I cannot stress how important Support is for a person with a mental illness, let alone any type of disability. The two sayings “It takes a village” and “Friends are your chosen family” are phrases that stress the importance of support.
Now, I do not wish to discount family. Family is important. So often, however, for people with mental illness, family is not able to understand what a person is going through, and often family is who receives the brunt of some of our really unstable times, the meanness that can come out, and the stupid choices and actions that we make. I know. My family has not disowned me, but I know I did things in the past that many other families would not have tolerated. The point of family is that they don’t get a choice. They will always be your family. Sometimes, due to past actions or issues, your family is not able to step back and disengage from what is occurring, not take it personally, and be able to continue to provide support. Whether the bridges have been burned with your family, and whether they are still supportive is what matters in being able to have family in your support group.
When it comes to developing your support group, or network, you have to choose people who are healthy for you. How do you know who you can trust, how do you choose those people to allow in your close circle of support? I cannot stress enough that people who exacerbate your illness, or make you feel bad for not always being well, are the people you should NOT be around. Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who do not understand my mental illness, who will never have a clue and would not want to understand what I have been through. But it isn’t all or nothing. I have friends that I would not go to when I need to pour out my heart, because I know they would not be able to listen without being judgmental, or without peering down their noses and looking down on me. However, those people are still friends. If push came to shove, those friends would be there for me. I may not spend a whole lot of time with them, as I don’t want to feel bad for being me, but we value our friendships.
There are those friends who I can speak to about stress and pour my heart out to, but I may not be able to count on when things got really serious and scary. There are many circles to my support network. The people I know that I can screw up with, that I can be honest with, that I can struggle and ask for help with, that I can be my eccentric self with and not feel ostracized for it… These are the people in that inner circle.
Each person is different, each person comes with their own imperfections, their own abilities and experiences. So, to try and narrow that support to one person is unrealistic. One person cannot be all encompassing (though my husband would like to think he comes close). My husband is an excellent support person, but he has not been in my shoes. He has never had a severe mental illness, been hospitalized for it, or had the life changing experiences that I have had. He doesn’t have to, to be a support person. He just has to accept me for who I am. He is extremely good at being supportive when I struggle. If he is not able to be, then I find other friends who can be there for me.
There is also a great wealth of comfort and support being with people who also have a mental illness. They know what it is like to be anxious, struggle with keeping thoughts together, and question their sanity. However, I found that for me I felt more ill, more unstable, more sick when I spend a lot of time around others who are not managing their mental health well. I pride myself on the positive choices I have made so that I can become a healthier me. I enjoy being able to help others that are struggling with mental illness as well. I am not, however, willing to compromise my mental health while finding that support. I choose, and will continue to choose, to be around others who may, or may not have mental illnesses, but are truly healthy and making choices to be healthy. An example: I was accepted and participated in the Governor’s Commission on Disability Issues and Employment for our state. With that I spent time with people who have many different kinds of disabilities and all are successful and well in their own ways. They are wonderful examples, and I try to be a wonderful example of mental health wellness. I count many of those I met in the GCDE as people I could count on for resources and assistance if I needed it.
So, the people that are in your support group are those you can trust to love you for who you are. They will accept you and not make you feel bad for being odd, eccentric, unique. If you screw up majorly, you can apologize and they will forgive you. They will love you for you. That is what matters. That is what is important.