As you probably have guessed, I am not a trained medical health professional. What I am is a mom, a mimi, a retired teacher, a lover of nature and of music, as well as, someone living with chronic illnesses. I share my journey to provide some insight and hopefully ideas that may be helpful to others dealing with similar issues. Always, consult with your doctor before trying anything new.
Belonging to a community has been a driving part of my entire life. As a child, I went to nearly every summer church program (partially because my mom couldn’t afford daycare) because I just loved that week of being a part of a special group: knowing the special song’s words and hand motions, sharing stories, munching on little sugar cookies and red punch around a small table with this temporary community.
Working as a camp counselor, not only did I find a temporary community to live with, but I met my best friend and my future husband. In college, I connected to a small group of friends (most I still have today) and sought out others from my classes that shared similar goals. I studied to become a teacher; my schools had been major sources of community for me growing up, and I longed to continue to be a part of it. When my husband and I chose the home we’d live in for our retirement years, I fell in love with a new development that was built on a former site of a summer camp, creating a built-in community of people to connect with.
Emma Seppala Ph.D. explains in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY Connect to Thrive, 2012, “Social connection strengthens our immune system…, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.” On an emotional level, “People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression.”
People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. “Too many of us pull in and away when we aren’t feeling well,” Seppala goes on to explain that a study conducted in 2006 showed that social connectedness is rapidly declining in the lives of those living in the United States. The report states that in 1985 Americans had on average three people they felt connected to on a deep level and in 2004 that number dropped to only one, with 25% of respondents saying they have no one to confide in.
Nearly, one year ago to the day, I was yanked from my school community, after 32-years, very unceremoniously. That’s the way I felt when I went onto long-term leave and then into retirement last June; my whole life as an educator just ended. It was really difficult knowing I wouldn’t be an integral part of my teaching community anymore. I still am having dreams a few times a month where I go into school, knowing I no longer work there, trying to give my input on the things I know are going on, then realizing that my ideas aren’t needed any longer.
Not only did I abruptly stop being a part of my teaching community, but I also began to really pull away from everyone. Mostly, because I felt so horrible, I just didn’t have anything to give to my family and friends. A new trend began, me canceling plans to go out, to getting together, to calling, to responding, even to posting and responding on Facebook. And within my solitude, I felt invisible and increasingly sad.
The night before Thanksgiving last year, I was invited to a Breathwork workshop at a yoga studio in a town about 20 minutes away from my home. I felt like @#$%, but the task was to get there and then lay down, bolstered by support pillows and wrapped in blankets like a cocoon. I didn’t have it in me to drive, so my husband drove and visited with our daughter who lives in that town.
Upon walking in the yoga studio, the sweet smells from the essential oil mixture and the brewing tea greeted me, calming me. Inside the entry, I was welcomed by several smiling, chattering people scattered throughout the India-infused, boho space. I felt like I was walking into someone’s home.
At the end of the three-hour session, I felt more energetic and positive than I had in a while. I vowed to start coming to this place and be a part of this community. Even though it took me a while to get consistent in attending, I began to feel the support and positive energy from the people through this place. The owner of the studio purposefully sets up a place that would keep people there after class to share in the community through talk and tea.
Slowly, my husband and I are making new connections in communities that we are interested in being a part of now that we are retired. We’ve met other couples interested in getting out-of-doors: hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, etc. Also, as the development that we live in has more homeowners living here, we are beginning to get to know them through organized activities that generally involve food. Recently, I’ve connected with a few other writers who have shared some nuts and bolts of the process of writing, helping me to feel like writing is something not only do I want to do but am able to do.
Through my blogging, I’ve become connected to others in the Fibromyalgia and chronic mental and physical illness communities. I find that communication through online forums is very important for me. At times, I’m learning something new; other times, I contribute something to a discussion that helps someone else. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve even gotten some much-appreciated kudos from others in the community for my writing, which really helped to get me back at the keyboard.
When we are in pain or not feeling well, often our first reaction is to pull away from all our communities. I know it takes great energy that you just don’t have. However, as I have learned both from my therapy and from my experiences, the more I pull away the darker I get. The more I push in, doing only what I can at that time, the better I begin to feel. The light from others is contagious.
At this time of the holidays, when things can get really overwhelming, I suggest that we connect with those communities that build us up, and we keep this going throughout the year.
How Can I Connect With Community When I’m Not Feeling Well?
- Online communities in areas of your interest or experiences can be really good. For me, I work to only participate in ones that are uplifting. I want to share the real, but I don’t want to dwell on the negatives all the time. Due to this there were a few groups I joined initially but then dropped. I recommend : The Mighty (mental wellness group), FIBRO CONNECT on Facebook, North Country Trail Community on Facebook.
- Pen-pal or phone-pal arrangement can reconnect with those you can’t see regularly. For me, writing back and forth (generally online) with a friend is really fulfilling. Recently, I connected back with my friend by setting up a weekly call date. Being she works at home, we generally connect in the morning for about an hour. I can’t say how wonderful that sharing time is. Talking using video (whatever tool you chose to use) brings you loving faces along with your conversation.
- Ask around about smaller groups in your area that do things you are interested in. I’ve found wonderful groups of people who love to get outside, paint, play the ukelele, eat vegan, etc. (Many share rides, etc. if you aren’t up to or able to drive.)
- Stick close to your closest family and friends. They totally get it if you’re not feeling well. My family has always done impromptu get-togethers where we either meet at a restaurant or go to someone’s home with each of us bringing something to eat. Very low-key and low-stress.
- Go to businesses that create community: yoga studios, some gyms (especially if you go to the same classes at the same times), even some restaurants (early breakfast groups), and some shops (art studio, knitting & quilting stores, bookstores, etc.) that allow you to hang out and learn from one another.
- Volunteer (this can be done on a regular or more flexible schedule which I like) for places that build community: hiking trail care groups, homes for senior citizens, schools, libraries, etc.
My wish for you (and for me) as we are beginning this time of winter hibernation is that we stay connected. Through our communities, we are revived, strengthened, honed, and loved.
What are ways you connect? What are your obstacles? What are the benefits you get by being connected with others?
Thank you for visiting my blog today. I am committing to posting once a week by Friday. However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body, and I cannot follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.