That sinking feeling of being alone in a crowded room isn’t a great one, is it? Although I hope it’s not something you experience too often, it really isn’t unusual to feel this way, especially if your mood has taken a nose-dive.
For me it’s something I particularly encounter if I’m going through an occasional rough patch and am in the company of others, especially at some kind of social gathering involving friends or family.
You’re with people you love, supposedly on an occasion when everyone’s in high spirits and having fun, yet you feel completely detached from your surroundings, watching the proceedings as though through the kind of thick bullet-proof glass you’d expect a bank teller to sit behind.
I’ve been there. Perhaps you have too?
The paradox is that psychologists remind us that one great way out of depression (and a shield against it in the first place) is trying to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.
By this they’re generally saying that those who feel they live a life of meaning tend to enjoy better emotional health than those who don’t. I think they’d say such meaning might come through a religious belief, say, or being a parent, or doing a job which feels purposeful and meaningful.
But I’m pretty sure they’d also agree that it’s possible to feel part of something bigger when you’re around others – but only, of course, if you feel connected when you do so.
Every year in the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s an event called Maker Faire which was started by a magazine I’ve always loved: ‘Make’. The magazine is about building cool stuff like robots, machines and – for example – marshmallow cannons, and Maker Faire is a giant show celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset.
Having always wanted to attend, it wasn’t exactly hard to persuade myself to visit the other Sunday and to say I wasn’t disappointed would be the understatement of all time.
Among a bewildering assortment of mind candy I adored the duelling remote controlled drones. I loved watching kids sitting cross-legged on the floor as they were helped to take apart technology, breaking open old digital cameras – prising the guts out of redundant computer hard drives to see what was hidden inside. I marvelled at a steam-driven printing press from the early 19th century, actually working. I lapped up a whole area given over to high school kids building robots that were battling rivals.
I felt energised by people’s unabashed enthusiasm and enterprise. I felt recharged and – yes – although I was there alone, I felt part of something bigger.
Heading off to some kind of big event like this when your spirits are low can be a calculated risk of course, but there’s no denying that it can sometimes make a big difference. Perhaps the trick is to ensure that if possible its theme is something you’ll find inspiring so you’ll be surrounded by like-minded others, even if you don’t necessarily connect to them.
So where might you go, then? And when?