The sooner I learn that space is as much about the mental as it is physical, the better off I will be. These are words that I mumbled recently upon learning that not only would my man-flu-stricken husband be working from home, where my office resides, but also that our builders would be invading my space to investigate a long-standing problem.
All I could think about was a scene from The Flintstones, when Fred has a blatant display of anger: clenching his fists, turning red, and somehow shooting steam from his ears. I even think the top of his head might have lifted, but this I cannot confirm. You'll just have to rely on my memory for what it is, or accept a bright red, angry emoji 😡 as an example of how I felt.
Anyhow, once the rush of anger had dissipated, and I had rearranged my day and convinced my husband that it wasn't personal, this earlier display of emotion didn't make me antisocial, badly behaved or selfish. Instead, I got thinking seriously about the issue of space.
In particular, I considered how when my space is invaded, or when I find myself in a tight space, I can hardly function. Whether I am interrupted by noisy neighbours, insensitive travellers, unsuspecting family members or friends, I am thrown out of my space so violently that it takes hours, and sometimes days, to recover. Honestly, it feels like a dull hangover that hovers right above the eyes and tortures the mind.
To my relief, I am not the only one who feels this way. According to some experts, some folk just need more time than others. Fair enough if it is time that they are talking about, and if you ask me, the two are intrinsically linked.
With that sorted, how do we protect this space without offending others or becoming destructive?
Years ago as a young PR director, I remember escaping from the office without permission, to get some space. Fortunately, my boss chalked it up to a creative move, though my colleagues didn't. They were offended. But as I tried to explain a number of times, this need for space is not just about creativity, it's about breathing, existing. And the more of it you need, the more it evades you ... or others invade it.
For example, on every flight, whatever class I am flying, I find myself in a tight space. Not too long ago, having secured premium space, or so I thought, I sat next to a lady whose husband sat peacefully on the other side of her, while for the entire eight hours she jostled me to let her past more times than was normal. And to make matters worse, she also confiscated my armrest, the edge of my seat and much of my leg room for her scarves, and so on.
Fast-forward a month or so later, I moved up yet another class, sure that at last I had overcome this issue on aeroplanes, when suddenly, the woman sitting in the inside seat, facing me, let down the screen between us to have a long laborious conversation with the air stewardess, who was standing over me.
As they carried on, I felt the air thicken around me and could only hear indecipherable voices for a spell. Fred Flinstone all over again, and this time at really great expense. Again, what can a person do, if anything, to protect their space?
Exactly what I said earlier -- escape! But there is a prerequisite: to acknowledge the situation for what it is.
There are no ifs, ands or buts about being in a tight space. It is what it is, and no matter how distorted the invader's concept of space, yours is clear: you cannot function without it. That means it's time to go, preferably peacefully and quietly. But how? And where?
First, consider a mental escape -- my preferred option. On an aeroplane, this might mean watching a really good film or, better yet, going to sleep. As if that is remotely possible, right? It is, but it might require some counting sheep, or asking God for intervention -- a silent prayer will do. Works for me every time. The key is to get the mind to travel, to leave the tight space. But let me warn you in the case of an aeroplane, there are people with no concept of space, yours or theirs: namely, children. So getting your Zs might be a bit harder when they are troubled.
In the case of a home-space problem, sleep works a treat too, but it does mean zoning out noise disturbances. However, if space invasion happens during working hours and the invaders all have a distorted concept of space, serve them tea, coffee, water, soup -- whatever it takes to appeal to the good in them, to keep them out of your space as much as possible.
With that sorted, time to tackle that pile of paper that has absolutely nothing to do with your business but has to be dealt with. Or do the online shopping that is well overdue. No matter how quiet it seems, it isn't! Trying to do your work is futile, but doing something tedious can be fruitful.
Now, if a mental escape does not work, escape physically. Not an option on an aeroplane unless you can jump seats, but you are likely to encounter the same problem elsewhere unless an entire row is empty. However, on the ground, go for a run, as that opens up space beautifully, or join an exercise class to think freely and let off some of that Flintstone steam, or skive off for a much-deserved coffee.
Another idea is to take a slow walk and bask in the new physical space that puts you right where you need to be mentally, understanding that space is as much about the mental as it is the physical. Got it!