I remember exactly where we were sitting in the concrete undercroft in my primary school. “Imagine an invisible bubble being drawn around you” the less-intimidating of the two grade-one teachers explained. “Choose how big you want that bubble to be – it can be as close to you or as far away as you would like. This is your personal space, your special protective zone. Never let anyone break into that bubble that you don’t want to.”
This well-intended message provided great hysteria in the next class recess. Twenty over-stimulated six-year-olds deliberately running into each other’s imaginary bubbles, bouncing off each other and, of course, the bad boys menacingly pretending to break the bubbles of the quietest girls (some things never change, right?). Although I joined in the fun at the time, it seems the message – and my protective bubble – became well and truly ingrained in my psyche because as it turns out, I have serious personal space issues.
For the most part, I consider myself to be a fairly warm and all-embracing kind of girl, but only metaphorically. Emotionally I’ll open up to almost anyone who’ll listen (willingly or not). I’ll share secrets and divulge personal information you didn’t even want to know. Stand a little too closely behind me at the supermarket checkout, however, and chills go up my spine. I’ll go so far as to lose my place in line to grab a magazine I have no intention of reading if I can hear the person behind me breathe.
I cringe when someone sits next to me in a waiting room and their body makes contact with mine, even if it’s as something as mundane as an elbow on an armrest. I have learnt to perform Olympic grade gymanstic manoeuvres to avoid strangers fondling my pregnant belly (seriously, it is still my skin!). As for airline travel – well that’s just a nightmare for me. The mere possibility of someone falling asleep on my shoulder, or naked foot finding its way on top of mine has by skin crawling.
Before you assume I just have issues with the general public, I should clarify that my personal space problems go far beyond stranger danger. Even with good friends, I am a fairly useless hugger. My hands always find their way on some part of the other person’s body, whether it’s shoulders or their upper back in some form of football hug. I’ve even caught myself throwing in the odd man-hug “back pat”. I can never seem to comfortably bring my chest or torso to oh-so-casually make contact with someone else’s, no matter how well I know them.