Community. I’ve struggled greatly with this one little word. What is it? How does it work? Why do I need it? As an ex-military brat the concept of community is not foreign to me. Within the military community everyone strives to help one another. Life is hard and we all recognize it. Most of us are familiar with sacrifice and not getting what we want for the sake of others. We meet people easily and form long lasting relationships through the bonds of sharing lives.
But when my illness hit my community dissolved. Not because my community didn’t care, but because they didn’t know how to help. And to complicate matters, the way I live my life is so different from others because my circumstances demand it.
My family functions based on what I call our non-negotiables. These are the mandatory things in our schedules that come before anything else. Church, job, and school. That’s all I pretty much can handle and sometimes I don’t even handle that very well!
My kids don’t do sports because I can’t maintain the physical schedule of getting them there and my husband works six days a week, so I’d be the one driving them. We don’t take family vacations because the traveling alone wears me out. Forget about actually enjoying myself once we get to our destination. And meeting friends for playdates or coffee? It’s all tentative. And believe me, when you’ve cancelled enough times people just quit asking.
What I have found is that being part of a community means the same thing as it did in the military. You get out of it what you put into it.
So how do I stay involved in a community when my circumstances are not ideal? There are a couple of things I do.
1. I’ve joined what online communities I can to keep me connected to the physical ones. I’m not talking about chicken forums or online support groups of people who have like interests that I’ve never met. I’m talking of Facebook groups that have people I actually know. My church affiliated groups, my writing groups, my local farmer’s market groups. Staying active online keeps me connected so that when I do get to go to church functions, writer’s meetings and the town farmer’s market I still know what is going on in the community and can plug in and be a part of it. Even if it is just for that one day.
2. Another thing I do is call or text one friend each day. Sometimes it’s a simple text just telling them that I’m thinking of them. Other times it is more specific to what my struggles are and how I’m coping that day or focusing on their needs. What I love about doing this is that it gives me an outlet to share my life with someone in that moment and they share theirs. And again, when I see them in person it helps that I haven’t gone a month without talking to them.
3. The last thing I do is that when I am out and about, physically in the community, I force myself to be engaged. Living in a small town in the south I can’t go to Wal-mart without running into someone I know, so I try really hard to at least make small polite conversation. Sometimes those conversations turn into deep discussions and other times they just are a quick hello because we are all in a hurry. But staying engaged is key.
We all struggle with different things and if you struggle with being connected to your community I hope these tips help you the next time you are out and about, or stuck on the couch.
Question: What tips work for you in staying engaged in your community?