How My Local YWCA’s Conversation Club Helps Me With Self-care

All day today I have felt less than 100%. Sulking and wishing the day would just end already. I had three slices of pizza (for free!) and still I couldn’t break a smile or laughter.

(Okay, I guess pizza isn’t the proper benchmark for happiness. But, still.)

A few hours later, I walked into a community kitchen to join newcomers and locals in a Conversation Club, hosted weekly by the YWCA’s Moncton branch. The room was abuzz with laughter. I could smell garlic and pepper, and I could hear snippets of French, Persian and Arabic words here and there amidst the English, which was the language members seek to practice speaking through the group. Already, I smiled from ear to ear.

We had a few ladies join us for the first time, yet we spoke like we’ve known each other for longer. Soon enough, the room grew warmer as a Tunisian Ojja bil Merguez (a sort of sausage omelette) was cooking on the stove. As we talked about the traditional spices being used in the dish (I encountered Harissa for the first time!), we also exchanged stories about our days, our cultures and anything else the conversations led to.

There wasn’t a moment of silence — except when we have food in our mouths. It dawned on me that I enjoyed this meal so much not only because it was delicious (and spicy!), but also because eating together isn’t just about food. It was also the positive, upbeat energy in the room; it was the people with whom I was sharing this meal with; it was the no-judgment environment; and it was the stories, jokes and laughter being shared.

For a couple hours on this day, I could let my guards down. I laughed freely, I ate freely, and I joked freely. I enjoyed that moment of togetherness with others in my community, the same way I feel when I attend potlucks or barbecues with friends.

Eating is a big part of community-living in various cultures, but it’s difficult to create that togetherness as a 20- or 30-something living without a family. More and more, friends and acquaintances become busier with their families and their jobs. Meals with them become few and far between. And cities, no matter how small and friendly, or large and busy, feel lonelier and lonelier. It becomes harder to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to accept another person’s empathy, trust and friendship, and to reach out to them in return.

Solitude is wonderful — I can attest to that. I went to see Fantastic Beasts by myself because I didn’t want anyone to disturb my experience. I wanted to cry and laugh and nerd out about the Potter world without distraction. Some days I don’t want to do anything but walk in the park alone all afternoon.

But human beings are social animals by nature. In some countries with rapidly aging populations, loneliness has been deemed an epidemic and governments have created programs dedicated to preventing people from becoming lonely.

And some days, self-care means being with others and allowing ourselves to be infected by their positive energy. Today, it wasn’t a day in a spa that I needed to clear my mind and heart of negative feelings. Today, I needed this: a community that allows me to be myself, and allows everyone to share a little bit of themselves, the way we shared the Ojja bil Merguez.