I’ve been working on a list of where local people can go online and over the telephone, if they are feeling lonely, which includes the various online ‘chatty tables’ and other virtual places, so it seemed sensible to give one of them a go. I decided to try out one of the new online meet-up sessions being run by The Frazzled Café, an initiative started by comedian and mindfulness campaigner, Ruby Wax.
“Frazzled Café is a registered charity that operates with the purpose of providing a safe, confidential and non-judgmental environment where people who are feeling frazzled and overwhelmed by the stresses of modern life can meet on a regular basis to talk and share their personal stories.”
Before coronavirus (I’m sure I’m not the only one using the alternative use of ‘BC’!) Frazzled Cafés had been popping up across the UK, many in partnership with corporates like Marks and Spencer. I contacted them a few months ago about the possibility of them setting up one in Reading, which I’ll pick up on again when we’re all allowed back out.
What was the Frazzled Café like?
There was a limit of 12 people in the ‘café’ and it was run by one of the Frazzled Café team. There was a waiting list for the session and I was asked to let them know if I wasn’t going to be able to make it, so they could free my place up for someone waiting. Registering was simple, and I had already been using Zoom for other meetings (which had been easy to set up), so I was pretty much ready to go.
I joined the session with 11 other participants including the facilitator, who started us off with a 3 minute mindfulness session, which was very relaxing and helped me focus on the session rather than my daily to-do list, what I wanted for lunch and what the next episode of the Great British Sewing Bee had in store for me. She then took us through a few ground rules like being respectful, not giving advice or promoting specific views and that we were going to be limited to speaking for up to 3 minutes at a time. The space is confidential and we were directed not to record the session or speak to anyone about anything afterwards that was said by participants.
The purpose of the hour-long session was to listen to each other sharing how we feel and what we’ve been thinking – and there was a fair amount of offering top tips we’d found useful for ourselves. It’s not designed to be ‘therapy’ as such and the facilitator made it clear that it’s not about “promoting solutions”. The participants were quite mixed; from students to retirees, an 8/4 women/men split, and from a mix of ethnic communities. Some, like me, have been working from home, some furloughed, some living on their own and others in couples and families with teenagers. A couple of participants recognised each other from previous sessions but most of us were there for the first time.
Some people talked and others were completely silent but, judging by their body language, still very much engaged in the session. There were lots of smiles, nodding heads, and the occasional ripple of laughter. The overall vibe was a relaxed one; empathetic, supportive and kind, and the facilitation was extremely gentle but very present and gave me confidence that anyone transgressing the ground rules would be carefully but professionally coached back into the session.
What did I get out of it?
I found a warming catharsis from being with kind strangers facing similar experiences and challenges and, unlike a phone call, I find that communicating with people I can see leaves me with a feeling that I have actually met them somewhere other than at my computer desk. I have regular meetings with my lovely RVA colleagues, which I find supportive and a reminder that I’m still part of our great team, but this was an entirely different kind of supportive space. It won’t be for everyone, and we all have to find our own pick-n-mix selection for dealing with the stresses that this situation places on our mental health.
There are online meet-ups, like Frazzled, which are openly promoted as a mental health resource, through to the Campaign for Real Ale’s The Red (on)Lion which is targeting those (probably largely men) who are missing chatting to their pub mates. So, it looks like there’s a meet-up space for almost everyone. They are free (after all, you’re bringing your own coffee!) and there’s no obligation to commit to more than one visit.
Our session ended with a second short mindfulness exercise, big smiles and goodbye waves from everyone and I carried that sense of calmness and connectedness with me through the rest of the day.