Let's Travel Together
Sunday mornings for me are composed of coffee, conversations and chaos. There are kids laughing as they attempt to steal as much Milo as humanly possible from the kitchen. There are adults setting up pots of tea and carefully placing fresh flowers on the tables, as children run in and out of the building chasing magpies. As you move around the room, you catch fragments of conversations as words are shared and collectively exchanged from one person to another. The room is alive with the chatter of caffeinated adults, babies screaming, the soft hum of a guitar and new people being welcomed at the door.
This is my community.
It’s chaotic, imperfect and authentic. But when I walk into church it feels like an extension of my home—like a giant family reunion we hold once a week on a Sunday morning.
Your community may look a little different. It could involve activism, a netball, a paintbrush, golf clubs, a piano, surf boards, board games or all of the above. The common denominator that ties the fabric of every community together, however, is human connection.
Connection is the underlying heartbeat of a healthy community. Strong and supportive connections between people transform a gathering of individuals, into a living and breathing community. Its ingredients include openness, acceptance, vulnerability, forgiveness and love.
Yet I frequently meet people who feel completely alone. I am an advocate for mental health and recovery. In my work I hear hundreds of people’s stories as my husband I travel and meet people across the country. A common theme that emerges from everyone’s experiences is the ability mental illness has to rob us of connection. I have personally battled clinical depression and nearly lost my life to anorexia and suicide as a teenager. Depression and anxiety seem to beg us to stay disconnected and isolated. I cannot count the number of people who have said: “I am alone” and “I thought I was the only one who struggles with this”.
The truth is we are not alone. We do not need to fight these internal and intensive battles as an individual. One of the biggest lies we are told is that we need to fix ourselves. Pressure sometimes mounts for us to get our lives in order and give the appearance we have everything together. In reality, we are all on a journey and must travel together.
We are not alone and community is the cure. Scientific literature reinforces that people draw strength from connection. We are wired for community. While I am not minimising an individual’s ability to actively play a role in their life and recovery journey, I believe community is central to recovery from mental illness.
- Community enriches our lives
Recently I arrived in Melbourne for a visit. My friend and I quickly struck up an incredible conversation with a driver who picked us up from the airport.
He explained “I meet strangers every day and many do not want to talk. Their eyes are glued to their iPad or phone. Yet I know we would all be richer if we took a little time to notice each other, listen and share some of who we are.” He elaborated, explaining that human connection is like a bank. We can deposit into it and draw from it. The more we engage in this process, the richer we become.
I have certainly found this to be true. Connection enriches our lives. The uniqueness of people’s perspectives, experiences, ideas and worldviews can add a richness to our lives that is life-changing and unquantifiable.
- Community as a source of support
Community means you don’t have to do life alone. When I suffered with depression, it was not just my mental health that was affected. I became disconnected from friends, family, my job, study and completely stopped doing the things I once loved to do. A core characteristic of depression is disconnection. Yet community is part of the cure. Living a life connected to others has shown me that we do not need to be strong all the time. We draw strength from those around us; we don’t need to fight alone. Surround yourself with people who have your back, who encourage you in those moments when you have no strength left. Those supportive relationships undergird our lives, providing us with the strength to grow and move forward.
- Community focuses us outwards
Being part of a community empowers us to look outwards, which in turn opens our eyes to others. One of my favourite books, The Cause Within You by Matthew Barnett, shares the story of a reformed drug addict Jonathon. Jonathon volunteered with the Dream Center in LA serving plates of food to 30,000 people a week. He explains “I’ve learned here to be aware and conscious of what’s going on around me so I can be a blessing.” Jonathon’s life was transformed as he began looking outwards and seeing the needs of others. “You start thinking of ways to be generous, ways to bless, ways to serve.” Community shifts our focus from being solely on ourselves, and empowers us to see potential in others. It is through loving, serving and helping people that our lives are enriched.
There are a thousand more reasons I could share with why community is important. Yet I will finish with this quote from Dorothy Day:
“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”
Community is centred in connection, and it is connection that enriches our lives. We are all on a journey, let’s travel together.
Hope Movement believes that healthy community can change people's lives, helping us to find hope and enter recovery. Help us to share this message by donating to the #HopeLives16 campaign here.