When battling mental illness, it’s common for people to isolate themselves.
I know this from experience. For me, the battle inside my own head was too overwhelming to even consider stepping outside of my safe space.
But of course, although this may feel like the safer option, it actually adds another layer of hell to the mental illness. It gives the illness the ability to entirely take over our lives; to obliterate our lives to mere existence rather than living.
From my perspective, it felt like I was completely separated from the world, existing inside a bubble. I felt disconnected, lonely, and miserable.
Reintegration into society is difficult – trust me, I know. But it is undeniable that developing a connection with the world can have massive benefits to our mental health.
“Okay… but where do I start?”
1. Get out of the house
It sounds simple, but this can honestly be the hardest step. I know that for me, when I was at my lowest, just getting out of the front door seemed impossible.
But even if you just start with opening the door and standing on your doorstep, then next time try walking to the end of your drive and back, then the end of the street and back, then around the block and back, and even if each step of the process takes weeks or months, that is huge progress, and it will honestly boost your confidence in ways that you can’t even imagine right now.
You don’t need to do anything special whilst outside. Just be. Relearning how to just be in the outside world can be a major part of recovery.
2. Join a club
Once you have become more comfortable being out in the world, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to join a club. I would recommend choosing a club that operates on a drop-in basis – meaning, you don’t have to commit to 100% attendance – in order to reduce potential stress or anxiety about feeling obligated to attend every time.
Try to choose something that interests you, as this will not only give you more motivation to go, but also it gives you a chance to have fun! With a bit of research, you’d be surprised how many different types of clubs are in your local area; arts and crafts clubs, book clubs, sports teams, walking groups, photography clubs… the list goes on.
Dip your toe in the water; if you find that you don’t like that particular club, you never have to go again. However, finding a club that you feel comfortable attending is a really good way to gently start interacting with people again.
If you’re concerned about attending for the first time, try emailing the group facilitator to see if someone can volunteer to meet you outside and walk in with you, or perhaps they have people assigned to support new members. You could also ask a friend or family member to accompany you to your first session to ease some of the anxiety.
Another good way of getting back involved with the world is to volunteer. Not only does it help us to get out and about and socialise, but the act of giving back to our communities is great for self-esteem and self-confidence.
Perhaps, like me, your mental health problems have affected your ability to engage in full-time employment. Taking the baby-step to do an hour or so of volunteering each week, or whatever you can manage, helps to establish a routine of getting out of the house and interacting with others on a regular basis, without the pressure, stress, and anxiety of committing to full-time work when our health prevents this.
In my experience, being able to contribute to something in a gentle, low-stress, environment has been incredibly helpful in motivating me to get back out there and interact with life.
If you’re interested in finding local volunteering opportunities, you can check out do-it.org for the latest available roles in your area.
The process of reintegration isn’t set in stone.
What works for some people may not be the right fit for others. Where one person might need a few weeks or months to build up new habits, someone else might skip a few steps or take a different route – and that’s totally okay.
Nevertheless, I hope these ideas help to offer some basic starting points and maybe they will spark ideas of your own.
One final note I need to make clear: spending time alone at home is absolutely fine.
In fact, if you’re an introvert like me, it’s crucial. However, on some level, we all need a certain amount of interaction with the “outside world”. As a species, we crave connection and community, even if it’s only every now and then.
We don’t need to become social-butterflies or party-animals, but establishing a connection outside of ourselves is an important element of maintaining good mental health.
What advice would you offer to make the process of social reintegration a little easier? Let me know in the comments.