Part of the reason I became a therapist is because I grew up in a family where we did not discuss our feelings. It did not matter if they were positive or negative, it was an unspoken norm that they were not discussed and should promptly be swept under the rug. As I got older and began to establish meaningful relationships with people outside of my family, I realized how important it is to tell others how you genuinely feel and that openly expressing yourself can be therapeutic. Although individual therapy is an important part of managing your mental health, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Having people to talk to in your everyday life who are supportive, understanding, and inspirational is also essential.
From sending people text messages to following their Instagram feeds, there are infinite ways we can stay connected to others in today’s society (most of them are thanks to technology). Despite all these ways we can feel connected, it is easy to also feel disconnected and alone. Every time I get into a Via, all the other riders eyes are glued to their cell phone screens and rarely does anyone look up or say “hi”. There are times when I go out to dinner with a friend I have not seen in several months and they will subtly catch glimpses of their phone when the opportunity arises. Although people are physically present in our lives, they are not always emotionally present.
This past weekend I attended a Women’s Writers Retreat. It lasted for less than two days and was one of the most profound experiences of my life. This was the first time this event was happening and many people (including myself) did not know what to expect. Forty-seven women from all different walks of life gathered at a hotel in Cape May to listen, share, and grow. The weekend was the perfect mixture of self-care and writing. We practiced yoga, walked on the beach, and wrote. We were given thought-provoking prompts and told stories about our lives the way we remembered them. We went around circles and read what we had written. Some people were more open to sharing and read without hesitation, while others were more shy and needed words of encouragement. When someone read their story, the other members of the group would carefully listen and then give insightful, validating, and constructive feedback. In many of each other’s stories, we saw ourselves. People who I originally thought I had nothing in common with were understanding and relating to me on a very deep level. It was mind-blowing.
After this weekend, we created a Facebook group as a way to remain in each other’s lives and continue to share our writing with one another. I usually avoid social media because I feel like it fills my head with unnecessary nonsense. However, I have come to find myself visiting this group’s page every day. Why? Because we say positive, supportive, and non-judgmental things to one another. We have created a strong community of people who really care about each other’s wellbeing and are willing to be emotionally vulnerable to one another. This is something that is particularly rare and, in my experience, is an unusual way to use technology.
As a result of this transformational experience, I realized the importance of connecting to others to manage your mental health. Sharing stories with people who have been in your shoes and know exactly what it feels like to be you is powerful. Often in therapy, people disclose information to their therapist that they would be uncomfortable sharing with people in their actual lives. A vital part of healing is finding a community of like-minded people who you feel safe enough to be you and openly express yourself.
Erica Cramer is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and see how therapy can help.