MANW Check-In Week 43: Setting Boundaries for Self-Care

Make Art Not War October Challenge Badge

Continuing the theme of SELF-CARE today! This post is all about something important I want to discuss, because I feel that the expectations we perceive and deal with on a day-to-day basis shapes how we take care of ourselves. First, let’s review where I’m at for my pledge!

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • October has been pretty wild for me; it’s been a jam-packed month, for sure. Think James and the Giant Peach. Only, Monica and the Enormous Pumpkin. I have made more progress on my Sekrit ProjektTM though, so my obligations this month have been fulfilled. Huzzah!
  • No issue with motivation. It’s been the exact opposite. DO THE THING! DO ALL THE THINGS!
  • You know, logging my time? That hasn’t been working for me. I want to explore that further in a future post.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017 You’re looking at another post, right now! Hee.
  • I’m good re: social media. I don’t look at it unless it’s outside of work hours, and I uninstalled the platforms from my phone. I tried a few times to figure out what I needed to do with it, and right now this is better for my overall well-being.

I am enjoying the Fall season, in part thanks to the Pokemon Go Halloween Event. It’s helped me get a baseline of steps in, and though I am behind ramping that up to the next level? I really can’t complain, because I’m paying attention to what I need to.

On to the topic for today’s uh… lengthy post!

Relationships and Setting Personal Boundaries

Okay, when I talked about the importance of saying “No” for self-care, I brought up social pressures stemming from our interactions online. I want to explore this further and shed some light on a few nuances you may be struggling with. I’m going to start with the world I know: public personas.

When we look at our relationships, we can categorize how we know and maintain friendships based on our interactions. Simplistically, think “work”, “home”, “school”, etc. Now, add in a layer of social media/online persona. What happens, first, is that we receive new information about people we already know. That accountant you’ve been friends with for years turns out to be an Internet troll. That receptionist you’ve just met is an active community organizer. We also, however, form opinions of people we don’t know very well if at all. Our interactions online are affected by how we use the tools; no one person uses them in the same way twice. Nor, as I’ve come to learn, do people treat and view friendships they’ve made online the same way as they do in person. For one person, friending someone on Facebook means you’re friends no matter what. For another, that “friendship” represents a connection online that could, if it needs to be, severed with no consequences.

To say I’m a complicated person with a dynamic personality is an understatement. I’m incredibly self-conscious of the fact that I can walk into a room and change the mood, so I’m always seeking ways to actively manage my personality so I don’t dominate a crowd. That, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen; when people know me, know who I am, we’re cool. When they don’t, the reactions are mixed–especially living in the Midwest. Now, translate all of this to an online space. All you have are my words. You don’t see the wild hand gestures, the mood shifts as I switch from one project to another, the times I retreat to plot and think about my work. What you do read, however, are updates about me and my work, the occasional awful joke, some social commentary, and my blog posts. That’s a shade of who I am. It’s the highlights reel I maintain to connect with readers, but also to offer some authencity as well. If I say something, I do mean it. If I ask a question, however, it’s not to be educated or talked down to. It’s because I feel I will never stop learning; to understand a complex issue, sometimes I need to get different perspectives on it. So for me, the tools are sometimes limited because I feel the manner of exchange doesn’t always facilitate what I get out of face-to-face conversations.

That’s just me. Now, think about yourself. How you use the tools. How your relationships function. Multiply that by millions. Pretty mind-boggling, eh? The point I’m trying to make here, is that sometimes feelings of exhaustion can originate from an unlikely source. It could be you’re performing too much emotional labor to figure this shit out. Or, you’re frustrated because you’re trying to have a really important discussion but the popular tool you’re using has its limits. If any of this sounds familiar to you, consider setting some boundaries to give yourself a break. I recognize that a time limit may not be the answer for you. Maybe the problem has more to do with who you’re interacting with than how. Yes, setting boundaries can be complicated, because you’re opting to act based on a feeling tied to your personal situation. My suggestion here, however, is that if you are struggling? Maybe it is time to make a change.

Power Dynamics and Boundaries

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to set boundaries, is because often that requires putting distance between someone or something. Often, that means extricating yourself to either be alone or make better use of your time. It sucks, it can be nerve-wracking, and it feels terrible because setting boundaries — if you don’t already have them in place — is a form of saying “No.” Boundaries are often based on power dynamics, too. Abusers don’t care about boundaries; that is how they maintain the upper hand in a relationship. Sometimes, victims mimic an abuser’s behavior because they haven’t learned what healthy boundaries are. Only, the victim doesn’t realize they are in danger of becoming the abuser. They cross boundaries, because it gives them that sense of personal power they need. Having quite a bit of experience in this arena, I do want to gently point out one thing: setting boundaries is an act of self-care because it’s for you, your health, your safety. Putting yourself in harm’s way to avoid letting the bullies win is not a sign that you’ve failed and they won. If you need to walk away, walk away. Heal. Live.

While abuse and harassment are two examples of the need for boundaries, there are other forms of crossing or manipulating boundaries that greatly depend on the strength of your relationship with the other person. Those have more to do with how you’re perceived on a personal level. A successful individual might present one “face” to their audience, then snicker or even sabotage you behind your back. Your boss might be your best friend, but how much do you want to disclose to them? In a world where judgments are rampant, based on what we post and how we engage, there are plusses and minuses to having a profile. As long as you’re okay with what you reveal, then that’s really all that matters. There will be consequences regardless of what you post, if you post to begin with, and how frequently you update your profiles. Social media has offered passive data points for others to judge you and use that information how they see fit–even if you don’t use the tools. Our online usage has become so integral to how others perceive us, it’s almost like wearing a second skin.

Public Profiles and Expectations

Keep in mind that relationships don’t stay the same, either. They also change as your profile/digital footprint increases or decreases, because other people change their expectations and assumptions about who you are and what you can do for them. Most people operate out of self-interest and that word carries a lot of baggage. (Yes, even altruistic people want something, even if it’s not directly related to their well-being.) Say you’re an actor and one of your friends gets a gig on a popular television show. Do you treat them differently because your friend is recognized in public? Do you expect that person to show you around and network? Now, flip that around. Say you aren’t an actor at all, but your friend is now in the public eye. How do your interactions with that person change?

Public profiles will shift how others view you; these opinions depend on a number of factors. How that person feels about fame. What that person wants (and doesn’t). If that person can be genuinely happy for others. If that person feels you deserve your fame. On and on and on. I am not the expert on this in particular, because I’ve been dealing with this myself. There is an expectation, for example, that if you’re in the public eye you should be more gracious or the “image” of what that person believes you to be. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes, I get frustrated by how people treat my name. My surname is attached to my identity, it is a reflection of my work, and it’s something that’s tied to several years of publications. So, if you’re going to say it out loud on a podcast or panel, I feel it’s important to pronounce it correctly. I can’t tell you how many times people have screwed it up, laughed about it, and expected me to say: “That’s okay, it happens all the time.” Only, deep down I know it’s not okay, and it’s the reason why I added a pronunciation guide on my About page. But if it happens again? I’ll be gracious. I feel I have to be.

On a complex level, relationship dynamics can frequently shift depending upon other people’s perceptions of what you’re doing and who you “are”. Judgements, especially in the entertainment industry, are rampant. If my career is “hot”. (Or, if it’s perceived to be “not”.) If I’m writing in an original world or media/tie-in, then games, fiction, or non-fiction. This is all very confusing to me, because I can go from one convention/industry and be treated well to another where I’m forgettable and left to fend for myself. Plus, after being in multiple aspects of entertainment both on the trade and creative side, I know this to be true: one day your career could be up? The other it could plummet. There will always be someone famouser (and less popular) than me. Always.

Relationships can be even more of a clusterf*ck, sometimes, because I’m a full-time writer. I need to write, otherwise I don’t have a job. With no job, I don’t generate new readers/players and I don’t make money. With no fans or money, I don’t pay my bills. So for me, where my focus has to be, is on getting words down and out the door. I love every word, mind you, and it’s where I channel my passion and creativity. That, however, doesn’t impact relationships. It’s the perception of who I am and what I’m working on that does, and I’m still figuring out what that means in terms of my boundaries.

I covered a lot in today’s post and gave you some insight into my personal life, because I wanted to reassure you that saying “it’s complicated” and “I’m still figuring this out” is totally normal. Again: your mileage will vary. I’m here to say, however, that while relationships do require work from both parties, you don’t always have to be the one doing the heavy lifting, nor do you have to be on the receiving end of harmful words or behavior. If you need permission to set boundaries, I give you that. Sometimes, you need a little space to see how your connections with other people are actually working. Then, from there, you can make better decisions for your emotional health and physical well-being, regardless of fame or identity. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Mood: I want to play Final Fantasy. I’m writing a gazillion words instead.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Umm…. Three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking. It’s FINALLY Fall!
In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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