Day 4 of 100 – Belonging

I have started today, by getting up at 5 am. Sans carer overnight. Phil has been up until now, and it’s time for me to take over so that he can sleep until about 11 or 12. It’s not great for relationships to play tag on the sleeping, but we seem to be handling it and working well together at the moment. Not that we are never a good team, but balance of ‘chores’ is always hard to achieve when you are both sleep deprived.

This morning I thought I would write about belonging. I had started to write a post about ‘belonging’ some time ago, never finished it and the moment went – that’s what happens with writing isn’t it? You need to get it out on paper when you are thinking about it or the moment is gone. But yesterday, I saw a quote of Brene Brown’s that I adore and it got me thinking once again about belonging.

Belonging is one of the pillars of meaning that I identify with from the writings of Emily Esfahani Smith. Smith proposes there are four pillars of meaning that lead to a meaningful life – belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. Of those four pillars belonging contributes immensely to my general wellbeing. This has been the case for as long as I remember.

As a teenager, I would often come home from school filled with angst about how I had no friends. I was dramatic about this – in tears, feeling left out and quite difficult to console. My mother would talk me through this by getting me to think about the friends I had in different areas of my life, that I had family as friends (my brothers and cousins), friends from school, sport, or other hobbies and of course my Mum. I was fortunate that I always belonged at home with my family. At many times during my life (I am in my 50’s now), I have used her advice when I have felt out of sorts and disconnected to other groups of people. I didn’t realise back then, that these feelings were related to my need to belong and possibly to not knowing my authentic self. As a teenager, you are often so busy trying to fit in that you adopt habits and likes similar to peers and over time you may forget who you really are.

Over time, I have grown more comfortable with not always fitting in, as I have come to know that the sense of belonging we need doesn’t have to come from one group, but from within, and that we can feel connection and belonging from different people and in different ways. I have also learned that where we belong changes as we go through stages of our life and that there will be periods of mourning when you no longer belong to certain groups or stages of life, as you out grow them or they are no longer relevant to your life.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the board meeting of the Complex Care Group – my first meeting as a board meeting, with a small group of parents, all who have high and complex needs children/adults that they care for. Here I felt I belonged. These parents are dealing with many of the same issues that I deal with on a day to day basis, and they ‘get our life’. While our discussions over the 2 days were on bigger matters like the recent recommendations of the UNCRPD, housing crisis, respite and workforce shortages in the disability industry, there were many relatable stories that were shared that made me feel that I am not alone. It was a safe place to talk about feelings or incidents that made you feel vulnerable, and a place where you didn’t have to pretend to be happy and successful. This belonging and connection (they kind of go together for me) gave me hope. And hope is essential for everyone. And here we are below, that is me in the first photo squeezed on the right as we tried to do a selfie. The other photo shows our board members, John, Gillian, Wendy and Lisa plus Jan Moss (founder of CCG ) and Dr Rosie Marks in the middle, who joined us for an afternoon as a consultant.

When I first found the complex care group some years ago, I knew I had come to the right place. A place where other families understood a little of what each others lives are like. While our family situations and our children vary greatly we are able to bond over the commonalities we share. Before joining this group on facebook, I would often feel very isolated with my problems, and while most of the members online I have never met, share questions and stories together online, and it helps. It feels good to belong within this group.

While, it feels good to belong within a group, the heart of belonging is not just being a member of a group like this, but being accepted for being your authentic self. This is something it is very difficult to do, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have been encouraged by my parents to stand up for what I believe in, and to not be afraid if I don’t always have the same ideas as everyone else. Not everyone is raised to question and challenge the status quo, and while at times this means I don’t always fit in, it I was given a skill set to be able to be true to myself.

I will leave today’s writing with another quote:

“Belonging is being part of something bigger than yourself. But it’s also the courage to stand alone, and to belong to yourself above all else.” – Dr. Brené Brown.

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