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Setting Boundaries and Tackling Ruminating Thoughts

Working at the California Institution for Women in Corona - the women's state prison in Southern California - was one of the most challenging times of my career. I was assigned to work in the Administrative Segregation Unit ("AdSeg"), more commonly known in pop culture as "The SHU" - the Solitary Housing Unit.

AdSeg was the prison within the prison. Anyone that broke prison rules got sent to AdSeg. Some folks spent a handful of days there, others have been in solitude for years. I spent most of the hours of my days working in the actual housing unit.

My colleagues and I shared a workspace of a couple conference tables positioned inside the housing unit. When I would look up to observe my surroundings, I would not only see dreary gray concrete walls and cold heavy steel building fixtures, but I could often see the faces of inmates peeking out of their 3"x12" windows.

It was also noisy in the unit. There's constant chatter between custody officers or medical staff. Inmates would often yell and talk with one another through the cracks underneath their cell doors - an inmate in cell 101 could be yelling under her door and across the entire building to get the attention of an inmate in cell 245.

So, I had a fair amount of environmental stimuli. This in addition to trying to provide quality care to folks in some of the more dire times of their lives. I remember being so completely overwhelmed with everything, that I was not functioning optimally when I would get home from work.

My mind would be consumed with intrusive thoughts from the day. Stories I was told, or things that I have seen. I would try to be relaxed at home, but an intrusive memory would invade my thoughts and distract me from what I was doing outside of work hours. I knew that my mental health would not be sustainable if I continued to allow my work life to impact my personal life.

Something must be done, so I formulated different ways to establish boundaries. I was mindful of how much time I spent in the housing unit, and only permitted myself to spend a certain amount of time in AdSeg. I started to utilize coping mechanisms such as Yin or Restorative Yoga and meditation, in a more deliberate and consistent manner. I also reprioritized my life over the demands of working in the prison. I realized that if I was in a poor state of mental clarity and balance, I would not be able to provide the quality service these folks deserved.

Currently in our COVID pandemic lives, the lines between work and home can be blurred, especially if one is working from home. In what ways can we establish boundaries to reduce the impact and frequency of ruminating thoughts? Guy Winch provides (another) thoughtful and relatable TED Talk detailing his experience and sharing his outlook. Take a look at this TED Talk, hauntingly relevant today as it was recorded a few months prior to the COVID pandemic. And if this gets the wheels turning in your head, check out my previous post on Guy Winch's TED Talk on Emotional First Aid.

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