I’m going to work to commit every Thursday evening to writing about self-care – what it is, how you can achieve it, and how we can become better together. As this series progresses, feel free to chime in with your thoughts, questions and concerns. View the series in its entirety. You are now viewing part 10.

Right now, I’m 30,000 feet above sea level, on my way to a conference in San Jose.

I need this.

I need community. To be able to close my eyes and hug, laugh, maybe even cry, share, be shared with, and to feel like a part of something. Let’s not fool ourselves. We all need that.

Be it family, a close-knit friend group, a loyal and devoted company, a service or social organization, whatever it may be… we all need belonging. To be social.

In moments where shame and low self-esteem try to win out, community – and the ability to throw yourself into one (along with all its purposes and shared goals) – helps you fight it all. We all need a group of friends, from wherever, who build you up, encourage you, laugh with you (and sometimes at you), and – most importantly – can pat you on the back when you’re feeling down and say “Me too,” or “I don’t know, but we can definitely find out together.”

When we’re feeling bad about something, very little spares our spirit. Shame, self-doubt, and stress are self-fulfilling cycles. We feel bad about ourselves, we struggle with the idea that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and then we stress about how much worse this will get… then we shame ourselves for that.

Being a full-time blogger – at this point, I think I can call myself a professional writer? – is hard. Leading a large community is hard. Being in a space with others who do the same is meaningful because sometimes we fret over the most ridiculous-seeming things, but at the end of the day, the goal is to get the bills paid and buy more shoes put money away to save. Trying to talk about blogging with Eddy results in the most hilari-sad blank stares. As far as he knows, I talk to the little laptop and money spits out. Having that group of girlfriends all across the country – Illinois, Michigan, Texas, California, Georgia… hell, Harlem (yes, that counts as across the country) – to laugh with, talk shop with, to build and grow with, to laugh and share ourselves and our experiences with… that’s powerful.

In the past few months, I’d lost that.

Within community comes normalization. I don’t mean that kind of “normal” that says “You should be embarrassed to be so weird,” but the kind that says “Girl, me too.” I actually have a girlfriend that I refer to as “Mrs. Me, Too” because every time we get together, I feel like she understands. Every time we talk, we sit back, share our lives with one another, laugh and say “Girl…me too. It’s hard out here for parents/broke folks/daughters/mothers/spouses/whatever.”

Where shame pushes us into silence, hearing that “Me, too!” reminds us that there’s nothing to be ashamed of – sure, we might feel guilty about our experiences, we might be embarrassed by them, and we might feel disappointed that it’s happened to us as opposed to someone else, but the convergence of those three do not equal “a reason to feel shame.” If anything, they are indelibly human, and they are feelings that anyone can relate to even if the experience is foreign to them.

When I was struggling with my daughter’s troubles, I jumped on the phone with my Mrs. Me, Too and couldn’t wait to talk. I needed to hear someone’s voice on the matter – another mom like me – since I couldn’t pull my head out of the mud that was my own shame.

And luckily, she knew just how to be the friend I’d needed. “Oh, girl, me too. It’s hard out here for our little girls, meanwhile we’re working to give them something better. Stuff just flies over our heads sometimes.”

There are people who are sometimes dealing with their own sources of embarrassment and shame, and their main goal is to use your stories to make themselves feel better. They use language like, “Oh, I could never do that,” or “That could never be me.” They use language that alienates you, instead of offering compassion or empathy. This is how you know these are people to never share your stories with, to never expose yourself to them. It’s easy to say “Wow, I can only imagine how you must feel right now,” or “I know that feeling, it’s hard.” It’s easy to let someone know that, even if the experience is unique, the feelings are not. We’ve all been there before.

As a name, “emotional eating” is relatively new. Emotional eating, as a practice, though, isn’t. It’s a practice that has been encouraged in us by brands for decades, almost as long as we’ve had ‘branded’ food. It encourages us to “indulge,” “lose control,” and normalize behavior we’d otherwise describe as dangerously impulsive. It instantaneously gratifies our otherwise bad behavior in the same way as any other addictive substance, and creates bad habits. If you’ve consumed processed food for an extended period in time, chances are high you’re familiar with that feeling, where you drift off into a coma, wake up and the bag is empty. The tub is cleaned out. The bowl is all gone.

Being able to connect with other people in a space and admit what you’re going through, sharing resources with one another, and being able to say “My gosh, me too” to another human being heals us all. To know that we’re not the only ones who’ve struggled with the shame associated with “no will power,” “no self-control,” and – the ‘ultimate’ shame – “being fat as a result of our emotional eating habits” helps us understand ourselves. It helps us breathe – shame knocks the wind out of you – and know that there is possibly a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if none of you have found it yet, you’re willing to try to find it together.

Next week:  The sensitivity in self-care.