In the UK, Bake off season is upon us and this week I have been involved in two separate coffee mornings. It’s got me thinking about sisterhood. Not blood relative sisterhood, I only have brothers (whom I love dearly) but I have never had a sister, so I can’t comment from that perspective. It’s more like, a tribe or a village.
So here I am in my forties, finding myself at coffee mornings with predominantly mothers of younger children, remembering the excitement and utter exhaustion of that period of my life. Hark at me I sound like it was decades ago, I have only stepped out of that world in the last couple of years, but I forget so easily how it felt for me to be there.
Parent toddler groups are surely one of the scariest things ever invented. When you first walk into the hot and cold at the same time, church hall and everyone seems to be sitting in groups with people they know - but they can become a life line. A chance to get out of the house have a cup of tea and maybe even some adult conversation, or maybe just a different patch of floor to stare at.
They can also be the start of your sisterhood. I have had the honour of being in many different sisterhoods in my life. The Twins at primary school, my gang of mates and in secondary school, uni mates, church mates. Some friendships have lasted decades and are like a heart beat, steady underneath the comings and goings of daily life. Others were a joyful but fleeting experience. When I think of sisterhood now, my mind always settles on the quiet trade of childcare and dressing up costumes. Cups of tea, cakes for coffee mornings, WhatsApp messages and Prosecco.
So what has this got to do with Mental health I hear you cry. It's all about connection, people need people. When struggling with mental health issues it is very common to feel that need to withdraw from other people, to essentially isolate yourself.
It is very hard to reach out for help, for a long time I felt like it was some kind of failure on my part if I needed help from others - drawing attention to the fact that I was failing, much much better to hide away until I got the hang of it and could present a perfect result to the rest of the world. As a young mum I expected to just know everything, and to be able to cope. If I didn’t know I could consult my handy parenting manual, because you can learn everything from books can’t you!! (11 years on I now advise any new parents I meet to throw the books away or preferably burn them.)
The advice here applies to all mental health problems, if you are feeling awful, low, worthless, hopeless, you can bet your bum there will be others in the same situation, you are not alone. Social media/ google searches/ can all put you in touch with those who are in the same boat as you. That mum in the school pick up line who you smile at, and she smiles back - take a chance reach out and start a conversation. They won’t all work out, but the ones that do are worth it. Maybe the friends who are around already, let them know how you are feeling - start to talk, relying on other people isn’t weakness, it is how we are built to work.
And if you’re not in that dark place, take a look around - start a conversation with that other parent you virtually walk to school with every morning, but never actually speak to. Make that connection. Listen without giving advice - you don’t need to fix anyone, believe what you are hearing. This could be the start of your sisterhood, your tribe and if you're really lucky, they will have cake.