As Mindfump wrote in a recent post, safe spaces don’t always have the best reputation. Safe spaces on American university campuses got a bad public rap after election results last November created mass terror and depression among students, who sought safe spaces to come to terms with adverse political results. Safe spaces for those who have mental struggles with things like bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety often get knocked aside because of the stigma attached to them. In short, safe spaces are usually derided or ignored in popular societal views.
Good thing I don’t care about popular societal views.
Creating a safe space, whether it is created in your mind or is a physical location, is a very good tool in the arsenal against anxiety and depression. Speaking to my own experience, a safe space provides a security and continuity against whatever outside forces are coming against you. Those forces can be as physical and visceral as racial, ethnic, or sexist slurs, or as insidious and intangible as the voice inside your head calls you an idiot, a klutz, worthless and drives you to hyperventilate.
Like Mindfump, I had a physical safe space in the bathroom in my parents’ house. It got to the point as I grew up where I would hide books among the towels in the linen closet, or in nooks under the sink. I would go there to relax, be quiet, and–literally, looking in the mirror–reflect.
Now that I am an adult, of course, that bathroom is off limits for practical (and social) reasons.
Moving around in the last six years hasn’t helped me find a physical safe place, though. For a while, I thought a small room off the chapel in my undergrad institution would be a good choice, but too many other people seemed to have the same thought. Then, when I moved to Chicago, there were little nooks in the libraries that I frequented, but, again, soon others infringed on the solitude and quiet. I had no where left except my own room, and, more specifically, my bed.
Before I go on, it’s just not a good idea to have your safe space be your bed.
Anyone who has anxiety and depression knows the dangers of having your bed as your safe space. First, then there becomes little guarantee for you to get out of bed. Second, the extra sleep that is sure to follow has a tendency to detract from your social life, further cutting you off from people who want to be there to support you. Finally, spending a significant of non-sleeping time in your bed tricks your mind into not wanting to sleep when in your bed.
See? Not good.
Thankfully, I didn’t reap much of the negative benefits of finding safety among my pile of blankets and pillows. However, I haven’t found a physical safe space for me to retreat to that consistently works other than that. Which leaves me one option: I need a safe place that I can escape to in my mind.
Now, before fellow Sherlockians start hopping up and down shouting “mind palace,” I need to set the record straight. A mind palace is a real technique to help you organize your mind and find your memories. A safe place is somewhere your mind escapes to so that those memories, thoughts, words, etc. cannot touch you. Nothing can harm you in your safe space. Your mind palace provides no such guarantee.
Another term for this space can also be your “happy place,” although that is usually a bit less formed than a mental safe space. A safe space is full of comfort. It is so familiar to you that you know every little detail, and it varies from person to person. One friend of mine has a secluded lake cottage in the North Woods as her’s. Another friend says that his safe space involves a stage, although he never told me if an audience was present. Mine? I’m standing on top of Arthur’s Seat, overlooking Edinburgh and the loch on a windy, partly sunny day with a smell of coming rain on the air.
Now, obviously I’m not able to tell you everything about my safe space: there are too many details that are connected to things I have experienced or imagined that I can fit in this little blog post. But needless to say, food is involved, and perhaps I’ll get around to describing it in more detail another day.
However, my safe space is constantly evolving to create the most comforting, secure surroundings when my mind is plagued by anxiety or depression. It gives me protection.
Safe spaces shouldn’t have the bad rep that they’ve been getting lately. Safe spaces, whether physical or mental, are important to people, and always have been. There were ancient cities where one could seek refuge from certain hardships; churches, convents, and monasteries provided (and still do) a buffer between the storm raging outside and the attempt at peace and calm within; religious leaders around the world have meditated, seeking and achieving peace of mind.
Safe spaces are worth making. If only to have that moment of protection before continuing on through the dangerous pathways of everyday life.