Connecting at Christmastime with #JoinIn

Connecting at Christmastime with #JoinIn Lisa Valentine Blog 1

When I started blogging again last month after my impromptu break, I vowed to myself that I would keep my future content generic and lighthearted, to not share anything too personal or deep.

And true to form, that’s about to go out of the window as my heart creeps back onto my sleeve again. These words are formed from intrusive nighttime thoughts, the ones that involuntarily danced around my mind and kept me awake until the early hours. I very nearly didn’t share this post at all, partially out of a little pang of fear that people may think I’m simply ‘virtue signalling’, but after Boris’ u-turn yesterday, I dug it out of my draft folder and here we are.

Christmas is undeniably going to be an odd time for most of us. With family plans scuppered and resilience levels waning, I’m imagining that many people are now left feeling rather helpless. The festive period can amplify emotions at the best of times, both good and bad, let alone after a particularly difficult year such as this one.

For us personally, Christmas will be a quiet affair spent at home with our immediate household; the family members we’d planned to form our bubble with are now in Tier 4 restrictions (London and Wales) so we’ll be finding other ways to connect.

I’ll also be spending much of the festive period on Twitter, taking part in the #JoinIn campaign, as I have done for the past couple of years. Launched by the lovely Sarah Millican, the campaign is now in its 10th year and encourages people to use the hashtag to connect with those who may need a shoulder, for people to chat and offer support to one another.

The conversions, and reasons for people taking part, are varied. Last year, I chatted with strangers about the best Christmas films to watch, which Quality Street is superior, why Pringles are overrated and how to deal with your first Christmas alone.

For context, and for those who don’t already know, this is why I initially chose to get involved. Almost 7 years ago, my late fiance, Neil, died very suddenly from a virus. It literally went from him joking about having ‘man flu’ before I went to work one day to being declared stem cell dead the next afternoon after a horrific night of emergency neurosurgery.

In the months afterwards, I didn’t really know where to turn or knew anyone who had experienced a similar type of loss. At times, despite being supported by loved ones, the loneliness felt unbearable. My sister’s friend, Lou, quietly pointed me in the direction of WAY (widowed and young), something for which I’m eternally grateful.

I was feeling incredibly vulnerable and wary but soon began to join in, with our online chats progressing to group meetups and days out. I met so many beautiful souls through WAY and remain firm friends with many members, bonding over grief and dark humour and heartache.

I discovered that grief does not discriminate; some lost partners through long-term illness, some via suicide, sudden accidents, homicide and other terrible occurrences. Some had children together, some were left struggling to make ends meet and others were trying to grieve under the cruel glare of the public eye. But we were there for one another, forming genuine friendships born from the most excruciating circumstances and clumsily navigating the unknown together.

I don’t share my experience to prompt pity or head tilts or to be a victim. I’m in a place where I can now talk about things without feeling that agony I once did. I want to use this as an invitation, to provide a safe space for others to be able to open up, to hopefully help someone else feel less alone by offering a small snippet of human connection.

I won’t lie; this year has been triggering for me too. All the talk of a ‘deadly virus’ in the news knocked me some days and I found myself instinctively gravitating back to the friends who could recognise the complexities involved and offer comforting solidarity.

By no means am I qualified to offer any level of professional advice either. Fuck, most of the time, I struggle to make much sense of the messy, tangled thoughts in my own brain, let alone someone else’s. I have no idea what to say in most difficult situations, have no practical solutions to offer and usually default to telling awkward jokes. But I can offer a place for you to talk, I can listen without judgement and I know how it feels to be isolated.

Compassion and kindness are incredibly powerful tools. Just nattering online about what you’re having for tea or why cats are loveable demons or whether Mrs Brown’s Boys should be banished to the sea can foster a real spark of togetherness, and provide company and a positive focus for all parties involved.

If you’d like to get involved, you can find out more about the #JoinIn campaign here. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and please remember you’re never alone.

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