I have spent most of my life, fighting my way out of boxes.
Most of the time, other people boxed me in, with the certainty of science and plenty of experience behind their thinking. They told me with clarity and conviction that I belonged in this box and that being in would dictate the limitations to my abilities.
I knew they were wrong, of course. I knew they had spent their lives living according to the boxes they’d also been put into by others. What did strike me as odd, on occasion, was how these highly qualified and respected people who could change and even save the lives of others, were happy to accept the box existed and, even more surprisingly that they belonged in it.
There never was a box.
It can feel easy and safe to put things in boxes, to label them and say things like ‘we’ve always done it like this’ or ‘everyone with this condition will behave this way and have these outcomes’. The thing is, it just isn’t true. These boxes are, more often than not, actually a way of putting aside something we don’t know how to deal with, or wish to pretend isn’t real.
It is far easier to tell someone ‘this is how it’s always been’ than to listen when they challenge the status-quo or show different results than you’re used to. If they don’t fit the mould you have, then how are you supposed to work through the problem?
And as we are bombarded by the boxes, from when we first start school and we’re put into boxes like ‘challenged’ or ‘disruptive’ or ‘prodigy’, we start to own them and become what is expected of everyone in the box. We take on the characteristics we’ve been told are part of who we are – simply because we’ve been told that’s what it means to live in this box. We start to box ourselves in.
When I was told, often with a total lack of empathy or compassion, about the more alarming parts of my health issues, I knew I had to break out of the boxes before I started to believe them to be my place.
When I was in my early twenties, I went to a ‘support group’ meeting for people with my genetic condition. I hoped to meet like-minded people of my age who had overcome the challenges I was facing and who might have words of encouragement and hope. The meeting was full of people who had decided this was their place, who had lost all hope of challenging the anticipated path for us and had become accepting of the outcomes their medical professionals predicted when they put them in the box.
It was a game-changing moment for me. I knew I could never go to another meeting like that, and I knew I had to decide that day, this was not going to be my future. I was not going to be sat in agony, covered in braces and having constant surgery. This was not my box. I had to find medical professionals who didn’t want to box me in, or tell me that I could never break out.
Which box have you become comfortable in? Which box could you do with breaking out of? It will feel scary and exciting in equal measure and, at times, you’ll hear yourself saying all the things that you say to stay in the nice, safe box. That’s okay. That’s what we all hear, every time we challenge behaviours or habits.
It takes time and practice and often, when you really believe that you’ve broken free, you realise you’re climbing back in and looking for a dark corner o feel safe. That’s okay too. It passes. It takes time to break down boxes that we’ve been building for years.
When it feels overwhelming, I remind myself; there never was a box. It was all in my imagination, or the text books that my doctors read, the lessons my teachers taught us and the language in my own head.