Kindness and Connection Can Sustain Us Through Tough Times

Hi my name is Sharon.

I’m currently working part-time in a charity shop, employed three days and in receipt of a social welfare subsidy for the other days. I am also studying a postgrad diploma part-time in Sustainable Development.

Having completed a Bachelor of Business and an honours degree in Information Systems Management in 2013, I was hopeful that I could find employment.

After completing the course, I decided however, that I did not want to work with technology on a continuous basis, as I found that the final specialised year was soulless.

During college I had done some volunteering, and so, knew that I had a leaning towards working in business for a social cause.

The other constraint I had over the years, was an accumulation of a few gaps in my C.V because of past mental health issues. I had started suffering from anxiety in my teens which really affected my self-esteem. This condition really impacted my development. So, by the time my friends were going to college at 18, I stayed at home and was happy to take care of my grandmother who needed support. I was on and off medication for a long time.

I tried lots of things, individual counselling and group therapy, which really did help me. Success really came for me through trying alternative therapies such as bio energy, acupuncture and reiki.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that places huge stigma around mental health issues so in terms of employment, people are encouraged to cover up any such issues. The C.V gaps gave me less of a competitive edge in the job market and I was 8 months unemployed after college. The emphasis placed on having experience to get jobs can be an obstacle. Even though I had experience volunteering throughout my time at college, I found that companies don’t recognise volunteer work, because you haven’t been paid for it.

I decided to return to volunteering again, for a wonderful NGO where after 3 months a shop management position presented itself. That was like winning the lotto for me, I can tell you!

I don’t like the money grabbing, I need there to be a social dimension and something more sustainable. Unfortunately,only 8 months in, this wonderful NGO working to support development overseas had to close their Irish operations, to make the charity more sustainable. I went on to get my current job as a charity shop assistant, again after an 8-month search. I love working in this environment, as you get to meet real heroes with real struggles and tales of survival.

In 2015, my Mum got cancer. My beautiful Mum has always been a brave and determined warrior. My folks have undergone a lot of problems with housing during the economic downturn in Ireland. They moved in with one of my uncles who is a diagnosed schizophrenic to take care of him. They each have always played the role of carers in both of their large families, often taking on huge burdens of care for their siblings, very selflessly and very much to their own disadvantage. The thanks they end up getting for their efforts, is having to look for a new home while Mum was in the early stages of cancer, due to one uncle behaving very aggressively and selfishly toward them.Mum did not need to be further subjected to that kind of stressful behaviour.

Thankfully, after a short search period, my folks ended up moving into a house in my neighbourhood.This was hugely beneficial to me, as I was then positioned to be of help to them, where I could, in supporting Mum on her journey to recovery.

The past few years have really been a very harsh eye opener for me, into the affects an economic crisis has on people’s lives. It has detrimental impacts on people’s health, welfare, living conditions and psyches.

The other side of the coin is, that I have fortunately come to discover, the absolute profound healing and joy that comes from people around us, the hearts and minds of people who genuinely care.

That sense of community and connection is the most important aspect to life and has certainly helped me and my family to cope through the last few years.

There is a dire need for an extension of this supportive community, in tackling the many varied and complex social issues of our time.

The most recent suicide and cancer statistics, highlight the absolute urgency, in finding alternative ways, of connecting and supporting the people who are struggling within our communities.

Thanks to all involved in Edgeryders for all your hard effort in attempting to achieve that!

I hope this community will be very successful in its reach.

Love and best wishes to you all! X

A question and some intros

That sense of community and connection is the most important aspect to life

That is something many people are experiencing or gravitating towards, but one hardly says it the way you did. Thank you for that, and for sharing your story with honesty, @Sharon_Kinnane. Are you part of any formalized groups for support or sharing therapeutical knowledge? You mentioned group therapy, is there something you enjoyed particularly about how it works?

Now for some intros:

I’m one of the community members often around. I have experienced my own share of anxiety after graduating because I didn’t want the money grabbing either, and was not willing to compromise. Luckily those times are over for now, it’ funny how anything that offers some stability gives one comfort.

You might want to read and meet @ybe, whose on journey is dedicated to making mental support more readily available, irrespective of labels like patient, doctor, “in need of care” and so on. She’s actually on a bus tour right now to get the work started!

One Experience of Group Therapy

Hi Noemi,

Thanks so much for the lovely introduction and for sharing a bit of yourself with me.

I know it is funny how we gravitate toward anything that offers some short-lived stability, even though everything about life is so impermanent. Some of us are programmed more than others to cling tightly to things that make us feel secure, instead of embracing change that comes our way.

The global disasters and absolute atrocities forced upon innocent  peoples lives all over the world make the types of change  I face on a daily basis here in Ireland so insignificant.

It is wonderful to see that @ybe , is certainly not afraid to drive into the centre of change, to meet these beautiful people in crises and offer her expertise .What an inspirational way of bringing your skills to the people who need them the most.

Noemi, in answer to your question I am not currently active in any formalized groups for support or sharing of knowledge.

My experience of group therapy for a year was very beneficial to me.

Deep healing I believe comes through human contact and openness.

Healthy people solve everyday problems through talking with friends and family.

When struggling with a problem in the area of mental health, we know the stigma around it creates a barrier to open discussion with those around you, even friends and loved ones.

This can cause it to fester and become an even bigger problem ,which can increase isolation.

I think this can be especially difficult for young adults, who can judge themselves so harshly, as they don’t yet have the life experience to understand that they are not alone.

As they are only developing emotionally, many have not yet realised their innate potential to cope and solve life’s challenges.

In rural areas especially it would be great to raise more awareness of the mental health therapeutic options available to people.

Thanks again Noemi. I’m really excited to be involved with this community!

Very helpful to learn about coping and isolation

I see your points and they all make sense for why group therapy can be so much more helpful than relying solely on close ones. I’m thinking - not sure though - that there is probably a limited amount of pain that another person can empathize with or take upon themselves, even as they love us dearly and would do anything for us. Also, I’d read about how wanting too much to “fix it”, whatever it is… can be alienating because it means projecting too much onto someone. It also makes it harder for the person looking for human support and understanding, above all.

If you have ideas on how networks can improve mental healing, I would definitely be interested. There is also an incredible post by @kate_g on community interventions and how collective recovery was achieved by a traumatised group of Kenyans. Kate’s story is here.

Economic crisis and changing minds

Hi @Sharon Kinnane. Thanks for sharing your story.

It’s left me wondering how widely your experience is shared by people in Ireland - to what degree the economic situation over the last decade has eroded people’s ability to cope, or woken people up to the need for solidarity and community, or just caused (young) people to leave the country, and how that feels to those who still live there.

Glad to hear the acupuncture was helpful! I was talking to an Irish acupuncturist just the other day and it sounds like they face many of the same hurdles around perception and bureaucracy there that we do in the UK.

Acupuncture Perception

Hi @steelweaver ,thanks for reading my story!

Yes, I think it has to be such a horrible experience to feel that you have no choice but to leave your country in order to live,utilize your skills and make a living.

It is one thing to leave family and go travelling the globe for fun and experience.

A very different thing when the economy or circumstances beyond your control ,leave you with no other option but to leave your country and loved ones.

Yes unfortunately,acupuncture does face the same hurdles here, in that it does not recieve the recognition and support it deserves in my opinion.

Heads up for mentions…

Calling @Noemi and @steelweaver

Mentions on edgeryders have a minor (but annoying) bug: the name of the user mentioned needs to be followed by a space and nothing else. Like this: @Alberto , but not like this: @Alberto. See the difference? Putting in the extra dot means the software is looking for a user called “Alberto.”, which course is not there.

As a result, @Sharon_Kinnane and @ybe had not received notifications from your mentions… until now.

Sharon, welcome from me too! That was quite the story. Like Noemi, I find super interesting that you single out “community” as your most important resource in coping with all these problems. Several people here seem to agree with you. This suggests that a good way to help mental health patients might be to turn every one of them into a healer for others, participating into a community healing itself. This came up in the story by @alan . His doctor suggested he gets involved in mental health advocacy immediately after making the diagnosis (full story). What do you think?

Active Participation in a Community Healing Itself

Hi @Alberto ,

Thank you for your welcome and for suggesting @Alan  ,which is the most honest, stigma shattering and inspirational stories that I have ever heard.

The Cosáin Community Wellness Alan co- founded has a brilliant vision too and I imagine it will be  extremely successful.

In answer to your question, I think it was  impressive that the therapist promoted such a positive proactive attitude toward a diagnosis.This was an empowering approach to  take.

However, everyone is so unique.Everyone has to go through their own diagnosis process,  in their own way and within their own unique set of circumstances.

Like Alan, I also attended meetings run by GROW for a year, therefore I can relate to the benefits that a peer group have to offer.

New tasks were set weekly for each member to get proactive about.

It encourages people to be proactive in understanding their situation and actively engage in ways to improve it.

Each member was required to ring another member between meetings, to connect with others.

This social aspect is extremely important.

The accountability to a group/community at the end of the week is a great motivator for many.

Sitting and sharing with a group of people in a circle, with people who are being open and honest about the issues they are experiencing, is hugely healing for everyone in that circle.

It can offer huge relief, to find that type of honest connection and understanding.

From that space, confidence to manage /overcome a challenge can grow.

Many people find the religious connotations in group therapy settings a little off putting.

It boils down to the individual bing able, to adapt and personalise it to their own belief system.

A nondenominational, peer group could definitely foster more openness, in how mental health support is offered.

I agree with you @Alberto , that a good way to help people experiencing mental health issues, might be to empower individuals in becoming healers for others, by participating in a community healing itself.

Thanks, some thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to write your views on things @Sharon_Kinnane .

It’s a harsh truth that there is no cookie cutter strategy, that everyone has to go through their own process, solve their own puzzle. Although this process is different for everyone, for each part of it there are similarities with someone, somewhere. To me it appears that a big part of the search is identifying pieces of your puzzle in other people (eg. some advice) and testing if it gets you closer to finishing your puzzle. That’s where community comes in handy: a large group of people equals a lot of potentially useful pieces. The analogy is a simplification, but it helps me make sense of it.

You say some people find the idea of a group therapy unsettling. I am one of those people. It’s not the sharing with strangers or the speaking up. I could even live with the religious connotations, though I have a light allergy to most things that involve ritual. I think the reason is the lack of richness I experience in these group interactions. I find one on one conversations or reading people’s stories like yours much more rewarding.

However, when I went through a darker period, it was also a group of people that helped me get out. It was a series of stories and great conversations, offline and online, one person at a time. Most of them will never meet each other.

Defining what constitutes a community, a group, or what is just collection of individuals that share a friend is not the point. I guess you could say that the form the group or community takes differs for everyone. Or that the healing process is about meaningful interactions with others, however that may work for you. Helping others is an underrated aspect of this.

Vital Networks

Hi @WinniePoncelet

Thanks for your refreshingly honest input too.

I really like the puzzle analogy you used and I agree, through every interaction we are always taking and filtering what clicks and fits with  us.

You are absolutely right in saying, the form that the group or community takes, absolutely differs from person to person.I too can relate, to having good friends on and offline and love the fact that a group came through for you through darker times.

Noemi kindly introduced me to @kate g ,Vital Networks is an incredible post!

It is hard not to feel exhilarated by her vision of the potential that virtual networks may have as healing spaces. It is a complex and interesting field of design.

The challenge of consciously designing, around real as oppose to superficial human needs and the provision of useful, honest information.

The balance required in creating a network space of safety, trust and openness.

The lack of inhibition that can come through using virtual online communities, can obviously pose negatives, along with the positives and would require the building in of sensitive, nurturing supports to accommodate this.

It is an exciting area and challenge though,I’m excited to follow it.

@Sharon you are so right to say that deep healing comes through human contact and openess -

Thank you for sharing your story with us

Networks are crucial to coping -mental well-being

@Noemi @Sharon Interesting topic- thank you @Sharon for sharing. my background is in clinical psychology and International Business so this is coming from a different perspective. There are substantial benefits to group therapy, in addition to human and contact and the openness of being completely vulnerable. Too often, there is a stigma attached and people don’t want to share their experience and rather keep in within.  Group therapy helps realize you’re not alone. Many patients enter therapy with the disquieting thought that they are unique in their situation, that they alone have certain frightening or unacceptable problems and thoughts.

While it’s true that each of us is unique and may have unique circumstances, none of us is alone in our struggles.  It great reduces isolation and alienation. It increases the sense that “we’re all in this together,” and kind of normalizes the individual situations. While members, in turn, encourage each other for support, feedback, and connection, instead of getting all that from the clinician.  By sharing experiences we all learn from each other and navigate out of their current situation and ultimately helps to find your voice in the sense of relating to others.  On the flipside, it takes strength and some recognition of the needs of others to function well in a group, not be destroyed by it. Creating the community atmosphere to overcome challenges and gain confidence.

On another note, at university, they had “programs” in place and designed to enhance the student’s life, as @Sharon mentioned young adults can be very hard on themselves.  Aided in concerns or problems such as a feeling of low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and academic concerns.

It was made almost mandatory by the dean and resident advisers to participate in these groups. There was resistance at first by many and that kind of tapered off. Being a psychology major we helped develop these groups in collaboration with various student groups. It was quite astonishing to see the resistance then you see the connection that was made over time and the participants, well some of them anyway changed their direction and went into this field so maybe it was a chance to tap into their real path they were destined to follow. Through difficulties, we usually discover what we were meant to do. Each one teach one to reach one! Networks can indeed support and enhance the quality of life and provide a buffer against adverse life events and difficulties.

Other examples of networks

Wow, I did not know this about you @Maria ! How useful it is…

The student program you mentioned, was it addressed to any and all students? What was it exactly that helped them cross that point between resistance and accepting support? Have you been involved in actually providing assistance? Wow, that programs seem like they are not hard to implement (even if non-mandatory one can still promote them so that you have more people asking for help than with the offer absent!). I wonder why we never had those. I just realised there is a personal story there - from the two hardest years I’ve had as a masters student. Maybe I will write it someday soon.

Also, how do you feel about a sort of less formalized, adhoc group therapy via twitter? There is a story here about organising twitter chats to access information and support - and supposedly it can get therapeutic, maybe you would be interested to connect with the team at WeCommunities?

College Support Groups Great Idea!

Well done @Maria

Great to get a professional take on the topic and the groups you ran sound really beneficial.

Great idea especially here in Ireland with very high suicide rates.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Keep the the conversations open

@Noemi The program was for all students. As far as what was the “crossover” there were numerous reasons. One of the main factors that I think diminished the resistance, was realizing that within a group of people, and the diverse cultures, there was a slew of similarities. The challenges were the same, the way the challenge presented itself may have been different. Students seeing breakthrough conversations- gaining confidence to overcome challenges. The safety net of the group/community and explore better ways of interacting with others. The strict standards of confidentiality were equally as important. Records of participation were not accessible to parents, teachers, faculty, and deans etc. Unless there were certain circumstances. The students themselves had to give authorization for anyone’s inquiry. Which made the students in control of the situation.  Which is always of value.

Being a university student – as you know – can be a difficult balancing act. It is easy to get weighed down with the pressures of academics, social life, and choosing a major and so on.  If personal problems are piled on top of these pressures, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There were different groups and workshops which made it easy for them to identify with.

There was distress tolerance, learning how to improve coping skills, groups range in diverse areas.  Workshops were topical with a therapeutic focus and the students realized they were helping each other. Encouraging open and frank discussions while getting to the core. As a psychology student, we started a group with the focus of awareness of mental health and resilience (it started as a project) For students by students -showing support is beneficial to manage the inevitable ups and downs and the resources available.  Mental wellness was brought into the light – which it’s ok to talk about it. From there the students that were not really “interested” took another look at the options available with a different perspective.

Years later when working with JP Morgan Investment in NYC I did facilitate– employee support programs.

@ the Story you mentioned- quite interesting! open discussions help… can’t get any more open than Twitter.  Using it to share info, raise awareness and openly discuss mental health problems from different perspectives. Social media is changing the world, and its changing how people with issues connect with each other. The capability to learn from , share not only in the immediate localities but over the globe.

Positive social impact through community support

I’ve read avidly all the posts in this thread, all the inspiring stories and the challenges people have faced. With this kind of outpouring of support and collaboration, the world should really be a much happier place. I guess it will take time.

For my part, I’m gladdened to read everyone’s experiences and the fulfilment that you have gained through the help, care and fostering of both informal and formal communities.

Later life is my particular area of focus and I see on a daily basis the powerful effects that positive communities can have on our ageing society. As has been pointed out elsewhere here, it’s not just on the individual at the centre - in my case, older people - but on those around them. I run a social enterprise called Remarkable Lives (for which I’ve just posted a proposal for OpenVillage Festival) which is all about celebrating the life stories of older people to help change society’s perceptions of later life. In practice, the great benefit of this activity comes from encouraging multi-generational and community connectivity.

In other words, harnessing the power of personal stories to help bring people together. In the end, I believe, that’s something we can all identify with, just as the stories here from @Sharon_Kinnane  and @Noemi  , @steelweaver  and @Maria  , @WinniePoncelet  and @ybe  all testify.

Remarkable Lives Sounds like a Remarkable Idea

Well done @OwenMcNeir

That is a lovely social inclusion project.

Look forward to following @Maria  and your work in the future.

Luck to the pair of you with it all!

Thank you

Many thanks @Sharon_Kinnane  !

Great initiative

@Owen McNeir Remarkable lives is a fantastic initiative.

A lasting legacy of someone’s life, experiences and expression of their values. It’s definitely an opportunity to bridge the gap and reflect on their life journey and achievements.  Communities benefit from a cultural history that may otherwise be lost. The older generations is a tremendous resource and can certainly instruct us with words and stories of times past, and share a lifetime of accumulated wisdom.

Telling these stories helps counter the perception that older people in care homes have nothing left to offer society. Success with Remarkable Lives! I look forward to hearing how it develops.

@Sharon_Kinnane @Noemi @Owen_McNeir

Thanks Maria

Thank you @Maria  . That’s really kind of you to give me this encouragement - very much appreciated. I hope to have the opportunity to share the project in more detail with you and the wider Edgeryders community.