay, stay” and the son replying “I have to go.”
Sometimes you just do.
But it also matters when it comes to work.
Americans – with the worst/cheapest/nastiest labor policies possible — are used to working like dogs, not taking vacations or sick days, working in “at will” states where you can be legally fired for no reason at all.
So setting boundaries is just very difficult in a culture that expects us to be on and eagerly available pretty much all the time.
Last week, I walked away from a writing assignment worth $1,250 with a new-to-me editor at a major website.
I’m not thrilled about this. I have done this three times in my career, when the stress outweighed the income.
That’s a significant loss of income for us and was only possible because we have savings.
It’s not a habit of mine to bail on work!
But nor is it a habit to work with editors or others who are unpleasant or disrespectful.
I could have stayed.
I could have kept working on this story.
These days, decades into my career, I make my mental health the priority.
Setting and keeping a boundary can mean changing the dynamics of a relationship, or ending it entirely.
It comes at a cost, and has consequences, sometimes those we don’t expect or can’t foresee.
But who counts more?