A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Mental Health & Money Mondays: Finding Community


I've been thinking a lot about relationships, friendship, and community this past week, probably because I've socialized more than usual this month: I attended a women's financial retreat with 70 other people, visited family in the Pacific Northwest, gave a presentation to a group of middle schoolers, hung out with friends, and even bonded with a handful of other runners (whom I didn't know beforehand) during a particularly grueling trail race.

And you know what?

This introverted, awkward hermit thoroughly enjoyed those interactions.

The truth is that social connections and community play an important role in the mental well-being of every human, and they're worth investing in because they have long-term impacts on our health. So I figured it would make a good topic for the second edition of Mental Health and Money Mondays.


Social Bumbles and Relationship Stumbles


For most of my life, I've struggled to make friends and connect with other people.

In grade school, I was teased for being overweight and mocked for wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row. I often ate lunch by myself. (That time I farted in gym class in front of all of the other sixth graders didn't help matters.)

I caught a break when I found a close group of friends at my junior high church youth group. Most of them eventually faded from my life when I left the Christian faith and married an atheist, but they supported me during some difficult years, and their friendship was critical while it lasted.

Things changed considerably when I met my partner: finally, I had someone I could depend on, day in and day out, an anchor to keep me from floating too far off into myself, though as anyone in a long-term relationship can tell you, it's important to have a community beyond your significant other. No one person can be everything you need.

A decade ago, as a lonely new mom, I tried joining Mommy and Me groups to find other women going through a similar big life change. I longed to sit in a quiet coffee shop, sip a latte in peace, and talk about how to be a mom while building a career; instead, I found myself in the middle of endless debates about cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers and breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. I flunked out of three meetups before I finally gave up.

But I started graduate school soon after that and established close friendships with people who shared my passion for our field of study and the outdoors, and who doted on my son.

And now I'm part of the personal finance community, building relationships with other money nerds who, like me, value planning for the future, investing in the things they care about, and giving themselves the freedom to do the things they love.


Connection: It's Good For You 


Although my social experiences haven't always been easy, I think they are fairly typical: many of us struggle to connect with others once we're well into adulthood, and our friends and friend groups periodically change as we evolve as individuals. As a result, finding a lasting and reliable community can be extremely difficult, to say the least.

It's especially difficult for those of us with mental health issues. For example, when I'm in anxiety mode, I'm often less apt to reach out because I'm worried about saying or doing something stupid that will ruin it all and destroy my life forever (welcome to my brain). When I'm depressed, I'm often convinced nobody likes me, and therefore I don't see the point in trying to connect (nor do I have the energy to try).

But research shows that making the effort to build relationships is crucial. People who are connected to family, friends, and community generally live longer, happier lives and experience less loneliness, depression, and anxiety than those who lack those social connections. Even casual relationships and acquaintanceships can make a significant and positive difference.

In other words, your health - including your mental health - depends not only on your genes, your eating habits, your stress levels, and your exercise routine, but also on the nature of your relationships.


Making An Effort


It's tempting for an introvert like me to hide herself away, and I often do - mainly because I need and enjoy my personal space. But I keep working to build community in various aspects of my life because I know my long-term happiness depends in part on my interactions with other people.

It's why I play online board games with Done by Forty and a few other people on a regular basis, even though I usually lose. (In a very kind move, Done by Forty asked me to play during a time when I wasn't feeling all that great. Just the invitation and our trash-talking banter made a big difference.)

It's why I attend my monthly book club with almost religious devotion, even when I don't feel like it and even when I haven't read the book. (Nope, I haven't got the foggiest idea what happened in Middlemarch, but why don't you give me the rundown while I drink this fortifying glass of wine?)

It's why I'm active on social media, even though social media can be highly problematic. On some days, Twitter buoys me.

It's why I attended CentsPositive, even though I was initially overwhelmed at the thought of meeting so many new people.

It's why I try to see my brother once a year, even though getting there is kind of a haul and it's never cheap.

It's why I force myself to keep working on my blog, even when I wonder whether it's worthwhile. There's a community here, too, and I depend on it.


Your Community


What about you? What's your community like? Do you feel like you have the support and connection you need? How do you find and engage with a community - especially when you don't particularly feel like it or the effort seems like more work than it's worth?
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12 comments:

  1. I too am so grateful for the PF community. Twitter can be problematic, but it brought me to all of you, so I’m rather fond of it.

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    1. I love Twitter more than I probably should! I think it can be a positive/helpful/supportive place if you carefully cultivate what you choose to view and respond to.

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  2. Likewise, when I feel especially anxious, I tend to burrow down. However, I appreciate the value and power of community and I am grateful that it helps me not to become a complete hermit lol. Love these Monday and Mental Health posts!

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    1. I'm so glad, Kassandra! I really wasn't sure there'd be an interest, but so far, so good. Thank you for reading and empathizing. <3

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  3. I just volunteered at a trail running event (xterra) on Sunday because I couldn't run it myself, but that crew is pretty fun and adventurous! For me, it's beach volleyball. It's a big community and it's at times slightly dysfunctional (what group isn't) but we all rally around each other when we need to. I don't do church so for me, it's my church! That's why when I had an injury keeping me away from it, it was really hard! Glad you found a "home" in the PF community!

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    1. Oooohhh this is a very good idea. I really should volunteer at races more often. I enjoy the atmosphere, and I love cheering people on.

      Excited that you get to go back to volleyball soon! It seems to mean so much to you. I imagine that being away from it for several weeks was incredibly difficult.

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  4. Hi, friend! Our online games are some of my favorite ones to play -- I've honestly not felt this connected to the PF community. There's a special feeling of finding your kindred weirdos, the people who also love competing over silly little games.

    "The truth is that social connections and community play an important role in the mental well-being of every human, and they're worth investing in because they have long-term impacts on our health. "

    Absolutely. Mrs. Done by Forty and I are still struggling with getting out of the house ever since having Baby AF. We've only had someone come over and babysit...once. So it's tough. We invite people over here as much as we can so we can try to have the best of both worlds, but we need to be better about going out (even if it's just one of us) during the week and weekends, and finding a dang babysitter, so we can form those relationships that are so crucial for our health and happiness.

    Loving this series. Look forward to the next one, friend.

    Also, we should play more games. ;)

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    1. If I lived in your neck of the woods, I'd babysit for you guys all the time! Baby AF and I would be BFFs.

      Yeah, it's tough... We still don't go out that often, and our kid is 12. He doesn't want a babysitter but also doesn't feel confident enough to stay home by himself for more than an hour or so (I don't blame him).

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  5. So much of my offline community that is so meaningful to our lives now started with the people I met through the blog and later on Twitter, it may be a hellscape sometimes but I tend to look at it as a reflection of the real world and we pick out the good and leave the bad.

    I'm so glad you've found some of that with DbF and family!

    We are working hard at making those local connections now, because while it is great to know we have a global community, it really makes a big difference to have people in the neighborhood who can let you know if the power is out or to grab some extra supplies for you while they're out if you can't do it yourself. We've been missing that easy component for nearly a decade that we've been away from family. (And of course being near family is a whole thing.)

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    1. YESSS. I make friends easily online; that part is straightforward. It's the local, in-person connections that are more difficult to find. I'm so glad I ended up in my book club. I'm not super close to anyone in it, but I do feel like I have people I could call upon if need be.

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  6. This post is so spot on. Already loving the Mental Health Monday's. After Cents Positive I was having similar thoughts regarding community and it's importance. I was so happy that I took myself out of my comfort zone and signed up. That sense of community was powerful even if the 48 hrs of social interaction completely drained me.

    One interesting discussion I had at Cents Positive was with a group of women who did not have or plan to have children. The discussion turned into how to create a support network as we grow older. One women was working to create connections across generations which I thought was fascinating. That way she can provide support for older people in need and also find support in her own later years from a younger generation.

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    1. I LOVED CentsPositive. Can we have a week-long CentsPositive Camp? That would be ideal. It was such a great (but short) weekend.

      A while back, Kate from It's a Kate Life wrote a Finances After 40 post about creating a long-term support network for women. I think it is a really great idea.

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