The Vital Importance of Community

My day wasn’t going well. I’ve struggled a lot recently with anxiety, and while in general I’m doing better than I have in a long time, I still have the odd bad days. Today was looking like one of those. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and when I did manage to get out of bed I didn’t want to do anything else. I tried to write, but my brain felt sluggish and every word looked stupid. I turned to the to-do list of chores, but ended up wandering aimlessly from room to room, looking at the things I knew I should be doing but feeling like starting was just… too hard, somehow.

I’d like to state here for the record that I am phenomenally lucky to have a lot of support in my life. My partner, my family, my friends, they are all wonderful people who have my back 100%. Even so, I have never been great at asking them for support when I’m not doing so well. In this case especially, I’ve had a run of good days, and to admit that I was feeling down seemed like an admission of defeat. Like a step backwards.

Now, in the last week or so I have discovered the writing community on Twitter. This is a big deal, because I’m signed off work (due to the aforementioned anxiety), so I’m spending a lot of time at home on my own at the moment. Watching, and then starting to participate in, this vibrant and friendly group has been very exciting, and very much what the doctor ordered for this home-bound extrovert. And today, because my day wasn’t going well, I decided to try asking for advice.

I sent out a Tweet asking for tips, advice on how to get moving when you’re not feeling it, and then I went back to the sofa and the comfort of my blanket. I felt a little silly, a little self-conscious. I felt like I was attention-seeking, asking for something from strangers that I wasn’t sure I deserved. For the next few hours I remained cocooned in front of old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. When I knew I needed to move, at least a little, even if just to get some food, I gravitated back to my laptop.

These lovely people, in this community I have been interacting with for only a matter of days, had a number of suggestions for me. To put some music on, to try taking small steps, to give myself permission to not do anything useful if that’s what I needed today. They suggested targets, they suggested songs, they told me that sometimes you just gotta get up and go, even when you don’t want to.

The funny thing is, it was all the sort of advice I would have given to somebody else in my position. But of course, when I sent that Tweet I wasn’t really doing it because I thought somebody would have a magic solution to make me not want to sit on the sofa in my PJs and eat ice cream all day. What I was asking on the surface was for tips, what I was asking underneath was for reassurance. “Am I okay? Am I a part of something? Do I matter?” And what I got from those replies was “We see you, we care, we will help if we can.”

That’s what community is about. Humans are a social species, it’s why are brains evolved the way they did, it’s how we got where we are. Being in a group, supporting and being supported by others, is so important to our wellbeing. The internet often plays a very mixed role in our communities; in some ways it brings us closer together, but it can also be the root of feelings of deep isolation. I’m not here to dwell a lot on the deeper effects of the internet on society, partly because I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough for that kind of analysis but mostly because I want to go back to talking about me.

After I read those replies, I felt a whole lot more able to engage with the tasks which had felt impossible only an hour or so earlier. I put some music on, I got out of my pyjamas, I took the recycling out and the evening air smelled so good. I walked to the shop and bought some food. I did the washing up. And then I sat down with a healthy pasta salad and a bottle of cider and I wrote this blog post: a little thank-you to the people who, in less than 280 characters each, turned my day around.

I might have managed, even without the encouragement, to get off my arse before the end of the day and do something useful. Motivated by disappointment in my lack of motivation, I may well have done the washing up. In a bid for my partner not to find me in the same clothes I slept in last night when he gets home this evening, I might have found the energy to change. But thanks to a few friendly voices on Twitter, thanks to feeling like I had a community behind me, I did those things (and more) with real joy. My day wasn’t going well, but now? Now it’s going great.

Picture of my spinach and tomato pasta, cider and a lit candle.
Cheers, #WritingCommunity! Here’s to you guys.

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