"Valetta door" by Christian Stock is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I am so honored to have a guest blogger today. This post is by an amazing poet, writer, and teacher Emily Bjustrom.

When I first began teaching, one of my colleagues told me that teenagers test the rules just like you would test the safety bar on a rollercoaster: push the bar hard to make sure it will hold. Teenagers will push and push against boundaries, and if you let them slip, all bets are off. All rules become negotiable.

In this way, I learned not only to set boundaries, but to hold them, for my own benefit and the benefit of my students. The pandemic has forced all of us out of our normal boundaries. I’m being asked to work well outside of my work day, and my personal relationships have been strained too. We’re all expected to be able to do what we were doing before the pandemic, in addition to following all of the new rules and staying on top of new responsibilities. We’re all struggling, and I think the key to maintaining your emotional well-being in this time of incredible chaos is setting healthy boundaries. 

For me a lot of boundary setting had been putting limits on the time I allot for work. Like I said, teenagers test boundaries, and I often get emails at 6:00 or 7:00 PM asking for help on one thing or another. When I get an email like that, I take a deep breath and tell myself that it isn’t an emergency and it can wait until the morning and I continue watching The Great British Bake Off or whatever unimportant but enjoyable activity I was doing. 

When I leave my desk for the day, I’m done working. If you’re working at home like I am, this is a really difficult task; everything I need to help that kid that emailed me is right here, and that kid deserves to be helped, but I know can’t be on call. If I do that to myself my students might benefit in the short term, but ultimately, they will suffer if I become overwhelmed. The quality of my lessons will decline, our interactions will become strained, I’ll grow to resent my job, and on and on. So the question becomes, how can we set boundaries to keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed? 

Let’s do some writing to figure out what this looks like in our own lives. 

  1. List the physical boundaries in your life and the purposes they serve. This could be the walls of your house, or the doorway into your office. 
  1. Think about the aspects of your life that require non-physical boundaries like work, and relationships.
  1. Write a poem in which you reimagine your emotional boundaries as physical ones. I might, for example, write about the door to my classroom closing and locking after the school day to represent the boundaries I’ve set on my work. 

Remember, boundaries only serve their purpose if you hold them. You can’t say oh what a lovely door I’ve put on my office and then answer an email at 10 PM. The idea is to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed. I know that if you’re taking time out to read and write with us that you’re a person that takes your self-care seriously; so lock those doors at the end of the day and do whatever brings you joy so you can continue to work and love and share as best as you’re able.

Thank you for reading and writing with me!

Emily Bjustrom 

Emily Bjustrom is a poet and a public school teacher now in her third year of teaching eleventh grade. As a poet, Emily focuses on image and tries to recreate feeling through image. You can check out some of her poetry at:

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Photo of green door above: “Valetta door” by Christian Stock

Published by lizawolfffrancis

Liza Wolff-Francis is a poet and writer with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College who is proud to have served two terms as a member of the Albuquerque Poet Laureate Program’s Selection Committee. She was co-director for the 2014 Austin International Poetry Festival and a member of the 2008 Albuquerque Poetry Slam Team. She has an ekphrastic poem posted in Austin’s Blanton Art Museum by El Anatsui’s sculpture “Seepage” and her work has most recently appeared in Steam Ticket, eMerge, Minute Magazine, Weaving the Terrain: 100 Word Southwestern Poems, Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems, Poetic Routes, Poetry Pacific, Edge, and on various blogs. She has a chapbook out called Language of Crossing (2015, Swimming with Elephant Publications), which is a collection of poems about the Mexico- U.S. border. She loves breakfast food, popcorn and dark chocolate.

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