Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

If there is one thing I could say is my least favorite thing about living in the city (and that is putting it mildly) it would be living in an apartment building.

To say that sharing walls with other people is enough of an inconvenience for me that it blows past trying to avoid stepping on used needles, people entering and exiting the bus without any concept of keeping other people from being on time, and parades for “most annoying city thing” might be something of an indication that my real problem is this; the people thing.

No, people on the streets in Seattle aren’t nice. They call it the “Seattle freeze,” people here will honestly just pretend you don’t exist when it is convenient for them to do so. Even worse is that these folks, when snuggled into their apartments at the end of the day, seem to also believe that whatever happens in the walls of their little unit has no effect on anyone else -and why should it? This is my home.

This is not something I can pass off like a torch and say, “ah, well, this weird and overwhelming rude-neighbor-noise-problem has nothing to do with me!” I know very well that it does.

You see, most of the time I have a very hard time asserting myself. I realize that might sound odd to anyone who knows me because I tend to have a bit of a controlling reputation, but it is true. I really struggle in situations where I feel like my boundaries are being violated and I need to stand up for myself.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to assert the boundary in the first place, especially with a neighbor. So when my neighbor spends two or three weeks encouraging their children to scream as loud as they can over and over again and I do nothing (“just ignore it,” right?) a precedent has been established; screaming all day and all night is ok.

At my last apartment, that was my method… and not because I have a great time ignoring horrible sounds, oh no. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t have access to that part of my brain, or it broke, or never quite grew in. This is especially true with repetitive noises, nothing will make me psychotic faster than a repetitive sound that I cannot avoid.

At the same time, I was terrified of what might happen if I did say something. If I waited to reach out to my neighbor when I was already agitated from the noise, wasn’t there a risk I might have a panic attack at their door or, even worse, snap at them? What if the psychosis brought on a moment where I couldn’t control myself? What if I acted like such an asshole it made things worse? What if they called the police on me for not making sense and seeming threatening?

Ultimately, no matter where I tried to go with this, the final result seemed thus; no matter what I do, pissing off my neighbor could be the biggest mistake I could make. An angry neighbor can make your life hell. 

The truly funny part was that right before I moved some gentleman went to some of my neighbors and asked them about me. I figured that since I hadn’t ever approached any of them, their responses would probably be neutral.


The responses they got were overwhelmingly negative. I was a hermit. I was cold. I was rude. I was constantly on autopilot.

And while these things are probably true (because I was always pissed off at those people for making stupid amounts of noise) it became clear that avoiding confrontation was not making people like me. In fact, they probably liked me about as little as I expected they would if I had said something to them about the noise!

One of the things I really took away for my hospitalization a couple weeks ago is that I need to work harder at being assertive and setting up boundaries with people. Again, this is something that is pretty easy to put on the list, but following through with it can seem like a daunting task.

My first day back from the hospital I approached neighbor-with-screaming-kids (I call him the butcher since it constantly sounds like he is murdering children two doors away -I dare say I would be more nervous if the kids didn’t seem to keep multiplying or answering the door grinning) when I couldn’t rest because (you guessed it) his kids were screaming.

Though he seemed somewhat incredulous that seven blood curdling screams happening simultaneously could be heard in my apartment (really?) he kept the kids quiet for a good 12 hours before the screaming started up again.

Last night I had a panic attack while trying to eat dinner because I could hear an adult over there encouraging the kids to scream louder. This unit is not next door to me, it is on the other side of the building! So, for a second time I approached my neighbor, this time with the blank pallor and the uncontrollable twitching that accompanies a panic attack. After he smiled and laughed a little a six inch Bugs Bunny sporting a pink beret, a shaggy pink sweater, and a green pencil skirt appeared on my shoulder,

“And of course you know this means war!”

Maybe my neighbor doesn’t like me, but chances are he probably wouldn’t have liked me anyway.

I’ve made the first step in establishing a boundary. Screaming at that level = inappropriate. Having established this idea with my neighbor, I feel much more relaxed about calling my building manager or the police if (or when) the screaming starts up again.

There are often times in my experience with bipolar disorder where it feels like I’ve suddenly woken up. They don’t last long anymore, but when it happens I look around me and see how much of my life has been reduced to nothing… then I spend the better part of the next few days trying to set something up again. Just enough that the ball will keep rolling without me pushing it every few feet. Practicing being assertive and setting boundaries (um, no, pizza with no sauce is not pizza!) while I briefly have the frame of mind to do so will hopefully help it stick when I don’t.

9 responses to “Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

  1. Your blog is so… insightful. And very interesting to read. Digging the name as well. Anyway, I stumbled upon it, and decided to nominate you for a Liebster Award! Hooray!

  2. If it is ok to call police for loud parties are loud adult fights, seem logical to be able to do the same with unruly kids. You go girl and stand up for yourself. Hugs.

  3. Atta be girl! Little boundaries are important. I told one of my agents that moving forward I refuse to deal with her dirty oatmeal spoons…

    MAN that felt good lol.. Pick the little battles. The ones you know you should win just by showing up to because you are RIGHT…. Eventually you will be able to pick battles that you only THINK you are right on.. that is the next step lol.

    Thank you for sharing hun ❤

  4. Yikes. I too hate living in a multi unit building. We used to have a problem with the neighbors across the hallway slamming the communal balcony door which is attached to our wall at all hours when they went to smoke. We don’t have a building supervisor or anything like that so we were left just dealing with it by yelling obsecenities whenever they passed our door. I guess they got the message as they eventually stopped slamming the door. Not the best solution, but the best for two people who have issues with confrontation. Stay strong!

  5. You have a great sense of humor I really enjoyed this post 🙂

  6. Just Plain Ol' Vic

    One of the things that you can never downplay is the need to express yourself. If you don’t, then all of that pent up emotion will manifest itself in a negative way and heighten your mental health issues. So communicate away – even if you do not get the results that you want, it still should take some of the burden off you because you made the effort to communicate.

    On another note, if your neighbors continue to be loud and obnoxious, then you need to record it and then contact either your community association (if there is one) or the police and file a formal complaint.

    Take care!

  7. While I might relish confrontation a little bit too much, deep down I think you need to not care what strangers think of you. I have a friend with this problem. She really acts like a doormat sometimes. And she really does care that people she hardly knows don’t think well of her. It can be crippling. That need for acceptance, I guess. In any case, just know you are “le awesomesauce” and make a huge difference for some of us out here. People you don’t know at all 🙂

  8. Thank you for that post. I struggle in much the same manner, and it was great to hear it from someone else.

  9. I hope you are still blogging as even a year later reading your words help. Our downstairs neighbor says she is bipolar and she parties, smokes weed and a heavy smoker which comes through our floor. She never complains we are stomping (we are not) and only gets worse if we say something yet she told us too tell her. She taunts and intimidates us one minute then is flirting with my husband the next. Bipolar is one thing, but something else is up with her. She has violent arrest record. My friend is bipolar and does not behave like her. She complains if we clean at 7pm. So OK after a year we stopped talking to her and started calling police on her. Tonight she told my husband she turned up music because our little dog was stomping.l, then he left and the music went right back up. The dog was asleep. My question is how do we deal with a woman once we have set the boundaries and she continuously pushes past them? We own and her landlord refused to do anything. HOA has written him a letter warning because others complained too, but he still refuses. Worried I don’t want to worry every time I walk our my door. She watched for Police and only turned music down when she saw them parking. Police couldn’t do anything as the music was not on when they got there. 5 minutes after they left she turned it on and up high the back down as to tell me she was in charge. Does anyone know of a super sensitive recorder as my cell phone doesn’t pick up good enough through floors, yet I can hear it loudly.

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