By Robin Litvins-Salter
Today is International Friendship Day.
This is a day to think about the important role friends and friendships play in our lives. From a mental health perspective friendship is one of the strongest support networks we have; but like most things in life, they take energy and commitment to uphold and nurture.
The problem is that the vast majority of us right now are in lockdown and have been for quite some time. We can’t just go around to a friends for dinner, or go to footy training or go to the mums and bubs group. We are locked up at home, and truth be told, a lot of us are feeling really down right now and probably need that support network more than ever.
So what do we do? How do we maintain our friendships in times of lockdown and isolation?
We asked this question to our members and allies, as well as those working here at VMIAC earlier this week and have used those responses as inspiration for this article on how to maintain friendships in isolation.
This is our step 1 on how to maintain friendship in isolation.
Most of who we spoke with talked about the importance of what appears to be basic things, such as calling friends and family or texting them. Going out of your way to reach out to your friends right now is really important and for a lot of us it can seem extremely hard.
It can seem that there isn’t much going on that we’d like to talk about, nor can we plan what we are doing next time we catch up, as we don’t know when that is. But a lot of people are finding that sometimes just picking up the phone and contacting people, even when it is hard, can be rewarding. Once that initial step is taken, you realise how much both of you needed that contact.
Within that vein, a lot of people have been opting for catch ups online over tools such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Skype or Discord. Platforms that let you see people, not just hear them or see their words in text. There is something about seeing someone that makes that contact all the more real.
Most noted that those meet ups, like our real world meet ups, needed to be scheduled, organised, planned and kept to. Keeping these dates with our friends and making them regular things, takes a lot of work, both mentally and emotionally; but that effort is worthwhile and pushes us to seek out that connection we may be sorely lacking.
Sometimes the online hangout is not enough. It can be hard to relax and chat, especially when it doesn’t seem as if there is much to talk about.
To overcome that feeling many of our members and allies are setting up regular events based around a group activity. These events create a reason to get together and a topic to talk about when all else fails, whilst also creating a catalyst for other more personal conversations.
Some examples included running regular yoga sessions with friends, craft and knitting groups, book clubs, and even a game of Dungeons and Dragons; all run over some form of video, or even just audio, chat.
The great thing is that not only do these events create an amazing excuse to catch up with friends, but they can also create a reason to feel motivated when motivation may be low. To read the next chapter of a book, to finish off that beanie, to finally nail that salute to the sun, or to slay the black dragon and his army of kobolds; achieving these goals as a group can bring you closer together with your friends, even though you may be many kilometres apart.
Making New Friends
Sometimes the friends we have may not ready to engage with the situation as it is. A lot of people are keeping to themselves hoping this will all blow over soon. They may not be ready to come out of that shell just yet, and that is OK. For some, we may not have that many friends to call on in the first place. Either we struggled with social isolation before all this happened, or we recently moved and can’t get time zones and schedules to line up with our friends.
The good news is that there is a lot of people, all over the world, feeling that way, and there is a lot of groups out there that always welcome new members.
Facebook groups, Discord groups and forums, which are mainly centred on particular special interests, can be a great place to meet new online friends. Maybe you are really interested in a particular podcast or a certain craft or hobby; there are plenty of groups online of like-minded people waiting to talk not only about that particular similar interest.
This can be especially helpful for those dealing with mental health distress, as online support groups are very popular and helpful, as they can provide you with connection and acceptance, which many of us struggle to get even in our real world friendships.
Parasocial relationships are our one-sided relationships. They need to be approached with care, but can help fill a void when you are feeling lonely, but only if you understand what they are.
They are the sense of connection we have when we watch or read the works of others who don’t know who we are. Sometimes, when all else fails, turning on talk back radio, or playing a podcast, or watching TV can create a sense of connection that we need in the moment. Sure, these are not friendships and should never be treated as such; but we are social creatures, and when we are at our most lonely, sometimes that’s what we need to get us through.
There is an adage that “celebrities are not your friends” and that is very true, but sometimes we just need some form of connection to encourage us to reach out to others who could be, especially when we are in lockdown.
Friendship is a powerful thing, but it takes work. It’s something that you and your friends both need to put energy into, together, to make something wonderful. Right now we are dealing with a time where we have to learn and adapt to new ways of connecting, and some find it harder than others and that is OK. Yet through our friendships, we can become more powerful than we are just on our own. All it takes is that first step.