8 Ways to Build a Support System When You Feel Defeated and Alone
Not everyone is born with a strong support system. For some – probably for many – relatives can be part of the problem, not the solution. And friends can be unreliable, and dealing with their own issues. But you aren’t limited to family and friends when building a support system. Anyone and everyone is eligible – it’s about finding the right people to fill the right roles. Sometimes that takes a little creativity.
Mental health or chronic illness, doctors are the ones who can quite literally have your life in their hands. My psychiatrist has always been someone I knew I could trust and go to in times of confusion and difficulty. Without that sense of safety, my anxiety and depression would have consumed me long ago. My psychiatrist knows that mental illness is messy and difficult – and he doesn’t expect me to be perfect. He only asks that I do my best – and he’s always proud of whatever effort I put forth.
When I found myself having heart problems, I was fortunate to get a referral to an amazing cardiologist with infinite patience and a wicked sense of humor, who isn’t dismissive of my anxiety and depression. He is always willing to listen to whatever is bothering me – even when I have a hard time explaining it and get frustrated with myself. He knows that inappropriate sinus tachycardia affects more than just my heart; it affects my life. My doctors have seen me happy, funny, anxious, depressed, laughing, crying, scared, everything. They work together to make the best decisions for me, and I know that even if I am ashamed of how I feel, I can be honest with them and they will help. They aren’t just there to write prescriptions and collect insurance payments. They care about my well-being, and they genuinely love their jobs. You don’t have to chose between a good physician and a good person. There are still (a few) good doctors out there who love their job, work hard and care. Build a foundation of support with them, because they are the solid place you have to start from.
2. Other Health Professionals
Therapists, nurses, physician’s assistants, nutritionists, trainers, dentists, anyone who doesn’t have “MD” after their name but is responsible for some element of your health care. The receptionist at a doctor’s office can be more intimidating than the actual doctor. Having someone answering that phone who treats you with respect and concern goes a long way. Finding a trainer/dietician who will work with my heart problems and medications, not against them, was a big deal. Most of my medication questions go through my cardiology PA, who always gets back to me quickly and never thinks anything is a stupid question. My dentist not only plays rock music (smooth jazz is just not for me), but he is like a super hero when it comes to my anxiety and depression. Even on my worst days I leave his office feeling better, and I know he will never pass judgment about my teeth or anything else. It’s empowering to surround yourself with supportive health professionals.
3. Supervisors/Co-Workers/HR or Students/Teachers/Counselors
Whether it’s your boss or someone you only know through your English class, people you spend considerable time around can be a valuable asset when you’re not having the best day. If a panic attack strikes during final exams, having a classmate who understands or a teacher who knows your conditions and knows what to do can be invaluable. If illness has left you unable to type or even drive, a compassionate supervisor can help you find ways to work around those issues. They don’t have to be your best friend, but if you’re spending a large percentage of time at school or work, it can help tremendously to find someone you trust to confide in about what you struggle with.
4. Mentors, Leaders, and Other Guides
I rely on desperate 1:00 a.m. Twitter messages to a guy named Andy Puddicombe, the founder of the meditation app Headspace, when I feel like I can’t even sit with myself. He gives completely brilliant, extremely patient advice – and is always encouraging when I feel like a “meditation failure.” Maybe you prefer yoga, playing chess or painting (or writing!). It doesn’t matter what it is, finding someone who is a leader can not only help you improve your “skills,” but provide you with solid advice and a great example to follow. Oftentimes these people have been through their own struggles and can give you a sense of hope when things seem desperate.
5. Online Communities/Social Media
The internet has opened up a world of possibilities that never existed before. No matter where you live or what condition you have, there is a support group for you. Not only that, but many websites (like The Mighty) give you a platform to speak out and share your story, while also hearing from other people and what they have been through. It can be a valuable reminder that you are never as alone as you think you are.
6. Animals (Real or Stuffed)
There is nothing that says emotional support has to come from another person. If you don’t have a pet, offer to walk a friend’s dog or volunteer at an animal shelter. It will get you out of the house and around good people, while not putting you under the same kinds of pressure being at “work” would. If you’re allergic, design your perfect furry friend (a pink teddy bear with a pig nose and a spider from the Halloween clearance?), then go online and find the perfect match. Especially if you live alone, having “someone” you can talk to and be honest with – and yet not worry what they will say or think – can be incredibly helpful.
Sometimes routines are the first thing to go out the window when chronic illness is flaring up or depression is keeping you down. Find small routines you know you can still accomplish (without overexerting yourself), even on a bad day. I make the bed (even if it isn’t very impressive looking) every morning, no matter what. Even if I stay in bed an extra two hours before getting up. It’s how I know I’m ready to face the day as best I can. I keep a hair brush in the nightstand so I can always brush my hair before bed. I have a collection of flavored tea that never stops growing, so I always have one that sounds good, even if I don’t feel like eating, at least I feel like I’m sort of taking care of myself. My favorite is that I always put on perfume before I go to sleep. Usually something meant to be relaxing like “lavender” – but sometimes it’s Armani. Hey, it’s a small indulgence that requires little effort, and never fails to make me feel a tiny bit better. Don’t feel guilty if it is something a little “strange.” Any routine or habit you can maintain even on a bad day will help you keep going, and that is what matters.
Cliche but true – you have to be your own biggest cheerleader. Building a support system means first believing you deserve it. You have to know somewhere deep inside you that you deserve love, compassion, understanding and support. You have to believe you are strong and resilient. You have to believe you are amazing enough for other people to want to be there for you when you need them.
But don’t worry if most days you feel broken and beaten down by life. That’s why you have that support system, to remind you that you are worth so much more than you realize.
Trust them. Believe them. They’re right.
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