I’ve recently started a creative writing group at my house. We eat homemade scones, chat about writing topics, and do some creative exercises to get the words flowing onto the page.
The other day, one member of the group seemed distressed that I would be the only one responsible for organizing our gatherings: “Isn’t it a lot of work for you to plan and host us every time?” I looked at her with what can only be described as shock. And then I realized why she might interpret the planning and hosting of such an event as a relative burden. She has a family, her own service business, and a deeply rooted local community to tend to that she’s built over 20 years. Therefore, she has lots of roles and possible demands on her time and energy. Adding one more ounce to that load might, indeed, feel as though it could break the camel’s back, especially if she weren’t careful to engage in self-care first.
As opposed to my new friend, however, I have no family here. I have been on a long-overdue sabbatical from a draining desk job that I took after we moved, so I have not had students or clients to tend to since last spring. I have had no local community and no friends at all, outside of my wonderful husband, since we moved overseas 4 years ago. (FOUR years!)
Lately, I have had no social roles. And because I have spent the months of my sabbatical carefully, consciously, lovingly engaging in much-needed self-care, I am ready to have a role again. Or rather, several roles. Now that I know how much people and social connection mean to me, I'm thrilled to engage in the responsibilities associated with my writing group:
No Person Is an Island
Whether we admit it or not, we all need people. We are social. We cannot survive alone. Or, we can, but after a while we go crazy. At times during the last four years, I did feel crazy--at the very least, extremely depressed and isolated.
As always happens in emotionally distressing situations, I developed physical symptoms: hair loss, digestive problems, frequent infections, nutritional deficiencies, inflammation…the list is tedious and endless. And that is how life started to feel to me, too. All because I had no social identity, no local friends, no community to reflect me back to me and say, “You’re here. You’re fine. We’re in this together.”
In fact, evidence shows that an important factor--if not the most important factor--in longevity is social integration. [Click the image below to open a new page and watch a rich, engaging, fascinating video that I will link to several times in various blog posts because there is so much in it. The first half is about social support/integration research.]
That fact doesn’t surprise me: Without a local “tribe” to belong to and share my time and energy with, I started to actually feel dead inside. This is the only place I have ever lived where I could not make friends easily. I wondered what the point of life was if I didn’t have friends or a community to share it with (Facebook and remote communication do NOT count! See the second half of that video above). I was socially isolated, and it might have, indeed, as the research in that video reveals, been killing me.
In the several months I have been on sabbatical, I discovered that the biggest reason--maybe the only reason--to live a long life like the folks featured in the video, is to share time, energy, and love with other people. Not just with my husband, but lots of other people: My family members (when they visit us), friends near and far, people who share my interests, care about me and let me care about them.
I had those relationships in Chicago. I had them in North Carolina. And that reminded me of a post I wrote almost two years ago about what “fun” meant to me. Remember that list? As I have been meditating on and visualizing joy and what that word means to me now, I took a peek at that list again. I was not surprised to see that a number of those items included things I wanted to do with friends, or groups of like-minded people, or that allowed me to meet new friends easily.
Now that I understand how crucial social interaction is to my wellbeing, I fully understand why I had lost my sense of fun: I had simply lost my tribe. My vision of a wonderful, ecstatic, joyful life is clearly crowded with other people. This writing group at my house is simply the first step in finally realizing that vision where we now live.
So, no. I’m not about to give up the planning and hosting of that group. It’s already a highlight of my month, and I now find myself having more and more ideas for ways to get other like-minded folks together to share, laugh, relate, explore, create and simply enjoy the fact that we are alive and we’re not alone. I’m so inspired to be my healthy, social, happy self again, that I even started doing something I love again. It might have taken me four exhausting, challenging years, but the reasons we moved here are now obvious, my social integration is finally beginning, and I have never felt happier.
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