"We need to forge meaningful, real-life connections with the people around us"
Posted by Johanna Brooks on 16th June 2022
This week is Loneliness Awareness Week, so we’re asking people from our network to share their experiences and stories. Ailish is one of our Multipliers. They founded Queer Out Here after realising how important being outside was for their mental health. Queer Out Here enables people to form connections with each other and with nature, lifting them up in times of struggle, using the outdoors and physical activity to improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness. Here, Ailish talks about the importance of nurturing safe spaces for connection, and how being outside in nature helped them overcome feelings of loneliness.
Can you tell us a little bit about your project, and why you started it?
As queer people, many of us have felt different from an early age. Some of us may have grown up far away from any role models, meaning we may spent years feeling like the only queer person that existed. Some of us will have faced ostracization and rejection from our families and friends. Regardless of our varied experiences, we all live in a society where to be straight and cisgender* is seen as the norm so it's likely we will have all felt, at some point, like we don't fit in.
When you receive messages from the world on a regular basis that there's something wrong with you - this can lead to a disconnection from yourself. You may even feel so ashamed of some parts of your identity that you push them away and struggle to accept yourself. Feeling disconnected from yourself is the loneliest feeling of all.
Queer Out Here provides a space for queer people to connect with each other and with nature in a joyful and healing way. We go walking together because being outside helps us to reconnect with our bodies and our community. I started the walks because I wanted to imagine a queer space that was centred on self-care and meaningful connections.
How does the Queer Out Here model facilitate connection for those who take part?
Our big group walks are a fun and non-scary way to meet new queer friends. The nature of a long walk means you tend to drift back and forth, walking beside different people for a while and getting involved in different conversations. Lots of people come along on their own, which means most people there are looking to mingle and chat. If you're nervous about coming, you can always message us in advance and let us know to look out for you so we can make you feel extra welcome. We usually share a drink or a meal together after the walk which is a great chance to chat to anybody you didn't get to meet on the walk. Some of our regulars have said how important this regular outlet is for them; for some people it’s the only time they connect with queer community.
How have you delt with feelings of loneliness in your personal life?
I have been incredibly lucky in my life that I've been blessed with friends and family who have always loved me for who I am - and I even had a group of queer friends when I was growing up in my rural small town. Having friends who understood me on that level was extremely validating as a young person navigating their sense of self. Knowing how lucky I was made me want to be an ally to queer people who haven't had that experience.
The times in my life that I have felt the loneliest have been when I was struggling with my mental health. It can be so hard to climb out of what you're going through and reach out to another person when you're in a dark place. It's very isolating in those moments. Having a place to go where you're accepted exactly as you are and can show up however you are is really important during those times.
What do you think is the answer to tackling societal disconnection on a national level?
Our society tells us that we are individuals. We spend a lot of time shut inside, working on our own lives, forgetting that we're a part of something bigger. But I think the last two years have shown us, more than ever, that we are all part of one interconnected world. We need to forge meaningful, real-life connections with the people around us. I personally think going for a walk together is a great way to do this! ☺