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When I Realized Getting Support for My Mental Illness Was a Choice

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A couple of months ago, I did a support workshop for a group of middle school and high school girls. From the moment the 90-minute workshop began, I was in complete awe of their intellect and maturity. As always, I ended up learning from the audience perhaps more than they did from me.

• What is PTSD?

One thing they mentioned that truly struck me (and took me years to conclude) was the different ways people seek support. Just as we communicate love differently, we also accept and communicate support differently. Some people feel support with an Instagram like or a smile, while others might need you to stay up with them until 3 a.m. six days a week to talk.

But I didn’t think I needed anybody’s help. I wanted to be my own support system. Even when depression came back into my life and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was ignited, I didn’t think anyone could help. People found out about my problems months after they were over or after they had spiraled out of control and only professionals could help. I felt let down by people in my life because I believed they weren’t there for me. But if you had a friend who woke up with PTSD at 3 a.m. and was feeling suicidal and you had no idea they were going through this, how could you know how to help?

I didn’t trust anyone with my secrets, and I was never vulnerable enough to allow friends and family to support me. I expected them to know what I was going on without ever having to open up to them. Then when things got really bad, I felt entirely alone because there was no one supporting me. 

So I pulled back even more because obviously I didn’t want to be around “unsupportive” friends. The reality, though, was that I supported in the only way I knew how, but it wasn’t the type of support they needed, and they didn’t support me in the way that I needed to be supported, causing both sides to feel alone despite our efforts.

Over the years, my perception of support and the ways I communicate and accept it have caused problems with nearly every relationship I’ve had over the last two decades, and it wasn’t until I became a peer support specialist that I started to ask what kind of support people needed. I also had to think about what kind of support I wanted, how I communicated it and how I could show gratitude for it.

For me, I’m grateful for the smiles and good mornings. I’m grateful for individuals who genuinely want to know how I’m doing. I’m over the moon when someone likes something on my site or one of my various projects. And don’t get me started about them sharing it! My writing and my words mean a lot to me, and I’m grateful for every like, love and share.

I want people to genuinely care when they ask how I’m doing and to accept that on some days I’ll have real answers and other days I won’t want to talk about it. I still struggle in communicating and accepting the right support from others, but that stems more from a place of ignorance about my own life rather than a place of denial.

Whether it’s feeling love, support or anything else, we’re conditioned from childhood to accept them in certain ways. Unfortunately, some childhoods are plagued with abuse and abandonment, and as we go through life, the forms of love and support we felt during those difficult times might only be replicated by reliving those forms of abuse. Unless we decide to change that.

The reality is that love and support, like many things, are choices. We don’t fall in love or stumble into support. We must choose to love. We choose to support. Doesn’t it make sense then that we get to choose to feel how we’re loved or supported? Again, this isn’t always easy, but it does work. We communicate love and support in ways we’re conditioned to, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn new languages and accept others forms.

To begin understanding the language of support, ask yourself the following six questions:

What actions make you feel empowered?

What actions make you feel listened to?

What actions make you feel validated?

What actions make you feel connected?

What actions make you feel worthy?

What actions make you feel accepted?

Then ask yourself if you’re seeing these actions in your everyday life? Do you want to see them? What can you do to communicate these needs? What can you do to build off them?

The world doesn’t owe us anything, but we owe it to ourselves to learn how to support and love ourselves in the way that we understand.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Follow this journey on Life in My Days.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: May 19, 2016
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