The digital self and boundaries

 

I am writing this on a bank holiday Sunday afternoon. The dogs have been walked at one of our favourite places pictured here in the glorious sun, the house is scrubbed, online church done, incense and candles are on, and I am gearing up to peel myself off the sofa and head back out.

From 1st September I am back to work after 5 weeks annual leave. I hope you have managed to take all of your leave too. I feel refreshed and rested, but one thing that is bothering me is our digital culture and 24/7 expectations of contact.

This is something that has loomed up on me during the pandemic. I am usually very strict on boundaries, they are essential for healthy relationships and for self-care. But during lock down and the subsequent home working period they have slipped. People have referred to ‘living at work’ as opposed to ‘working at home’ and whilst I have still only worked to contract, I have been bombarded by people who don’t feel like this.

I know this an issue impacting lots of friends and colleagues across the UK, with some reporting it is causing them significant anxiety. 

I don’t answer work-related messages during the evenings, weekends or annual leave unless there have been a pre-arranged agreement for me to do so or it is a genuine emergency. Outside of work hours I am living my life.

This is hard to define when so many of us are involved in activism, volunteering and campaigns, but I refuse to feel guilty for looking after myself.

If you send me a twitter DM and I don’t answer, do not send further messages saying ‘as per my last message’, or email/ tweet/ fb messenger/ text/ whatsapp/ ring me etc. My phone is always on silent and I will respond to personal messages when I want to/ have the capacity to. I may appear to be online, but it is often briefly, in between being in and out car, being in company, etc. It does not mean I am constantly available. 

Social media can be an incredible tool, but it lends itself to the idea that we are always available. 

If we want people to remain healthy and strong during the upcoming academic year, we must be kind and respectful and honour people’s boundaries. and priorities. My health and that of my loved ones is my biggest priority in life and always will be.

When I studied for my Counselling qualifications we learned that we are responsible to people, but not for people. That is to say that we are responsible to signpost, safeguard and act within our contractual agreements, but we are not responsible for another adult (there are exceptions to the rule for those who cannot look after themselves). We don’t owe people replies at 11pm, or on a bank holiday weekend. We don’t owe an explanation either.

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Many people are keen to ignore or erode boundaries, this should be a huge red flag. In this new digital world we have been thrown into, we need boundaries more than ever. It is too easy to let things slide.

The reason I bang on about self care and work/life balance is because it is so crucial. If a pandemic hasn’t taught them about what is important in this life, that’s their problem, not yours. Yes there are structural inequalities, I am a fixed-term member of staff with several disabilities, I understand that, but we can also make the choice to push back and create a healthier culture. 

Self care is a radical act and it is crucial for me to be healthy and well. This isn’t a weakness, it is human.  

Gemma x