I guess I sort of tipped you off to what I was going to be talking about in tip number three. Well, this next tip cannot be underestimated. It is really important no matter who you are, but for people with mental illness it is extremely important.
4) You are going to need all of the support you can get. I’m talking people here people! I know, you want to be independent and strong and take care of yourself. Who doesn’t? But, you can’t go this road alone. If you have a mental illness you need the support of other people to help in your recovery and to be there for you.
Now, I know some people are very alone in this world. There were times in my life when I felt like I lived on an island and nobody could reach me. I pushed people away. There were times when I was paranoid of everyone. I thought other people were trying to kill me! Maybe you are saying to yourself: I have no one. I have no family, no friends, I am alone. If this is your situation, you need to change it. We are human and humans are made for social relationships. We aren’t made to be totally alone and isolated. I know, I like to spend a lot of time alone too, but we need each other. Even if it only means that you find friends online, that is going to be better than nothing. I’m going to assume you can get online if you are reading this, so that is the first step. Try to find a community of people who talk about things that you like and go ahead and dive into the pool. If nothing else, write to me and I’ll write back.
Seriously, no one ever got better by shutting themselves off to the world. Maybe you have been hurt or are afraid for some reason, but being alone isn’t the answer. So, maybe you have no friends or family. Then at the very least, you need a therapist or social worker or counselor—someone to talk to. Even a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner. Someone. If we spend all of our time alone and never talk to anyone, everything gets backed up in our brains, especially if we have a mental illness. We will end up ruminating and thinking the same thoughts over and over and usually those thoughts will tend toward the negative.
I know being around other people can be difficult. It can be scary, overwhelming, uncomfortable and anxiety-producing. But it can also be life affirming and it can make all the difference in the world to your mental health.
I know that some people have families of origin who are toxic. Some people have friends that get them in trouble. If this is your situation, you will need to find friends and family who will be there to help you get better not worse. Maybe this means creating your own circle of friends who become like family. Maybe this means not hanging out with the same crowd of people. And, unfortunately, this might mean ending a relationship with someone who is important in your life. I’m not saying you have to. I’m just saying that in this journey you are going to need people who are on your side and people you can depend on.
As all of you out there who are alcoholics or drug addicts know, you are going to have a hard time living sober if your friends are drinking kegs everyday or shooting up right in front of you. The same thing goes for mental health. If you have someone in your life who tells you your disease doesn’t exist and it is all in your head, it isn’t going to be helpful. Even if this person is your psychiatrist or therapist (and this happens) it is still not going to be helpful. You need people in your life who will believe you and take your disease seriously. Ideally, you should have people in your life who are not going to tell you to stop taking your medication all the time and who are not going to tell you to jump off a bridge when you are feeling suicidal.
I’ve talked about how people with physical disabilities sometimes need to make adjustments for themselves just as we need to. Part of this adjustment means that you will need to surround yourself with people who are going to be honest with you and people who are going to be kind to you. If you go to your friend of family member and tell her or him that you are having strange thoughts it isn’t going to help you if they just blow it off.
And aside from any emotional need that you will have for people, you may need them physically or financially. You might need your psychiatrist to sign you into an inpatient treatment facility. You might need your therapist to get you into some kind of group therapy program. You might need a social worker to help you tackle getting in the right kind of government programs. You might need a friend or family member to bring you an extra blanket or some clothes while you are in the hospital. Maybe you need to live with your family or friends in order to get the emotional support and peace of mind that you need.
It is okay to need other people. Tell people if you need them. If they can’t handle being needed, then they will find a way to get out of the relationship if they have to. Some people aren’t equipped mentally, emotionally, financially, physically, etc. to be a part of the life of someone with a mental illness. Those of us who have a mental illness don’t have the luxury of choosing that sort of thing. There are people who may leave you. Some people will never become fully vested in a relationship with you, but it is their loss. You can’t do anything about people who want to leave you because of your illness. It happens. It is sad and disturbing and you think that people will be there for you in your time of trouble, but it doesn’t always work like that.
Don’t worry, because there are people who will be there for you. There are doctors who will be on your side and who will care about you as a human being. There are nurses and therapists who will listen and let you call them after hours. There are people out there who aren’t afraid of crazy people or crying or whatever else. They are there. We are here. And people will show up in your life when you least expect it. The friend you never thought would be there for you will be there. Sometimes it just means you need to tell someone that you need them.
For me, I would be nowhere without the support of my family, my parents’ friends, the police, my therapist and my psychiatrist. I’ve gone through a number of psychiatrists who didn’t get me. Who didn’t understand me and failed to provide me with the right treatment options. I’ve had a therapist get rid of me. I’ve had friends leave for good. I’ve been estranged from my family when I was psychotic because I didn’t trust them. There were times when the only people who kept me safe from myself were the police.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: you need to trust someone. You need people in your life. You need social support to get through this. You will feel better, think better and have a better outcome if you are connected socially to someone. In addition, if you have a relapse of some kind you will return to normal faster if you have social support. I’m not just making this up either! It is in the literature. Are medications important? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should just pill pop and not have social support. You need both. We need both and it doesn’t mean we are weak or less than. It means we are human.