Sarah’s Rap: If you look at any truly successful, happy or healthy person you will notice that they do not stand alone. They are surrounded by people that love and support them. Synergy, one of my favorite words, is “the combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.”* This is what a human support system can do for each of us. As this month of love closes behind us, continue to grow the love in your life by finding a Bert to your Ernie, a Brady Bunch to your Alice or a cheering squad for your own personal pep rally.
That all sounds well and good, you say, but how? Well, don’t despair! Sometimes the sources of love and reinforcement can surprise us. One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that just as one needs multiple pieces to build a puzzle, so does a support network requires multiple people of varying “shapes” to make your life feel complete and your own puzzle piece to feel surrounded and stable. That’s why it’s called a support “network”, not a “pair”. No one person can provide you will all the different types of support you may require, whether you are suffering from heartbreak, job loss, illness or just life’s general stresses.
Positive friends and family
When I found myself struggling with Leaky Gut, SIBO and numerous food intolerances (see my Health Story), I had been fortunate to be surrounded by a few key supporters which helped me in the early days: my mom, my sister, a couple of good friends, my husband and my kids. They were supportive of my bad days, my quest to find wellness and my modified diet. They didn’t think I was insane when I started going to a muscle-response testing clinic to help diagnose why I felt so bad or when I started taking nutritional supplements rather than prescription medication. They also provided subtle support by making me feel loved, giving me time to myself when needed or by cheering me up when times were tough. They continue to be supportive today – of my continued quest for wellness, this blog and more. They offer subtle support that makes you feel more “normal”, without hovering or smothering. They help me to have FUN and sometimes forget about my troubles or are just there to give me a hug. And I can’t forget the loving pets in my life- they also have the power to heal!
One thing to note about family and friends as a source of support – not all your family and friends are going to be supportive. You may find that some think your illness is “quackery”, your heartbreak is over-dramatic or your daily struggles are all in your head. Some might even be “overly helpful” by constantly offering you things you’re not ready for (a new date too soon after your divorce, wheat when you can’t eat it,etc) or by making you constantly feel like the “odd man out” because they’re always trying to make a big deal out of your situation, even if with your best interest at heart. The best way I’ve found for dealing with these types of friends and family are to first try to talk to them and let them know how they make you feel. If you can’t bring them around to a relationship that is more therapeutic for you, agree to disagree and keep the subject of your stress/illness/heartbreak as an off-limit subject. Enjoy your time with them for other things and don’t depend on them for support of your problem(s). Worst case scenario is to minimize or eliminate the time that you spend with them. Your physical and mental health should be your #1 focus right now and adding to it the stress of negative relationships isn’t going to help.
Healthcare Professionals that HELP
Another source of support for me has been my wellness caregivers – naturopathic doctors, kinesologists, functional medicine doctors, masseuses, acupuncturist, chiropractor and therapists. Without them I would have felt so much worse physically and mentally. The hopelessness would have overwhelmed me by now. They not only give me remedies and actions to take that make me feel better, but also which I feel good about. The ones in my network are all great listeners and truly want to help. That’s not to say that I haven’t come across healthcare professionals that were not as supportive – I’ve met plenty of those, but those are not people I kept in my network.
It’s important to look for healthcare professionals that help you and you feel good about. Pay attention to what they prescribe you, do your research, be sure they listen and care and are actively looking at your diet, lifestyle and situation to treat you as a whole rather than just trying to give you an Rx and sending you on your way. There are obviously situations where medicines are necessary, but rarely (and maybe never) is there not an underlying cause that can also be addressed. Search until you find the right network of healthcare professionals to help you get on the path to good health and happiness.
Managers and co-workers
For those that work, a good portion of our day is spent “at the office”. Without allies at work, any daily challenges can be difficult to cope with and can often be worsened. The biggest supporter at work should be your manager. If he/she cannot support your requests for time off (whether it be for doctor’s appointments, recovery time or even just mental health breaks), then it may not be the right situation for you at this point in your life. The same goes for your co-workers. Talk to them first and see if they’re in your corner. If not, you’ll know. It could also be that the particular role is too much for you and you might need to look for a different team, role, company, manager or a more flexible work situation. Running yourself into the ground at work is not going to help anyone out. There are also government-mandated options such as FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) that you may need to check out, if you are suffering from depression or other illnesses that require you to take time off. Your managers and co-workers should not hold use of FMLA against you – it’s a federal offense, not to mention a moral one.
Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. Last year I moved to a different role that allowed me to be more creative and reduced the time I needed to work after hours. Although I liked that role, this year I asked a hiring manager for a different team if he could make one of his open positions part-time for me, as I need more time for appointments and self-care than my full-time job allowed. An expected pay cut was unfortunately a necessary side-effect, but my hope is it will be offset by a future reduction in healthcare costs and with improved health! I have only just started on the team and the part-time aspect kicks in soon. There are still hurdles ahead by ensuring the rest of the team and my customers are going to be supportive, but I at least feel like I am trying to make a better situation for myself. Knowing I have the support of my manager as well as the mangers 3 levels up is a good start!
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” ~Audrey Hepburn
“If you want to do really important things in life and big things in life, you can’t do anything by yourself. And your best teams are your friends and your siblings.” ~Deepak Chopra
People dealing with the same issues
Despite being surrounded by supportive family, friends, co-workers and healthcare providers, I still often felt that there were holes in my network. I would still struggle with feelings of loneliness and depression. Part of this is a result of the Gut-Brain Axis and the resulting impact which an unhealthy gut can have on your brain, but it was also because I felt that no one truly understood what I was going through. It wasn’t until I discovered a couple of Facebook support groups of other people that were suffering from similar conditions that I truly felt like I had someone that completely understood in my corner. These support groups were my life line during the darker days when depression and hopelessness overwhelmed me, when my stomach bloated up as if I were in my ninth-trimester and when I had to struggle with stressful social occasions. Even though this support group was made up pf people I’d never met, it was incredibly helpful to share my situation with others and ask questions to people that wouldn’t judge or be grossed out by medical details that normal people would rather not hear. Also, many of the people in these groups had suggestions and recipes that helped. The best thing of all is that no matter what time of day, there was always an outlet for my frustrations and questions, and the overwhelming support I felt from this side was instrumental in coping with my symptoms. Don’t underestimate the power of social networking when building your own support network! I didn’t have time for in-person support groups and wasn’t sure how to find a local one for my condition, but if you can that’s another great option! You may also find local groups of people that are dealing with similar issues as you on meetup.com.
Last, but certainly not least, is yourself. If you can’t love yourself, forgive yourself for any perceived weaknesses, or care about your own happiness, then getting to a happier state will be difficult. If you struggle in this area you might want to check out the book, The Loving Diet, which helps the reader to get to a positive state of mind despite life’s challenges and to LOVE ourselves and situations, not matter how difficult things might be. None of us are perfect and just because we may not always feel “normal” doesn’t mean that we’re not. What is “normal” anyway? Personally, I’d rather just be me, flaws and all. That sounds a lot more interesting than someone’s idea of how I should be.
The Sister Rap
If you are still at a loss as to who can be an anchor in your life, look no further. Melissa and
I started this blog with the hope that we can build a supporting network of people dealing with challenges that life inevitably brings. Leave a comment below and we’re here to listen and hopefully bring together others that can help be a support network. Also, if you have an inspirational story where a supportive person or network helped to transform a difficult situation for you into something manageable, please share! And always remember… you are not alone!