Why safe-spaces are essential to navigating bullsh*t

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Everyone has their bad days and a couple of months ago I was having exactly one of those. I was procrastinating way more than I should have, my thoughts were flying around endlessly and I just couldn’t seem to concentrate. I was meant to go into work and at some point in the afternoon I decided that getting outside and getting some fresh air would be the best thing for me.

I unlocked my bike and got onto it. About two seconds later this guy appeared out of nowhere and was cycling next to me. He was asking me if I spoke Spanish, asking me where I was from. I was sort of paralyzed by his creepy smile and his persistence. Had he approached me on a day where I had been feeling my usual self, I would have told him to fuck off and swerved the hell out of the way. Instead, I carried on cycling, not really sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t have the energy to speed up, I was scared aggression might aggravate him and that he might get off his bike, had I got off mine. At some point, after his constant questioning I said ‘I’m from here’. He then continued to ask me why I was being so moody and why I wouldn’t talk to him. At this point we had reached a supermarket and there were a lot of people around, so I slowed down and told him bye. He cycled off.

I had trouble composing myself and had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. This had been a recurring feeling I’d been having lately. So the question I’ve been pondering since this incident is: how do you navigate bullshit?

The incident that happened was not the first time I’ve been harassed by a randomer on the street. As I sat on a curb trying to gather my thoughts, I had flashbacks to being 17 and being followed into the toilet by a bouncer. Nothing ‘happened’, but I remember crying my eyes out, because I was absolutely terrified. And I had flashbacks to a whole train ride in France I had being harassed by one guy, and when I eventually had the courage to get up and leave this other man approached me, totally invaded my privacy by kissing me on the cheek and when I told him I had a boyfriend (which I didn’t even have) he told me that that’s exactly why I should fuck him. It’s all very tedious and tiring and most of the time I tell a friend about it, shrug it off and get on with my life. Apart from I started realizing that I am not just shrugging it off. These incidents sit with me and eat at me until it just takes one creep on a bike to set me over the edge and really shake me up. It kind of feels like each incident piles up on top of each other until it just takes one more creep to leave you feeling paralyzed.

I actually wrote the above on the day it happened, cried my eyes out and left it at that. I was really lost for any answers and didn’t know what to write next.


From experiencing a lot of bullshit I ended up getting into this really horrible place. I did not feel myself at all and because I am so extra I branded it my ‘existential crisis’. I knew it wasn’t me so I had to give it a big, dramatic name, so it would know that it eventually had to get the hell away from me. Yet I felt so stuck. How was I going to live my life when my day-to-day life puts me in such unsafe situations that I can’t deal with?

I know that these feelings and frustrations and this existential feeling of hopelessness are not unique to me. We all have to navigate bullshit and we are all trying to find our own ways to cope with whatever is thrown at us. I’ve always shrugged off the idea of a ‘safe-space’ as not being particularly relevant for me, because a lot of these typical safe spaces have felt very uncomfortable for me in the past: for example the unease that often comes with being part of LGBTQ spaces as a bisexual person. That doesn’t mean that LGBTQ groups are not a safe-space for many people, which is so important to have, they just didn’t resonate with me personally. For me, my family, friends and partners have always been my source of comfort: in the bonds that I forge with other people comes the ultimate space where I find safety.

We encourage each other to be ourselves, that there’s no such thing as too much information; we should just be honest and open and that there is absolutely zero judgment.

Recently, an old friend told me that I was living my best life. I was thinking about what this means: living your best life is just ‘you doing you’. When one of my best friends at school said ‘you do you’ to me it really was a life changing moment. I’ve always loved it and I always hope to try and do myself, as well doing my best to pass on this wisdom to others. But you doing you also requires you having to deal with the parts that aren’t you, to deal with those crises that come about in your life that eat away at you. If you’re acting false or pretending to be something you’re not then you’re not being true to yourself. The reason that you are avoiding being yourself is because you’re probably ashamed of some part of yourself in a way. To be yourself therefore requires you to have to deal with those parts of you that aren’t really you, to face those things that have forced you to somehow feel the need too act differently. You doing you requires you to confront those things that have manifested themselves in you from your surroundings: i.e. your insecurities.

In this new group of friends that I have found/found me, we decided to call our group a safe-space and really acknowledge what the means. We encourage each other to be ourselves, that there’s no such thing as too much information; we should just be honest and open and that there is absolutely zero judgment. At the point that they met me, I had been feeling peak existential crisis: I really felt like I was not doing a good job of doing myself. I was feeling really anti-social, I was feeling scared, I was feeling anxious and fearful about a lot of stuff. I was thinking about going to see a councilor, because I just felt like I had so much on my chest.

One of my biggest insecurities has been talking in public or in front of large groups of people. It got a lot better during my Undergrad studies, because I felt safe in my classes, around my teachers and my fellow students. But it has definitely always manifested itself in many ways through me not feeling adequate: I felt like I was bad at it, that through trying to articulate, explain and express myself on the spot that it would somehow come out wrong. I was scared that I would say the wrong thing and come across as stupid, ignorant or just weird. Anyways, I think most of us can relate to this feeling, because talking in front of a group of people is such an ‘unnatural’ thing to do: you literally have to do you in front of an audience.

The speaking in front of people problem got really bad during my Masters in Migration Studies. I wouldn’t have survived the year if it hadn’t been for some great people on my course, but because of the nature of the teaching, the dynamics of the class and some generally questionable experiences to do with race, I felt like class was not a safe space for me. I really felt like I lost my voice during this time. This was especially horrible, because I had picked a subject area that I was passionate about. I had hoped that further study would allow for me to grow and gain a voice in something I really believed in. Being a person of colour, as well as someone who has migrated a lot, I also felt very personally affected by a lot of the topics that we had to deal with on the course, and the feeling that I wasn’t able to share my stories and my experiences, because the space was not safe enough for me to have the confidence to do so, was really awful.

That’s actually when I decided to write this blog and shed some skin through writing. At this point I just thought “screw this! I want to talk about how society has made me feel like shit and I honestly don’t really care who reads it.” The blog’s name ‘take-your-skin-off’ is all about taking off a layer off of my own insecurity and dealing with it through writing: it’s why it deals with topics that are so personal to me, because I am trying to find ways to overcome my fears and my insecurities. It’s a safe-space for me to have a voice and express what I believe in. Of course it doesn’t mean that I think people should agree with what I say or the opinions I express, I’m just sharing my own personal story. Revisiting my blog posts has also helped me re-celebrate parts of myself that I had definitely felt ashamed of: being bisexual, being a person of colour, being a woman: things that society has taught me somehow make me inadequate in many ways.

Anyways, at my lowest point of my existential crisis, I was fortunate to meet someone who was definitely doing himself. We call it our 3 year catch up, because even though we’d just met, everything felt so natural: it just felt like we hadn’t seen each other in a while and we just needed to update each other about what had happened in our lives. In hindsight, I realise now that the reason that I did feel this safety with him was because of the aura of security in himself that he just omitted. There was no pretence, no suppression of emotions, I felt like I could just be myself around him and that that was okay: no judgment, no such thing as too-much-information, someone who was just listening and understanding. Suddenly, I had this new friend. Friends are there for many reasons, but for me, all the friendships that I have had are these beautiful spaces where we encourage each other to just be ourselves, if not in society, then at least with each other.

If everyone just had a safe-space to allow themselves to try and be honest about what it is they are feeling: why it is that they feel like shit sometimes, and have the space to work through that, to shed some skin and to hopefully gain some understanding and confidence at some point, then the world would just be a happier, better place.

The third time I met him we had this really intense chat about safe spaces. We talked about how far away we felt from safety in our own personal lives, but that the venue we were at was a space that allows for people to be themselves. You have to sign-up on a guest list to get in, you’re not allowed to take pictures (no invasion of people’s privacy), racism, homophobia and sexism are not tolerated. The diverse range of people that come to this place is just wonderful. I feel like this space is formed of the outcasts and a weirdos in society, something I have always felt. And this space allows for all those outcasts to come together, celebrate their weirdness, shed some skin and to connect with each other. I really do feel like everyone is doing their best to just let everyone else live their best life.

The day after the safe-space chat I realised that there was so much insecurity in my life and I was wondering how on earth I was going to continue like this. I felt really deep into my existential crisis and I felt broken and low. I was also feeling insecure about these new friendships, because of how I’d been treated in past friendships and relationship: what if they treat me badly and I end up getting hurt? Am I ready to open up to people at this point when I’m already feeling so terrible about myself? What was also terrifying was that my new pal just understood me: he saw straight through what I was feeling. I felt like I had nothing to hide and that made me feel quite vulnerable. Yet I was both absolutely terrified and also really excited and about how it’d felt so real.

Last week I was put on the spot to talk about my work in front of 80 people. Had it been a couple of months ago I would have freaked out and probably gotten really nervous and then felt horrible about the whole thing. I was still nervous but I felt different about it, I felt like I gave less of a shit about what people might think of me, because I felt more confident about being myself. I had #noregrets about it, which is such a crazy point to come to. If someone had told me this a couple of months ago, I probably would have been like lol bullshit, and then hidden myself away into the depths of my existential crisis.

I also know that maybe at some point my insecurities might get to me again real badly and I might find myself in the same ‘place’ that I was a couple of months ago. Dealing with life is fucking difficult and dealing with those exterior elements that bring us down is the biggest challenge of all. We have no control over what bullshit might be thrown at us next. But that’s also okay, there should be no pressure to feel, or think, or do anything that we don’t want to, because if we did not embrace all our feels, then we would not be doing ourselves; we would not be living our best life. So the next time I tread in a massive pile of bullshit, I’ll just embrace it. But hopefully I might have a few more tools in my tool box to scrape that shit off my shoe.

I really do think that our insecurities are just a product of us being abused by our surroundings in some way. Even the word in[security] is just an antonym to safety and feeling safe. Mental health is such a prominent example of this, because I do think that the sickness that we often get in our brains can definitely be a symptom of a horrible insecurity that grows inside of us. Because of societal pressures we tell ourselves these things: we are not good enough, we are not beautiful enough, we are not slim enough, we won’t be able to live up to expectations, we are outcasts, we won’t be accepted.

If everyone just had a safe-space to allow themselves to try and be honest about what it is they are feeling: why it is that they feel like shit sometimes, and have the space to work through that, to shed some skin and to hopefully gain some understanding and confidence at some point, then the world would just be a happier, better place.

If I hadn’t been in such a hole when that creep on the bike approached me, I would have had much more confidence to react. If he came up to me on my bike today, I would probably question his behaviour and react in a way that I hope could somehow make him double-think about why he felt the need to act this way. Or even if I just responded by telling him to fuck off, at least I would had the confidence to use a tool from my box to scrape off and navigate away from his bullshit.



This is an abridged version of the text: find the original version and much more from Sheikha here.

Student of Migration Studies at Copenhagen University. Loves napping, cooking and dancing to techno. Writes a blog, but will never be 10/10 woke, because she is too wayne (often described as “my craziest friend”). She really lives for the lol, but is also a deadly serious queer feminist activist.

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