Crafting a Healing Community.
BY HANNAH COFFMAN
We were never meant to do this alone.
Read that again: we were never meant to do this alone.
I want to talk to you—the one looking for deeper connections as you walk towards healing. As I’ve struggled with my own mental health, I have found that it is crucial to cultivate friendships with people who ask how I’m doing and pause to listen to my answer.
I’d like to share a few strategies to build and maintain these friendships.
Strategy #1: Share Your Story
Being vulnerable feels like, as my dear friend Sarah says, "walking around without any skin on." It feels as if the slightest touch could scar. Picking up the phone or sending a text asking for support feels impossible when we actually try to move our fingers to do it. It's hard, and it's scary. But without vulnerability, we will never find our community. We will never find the people who know the pieces of our story, the people who we can call at 2 a.m..
Ally Fallon says: "If there's anything I've done that's contributed to my collection of special people in my life, it's just this: I've told the truth. The terrible, fleshy, magical truth of being human. It’s less scary than it seems. Usually at least a tiny bit awkward. But it always, always opens the door to true friendship."
Your story is yours, to share or to keep—if you feel uncomfortable sharing in a particular situation or with a particular person, that’s okay.
You get to decide what level of detail to share with others. Not everyone needs to know the nitty gritty.
There is freedom in being open, in sharing the truth of depression and anxiety with another person.
Strategy #2: Stick to Your Plans
Maybe you've recently moved to a new city, or maybe you've found yourself in a period of life transition—starting college or a new job. Maybe you’re just looking for deeper connections. Either way, the building and maintenance of your community is important. You don't always get to pick who sticks with you. But you can pick a few people who you connect with and you can love them hard.
Several years ago when I moved away from my hometown, I felt incredibly lonely. I realized that to make lasting friends, I couldn't just rely on dinner or coffee dates. C.S. Lewis says "it is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up— painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, and fighting shoulder to shoulder."
You might not be sailing ships, but you can go kayaking. You can take paint and canvases into the woods or put together a picnic. You can start a book club. You can plan dates that involve doing things together and watch friendship “spring up.”
At the beginning of the week, I pull out my planner and write down the names of a few people I’d like to spend time with. I reach out to them then and there, while I have the mental energy.
I might ask about a hike, visiting the zoo, or seeing a drive-in-movie. And here’s the important part: no matter what, whether that day brings a panic attack or a fog of depression, I stick to my plans, and I’m challenging you to stick to yours. Commit to others and to yourself, because this will make a huge difference in your relationships.
Have you ever tried to keep a plant alive? Creating and keeping friendships as an adult is pretty similar. You’ll have to figure out the right balance of sun and water. You’ll have to include a healthy dose of honesty and the willingness to notice when the leaves are looking wilted. But this is how you build a community: slowly, step by step.
Strategy #3: Love Others
Love your friends; love them hard. Love them fiercely in spite of their faults. Pour grace over their mistakes (you’ll need that grace in return). Love them in every way you know how: by baking them cookies, by babysitting their kids, by offering them rides, by planning fun activities with them, by answering their phone calls, and maybe most importantly, by being honest with them even when it hurts.
Know that while you’re sharing your story and asking for support, the best thing you can do is to love your friends back— to listen to their stories, to ask what they need from you, and to offer them a safe place to feel vulnerable: in your living room, on the phone, or in your passenger seat. If you’re looking for a supportive community, the absolute best place to start is with yourself. As you grow in your capacity to support others, you’ll find others are drawn to support you.
On the other side of these hard conversations and these vulnerable moments, community is waiting for you.