Canteen therapy

I had a bad dose of PMT the other day (wow, that's another whole topic, but let's not go there today!) and felt awful. I woke up with the devil and all his negative force inside me, had a big cry in the shower feeling I couldn't possibly go on (you know those cries), followed by a big snuggle and talk with my man to stabilise, then went off to a day in the canteen at my kids' school. It wasn't exactly what I felt like doing, let me tell you, but I have experienced the magic of canteen therapy enough to have been able to manage a fairly open mind.


I set off feeling grateful actually that I was going to be doing something that would keep me busy and give me a few laughs in a comfortable environment. Although I wanted to curl up, hide from the world and mope for the day, I know that can be a speedy spiral into negativity. Actually, it was better to have someone lead me in completing simple tasks and being productive.


Well the short of it is that I was right. It was much, much better to be busy with friends doing something useful. This was very, very good therapy. Incredibly effective, zero negative side effects and a plethora of compounding positive effects in addition to the almost absolute decimation of the original symptoms. Remarkable. And it got me thinking, of course, about connection, again.


Group therapy, occupational therapy, diversionary therapy, the importance of community, belonging, acceptance, as well as the sisterhood and women's business, in mental health and managing life's usual and unusual challenges. There seemed to be two key elements of my canteen therapy today that were fundamental in achieving the positive effect it had;


1. Being led and kept busy, but not frantic, in continuous, but undemanding tasks (purpose & diversion)


2. Accepting, embracing and even nurturing company (belonging & acceptance)


These two ingredients gave me something to focus on other than my PMT, allowed me to feel purposeful when I would otherwise have felt lost, frustrated and overwhelmed, and gave me a sense of belonging and of connectedness as the antidote for isolation.


When I reflected on this transformation of my mood, I felt like it was deeper than it seemed. Like it tapped into something more ancient and soulful and much bigger than me and my mind. It reminded me of ancient and tribal women brought together around tasks like food gathering and preparation, basket weaving etc, and was struck by the benefits of doing this and how I felt like I'd just spent a day doing the modern day equivalent.


Made me think about how depression and PMT and menopause rage and financial pressure and marital unrest and domestic violence and abuse and, in fact, all the things that make us sad and that hurt us are kind of taboo in our modern world. We have bugger-all accessible mechanisms to cope with these things and the things we do have set up to help people are often, unfortunately, repelling, or unattractive, or un-accessible to those who need them, often because they’re designed to remedy a crisis, rather than prevent that from occurring. I’m not knocking that either, we need to help people in crisis, but what I’m getting at are the simple mechanisms in life that serve our fundamental human needs and help prevent little things degenerating into more than they need to be.


We are often isolated in our modern lives, ironically when we've never been more technically connected. And that maybe the best preventative measures and most effective therapies for our mental well being are the very things that our modern world has either consciously or inadvertently decided are not important. Communities of people connecting over simple, meaningful tasks. Once upon a time baskets had to be weaved, food had to be gathered and prepared and people had to live in groups or they would have perished, and while we don't have the necessity of those tasks any more, we still have the need for the experiences those tasks provided the framework for.


We can shop now whenever we like with earbuds in listening to whatever we choose without an ounce of human connection. We can even operate the check-out ourselves so we can even avoid baseline pleasantries, and sometimes that’s very convenient. And our lives are so busy, we outsource much of our work because our scarcest resource is time. And I'm into that - I love convenience, I like a busy life and all its modern, convenient perks, and I love outsourcing or using machines to save myself some time.


But today I thought about it in a different way. I wondered how much that simple act of getting together with friends, or family, or a group of fellow volunteers, or avid hobbyists, or sports lovers, is missing, or overlooked in our modern lives as a way of providing some of the elements crucial to human survival. Things that maybe our modern lives could easily tend to disregard and how I was so glad to have had the opportunity to get my fix today, right when I needed it most. I’m not so much trying to make a sweeping statement suggesting that we’re all devoid of belonging to groups and therefore of feeling purposeful and accepted, but rather just to think about how good these kinds of structures are at providing some of the critical elements of life.


It’s good to feel purposeful, to feel like you belong and are accepted. We’re human, these are basic needs and having the mechanisms in our lives to intentionally access these psychological super-vitamins contributes to overall well-being more than I, for one, have given them credit for. And in this technologically hyper-connected modern world we live in, perhaps it’s more important than ever to cultivate an awareness of the unchanging human need for real connection; purpose, belonging and acceptance, and to intentionally seek and create experiences that feed us in this way.