Friday, January 10, 2020

Boundary work

It’s hard enough to go outside our comfort zones when things are normal, but to do so when dealing with major grief? May as well go climb Mt Everest—it’d be no more difficult to do. Still, there are times when it’s very necessary to make the effort, and during a time of grief is no exception. This week I did exactly that.

Not even everyone who knows me well will also be aware that I’m actually quite shy. I find it difficult to go and do things with groups of people when I don’t know anyone. And yet I still do that sometimes, when necessary, and that’s what I did on Monday.

A long-time Facebook friend of mine, Andy, was coming to Auckland for the day and arranged to meet up with his friends from West Auckland. I’d never met Andy in real life, nor any of his tribe, including another long-time friend, Penny Hulse, a former Auckland Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Auckland. I’ve traded comments and private messages with both for a very long time, and they’ve both been extremely supportive as I’ve dealt with my grief. So, despite the fact that I’d never driven to West Auckland (though I’ve been there, of course), and that there would be a group of people I didn’t know, I wanted to make the effort.

I realised that if I didn’t go, I might never get another chance; losing Nigel has driven home the importance of, whenever possible, never missing an opportunity to be with friends and family because we can never know when our number’s up. I don’t know anyone who’s ever said that they wished they spent more time away from the people they care about, but I have heard people regret not spending more time with them.

So, on the one hand, my natural shyness (a kind of social phobia, really), wanted to pull me back, to find excuses not to go, but my determination to not miss an opportunity like that was pushing me forward. The deciding factor was something very different: I needed to do it.

It’s easy for me to be a recluse—too strong a word, but you get the idea: I can easily choose to avoid gatherings of strangers or avoid activities where I might have to interact with a lot of strangers. That tendency has never been stronger than it is right now: Nigel was my rock, safe harbour, and source of strength, and without him I feel vulnerable and exposed.

Monday was going to be a packing day (a story in itself…), and I could have used that as an excuse for not going. What overcame that was that I thought of a related thing I needed to do, one that would take me near the cafe everyone was gathering it. So, I thought to myself, I could do all that, and if I felt too uncomfortable at the gathering, I could always leave early, while still having accomplished something to “justify” the drive. That tactic worked perfectly.

We had three expired LPG (usually called propane in the USA) gas bottles for our BBQ (they have a set date, and if they expire they need to be certified, a process apparently nearly as expensive as getting a brand new one). These bottles followed us from the old house, but they’d been expired for years before that. There are only a few places that accept old gas bottles, and one was the Waitakere Refuse Transfer Station, which was, Apple Maps told me, 11 minutes from the cafe. And, it pretty much was.

And the people I met? Well, they all had sharp talons, long tails with venomous barbs, and fearsome fangs—and, of course, none of that was true. In fact, they were all lovely and I really enjoyed meeting them and spending time with them—so much so that I stayed until the last ones left. It’s pretty rare for me to go to a place with strangers and feel comfortable enough to stay, so that’s a good indicator of how great the experience was.

I have a history of doing this. I’d only been in New Zealand a few weeks when the company I was working for held its Christmas Party up at Shakespear Regional Park (yes, it’s spelled that way, named after the family that bought the land from local Māori in the 1880s) at the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in northern Auckland. I went, and Nigel was amazed that I did so. I told him at the time it was easier because everything in New Zealand was still brand new to me. Going to picnic at the end of a peninsula in northern Auckland with co-workers I didn’t really know very well wasn’t as challenging as it might have been at another time. Don’t know if I was right, or maybe I have a hidden well of strength to persevere when my shyness would pull me back. This week, I decided to assume it was the latter.

Beyond all that, and most important of all, I know that if I’m going to find a life for myself, I need to take chances and to push beyond my normal boundaries of comfort. I can’t do a lot of that at the moment, and I can only tolerate groups of people for a certain amount of time before it starts to become overwhelming, but I feel that pushing my boundaries will help increase my tolerance for both.

While I think I’m right about all this, I could also be delusional. As I often say, there’s no manual on how to go through the depression of profound grief, but I feel I’m right about this: Getting out and about is a necessary part of the healing process, and vital to my finding whatever my new life will be.

It’s hard to go outside our comfort zones when things are normal, but to do so when dealing with major grief is extremely difficult. Still, it’s necessary to make the effort, even during a time of grief, and this week I did exactly that. It was important progress.


rogerogreen said...

People laugh at me when I tell them I'm naturally shy, because I can be gregarious at church. Or at a party where I know everyone. Learned behavior.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

It definitely is learned behaviour! And specific circumstances matter, too. I used to adopt a persona, a kind of contrived character, when I had to be upfront, like when I was doing politics. It was the only way I could overcome my shyness to get stuff done. Actually, it still is.