In the last couple of weeks I’ve realized how much I need to be around people every day. I’m by no means an extrovert, but I didn’t realize how much of a social creature I am.
This depressive episode made it very clear that time I spend alone is not helpful. I started reaching out to new people to try and build some more community so I had lots of options if I needed a sudden infusion of support.
- PEPS– I joined my local PEPS group in August after a fellow mom did her due diligence to get one started. There are 9 of us in the group with babies who were born between mid-May and early August. For 12 weeks we met every Tuesday from 1030a-1230p. Our babies started out as lumps and now have teeth, sit up, crawl, babble, and have personalities. This group saved me. After my husband, they were the first ones I told about my PPD diagnosis. I still see a few of them every week on Tuesday mornings. One key piece to helping us gel was a Facebook group I started for us within the first couple of weeks. It started slowly, with people asking for clear advice, making recommendations, or trying to arrange playdates. Now, we post about lots of things. After I was fired, I told my staff about what happened and then I told my PEPS group (my husband was in the room when it happened, so he already knew). I knew kids caused a lot of camaraderie, but I didn’t really get it until this group. We all have different approaches to life and work and family, but we are all bound by a similar need to do what is best for our children and are sometimes at a total loss for what that looks like. I think all of us have cried at this point and we have all shared food, the two things I think bind humans the quickest. Without my PEPS ladies, I would be in much worse shape.
- Online Book Clubs– After President Obama had an interview in the NY Times about the books he read while in office, I put a call out on Facebook asking if anyone else wanted to read them with me. Almost 30 people joined and we are reading one book every two months with discussion online about what we have read. I also joined a book club aimed at literature about intersectional feminism. This one is largely going to be in-person or call in for those of us who aren’t local, but whether I get to participate in the actual discussion or not, reading intersectional feminist literature and non-fiction sounds wonderful. I also joined the local moms book club, which mostly focuses on fiction. This group also meets in person and though I can never make the meeting times (they’re always on Friday nights), I still read the books along with the group. I’m also constantly reviewing my reading list from graduate school and taking on books my fellow graduates reading. So at any given time I’m reading up to 4 books, but since they are all for different purposes it’s easy to keep track of their plots or central messages without confusion.
- Stroller Strides– This group is still newish to me. I go to a Stroller Strides class 1-3 times a week and am still figuring out how I fit into this larger group. Most of the parents have kids who are toddlers or preschoolers and class always falls right during nap time, so I don’t really stick around much after class is over to socialize. That said, the day of the inauguration we did a Michelle Obama inspired workout and when I started tearing up over the loss of the Obamas I was encouraged to “let it out.” I also told them about my termination and I get asked every class about the state of my employment.
- Witchy women in general– I have gotten really close with a lot of what I call “witchy women.” These are the women who are deeply affected by and in tune with the world around them. Most of them are in disparate social circles, but on the day of the Womxn’s March, they were all out protesting or actively tracking in and talking about it on social media. Some I see very regularly in person, and some I only communicate with via Facebook. Either way the energy of the feminine is strong in this group and shows up in many different areas of communication and community.
- My consulting collective– After graduate school, one of my teachers started a group where graduates could come together to figure out how to spread our skills more broadly. We meet once a month and talk about everything from very in-depth case studies to new theories to social problems and how to address them. I’ve had some very challenging conversations with this group on a personal level and some very fruitful ones. I get to bring the nugget with me and he is passed around from person to person so I can get a break and he can be held by people who already adore him.
In order to get community going, I’ve found that we obviously need a common call to action, but the follow up after forming the initial group is what’s hard. Online, I have to post comments and questions regularly to get the lurkers to come out and engage. In person, I often throw out initial instances of vulnerability to break the ice. I’m sure if I didn’t, someone else would, but I’m usually game to cast the first line.
What makes it hard and why some of them peter out is that this needs to happen over and over and over again. Groups I have been a part of where I wasn’t actively cultivating them have fallen by the wayside despite everyone’s good intentions. There are some people who propose that a group needs a certain number of people to keep it going. I have seen groups of hundreds stagnate because the moderator and/or creator didn’t give it enough juice from day to day.
I have a new group for mompreneurs and work from home moms I started. There are about 50 of us and this one is having a harder time getting going. I think I need to ask some different questions, but I haven’t quite cracked the code on this one yet. In any case, some more attention and effort and I think it will be awesome. Mompreneurs and work from home moms spend a LOT of time on the computer, so I know other group members will be more engaged soon.