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How Social Connection Healed Me

By Andrew Burgon / phoenix@projectfellowship.com
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August 29, 2014


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Image by Scott Catron / CC-BY-SA-3.0 HOPE REKINDLED
 

Building strong social relationships is key to treating and preventing clinical depression.

An article on the University of Queensland’s website entitled “Group bonding halts depression in all walks of life” refers to research led by Dr.Tegan Cruwys and Professor Alex Haslam from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology in Australia. Their research concludes that becoming a part of a social group can significantly reduce the effects of depression.

Dr. Cruwys said that, “By joining a group, people are provided with exactly what they lack when they are depressed – a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning and purpose, and a source of social support.”

Professor Haslam said concerning the participants in the study that “those who felt connected and part of a recreation group, less than one third were still depressed at the end of the study, whereas for those who did not identify with the group, more than half remained depressed,” he said.

My Own Way Out of Depression Via Social Connection and the Changes I Made in My Life

My own story of depression confirms the benefits of social connection though at a superficial glance it does appear to be a great paradox.

I fell into depression because I had come to a point in life where I felt like a social leper. Nobody seemed to care or were mindful of my friendship. No matter what I did I couldn’t seem to shake it. I eventually felt as though I was made of social cellophane and that was that.

I withdrew from social interaction and embraced a solitary life but that turned out to be no different than stepping into quicksand and I was in well over my head.

When I kick-started my social life and started what I called Project Fellowship of which this site is named after social connection was what helped heal me from the effects of severe depression. I could literally feel myself “recharging” when I was around a group of people. I noted that they didn’t have to be good friends. Just friends who exhibited some warmth, enthusiasm and who welcomed me into their life.

Some of the Key Things Responsible for My Recovery from Depression

“How on Earth could this be?,” you ask? You fell into depression because of the state of your friendships over a period of many years and social connection is what got you out?

It turned out that I had a bit of a rubits cube to contend with. What seemed to be my friendship lot in life was a multi-faceted problem that I had been completely clueless at solving in the first half of my life. Here are some of the important things that happened that made a difference.

Hope Rekindled

The fire of hope that had been snuffed out had rekindled in my life. This was thanks to powerful dose of inspiration courtesy of a scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (thank you, Peter Jackson and team) and the fierce courage that came with it. Courage changed my attitude from a weary whisper, “Who cares?,” to a deafening roar, “I will find people who care.”

A Whole New Level

I was determined to take my friendship endeavors up to a whole new level. It was exciting. A journey of discovery. I really had no idea what to expect. This made the fires of hope burn even brighter.

Taking Responsibility

I dwelt hard and long on the question, “How am I responsible for my friendship situation?” It uncovered a number of things and I addressed each one with action.

The social boundaries of my life were way too small. I needed to reach out beyond them and so I did.

My previous friendship endeavors while genuine had been somewhat on the feeble side in regards to the number of people I had befriended. Feeble efforts are almost always guaranteed to lead you down a depressing alley.

I made the switch from befriending short-term expatriates here in Taiwan to long-term ones. As any long-term expat will tell you it’s depressing to see so many friends leave.

One of the big problems in my life was a lack of discernment in my friendships and difficulty in disengaging from others.

I was socially clueless. I was the kind of docile minded person who hung around people I wasn’t really connecting with. I felt like a square peg trying to go through a round hole. I gradually became more discerning and got into the habit of thinking about my friendships and learned to let go of certain types of friends ie. indifferent, careless, apathetic

An Active List of Friends

I had an active list of friends I was befriending. I called it the 30circle because I was committed to having the names of 30 friends on it at all times.

If friends left Taiwan or I removed people from the list I had to find new people to replace them. This list kept hope eternal and put me in a much better position to find more meaningful friendships.

Sure of My Course

I was deliberately learning and growing all the time in matters of friendship. I felt certain that I was on the right path and that it was only a matter of time. That was assuring and comforting especially when I was feeling depressed.

The Critical Inch

I was determined to come up with a good circle of friends. I was especially focused on finding good friends. This meant that I kept befriending people till I found the kind of friends I was looking for.

In hindsight, not only did the changes I made have a great impact on my life but  I also ended up changing the polarity of my friendships. Instead of draining me they were nourishing me. That’s not to say there weren’t disappointments but overall things were good. For those particularly who are depressed because of the state of their friendships have a think about what I’ve said and whether or not some of the ideas mentioned here can benefit you.
 
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