People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.”Unknown
Hello all! Welcome back to the My Mental Health series on The Winter Of My Discontent! My last post was a sequel post to My Mental Health: ADHD. In the last installment, My Mental Health: ADHD Extended, I discuss paralysis of will, ADHD shutdown, hypoactivity, and more. Now, grab your favorite cup of coffee (or tea…or wine…) and sit back while we discuss support systems, what is healthy for you and them, and why it is important to mental health recovery to have one.
Social Support Systems
Having good social support systems is an important part of mental health recovery. Some research shows that having a strong support system has a positive impact on mental health, especially for women, the elderly, long-term patients, people in the workforce, and students.
There are 3 main types of social support:
- Emotional Support Systems– providing empathy, love, and support to a person in need
- Instrumental Support Systems – providing physical care when you are unable to care for your own needs; for example, bringing you soup when you are sick or giving you a ride to the doctor
- Informational Support Systems – providing guidance, advice, information, and mentoring
A good support system can help us make healthier choices and engage in healthier behaviors. They can help us cope with stress, even if it is just by letting us vent. Also, having a support system can help improve our motivation by supporting us in our goals. A solid support system is one or more person who:
- gives good advice, but only when you ask for it. It is important to clarify what you need out of a conversation. It is often okay to start a conversation with, “I don’t need any advice right now; I’m just looking to vent.” Also, the person giving the advice should be accepting and gracious if we choose to take other advice or choose to take a different path, no matter how well-meaning their intentions are.
- There should be mutual like, respect, and trust. You should be able to tell the people in your support system about anything without fear of judgment or pressure. We should value the opinions and advice of our support system. They are also great accountability holders and should not be afraid to tell us when we are wrong or are on the wrong path. Truth is paramount.
- allows for you to change, learn, grow, make your own decisions, and especially make mistakes. Our support systems know that we are only human and we are doing the best we can, even when we are unwell.
- listens to you, but also shares with you; the good times and the bad times. A support system should never be one-sided. You are there to support the people in your world in the same way that they support you. There will be times when you don’t have the available spoons (check out the spoon-theory, if you haven’t already!) to be there and that is okay, but these important relationships should be a 2-way street.
- understands that some of the things you tell them are in confidence; they should be able to keep secrets and to know when to use discretion. They will have access to your most private thoughts and, sometimes, medical information. Being trust-worthy confidants to one another is a must.
- lets you express without judging, teasing, or criticizing. We should feel comfortable confiding in them without the worry of ridicule and harassment.
- has your best interest at heart. Obviously, we don’t want to have people in our support systems who wish us ill-will. Those are the people that will let us down. The people in your support system should be people who love and care about you and who want the very best for you.
My support system…falls apart?
My experience with support systems took a startling turn a few years ago, but first I have to tell you how it started. I come from a large, close-knit family; both parent’s sides. When I was growing up, I was always with my grandparent, cousins, or aunts and uncles. Despite my difficulties in childhood, I was mostly surrounded by people who loved me and who wanted the best for me. They gave me advice and they taught me things and they accepted me for who I was. As I grew into an adult, I felt so supported and loved; they accepted the parts of me that I couldn’t show to everyone…my flaws, my quirks, and my disorders.
In my early 20s, I met a group of people who would become a part of the safety net that my family had always been. We were all transplants in a big city and we were just trying to find our way in the world. We bonded and we loved each other and they helped me through so many tough times. They picked me up off the floor, figuratively and literally. They gently goaded me to brush my teeth and take a shower when I hadn’t been out of bed in days and they silently hugged me when they found me crying alone. They knew that I had an incredible sadness that I carried around and they didn’t care. They loved me anyway. They did their best to cheer me up, to make me laugh, and to love me with all of their might.
I used to blog on MySpace back then (I am of the middle-aged variety of human) and I regularly talked about how grateful I was to have such amazing family and friends. I felt loved and safe. They were everything to me and I thought they always would be. Most of them still are, but about 7 years ago, the foundation of my support system started to crumble. Most of my best friends had moved out of state and I only had a few local friends left. Even my mom had moved to a different state, by that point. One of these people that I considered among my closest confidants, unimaginably betrayed me. I won’t get into details, but it sent me for a tailspin. I never saw it coming, not in a million years. There was much, much more to the trauma, but it turned my world upside down.
Grasping for a hand in the dark
I became extremely ill. I didn’t know it at the time, but all of my mental illnesses came to the surface at once; ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, and C-PTSD. I was having extreme, vivid, and excessive intrusive and obsessive thoughts. I was dissociating regularly; I actually lost time for a full 2 week period once. I reached out to all of my friends as soon as I found out what had happened, but the only ones I heard from were my friends from out of state. My local friends were radio silent after they found out. I was so sick and in such desperate need of my support system.
With family relationships and friendships being damaged because of how I was handling the most traumatic event of my life, I found myself alone and isolated. After a while, it was clear that they had started to feel like my mental health was too much to deal with in a friendship. That is completely valid. Being friends with someone like me is probably exhausting. I try to be the best friend that I can be, but I have my faults and my flaws. We let the friendship drag on, painfully, for a few years. About a year ago, I decided that I was done letting them hurt me; it had become a cruel game at that point. I was starting to come out of the worst and longest mental health episode I had ever had. That mental health episode lasted for six years. I was gravely injured and gravely ill for six years and I had almost no support during this time.
Here’s the thing; this mental health episode looked different. In my 20s, I would fall apart; staying in bed for days, crying all of the time, waxing poetic on my MySpace blog about missed romantic opportunities and how much I loved my friends. As I grew older, my mental illnesses morphed into something that would fit better, but still terrorize, a married mom who never quite lived up to her potential. It was a numbness that had fallen over me, making everything negative and foggy. It was a worry so intense that made my skin burn. When I fell apart, I fell apart in private and the rest of the time I somehow managed to keeps it together. My friends and family couldn’t see my mental illness anymore. I was functioning outwardly, so they thought it must not be that bad. Granted, by spending even a small amount of time with me, they would have seen it immediately or they would have had to be blind.
My thoughts were often obsessive and that would spill over into my conversations. I would talk about the same 4-5 enraging or sadness-inducing topics incessantly, in every conversation. But I wasn’t inconsolable. I could get out of bed and I wasn’t losing another job. I was still taking care of my daughter and she was still happy and healthy. They couldn’t see that inside of me was a shitstorm of darkness; rage, sadness, and trauma. I felt like I was dying on the inside. No matter how many times I tried to tell them that I was sick, certain people chose to believe I was just making bad choices. I was making bad choices because I was sick, but not sick in the way which they deemed acceptable so they withdrew their support in a drawn-out and unkind way. I did us all a favor and withdrew completely.
Learning from heartache
I only bring this up again because I want to make 2 important points. As I got better-ish (I’m not even close to completely better, but I’ve come a long, long way), I realized that I had learned a lot through my experience. One was about friendship; not everyone is meant to be there at the end of your story. As hard as goodbyes are, sometimes friendships (even the most intense ones) have an expiration date. You have to be willing to let people get off the ride. They’ll let you know if they’re ready; if they don’t tell you outright, they’ll show you in their actions. Be open to and allow people to move in and out of your support system, if they need it. Also, allow yourself to let go of relationships that hurt. You deserve to feel safe and loved with the people that you call friends and family.
Here’s the second thing that I learned and this is the most important thing out of anything that I learned. I am a badass. The whole while that I was reaching out in the storm, waiting on someone else to grab me and pull me out and it was me who fought my way out on my own. I’ve come to believe that I was meant to lose the relationships that I did in the ways that I did; karmic relationships, if you will. I had some lessons to learn and I could only learn them on my own.
I had to realize that I could go it alone. I could make it through to the other side with no one at my side. I started to think back to all the other times I had been unwell in my life and I realized that it was me all of those times, too. Sure, I had a lot of love and support for most of my life and without that, I don’t know where I would be. But it was always me who clawed my way back from the brink, time and time again. This newfound information made me feel stronger than ever and more ready than ever for recovery. It was part of the reason I went to my therapist for the diagnosis that eventually led me back to a blog that I thought I had abandoned. Fighting the demons that I fought in those years, keeping it all together on the outside…taking care of my daughter, keeping up (barely) with my duties at work. But I fought hard and I fought valiantly and I won again, even after everything that I lost.
I’m ready to start building my support system again. In fact, I’ve already started. Things look different in the time of Coronavirus, but I use the channels that I have to nurture the relationships that are the most important to me. Some of those same friends from my 20s are still the people that I talk to every day. People who know me and love all of me, even the ugly parts. A couple of years ago, I reached out to 3 women that I had been acquainted with on some level in the past. Not friends, per se, but I knew them to be kind, like-minded people, so I reached out to them. Out of the 3, I was able to start cultivating friendships with 2 of them and we have now gotten to a point where we talk every day and they are big parts of my current support system. The third reached out to me recently and we will (hopefully) be getting together as soon as the pandemic slows down.
After a time of mistrust, I am finally ready to start building a new support system after my old one toppled over. I now understand what I hope to convey to you today; you want to make sure that you have a healthy and functioning support system. You want to be open and honest with the people who support you about what you deal with and you want to make sure that they are understanding and accepting of the fact that you have illnesses. I am by no means suggesting they should accept bad behavior, but they should be willing to employ a little compassion and understanding when you are at your worst moments. Relationships, especially the important ones, should be full of give and take. You and your support system should always be there for each other.
Finally, I would like to leave you with some tips for building up your support network, if you don’t currently have one. These are only a few and remember, be your honest and true self and your people will always find you.
- Reach out to your family, friends, or acquaintances (like I did)! Chances are, you already know a well of good people. Put feelers out. I just sent out messages to people that said, “Hey, I know this is random, but would you like to go grab a coffee sometime?” and left the ball in their court.
- Use all the resources you have available…use technology. This is especially useful advice in the pandemic, but for regular times too. I have found a lot of support and resonation on Twitter and Facebook has groups for every topic imaginable. Use instant messages, text messages, and video calls to keep in contact with friends and family who live afar.
- Connect with people with similar interests or hobbies. You can find local people who get together each month on the Meet Up app and there are groups and clubs for all different types of hobbies and interests. Facebook is a good choice, again. I am in groups for nearly every hyperfocus I’ve ever had. The topics are vast. You can also check the local library. In every town I have ever lived in, the library has always been a flurry of activity and they often host events that are hobby-specific.
- Look for peer support groups locally or online. You can check the NAMI and CHADD websites for more information. You can also find a multitude of support groups on Facebook though, admittedly, they are not all helpful
- Ask for help. If you are struggling to find new people, tell someone. You can reach out to the local library for a list of resources or events that you may meet people. Places of worship or spiritual centers are great places to meet like-minded folks and they often have events that are open to the public. You can also reach out to the local community center to find a list of events for locals.
- Volunteer! Volunteering can be a great way to help your community and meet new people.
- Take a class. Catch up on that college level course you never got to take or start a cooking class and then get to know your classmates!
I learned a lot of lessons over the last few years. I learned that I’ve got myself and that I’m stronger than I thought. But I also learned that having a strong, healthy support system is important. When I found myself alone in my time of need, I floundered. I couldn’t tell which way was up and I just tumbled through the darkness for a while. It took years for me to heal and to find the light again. I feel pretty certain that it would not have taken me so long if I had been maintaining my support system properly. Loving people, and being loved, it important to our mental health. We all need people to lean on when we’re not feeling well.
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for today. Thanks for sticking in there and I hope you all have a great weekend!
Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight!💜💜
Writing about living with ADHD and mental illness and my journey down a thriving path forward. Breaking stigmas and creating community, one post at a time.