Keys to a strong support network

My best friend is the greatest.

None of us are perfect. Even when we know what we ought to do, we don’t always follow the rules. It’s when we know the rules, but consistently ignore them, that things start to fall apart. This is most important when it comes to the people in our lives.

When a person has a mental illness the societal rules of interpersonal communication become harder to learn, harder to follow, and harder to remember.

I’ve had so many friendships and relationships fall apart over the years because of breakdowns in communication and the rules of friendship. I’d blame myself. And every time I would say, “I am too broken for anyone to ever care about me or want to keep me in their life.”

But the truth is, I’m not broken. The so-called societal rules are simply not designed for someone who doesn’t or can’t communicate the way everyone else does or can.

What’s broken is the stigma around mental illness.

When we can’t comfortably open up and have a dialogue about our mental health, the people around us don’t know how to think or say, “maybe we can try this another way.”

But when we CAN talk about these things? Everything changes. And we might start to believe, maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe this friendship thing can work, after all.

This is helpful for everyone in our lives.

And then there are rules in place for those KEY individuals.

These are the people in our lives we rely on. The people we instinctively turn to when things are hard. The people who know most of our secrets because these are the people in our most trusted circles. They are the ones who, even when we can’t open up to anyone else around us, we are comfortable opening up to them.

The support network.

Rules for a strong support network

  • Acknowledge and attempt to learn about and understand my illness.

  • Listen and be patient.

  • Learn how to recognize what’s different between my normal behavior and when I am off.

  • Don’t judge me. Blame me. Shame me. Or leave me feeling guilty for various behaviors.

  • Don’t let me get away with shit.

  • Don’t walk away when things get rough.

The most important thing about a support network, though, is for me to not put the emotional burden of supporting me entirely on their shoulders.

My responsibilities and why therapy can help

  1. A therapist helps me learn about and understand my illness.
    • I can’t expect the people around me to magically know everything. It’s my responsibility to educate myself to help educate others.

  2. A therapist will help me work through my problems.
    • Patience is not a limitless resource for me to pull from from the people in my support network. I must put in the work that will get me through what’s going on and not expect others to just hold me up permanently.

    • Patience is also something I must accept for myself. Not everything is going to happen right away. A lot of things aren’t going to be fixed with the wave of a magic wand. Some things take time. There’s nothing wrong with me if things are being particularly difficult.

  3. A therapist helps enormously with self-awareness.
    • My support network is not psychic. It’s my job to figure out what might identify when I am not doing well. I can’t just expect the people around me to know I need help if they don’t know what to look for or how they can help.

  4. A therapist is impartial.
    • Frustration and anger toward the people around me is natural. Don’t take it out on them, though. They’re trying to help. Talking to someone impartial can frequently save a relationship that is important to me.

    • Don’t put my support network in a position of having to choose sides if that sort of situation comes up. That’s not fair to them.

  5. A therapist is not a yes-man.
    • There are times when I just don’t want to accept the truth that I might be in the wrong. My support network is going to call me out and I might get upset by that. Talking to my therapist can put things into perspective.

    • Apologize when I’m in the wrong.

  6. A therapist is trained in how to help.
    • If I see that things are REALLY bad and I’m barely holding on – get help immediately.

    • If my support network suggests that I need more help than they can provide? Listen to them. If I keep ignoring them when they’re genuinely trying to help, I can’t be surprised if they just can’t keep watching me self-destruct.

We all still struggle

None of us are perfect. Even when we know what we ought to do, we don’t always follow the rules. It’s when we know the rules, but consistently ignore them, that things start to fall apart. This is most important when it comes to the people in our lives.

I said that before, but I felt it bore repeating.

We all struggle. And personally? That’s why I believe so strongly in the importance of therapy.

I am 41 years old and despite everything positive in my life I still feel like I’m still struggling to build the kind of support network I imagine is “right.” The problem is that I feel so frequently like I am not a person people would want to have in their lives. Because of this, I too often believe that I don’t have people in my life who really ARE there for me.

My best friend stepping in to help with something that causes me intense anxiety..

But when I take the time to think about it. When I look at the list I wrote up above, about what makes up a support network, I realize – there are more people in my life than I thought.

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the people in my life. To my friends. To my colleagues at work. To the people who aren’t letting go. To everyone who supports me when I need you the most.

I know the rules now.

I may still struggle. But I’ll always try.

Published by loribarett

Coffee addicted charismatic geek with a penchant for tattoos, books, and listening to people tell their stories.

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