The Geometry of A Good Boundary: How Claiming My Space Saved My Life

Hayden Mears
5 min readAug 9, 2021

For as long as I can remember, my life, my thoughts, my space haven’t been mine. At least, that’s what I was inadvertently taught. Foreign to my paradigm was the fact that I had control over who had access to my space, and that it was my sanctuary. My space was sacred, and it was time I treated it as such.

For years, I didn’t know how poorly I treated my space. It was a blind spot which enabled me to cross lines in the sand that weren’t yet drawn, but that needed to be. As I was starting to burrow further and further under rock bottom, a global pandemic hit, and I was forced into a personal reckoning that changed my life, my relationships, and my understanding of myself.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was “blossoming” into a full-fledged alcoholic. I needed beer to get through my remote writing jobs. I craved numbness. I yearned for an escape. I wanted the escape.

One night, buzzed and spiraling, I messaged a dear friend, “I can’t do this. Whatever happens, though, we will always be great.” She read between the lines and shot back a text: “Call me now or I’m calling the police.” I actually hesitated because there was a part of me that wanted it all to end that evening. The part of me that cried for help, though; the part of me that chose life , was what triumphed that night.

When I had been alone with myself for long enough, I got to thinking. I spent days stewing on problems I’d actively avoided for years. With that introspection came the inadvertent unearthing of old pain. I began writing notes to myself with my non-dominant hand. I stopped drinking. I made a plan for making space for myself. For the first time in over a decade, the contours of my frame of mind sharpened. I fell healthier and more alive than I’d ever felt before, and I craved betterment in all its forms.

When I say “space,” I’m not talking about space in a room, or anything tangible. Thinking of “space” as merely a physical concept is limiting. When I speak of it, I am referring to the emotional distance I allow between myself and another person or problem. I am enormously empathetic, often to a degree that impacts me deeply. I am also curious, furious, and gifted (cursed) with my personal definitions of justice. Combine those qualities with a developmental disorder and ADHD and you’ve got the makings of a person who constantly forfeits personal boundaries for whatever emotion or impulse seizes them at the moment. It’s exhausting. It’s socially devastating. It’s me.

As an autistic adult, I have done my damnedest to try to make sense of a world that frequently and reflexively rejects me. I am an underdog through and through, but unlike those charming underdogs from the world’s greatest stories, my story hasn’t been one that millions have clamored to read. In fact, I often feel overlooked. However, like many of those characters, I’ve defied by subverting since I was a child.

I’ve attempted to understand my relationship with autism by observing how others on the spectrum operate. At 20, I co-founded an informational media publishing company dedicated to enlivening, empowering, and educating autistic people and their families. The enterprise ballooned into a globally recognized company that exists to this day. As I grew closer to other people on the spectrum, I found that I grew distant from myself. Boundaries help us define and shape our selves and our space; without them, we have no response for when we feel violated or overwhelmed.

The trick to understanding boundaries, or “space,” is acknowledging that the boundaries you set are for you, not for others. The second I realized that, I got to work on discovering what my boundaries needed to be and how I could safely set them. Soon, I found that this shift changed many of my relationships. Some of these were great. Others were not. People who can’t handle your boundaries are not usually people with whom you can have sustainable relationships.

“Space” is an incredible gift. It’s a “give and create” concept. One of the most loving things you can do for another human being is take them where they’re at, rather than at where you want them to be. That’s the “give” of space. The “create” is the social, physical, or emotional parameters within which people must stay if they wish to have a deeper relationship with you. Of course, no one has to operate within parameters you set, but you also don’t have to spend energy on people who refuse your reasonable requests for respect.

On a macro level, space — or rather, the violation or outright neglect of it — roots itself in many modern problems. Women aren’t given the same opportunities to grow and advance in society as men are. Every accusation of sexual assault, every situation where women, people of color, or other marginalized groups are harassed, abused, or treated as less…they’re all examples of egregious space and boundary violations. I’m not conflating or equating the experiences of those groups; I’m attempting to illustrate that people of power and privilege see difference as an opportunity for neglect or derision. Being autistic, I have experienced this.

Defining your space is not the solution to every problem you’ll ever face, but it allows you to be prepared for anything rather than for everything. Now, after all I’ve endured, I firmly believe that that is one of the greatest skills you can ever learn.



Hayden Mears

Writer waxing poetic about autism, movies, television, and comics.