Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Sorry, Wrong Number

I dialed a number the other day, and got the following recording:

“I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes.”

Not really. I mean, I didn’t get that on a voicemail. My twin sister e-mailed it to me because she knows that I am constantly struggling with boundary issues.

Even in the psych ward, where you’d think you could take a brief vacation from relationship complications, I had to deal with Frank, the mentally-disabled teenager who insisted that we hook up at the mall after we both were discharged.

One afternoon in OT (occupational therapy, or “recess” in a psych unit), he told me I looked like Jennifer Lopez, which is as accurate as saying O.J. Simpson is Mel Gibson’s identical twin (there is nothing Hispanic about this Irish-English-Swedish-German chick). A few minutes later, as I was painting my ceramic butterfly, he handed me an ad for Gerber baby food in “Parenting” magazine.


“That’s what our baby would look like,” he said.

I took a deep breath. “Frank,” I responded, “I’m very flattered by your interest in me. Truly I am, because I enjoy your company very much. But while I’m here, I really need to concentrate on not killing myself. Do you understand?”

After the nurses gave him a time-out, that boundary issue was settled.

Currently I’m trying to retract some well-intentioned but irresponsible words I spoke a few months ago, when I gave my bleeding heart a voice (never a good idea).

A lady who lives behind me has severe arthritis and is in a lot of pain. She also suffers from depression. One day I took her out to lunch, gave her a big hug and said, “If you ever need to talk, come on over.”


So she did. Almost every day. I began driving her to prayer group and on errands, responsibilities I didn’t need on top of packing 20 working hours into ten hours of child care, taking my mother-in-law out once a week, volunteering at the kids’ school, driving the kids to all their play dates and activities, and attempting to say hello to Eric every once and awhile.

As usual, my body scolded me–I got sick–and advised that I erect some boundaries ASAP before I catch something more serious than a cold.

Did I march over to the woman’s house and tell her, “I’m sorry, but what I really meant was that you are more than welcome to come knock on my door once or twice a month and stay for about a half hour”?



“Kids, we have a new policy when someone comes to the door,” I said as I pulled down the blinds to the window in the foyer. “We wait until mommy peeks out of the kitchen window to see if it’s safe to answer it. Understood?”

“So that we don’t open the door for any bad people?” David asked.

“Well, kind of like that,” I answered.

This is the pansy’s way of erecting boundaries. But, like the phone message my sister sent me, it does the trick.

P.S. There really is a rejection hotline. If you meet someone and don’t want to see that person again, give him or her this number: (703) 912-1725

  • http://HASH(0xd102ad4) Suzanne

    Therese, you are soooo right about “boundaries! That was the hardest part of my therapy to understand. I was the one who had “open hands and open wallets,” and everyone I knew took advantage. When I finally realized that I was helping others, but not helping me, I had an epiphany – and eliminated the hangers-on from my life. It was difficult, because these were my friends, or so I thought. When I stopped taking their phone calls, and leaving them out of my life, they wondered if I were going “crazy” again. Quite the opposite – I had regained my sanity before they had the chance to destroy it. Depression over losing these “friends,” passed quickly, and my life has brightened considerably. Eventually, once you’ve set boundaries, it’s easy to recognize the leeches, and keep them at “arms length.”

  • http://HASH(0xd104e94) Beth

    I read your article about celebs with depression on BelifeNet and found the link to your blog. I am feeling like you’ve read my diary :) I suffer from anxiety and depression and am a recovering alchoholic as well. I am certainly going to come back often to read your words of truth and wisdom. Thank you for sharing yourself so openly.

  • http://HASH(0xd103eb4) Nanci Davis

    My profession in Occupational Therapy. I haved worked with mentally and emotionally challanged people. I take strong offense to you calling our work ‘recess’. Have you ever really noticed how poorly these folks frequently attend to basic daily self care, safety and judgement……. All that an Occupational Therapist addresses.

  • Sharmagne

    I don’t know how I wound up on your mailing list, but I absolutely love your humour, your writing style and your subject matter. You remind me of Shrley Jackson, and her wit. I would love to invite you to be guest writer in May at my webzine. I would be happy to reprint this page, and link back to you. Please contact me. PS. I just changed my outgoing phone message from, “Sharmagne’s summer home. Summer home, summer not!” to the one in your blog! LOL!

  • http://HASH(0xd105a48) Josie66

    I love it! Therese, you always make me smile and laugh; as I read your articles, I know exactly what you are talking about. My Mom did the same thing with the window (and phone calls too)when I was growing up. Now I have no problem deciding when I am ‘available’ to others. These days people are going 24/7 and ‘forget’ that other people have boundaries. Creating a comfortable space for myself is the only way I can function.

  • http://HASH(0xd106814) Nirm

    Eeegads! My husband has always said I have problems with boundaries. So does he. He married ME! So, yeah, we’re both learning. Great article. When one must learn – and cannot see how the world is using your good intentions – it’s really sad. Time to get a thicker skin. But only when one is ready and knows what that means.

  • http://HASH(0xd10781c) Anne Winston

    Wonderful expression of the need for boundaries. When people have tended to mistake my kindness for weakness, and expect I will be availble 24/7 for them, I no longer have trouble saying simply, no…refer them elsewhere, without explanation.Learning our boundaries sometimes takes looking at our egoes as well, and recognizing that if we give too much away, there isn’t anything left for us to give .

  • http://HASH(0xd10821c) anon

    Well, thank you for that rejection hotline #. I called it and it certainly tells it like it is. One doesn’t have to wonder if they are wanted or not once listening to that. So, I’ll have to remember to hand that # out myself once in a while. Handy thing to have and there’s absolutely no more wondering, believe me….

  • http://HASH(0xd108d64) Aura Matthews

    Wow, I love your blog! So funny!

  • http://HASH(0xd109088) sandra nelson

    Willingness without bounderies equates to resentment. It’s amazing how us helpers of mankind end up being taken advantage of.

  • http://HASH(0xd10a288) Eileen

    Did I march over to the woman’s house and tell her, “I’m sorry, but what I really meant was that you are more than welcome to come knock on my door once or twice a month and stay for about a half hour”? I think you would have held your integrity and kindness as well as “boundaries” if you’d found the courage and compassion to have done exactly that! I know, that had I been your neighbor, I would have appreciated it. And if she didn’t, then it’s her problem, not your responsibility. Just a thought of another way to do it.

  • anna

    Well that message that you heard on the machine, The person who has that message on their answering machine must of called my son’s cell phone or home phone , he has had that on there for 4 years now. Old School.

  • http://HASH(0xd10bdd4) A.J. Kurdyla

    I DID get this very message on a friend and neighbor’s answering machine and I found it to be absolutely appalling and insulting. It’s extremely offensive. What’s wrong with y’all???!!!

  • Bev

    I just happened upon this old blog. If anyone is still reading this, I have one for you. I have a cleaning lady, once a week for 7 years. She isn’t good at her job & I have to remind her of things to clean or watch out for. I even put good breakables out of reach because she broken things. Okay, EVERYONE has told me to fire her & I am too chicken to do it. I have even asked others if they would do it for me.
    She is always crying poor mouth & I don’t want to not help her. I have even left wa she was there & waited until she has left to come home. Is there any hope for me??? I really want an answer, but don’t hurt me too badly.

  • Carol

    Here is something funnier,that will not only work, but make others laugh, and wonder?? You may also get some cute messages too!! It goes like this: Hello, I can’t come to the phone right now, Im painting my bedroom ceiling, and Derrick Jeter is holding the ladder, if I come down the ladder, IT WON’T BE TO TAKE YOUR CALL, SO PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE, AND I’LL GET BACK TO YOU, God Bless!!
    You may put any star or athlete you want in there, I chose Derrick, cuz I think he’s cute, and Available, and heck at 51 who has the right to tell me who to like or not!!! Im free, and last I checked we are still in AMERICA!!
    The only bad thing is when someone from your church calls and you feel a little flushed when you go to church on sunday!! Oh well….it’s fun just do it!! Life’s too short to frett over what everyone else is thinking about you and what u do!!! GET OVER IT!! God Bless!!

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