Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Boundaries. Or, DON'T TOUCH MY STUFF!!!

I've been dithering for a couple of hours about whether to post this but I don't think the person concerned will ever read this and on the whole, even though I have already ranted to let off steam to both my brother and my sister about this, I think writing it down will, as always, also help me to deal with it and, hopefully, put it behind me.

So, short version: former work colleague/kind-of friend came to visit to help me with unpacking/to drive to Ikea maybe. It did not go well.

Much longer version with not a picture to brighten the place up, in which I will also reveal a bit more about what a fucked-up relationship I sometimes have with stuff and "my" space.

The woman in question is very nice really and we worked together, including having friendly chats (not every day or even every week but regularly enough), for just over seven years. Over the last year or two she has also been to my house a couple of times to attend Tupperware parties, and I've been to her house, also to attend a Tupperware party. Apart from that, and my leaving do when I finished up at the company last year, we didn't really have any contact outside work. So, for me that's a friendly colleague, for her, well, I think she thinks we're better friends than we are. Anyway, she did help one evening with painting my old place before I left there and we have always gotten on alright. But we're just not close in my opinion. So it was a bit surprising to get a text message from her not long after I moved asking if I thought I'd be finished unpacking in July or would I like her to come and help out for a day or two, as she'd have holidays. I quite frankly assumed she was angling for a cheap place to stay (judging by my standards again, I really shouldn't do that) and, since the offer of having a car to maybe go to Ikea to pick up anything I needed was also tempting, and just 'cos I'm fairly easygoing about having people to stay (I may not be in future!!!), I said sure, why not.

Last Friday I checked to see if she was still coming and was somewhat taken aback to hear that she was going to leave her place after breakfast on Sunday and stay until after lunch on Thursday. But okay, I really, really did think then that she was just looking for a cheap place to stay and would be out and about and enjoying the area, then maybe helping me a little bit on one or two days. Boy, was I wrong.

She arrived on Sunday afternoon and wanted to immediately get stuck into working. I was kind of expecting that we'd spend the afternoon catching up, having cups of tea/glasses of wine and just sort of chilling out. But no. So I explained to her that the thing I really wanted to get done was to finish painting the bookcases and get all the books onto them. That really is the task that I needed to get done in order to be able to make more progress with unpacking. And I explained that I was unpacking very slowly so that I could declutter a bit while doing so, as I hadn't had time to do much decluttering while packing to move. And I did say that I had to be the one to unpack, as I wanted to be able to know exactly where things were going and so on. Then I said that if we did manage to get finished with the books, maybe we could get the balcony set up nicely, including that trip to Ikea or somewhere similar to buy some furniture. And I thought that would be more than enough to fill a few days. Especially since I also explained to her that apart from the somewhat deliberate way I was going about unpacking, what with the mindfulness and decluttering and all, the other reason it was going slowly was because it has been warm and I keep needing to take breaks to cool down.

So after me explaining all that, I'm still not sure how we ended up moving all the boxes that were in the bedroom (several of which I had only moved in there that morning so that we'd have a bit more space to work in the sitting room) so that we could clean the big cupboard in there. She decided that made more sense because I'd mentioned to her that I used that for material, wool and hobby supplies in general and she felt that would be the quickest win. Only, I wasn't looking for a quick win. It may look like chaos here all the time but I've actually been fairly methodical. And most importantly to me, I have been really working on making sure that I don't repeat the mistakes I made in my last place and that I am dealing with everything properly, from a psychological point of view that is. So, I kind of let myself be railroaded on Sunday afternoon. We did get some useful stuff done, like carrying some stuff up to the attic, where I did push back on her suggestion that we rearrange everything to stack better (since I had done just that very thing the day before and was happy with the way it was). And it was good to get that cupboard cleaned when there were two of us there as it is quite heavy and unwieldy. I would have managed on my own but with two it was definitely easier.

But otherwise, I ended up doing exactly what I didn't want to do, namely, throwing stuff into the cupboard just to get it unpacked. And still ending up with boxes that weren't empty because in every single box there is a layer of books! She amalgamated some of them to being very heavy boxes of books that cannot be moved and by the end of the day we had nine completely empty boxes. Which means that I unpacked about fourteen or fifteen. When my preferred pace has been two or three a day. With two or three a day, I felt like I was really, consciously doing it and fully aware of what was going where, giving myself time to sort things the best way, giving myself time to live with things for a few days before committing fully to that place for that thing (lots of things ended up not being in the right place first time round and this way, I've been able to move things to more optimal situations easily) and, most of all, even though I hadn't realised just how important this step was, I have had time to mentally get to grips with each step and each box and each item in each box. There are plenty of boxes where I've been overwhelmed and just closed it up again and moved on to a different one. And that's okay. Sometimes I've opened up a box three or four times before actually being able to deal with it.

The part I hope I end up finding funny when I look back on this in years to come: I was not so gently hinting that it was time for a break by drawing her attention to the fact that I was sweating buckets. Her reply to my comment on how hot it was and look, this is what I mean when I say the heat really kills me was to say that surely I wasn't going through menopause yet, was I?!! When I said no, it's more because it's 27° and we're doing physcial work, she merely commented that she wasn't sweating so it should be ok. I pointed out that that's because she's not Irish. I guarantee that the majority of Irish people would be having the same reaction as me to moving and working at that temperature. Did you know that an official heatwave in Ireland means there has been five consecutive days of 25° or hotter?

Anyway, shortly after nine on Sunday evening, we called it quits but not before, while I was unpacking in the bedroom I could hear her moving stuff around in the sitting room. I wandered in once or twice and could she her trying to "sort" things. For example, she picked up some large bowls and said something like, "Oh, these belong in the kitchen", whereupon I explained to her that no, they were going to go into the dresser but were sitting on top of the writing desk because it is currently blocking access to the dresser. I firmly told her not to worry, everything that wasn't actually in a box was more or less in the position I wanted it to be, close to it's final storage place. But she still bugged me by continuing to pick up this, that or the other and say things like "You don't need this, it's old, I'll just throw it out". No, you will not throw it out, leave my stuff alone! I'm the one who gets to decide what to throw out WHEN I'M GOOD AND READY!!!!!  I found a couple of things that I knew needed to go into the cupboard where I've hung my coats and since that was one small cupboard and I knew it was a bit messy (I also shoved my bicycle basket, helmut and pump in there) I asked her to put these extra things in that cupboard and maybe tidy it up a bit. Thought I'd make her feel useful, less likely to poke around other stuff and get something done that did need doing. And in return I got a comment about how I have hoarding tendencies. Not untrue but the reason she made that comment? I had also shoved a bag of bags into that cupboard. This is one thing that I really did declutter when I moved, partly because I used so many bags moving and clearing out what I did manage to clear out and partly as a decision to get this one thing under control. So I reduced down to one reuseable shopping bag full of other reuseable shopping bags, Ikea bags, small plastic bags....you know that kind of thing. Most people have a drawer or a cupboard or something with a similar pile. I'm actually proud of the fact that I restricted it to one bag full and decided that was more than enough for anything I'd ever need. Her opinion? No-one should have more than three shopping bags. Since she made that comment though I decided, having been more or less silently hating the way the day had turned out and what I was doing, to enlighten her somewhat about my complicated relationship to stuff, partly arising from my past, partly tied up in my struggles with depression (which she was aware of), explain about some of the therapy I've done and the improvements I've made and so on. Thinking it would help. Ha!

We went out for dinner, things pleasant enough and then she asked me what I wanted her to  do on Monday while I was at work. I said "What you can do is relax and enjoy yourself, go into town, visit the castle ruins, sure I'll be home by three and we can work on the bookcases then". I told her I'd probably be leaving for work about seven or half-seven as I had a meeting I needed to prepare for. At quarter to seven on Monday morning I was awake but not yet up, having not slept terribly well and feeling generally very unsettled and unhappy after the way Sunday had turned out. And she knocks on the door, "Moonwaves, it's time to get up". Jesus, talk about making me want to roll over and just stay in bed. So fucking annoying. Off I went to work, where I vented a bit to the first person I saw (wasn't intended but I just couldn't hold back). And then a bit to my boss when I was explaining to her that I was going to work my hours on Thursday and Friday this week instead of Tuesday and Wednesday. Heard nothing from her all morning and headed home about half-two. I was just getting off the tram when I got a text from her saying that she had washed all the cupboards (the one small one which did still need doing as well as two others that I had already done, which just needed a quick dusting), fixed the holes in the bookcases (paint got into some of them, making them a tight fit for the yokes you rest the shelves on - but how stupid to do that before the final coat of paint went on?), cleared up the balcony and sorted all the papers together. But not to worry, she didn't throw anything out, just gathered everything neatly.

Let's just say that text had me dreading getting back home. The thing is, yes, things looked really messy but there was a system going. I had important stuff in one place, urgent stuff that it was important not to lose track of somewhere else, and non-urgent, non-important stuff somewhere else again. And now? I have two big piles of papers all put together. Neatly, admittedly. But what the fuck? They are, to a certain extent, private papers. Things like my salary slip, my health insurance stuff, correspondence from the social welfare office. I'm very open with people about just about everything in general but that is not an invitation to do something like that!

As the afternoon went on (so glad she went out for a walk with her dog as it meant I was able to ring my sister to give out) I kept seeing more and more things. Folks, she didn't not touch anything! I'm scared to look in my little box of sex toys as it wasn't quite fully under the bed.  If I look in that and everything has been neatly lined up I may end up having to check myself in to a mental clinic. And I am not joking about that. Something like this has happened once or twice before when I was sharing houses but not for a long time and never in MY OWN PLACE. All my own. This is not shared housing. MY HOME!!! Seriously, she seems unable to have anything crooked. One one shelf in my bedroom, on my unread books shelves, only half of it is taken up with books and I have used the front half of it as a bit of a dumping ground. Fine, it's it was a bit messy but I knew what was where, things were where I could get at them and even if a collection of stuff like multi-vitamins, perfume and small nails might not seem to fit together so what? It was all straightened out, the old cards that I am slowly moving out of my purse as I get new ones (as a result of my move) were stacked up together like books. The scissors was neatly lined up with the pinking shears.  My mooncup!!!, neatly lined up with the cotton wool. My nightdress, which I had thrown on the bed in the morning, was neatly draped over the end of the bed. The pile of books on the other shelf, which I have read but not yet added to my list of books read this year, was pushed back against the wall - no angles in this house! In went on and on. It seems like there was nothing she didn't get her hands on and I feel so violated. In the bathroom, she'd taken the washing powder and colour catchers out of the bag they were in and placed them neatly beside the full ones, with the bag folded neatly underneath them. Fuck all use to me when I just want to grab the bag and head down to the washing machine with it. Why did she think it was in a bloody bag? My toiletries bag, left open with the small boxes I use for travelling (soap and cloth holders, toothbrush holder): everything neat and straightened, lids on boxes. The lids are left off on purpose - trapping oxygen in there just leads to stale oxygen and smelly containers next time I want to travel. Hint for anyone who didn't already know it: never store empty containers with the lids on. It just went on and on. The one bookshelf I've already put stuff on is one I've planned out for cooking and gardening books on top and choir stuff on the bottom. And even though it wasn't full, I've deliberately not added any other stuff to it. It has its purpose and that's what I want it for. Now? It's chockablock with things that were placed near the cupboards/drawers I actually intended to use for them. But it's all neat and straightened.

My stress levels were really going through the roof and I was kind of starting to be a bit passive agressive, making comments on "oh, you did that, too". I know she meant well but she really, despite me again explaining that I need time to mentally deal with all of the unpacking and sorting, just did not get it. I flat out told her over our late lunch that I was not planning on unpacking any more boxes while she was here, that Sunday was just too much for me. I got on with painting the bookcase and asked her to do the shelves. All fine. Except then I went into the kitchen and noticed the bin had an ordinary plastic bag in it (rather than the bin bags I normally use). Since I'd emptied it just before she arrived, I wondered why she had emptied it again. And my stress was so high at this stage, so many of my triggers already triggered. I had noticed she had thrown out one thing: the empty toilet rolls bags, i.e. the plastic bag that the toilet rolls are sold in. Not at all a big deal to get rid of that, right? Well, no, not really. Except that I had brought the recycling bag down with me on the way to work to empty it (she wanted to do it on the way to dinner on Sunday night and I disagreed as I didn't want to carry the empty bag around with me, to which she replied she would have just thrown the bag out - it's a reusable bag that is still perfectly fine, why would I throw it out?) so I knew those plastic bags weren't in the recycling (I had only just put the empty bag back in place). As a matter of fact, I use those bags as bin liners for the bathroom bin as they happen to be the exact right size. Which is why I had another empty one just thrown into the cleaning basins in the bathroom. I was keeping it to use. I mentioned that to her, explained that I usually used them and asked her if she had thrown anything else out. She said no.

After I had noticed that she had indeed emptied the kitchen bin, however, I couldn't relax. It was another hour or so when I just couldn't stand it anymore and actively started trying to figure out what else she had thrown out. Next up was the washing-up liquid bottle (and again, something that should have been recycled). Now, it was getting near the end, I will admit but I would have gotten at least another week, probably closer to another month out of that bottle. I asked her and she said it was completely empty after she'd wiped down all of the cupboards. Okay, fine. Then I saw that she had moved one carton of eggs into the little holder in the fridge. Now, I'm not one for keeping my eggs in the fridge and since I buy my eggs from the market I always re-use the carton. At that stage I asked her again, what had she thrown out. Nothing, was the reply. People, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I just couldn't take it anymore and I ended up going down to the big bin, dragging the bag out of it and opening it up to dig through it. I was nearly in tears I was so upset. She claimed to have only brought the bag down because she had seen the lettuce in the fridge (it was stored in a plastic bag), taken the outside leaves off and they smelled a bit because it was so hot. Reasonable enough. Except, if she wasn't having salad for lunch, why was she digging around in the fridge at the lettuce? Why did she feel the need to find the eggs in the cupboard and put them into the fridge? Whatever about being untidy, if I had left the eggs out on the counter I might have understood why she thought I just hadn't gotten around to/hadn't bothered putting them away. But they were put away in the cupboard.

So, digging through the rubbish was not one of my finest hours but you know what? Totally justified because of course, she had thrown other stuff out. Even if some of it stayed in the bin, at least I've now seen it and I can handle it, because I know it's gone. Even if I do prefer to shred envelopes that have my name and address on them. And I was able to fish out a guarantee for a little gizmo (no-one ever needs those guarantees really but you never know. I have a small drawer dedicated to things like that so again, keeps it in bouunds but allows me to be a bit anal about hanging on to maybe-but-probably-not-ever important stuff). And I also recovered the instruction manual for something that I only purchased a couple of weeks ago and haven't yet set up! There were some receipts in there as well although a quick glance was enough to reassure me none I needed to keep. The thing is though, she didn't know that. I can keep receipts for all sorts of stuff to claim on my taxes now that I'm a freelancer and it's my business to go through what receipts I have and decide, not hers. I think after she saw that, however, she started to actually accept that when I was talking about my issues with "stuff", I really do know what the hell I'm talking about.

After making a show of myself (although in my opinion a fairly justified show), I decided to, as it were, take the high road. I apologised for making a scene, explained again that these really are serious issues that I deal with and hugged to show there were no hard feelings. And I cooked a nice dinner and we ate and drank a bottle of wine she had bought earlier. And then watched some Father Ted, as I had been trying to explain my "Feck it, sure it's grand" poster to her and remembered Mrs. Doyle "feck" scene. I still felt invaded but in my head was thinking, when she's gone, I can pull everything out of the cupboard again and start over. I can pull all the stuff off those shelves and get back to where I was before. I suggested to her that the next day (today) we put the books onto the now finished shelves and then go and get balcony furniture and buy some soil while we're at it and then we could spend the afternoon potting plants and enjoying the balcony. Thought that would stop any further issues.

But this morning I just could not make myself get out of bed to face it all again. Woke up several times during the night and just don't feel relaxed or comfy or, well, basically I still just felt like my home had been invaded and violated. After txting a friend about the whole situation and then receiving a phone call from someone else who never fails to make me feel good, I bit the bullet (about half-ten at this stage) and headed into the bathroom. I was in the shower when I noticed the straw that finally broke my camel's back. Last Friday, I bought a two-pack of drain protectors, you know, the little round things you put in the plughole and they stop hair or anything else from going down the drain and clogging it up. That packet was in my bedroom as I hadn't yet gotten around to clearing out the hair that has accumulated since I moved here (I forgot to take the old one with me from the old place). Not anymore though, as yesterday, she obviously opened up that packet and took one out to put in the shower. I really did cry when I saw that. Again, it is such a stupid, silly thing but I feel like she robbed me of a piece of making my home my home. As if I've missed out on a small piece of ritual that would have been another satisfying click of another piece slotting into place in making this place a home. Now, whether I did it or she did it doesn't really matter in the greater scheme of things, really the important thing is that my hair won't be clogging up the drains. But, still. I felt and still feel robbed of that moment. And the sense of violation just washed over me so strongly it left me weak. And so, to end this long and for everyone else boring story: I got dressed, went out to see her where she was sitting on the balcony, told her I had a migraine, was likely to be in bed for two or three days with it and asked her to leave. Not quite the assertive way to do it but I just had to get her out of here.

Even since she has left, I have been prowling around, trying to see what else she's done. Noticed that when she cleared up the stuff on the balcony she threw out the box that I was keeping pots and things in. Okay, it was a fairly beaten up box but now I just have stacks of pots and the tools are shoved into a bucket and have been placed under the barbeque. What happens when I need to use the bucket? Or want to use the barbeque? At this stage, I'm even annoyed that she pulled all the dead bits off my aloe vera plants, something I've been meaning/threatening to do for at least four years. I'm slowly trying to undo what she did but hey, at least two of the bookshelves are finished and I can move forward with the things that I wanted to move forward with. It's going to take me a while to get over this and I've already asked a couple of friends to come and visit soon so that I can clear out her "bad" energy imprint. :-)

So there you have it. Yet more longwinded insight into the fucked-up mess that is my brain and my life. I only seem to be normal sometimes, never actually am.


Fiona said...

Actually...I think you seem extremely normal! I think I would have had a mini-meltdown and even lost the friendship.

At first, I started reading this thinking that your co-worker was well-intentioned but that the whole set-up of staying that many days would be trying.

But reading on...omg! OMG! I would intensely dislike anyone going through my bathroom products, my receipts - and personal papers! No wonder you felt your privacy was violated. And to have to deal with that just after a move and all the turmoil it brings...no wonder it brought you to tears. It would be very confronting.

I think you did exceptionally well to hug and try and push through it. It would have been so easy to just have a meltdown with the stress of it.

I still can't work out where your co-worker was coming from. She obviously likes you and cares a lot if she's prepared to put herself 'out' to come and do all that 'help.' Maybe she just wasn't aware of how much she was overstepping the mark or maybe she thought her role as a 'helper' she was doing the right thing to 'take control'?

The whole story is actually making me stop and think about how much I'm bossing my husband at the moment during our move. It's a bit different with a husband compared to a co-worker but no different in the sense that people need ownership of the process of doing things and also their own ways of making a place their own.

What a stress! You must be so relieved to have your space back. Go and put all your bathroom products out of alignment, take the lids off and enjoy it!!! :)

Moonwaves said...

Can't believe anyone read that wall of text all the way to the end! It has just kept getting worse and worse. At this stage I really think she has far more serious issues to deal with. All day yesterday I kept seeing other things that she had done (e.g. rearranged the kitchen cupboard with my dishes in it) and it only got worse today. Decided I might feel better if I pulled out some of the stuff she had crammed onto the shelf I want to use for only cookbooks/choir stuff. A lot of what she stuffed in there was things that was in piles in front of those shelves so if I pulled the stuff out it'd be a mess rather than sorted the way I had it, but at least I'd get back that one shelf that I had nearly finished the way I wanted it. And while doing that I realised that she had actually emptied a box that had been standing beside that stuff as well. I had kind of assumed she had just moved that box onto the pile of still full ones but then noticed that something that was definitely in it was on the shelves. I explicitly told her on Sunday that she would not be able to unpack any boxes because I needed to know where stuff was going. That box, of all bloody boxes, was the very last one that I took out of my old place and it was placed separately from the general pile because it had various things in it that I needed to deal with separately. For example some books and magazines that I borrowed from someone and didn't get to return before moving. They were in that box because (a) I was being very careful that they didn't get damaged and (b) I wanted to keep them all together. There were a few other things that I wanted kept separate and, of course, because they were all in one place I didn't have a list of what they were, either on paper or in my head. Just a general sense of "I know that box is things I have to look through". Now those books are in one place, I'm not sure where the magazines are, I assume mixed in with others somewhere else. And I have no idea where she might have put the other things that were in that box and no clear idea of what everything was that I had wanted to keep separate. I actually screamed in frustration at that, really hope my neighbours were all already gone out to work!
And just now, after an extremely hot and long day at work and then choir, feeling slightly cheerier, I got home and changed into my shorts. I've normally kept them just draped on the radiator in the bathroom as I don't need it for heating and it's a nice wide size. So my shorts and tracksuit bottoms, both for just slopping around the house in, are just draped there. I saw on Monday that she had folded those two neatly and put them back on the radiator (and it's kind of down the side of something else, so not really on obvious view - she had to have been looking for things to do) and even before I had decided to ask her to leave I had shaken them out and draped them the way they normally are. Just a short while ago as I was putting the shorts on I caught myself closing the button and realised it felt weird. Of course it felt weird. These shorts have a button and zip but they also have a mostly elasticated waist and I have never even opened the button and zip on them before. Even trying them on in the shop I remember not doing it and being pleased that they were such a good fit I could pull them up without needing to open them but they were still snug enough to not be falling down all the time (I have other short trousers from the same shop that always need a belt). So not only did she fold my clothes, she was at them for long enough to open the button and zip. Just so, so weird and beyond any reasonably normal behaviour. Her issues are definitely worse than mine are. Really hoping I get over this feeling of violation soon. And, at the risk of TMI, looks like I'll need to go shopping for a new vibarator soon. I don't really think she got into that particular box but I can't be sure and I am totally skeeved out by the thought that she might have even looked into it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Interesting reading, to say the least. What strikes me is that you accept you needed help to work through your issues around 'stuff' and depression, and trusted your friend with that information which she then totally ignored. Nothing about other people, apparently, is sacred to her.

What is so utterly fascinating about her is that she obviously has huge issues herself. She intended, right from the first, to insinuate herself into your space for far too long (fish and guests smell after three days), and totally ignored your careful explanation of how you worked and wanted her to work in a way that would be helpful and beneficial.

Would you have liked her to paint the shelves? It sounds as though that's the first thing that needed doing, and I'd have offered even if you want to do it yourself. In that case, I'd have accepted you meant it and asked what else needed doing to make your life and the process.

What she then did, which is why as a reader I'm utterly fascinated by every word you've written, is that she poked and pried through your life, leaving apparently no cupboard unexplored, no piece of paper private, no box unopened and picked through, and no judgement left unmade about whether you had a right to continue keep your own stuff.

And all from a woman who told you that you have issues.

She's ill. You do realise that, don't you? She has an absolute compulsion to invade other people's privacy and you must never allow her back into your space, because as soon as you do and your back's turned she'll be picking through your things again.

I'm only surpised she didn't turn your handbag out while you were out of the room, read your diary and check your computer to see if you write a blog. If I thought I had the right to go through other people's fridges and decide what food they were allowed to keep, unzip shorts before folding them and replacing them, trust me, I wouldn't stop if I came across their computer.

Moonwaves said...

Thanks. I know logically that she is the one with the big issues here, just trying to accept it in the less logical parts of myself now. I had the same thought about my computer, I have to admit, which is why I had moved it from the sitting room into the bedroom! Oh well, she's not much of a computer whizzkid I don't think, so I doubt she would have made it past the password, even if she was trying to poke. I spoke to a friend who works in the same place (an actual friend, who I'm quite close with) and she was amazed that I remained so nice during the whole thing. She also told me that this particular woman seems to be acting a bit strange in general over the last few months, so I really do think she is sick and may be heading for a serious time. But none of that is my problem. She txted me last night (at half-ten, honestly, that's just rude, too, in my opinion), something fairly innocuous about hoping I've finished painting the rest of the bookshelves and have been able to put books on them. I haven't replied and don't intend to. If she persists in trying to maintain contact I think I will have to make it clear to her that I have no interest in doing so but for now, I'll take the easy way out and just ignore her.

I'm finding the validation from others very heartening though, so thank you again for that.

Sunny said...

You are a much better person than me. I would not be happy with anyone going through my stuff or worse yet re-arranging it after I asked them not to. I would have lost my cool. Kudos to you for keeping yours.