The importance of a support network

Guest Author: Sierra

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

If you struggle with mental illness, the phrase “just talk to me about it” might make you roll your eyes, simply due to the sheer amount of times you’ve heard it.

However, even though hearing this phrase over and over feels redundant, as someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety and ADD for years, I can fully advocate for the importance and efficacy of a support network.

See, in 2014 I went away to college three hours from my family and friends. I had two jobs and was going to school full time, and even though by all standards I should have been happy with the incredible roommates I had and the opportunities around me, I found myself slipping into a zombie-like state. My insomnia got worse, my appetite was non-existent, and I increasingly thought of ways that I could end my life. I was numb to the joys of life and hyper-sensitive to inconveniences or criticisms.

I found myself slipping into a zombie-like state.

I remember vividly a phone call from my mom where she told me she was worried about me because I “seemed dark” and seething with anger. How dare my mother accuse me of being dark when I was just doing my best!

I decided then and there to pretend I was fine to avoid burdening or hurting the people I cared about. And I did, for months.

Until one day in October, shortly before Halloween, I stood on my balcony contemplating the trajectory I would need to thoroughly impale myself on the spiked fence below. The thought of killing myself didn’t frighten me, because I had been numb to happiness for so long, I truly didn’t see the point of going on. I remember wishing I were better at math so I could calculate more accurately the exactness with which I needed to perform the jump. I was afraid that if I miscalculated, I would hurt myself too badly to succeed later on.

And then my phone rang. My dad. He told me he was thinking about me and just wanted to tell me he loved me. Something clicked in me, and I started surrounding myself with people who truly cared instead of pushing everyone away. I actively avoided time alone. And slowly I got better.

My depression has come back many times since then, not to mention the times I’ve felt overwhelmed by anxiety. And I’ve learned to be open about it. Something as simple as honestly answering “How are you?” every time I’m asked has made a world of difference. Some people honestly don’t care, and I don’t hang around those people anymore. This last week, my anxiety was higher than it has ever been aside from anxiety attacks and I was still able to function because I didn’t have to carry that burden alone.

So, these are my top-three tips for finding people who will help support you when you need it, find joy in the midst of overwhelming emotions, and who will cheer you on regardless of the situation.

Remember, you’re worth the effort.

Speak Up

If you take the time to make yourself a priority and speak up about what you are going through and ask for help when you need it, those who don’t make you a priority will gradually leave. While initially this can be difficult, it allows more room for people who will always be there for you in whatever way they can. Not only that, but it indicates you are a safe place for others who may be struggling who don’t have people in their life to count on.

Get to Know Yourself

Imagine the first date with someone new. There’s lots of questions because, essentially you are interviewing them for a prominent position in your life. What many people don’t realize is that no matter who else is in your life, you are the most prominent character in your story. Take the time to give yourself the same attention and care you would give to a potential partner. As you get to know yourself, you’ll be able to better know what kind of people you feel comfortable talking to, situations to avoid when possible, and warning signs that your mental illness is acting up and steps to take to stop that progression.

Find Something to Be Grateful For

Remember how I said that last week my anxiety was at an all-time high for me while still being able to function? I was feeling very stressed because someone important to me was hurting and there was nothing I could do. But instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I gave myself permission to focus on what I was doing well – functioning through my anxiety. Because I was able to maintain that positive perspective, I was able to allow myself to talk about my struggles in a way that enabled people to understand and support me best.

Remember, you’re worth the effort.

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