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Why Finding ‘Your Tribe’ Is So Important When You Live With a Mental Illness

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Like many people with anxiety and depression, I have always done a good job at hiding it. If you were to meet me, you would find a young woman with two children, a successful career, an outgoing personality and a boat load of ambition.

You wouldn’t guess underneath it all was an incredible darkness that made it hard to even open my eyes at times. You wouldn’t know the day before that big presentation I knocked out of the park, I was sitting on my best friend’s kitchen floor unable to even speak because I was having an anxiety attack. You wouldn’t guess under the blue blazer and trousers hide scars and even scabs from where I tried to control my pain. You wouldn’t imagine that a couple weeks ago I stood in my closet wanting to end the pain forever.

The truth is mental illness affects people from all different backgrounds, social and economic statuses and personality types. What I have found through my 24 years of living is though I can usually hide my struggles from the outside world, it is crucial that I have people who I don’t have to hide from. Those people are my tribe. Those people have saved my life more times than they know.

Let me start off by saying I know it is terrifying to open up to people, even those you love and trust. The fear of scaring people away is legitimate, but know that if your struggles make them run for the hills, then they weren’t good for you anyways. The different people in your tribe will probably play different roles. That’s great! You need different things from different people at different times.

I have my blunt friend, who will be there to listen and understand, but will also be there to pull me back down to reality. She is my constant and gives me a steadiness in my life that I so badly need. I have my childhood best friend who understands firsthand what it’s like to struggle with these issues. So she is always there to empathize. I have another friend who is kind, soft and soft spoken, who can always find a way to calm me down.

One of my best friends plays an important role. He too struggles with depression, and we both battle suicidal thoughts. We have a system in place for emergencies. When we start to feel serious urges, we message the other person and say, “30 minutes.” For those 30 minutes, we stop whatever else we are doing and are in constant contact with each other.

If ever we got to the end of those 30 minutes and the other hasn’t calmed down, then we would either go get the other person or call someone who could. Thankfully, we have never gotten to that point. Whether this system or another, I urge you to have a plan for an emergency. Do not sit by yourself with those thoughts.

I am convinced my life has been saved by my tribe more times than once. They love me for the outgoing, fun, ambitious girl, who the rest of the world sees. They also love me for the girl with anxiety and depression who is hidden. They’ve held me when I cry, welcomed me in their homes because I didn’t want to be alone, fed me when I couldn’t find the motivation to do anything for myself, offered me words of encouragement and are constantly helping me become the best version of me that I can become. So wherever you are, whatever you are struggling with, find your tribe. Whether it’s a tribe of one or one hundred, let people in. You don’t have to fight alone.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: September 28, 2016
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