When you’re surrounded by negativity, healing and wellness can be hard. I think of times I have tried to heal when phantoms like guilt, bad friends, alcohol, and poor nutrition plagued me. Healing took longer and hurt more, and in the end I had other problems to solve. It took me ages to identify what a strong support network looks like, so I eventually developed a habit of relying exclusively on myself. Like ridding illness without a doctor, rolling solo through grief, loss, or any other lower qualities simply exacerbates problems in the long term. Building a strong and reliable support network around yourself is crucial for celebrating meaningfully through the good and healing healthily through the bad.
1. Escape the echo chamber. While talking to others who have been through similar hardships can be incredibly helpful, be mindful of why you seek their support. Do you seek healthy affirmation and a helpful ear, or are you looking for an echo chamber to revel in? Wallowing in a problem will hurt more than it helps. When thinking of people and places that are truly supportive, escape situations that feel like an echo chamber.
2. Your network is not your therapist. We all experience symptoms of dysfunction or instability, whether it’s growing pains or atypical neurobiology. Thus, everyone absolutely needs a therapist. Unfortunately, very few can meet this need and attend counseling regularly or even at all. Whether that need can be met or not, your friends cannot be replacements for a therapist. Counselors have graduate-level degrees for a reason: it’s a profession that requires thousands of hours of study and practice! Our friends have other beautiful gifts, but are not apt fits for the professional-level counseling we need. In addition, therapy offers a completely safe space for the exploration of your thoughts that we cannot experience even with our closest friends. Friendships should have boundaries! Especially when we experience turmoil, we cannot strain and abuse friendships by constantly seeking free therapy from them.
3. Support at work is crucial. When I had my first manic episode, I emailed my supervisor at 4:00 in the morning saying I needed to take off and find supervised help. I had already taken 3 personal days that month, which is quite a few for a middle school teacher. However, I definitely needed that day: going to work manic with two sleepless nights under my belt, while suffering a major breakup and family loss was not smart. My supervisor’s response was gracious and supportive. He thanked me for finding help, gave me his cell phone number, prayed for me, and let me know everything would be handled at work. My coworkers pitched in to help my substitute and checked in with me in the days that followed. Coming to work and receiving love, hugs, and check-ins saved me. It gave me 8 stable hours a day where I knew everything would be great. Their response showed me my health and safety is a priority because I am valued by my peers.
Previously, I worked in many positions unlike this where supervisors expected the job to come first. That drove me deeper into depression and exhaustion. I gained weight, I stopped exercising, I didn’t relax, I worked 6-7 days a week. Failing myself meant failing at my job as well. Support at work is crucial, and we aren’t always taught that our jobs should be safe spaces. Make sure you check in with yourself and find a work environment that supports you as much as you support them.
4. True support means open compassion. Find people who understand you and your situation. There is a difference between love and understanding, though in your support network, many folks will do both. Where a therapist may understand you, a friend may love and understand you. Your supporters must also understand your situation, however, and exhibit this open compassion towards the problems that give you grief. Will negative yammering from a friend about your ex ultimately make you feel better? Probably not. You made the decision to be with that person; you don’t want to hear how bad of a choice that was. Seek supporters who exhibit open compassion, and give you mindful understanding with no expectation of gifts in return. You however, could bring compassion to the table as well, and engage in open (not forced) transactions of loving energy.
5. You are a critical link in the support network. Your network can’t heal you alone. Together, however, you will get the job done. What you bring to the table in a supportive relationship equals what you receive. Be sure to bring forth the energy and kindness you ask of others. Whether that’s with a friend, in therapy, or in a group exercise class, be mindful that you serve your full self and gratitude towards them.