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As a summer camp counsellor, tending to the needs and friendships of my 6-year-old campers required many reminders that we all have a personal space bubble – a shield of invisible protection between what makes us feel comfortable and uncomfortable during playtime.

Like most children, my campers worked toward grasping this concept. I had to remind them that some friends may have smaller bubbles or different shaped ones, but they are just as real as your own bubble. Some friends announce their bubbles by barricading themselves in their bunk beds, while others deny the existence of their bubble, until its bursting causes them to burst as well, into tears and cries of homesickness. I can only hope that by the end of each summer, my campers began to realize the importance of protecting your bubble and respecting when friends protect theirs. The brain of a 6-year-old may not have appreciated this lesson as much as I eventually did. I did not expect that teaching my campers how to set boundaries would be an awakening on protecting myself, my “bubble,” and my mental health.

The beginning of my second year at Queen’s was overwhelming, from starting in-person classes, to living in my own house for the first time, to balancing a healthy social life. The jumble of these firsts swirled into a tornado of anxiety, for I had not yet come to terms with what my new, second-year bubble looked like. Defining the ways in which we balance different obligations is an important process, but it is often overlooked. With school, setting a stiff balance between hours spent in the library and hours spent partying seems unrealistic, and what if you have FOMO? Likewise, sometimes university friends or housemates can resemble a family-like dynamic. However, the inherent difference between living with your family and living with your friends is boundaries: family boundaries are perhaps ingrained, implicit, or built up over the years, but friend boundaries must be explicitly communicated to come to fruition. Sitting down with friends and saying, “here is what I can accept in this relationship and here’s what I cannot,” is daunting for us non-confrontational humans. So, we make exceptions to avoid confrontation or to avoid FOMO. Some exceptions poke small holes in our bubbles; we may have to make compromises or shift around timelines, but your bubble recovers. But, some exceptions poke big holes, that can make our bubble burst or shatter, which often negatively impacts mental health.

In certain relationships, I have made big exceptions that gave my bubble a shape I did not recognize. There have been times when I have worked up the courage to communicate my wants and needs, only for to them be disregarded. Other times, I am asked for something, and my “no” is also disregarded. I suddenly had standards for myself and the way I was expecting to be treated that were unauthentic and did not defend my mental health. It is an uneasy feeling when someone bursts your bubble and crosses your boundaries. The bits and pieces of my bubble were splattered on the ground, and it was up to me to piece them back together. But it is certainly not an easy process. I realized that boundaries exist to communicate to myself and the people in my life the threshold between what is authentically me, and what is not.

Maintaining my bubble is a crucial step in honouring myself and my mental health, but it is certainly not easy. As my campers had to learn, some people have an easier time than others displaying their boundaries and communicating them to the people around them. But you are not weak if your bubble bursts, or if you cannot repair it right away. You are not weak if someone or something crossing your boundaries makes you feel frustrated and upset for longer than you anticipated. All we can do is look inward to find out what our non-negotiables are, and how we can honour the things that make us uniquely us.

Alisa Bressler

Queen's U '24

Alisa Bressler is a second-year business student at Queen's University. She loves Broadway, ice cream, and Legally Blonde!
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