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The Importance of Finding Your 'Tribe' When You Live With a Mental Illness

There is an old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Until recently, I didn’t realize the importance of having your own tribe. No, I am not talking about having a tribe of children. I am talking about having people around you to call your own, whether they be blood relations, friends or your chosen family. It is important to have people around you who you identify with.

Years ago, I had a tribe of my own, a group of friends I confided in and hung out with. When I had a tribe, I had everything I lack now: self-confidence and a purpose. I gave them my all and often went above and beyond.

However, in the end I left my tribe all together (of my own accord). My husband discouraged my relationship with my tribe because he felt I was being taken advantage of. His intentions were good. Still, I was disillusioned and shattered by the loss, and never truly found another tribe I fit into. Sure, my tribe hadn’t been perfect, but they had been mine. It was a place I felt comfortable and accepted.

Those relationships had taken years to form, and while I desperately searched for another tribe to accept me, I often became impatient. I couldn’t find that place of comfort I longed for. Fast forward almost 10 years and I no longer had a tribe to call my own at all, my marriage had but broken down and I had become extremely lonely and depressed.

In talking to my therapist, she suggested I need to get out, see friends and do some things I found enjoyable. I was forced to admit I have very few friends who I physically see, and told her the story of losing my tribe. It was a light bulb moment and possibly one that would save my marriage and my sanity.

In losing my tribe and not being able to find another, I had moved all the expectations of what they had provided me onto my husband. There is no way a single individual can do the job of a tribe, so repeatedly I felt let down, like my needs were not being met. They weren’t, but they couldn’t be. The resentment of him “taking” my tribe away and then not being able to fill their place had taken its toll. Even though in the end, I had chosen to leave the tribe, the fear of abandonment and betrayal meant I had unknowingly self-sabotaged any new relationships.

I am now in the process of establishing myself a new tribe. Unfortunately, integration back into the old tribe is just not possible, but I am learning your tribe does not have to come from one place — it can be filled with people from all walks of life. I have managed to re-establish some old friendships and am working at making new ones, armed with the knowledge that it will take time and patience to form a bond.

And my marriage? The improvements over the past few weeks have been positive. Lowering my expectations of what the relationship should be, I have been able to re-establish healthy boundaries and enjoy his company for what it is, not what I expected it to be.

I see this often when people get into relationships. The other person becomes their entire world. They invest everything in them and often leave their tribe behind in hopes that this person will fulfill all their needs. The truth is it takes an entire village to raise a child — and support an adult.

You need the vast array of opinions that comes with having different life experiences. Take a chance, reach out and make new connections and even re-establish old ones. Stay safe, and stay well.