The Advantages of Belonging to a Group - My Interpretation of 'A Sense of Belonging'

In this post I'll give you my interpretation of 'A Sense of Belonging', the first painting in my new series 'Guardians'.

The 'Guardians' series has been designed as an antidote to my previous series 'The Seven Gates'. If you don't know anything about that series, this video will get you up to speed:

So the 'Guardians' series will be all about things in my life that help me to keep depression at bay. They won't all be relevant to everybody but if you suffer with depression there may be something that could help. If nothing else it should be comforting to know that someone who has had severe depression, and at one point couldn't see a way out, can now paint a colourful image like 'A Sense of Belonging'. There is hope.

Let's start with why it's so great to belong to a group. Off we go then.

The first thing you need to understand is this: I'm a freak.

A geek.

A nerd.

All of those words that get used by bullies and are generally perceived by society as negative.

Here are some facts to prove my geeky nerdy freako credentials:

1. My favourite Daredevil artist is Alex Maleev

2. I love Hammer films, especially ones that star André Morell.

3. I love many black and white films.

4. And Farscape.

5. And Thunderbirds.

6. I enjoy Chiptune.

7. And Screamo.

8. And Acid Jazz mixed with a bit of Cathedral choir singing.

9. My favourite book is The Terror by Dan Simmons.

10. And my phone is a 13 year old Nokia that can't even manage colour.

I think you get the idea. I'm a right weirdo.

Now I don't mind being a weirdo. I like what I like and I couldn't care less about what I'm supposed to like. If something's great, it's great.

The problem comes when I think about where I fit in. Where do I belong?

I used to play Warhammer and paint the miniatures. I joined a club, but I didn't fit in. The other people there were really friendly and they were really into Warhammer and role playing games as a hobby - really into it - and I wasn't. I didn't know all of the character stats off the top of my head and I often had to look up rules. So I left.

I used to regularly attend the Celluloid Screams horror film festival in Sheffield. I didn't fit in there either. I wear a red coat for starters.

I've got a season ticket for Doncaster Rovers. I definitely don't fit in there. Every match some lucky individual in the crowd wins a box of 12 Pukka pies. I really don't want to win. I'm a vegetarian. Yep, I don't fit in at the Rovers.

The problem with not fitting in anywhere is that it is easy to feel alone in the world.

This isn't good for someone prone to depression.

For me, feeling alone was a great excuse to push other people away and isolate myself even more. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It went something like this: I'm so different from everyone else. I feel like I'm all alone. So I'm jolly well going to make sure that I am alone, by Jove. Well that's how my subliminal thinking went, but possibly without the Victorian colloquialisms. A study by Brigham Young University showed that loneliness is a greater health risk than obesity and is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So the irrational desire to be lonely and alone is not a healthy one.

I really needed to feel as though I fit in somewhere. To feel like I belong.

In the last three years, I've taken up a new hobby.

Board gaming. (Here we go again with all of the geekiness.)

Before I continue, this series of paintings is all about improving your mental health. My end conclusion won't simply be to play more board games and you'll feel loads better. It will be much wider than that. Stick with me, it'll all make sense in the end.

My love of board games came about when I discovered games like Pandemic, Eldritch Horror and Legends of Andor.

These were fresh new games. First of all they're all co-operative games. Either you all win or you all lose. No-one gets knocked out and has to sit and watch two hours of the game being played just to be polite (ahem, Monopoly). These are games where more interesting choices have to be made. They really get you thinking.

Since then, I've also played some competitive games and I really enjoy those too. Things like Alien Frontiers and Charterstone.

I played these games with my wife and we both had a great time. But I watched videos on YouTube of people playing these games with their friends. Four or more people sitting round a table. Laughing. Joking. Having a good time. And I wanted a bit of that.

I searched for board game clubs in the area and I found a local club. I plucked up the courage and went.

Now, despite not having been officially diagnosed, I severely suspect I suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. Even if I don't have the label, I still panic in any social situation to the extent where I have been known to vomit. So going to a club, alone, was a big step for me.

I didn't need to worry. I was instantly welcomed into the club and a group of six of us played a game of Carcassonne, a tile laying game. And we were laughing, joking and having a good time.

Since then I have become a regular and have a core group of people who I play with. But even when they're not there, I feel quite happy to just turn up and play with whoever is there. It really is a welcoming environment. There are not many places where you can meet a stranger and then within five minutes be having fun with them.

It's great to feel like I belong somewhere.

It's strange, but something as simple as a rectangular bit of cardboard, some tokens and some rules has led to me having friends and being... social. I never thought I'd actively want to go out to a place where other people may be and - horror of all of Satan's dastardly horrors - maybe even talk to some people.

And who would have thought that watching Wil Wheaton's Tabletop - come on, I did warn you I'm a geek - would have led to another friendship. My wife happened to mention that we watched Tabletop on a course she was attending and amazingly someone else watched it too with her partner! We now regularly meet up for gaming nights and again, it's social and a lot of fun.

You can imagine the impact that all of the above has had on the state of my mental health.

So what are the benefits of belonging to a group?

Studies have been carried out that link belonging to a group (or groups preferably) to positive physical and mental health. Belonging to a group has the equivalent effect on physical health as stopping smoking or drinking alcohol.

Social connectedness has also been shown to have a positive effect on depression in terms of both recovery and preventing a relapse.

For me, the day-to-day benefits are:

  1. It gets me out of the house.

  2. I meet my friends regularly and possibly even make new friends.

  3. I laugh. A lot.

  4. It gives me something to look forward to every week.

  5. It provides routine and a structure to my week.

  6. I learn new skills, both socially and in terms of the activity I'm doing.

  7. I am being social. (Crikey!)

  8. My mind is fully engaged in an activity rather than listening to my inner thoughts.

  9. I feel alive.

  10. I don't feel alone.

That's not a bad list for just going out once a week and playing a few games.

I'm not advocating that everyone goes out and joins a board gaming club, although if you want to I'm definitely not stopping you. But I am advocating joining a group, even better, more than one group. That way if one group stops meeting up you've got another as back up. The reason for the group meeting up doesn't matter; it could be a book club, a walking group or learning a new skill at night school. I'm sure you can think of many more examples.

I realise that when suffering from depression and anxiety the thought of joining a group can be paralysing and feel seemingly impossible. But that's the mental illness talking. Enlist a friend or family member to support you and maybe join a group with you, even if it's just for the first few sessions to give you time to find your feet. You don't have to do it all on your own.

So join a group, get out there and have some fun. The benefits are immense. You may just get to feel like this:

I'd be interested to hear if you've had a similar experience from belonging in a group. Leave any questions or comments in the box below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

For more information on my art visit

If I have made you vaguely interested - by some miracle - in board games, here's a video that will give you some pointers for games that could get you into the hobby:

And the top 10 Gateway games on the Board Game Geek website are:

1 Ticket to Ride Europe 2 Carcassonne 3 Codenames 4 For Sale 5 Sushi Go! or Sushi Go Party! 6 Pandemic 7 King of Tokyo 8 Kingdomino 9 Splendor 10 Patchwork

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