How Birmingham’s online communities helped my mental health when I moved to the city
Words: Fiona Thomas
A depression diagnosis is different for every person. It’s like a fingerprint: on the surface, it looks the same for everyone, but take a closer look and you’ll see that each one is unique to its owner. For me, it triggered another mental health issue that I experienced in tandem with depression. As well as the long bouts of intense sadness and lethargy, I was cursed with crippling social anxiety.
Living close to my friends and family meant that people quickly (and kindly)adapted to my needs. Pub visits became quiet drinks in the living room. Dinners out became takeaways in my mum and dad’s house. Meeting new people? Well, that was out of the question. I spent three years actively avoiding social situations whereby I would need to be introduced to new people. I was practically allergic to the question “hello what do you do?” since I’d left my job due to mental illness.
So when my husband and I uprooted our life in Glasgow to relocate to Birmingham in 2016, I knew it was time to sink or swim. While my husband took up residency in his new dream job as a video producer, I found a part-time waitressing job and spent the evenings writing my mental health blog.
After a few lonely weeks, I plucked up the courage to start looking for people to hang out with. I wasn’t quite desperate enough to approach strangers in the street just yet, so I cautiously threw my friendship request out into the ether. Well, the internet ether. I went on Twitter.
Within minutes I saw an influx of replies, mostly directing me to the Brum Bloggers Facebook Group. I was quickly connected with four other out-of-towners who were also looking for some informal blogging buddies. A few days later we met up a the Cosy Club for dinner and cocktails, a prospect that scared me half to death and left me feeling not just proud, but resilient in my ability to push through the physical anxiety of meeting up with strangers. Weeks later, I attended my first blogging event in Ana Rocha Bar & Gallery where I met Ting, the founder of Brum Bloggers, along with a string of other amazing women who I still call when I need a midweek coffee date.
I was then introduced to the Social Media Cafe, where I got the opportunity to connect with other digital types in ever-changing Brum-based venues. It’s where I met Phil Choi, my now WordPress guru, who has saved me from varioustech-related dramas on more than one occasion. The welcoming nature of the Social Media Cafe helped me immensely. At a time when talking to strangers gave me a literal stomach ache, only a chilled out (and free, may I add) networking event like theirs could tempt me out on a Friday morning. And there’s normally cake too, which is nice.
Whenever other events roll into town, I can always be sure to make a new friend. I attended some free Bumble events last year in Malmaison, Kanteen and Cherry Reds where I heard inspiring talks, enjoyed an extremely posh afternoon tea and learned how to bullet journal. I went alone to the She Can, She Did event and even bumped into someone I knew! In a city almost 250 miles from home, that made me feel like I’d finally become a resident Brummie.
If living in Birmingham has taught me anything, it’s that I’m stronger, braver and perhaps more sociable that I ever realised. Anxiety still rears its ugly head for me of course. It’s in my fingerprint and I‘ve learned to accept that. But with a warm community like Brum within arms-reach, it feels easier than ever fight it off.
If you’re struggling with your mental health and would like any advice or support, Living Well UK is here to help. You can call us for free on 0121 663 1217 or go online for our live chatline, where one of our specialist team members will be on-hand to talk and share any guidance.