On Saturday I met some of them for the first time.
It sounds weird, right? Let me explain it though. Trust me, it’ll make sense.
About fifteen years ago I used to frequent a record shop in South Shields called Changes One ran by a guy called Ian ‘Tunny’ Tunstall. I’d spend quite a bit of cash there and at his online shop. It developed into a bit of an online community. The shop closed, a victim to local planning f**k ups but it’s spirit hung around.
Tunny set a Facebook group up where music fans would post up what they’d been listening to. It was great and a fantastic way to get exposed to new music. It’s always been a cool place to virtually hang out, meeting new people from all over the globe and bonding over shared interests. Strong friendships have been formed from here. Quite a few of the guys have been incredibly supportive of me. It’s good to know people have your best interests at heart, even if you’ve never physically meet them before.
Last Saturday saw a few of us meet up in Newcastle, some for the first time. People had travelled from Leeds, Stoke, Swansea and London, making the trip purely for this. There was lots of talk of music, gigs, films, books, life, religion, politics. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. We hung out in various bars talking like it was a regular get together of friends. And it was, just instead of a virtual chat we were all face to face.
One of the group commented “so that’s how tall you are” and it made me realise that even though we all knew what the other looked like and sounded like, what our tastes were, to see someone for the first time when you know so much about a person is a little peculiar.
Why am I going on about this in a blog about mental health? I’m getting to that now.
A few of us that met up suffer from mental health issues, mainly anxiety. You couldn’t really tell that by looking at us. Suffering from social anxiety, where you can have issues meeting up with family or friends, no matter how long you’ve known them can really easy away at you. It can be incredibly difficult being in these social situations, no matter how much you want to be around others. You can feel uncomfortable and often feel the need to run or shy away from the conversation. I even admitted to some of them that I’d planned various ‘escape routes’if I needed them (which I didn’t) for Saturday, and others confirmed that they’d done the same. None of us used them. We all made it through the day without having to resort to these measures, partially because we were aware of what we were all going through but mainly because we were enjoying each others company.
The second thing is that you can find strong supportive friendships anywhere nowadays. You don’t have to physically meet someone to cultivate a friendship with them. I have a couple of good friends that I’ve never met (yet) but yet I know that they’re there for me and I for them no matter what. They’ve been there for me so many times, just like friends are for each other.
If you feel like you’re alone and need to talk to someone, do it. Things like Facebook have done miracles for me. I can be several different versions of me, all of them relevant and truthful to myself. It allows me an outlet and a way to communicate in various ways. It has helped foster a sense of community without the need to physically face people, which, when you’re at your lowest ebb, is a great outlet for you to utilise if you need to. I’ve lost count of the times it’s helped me.