Thursday, March 26, 2020

Four Tips to Build a Support Network While Sheltering in Place

If you’re feeling down from too much social distancing, how do you build a support network when you’re sheltering in place‽

Ocean's Treasure by FotoFloridian

Support networks are the sort of things you’re supposed to have already put into place for that time when you need them. You’re also supposed to file your taxes on time, separate your recyclables, and brush your teeth twice a day. There are a lot of things we’re supposed to do, but for one reason or another, we sometimes don’t get around to doing. Support networks take effort to build. Because of that, it is easy to avoid putting yourself out there when things are going well.

Then your government tells you to stay inside or else, and suddenly that support network seems a lot more important than it did before. Fortunately, communicating with each other over distances isn’t limited to letters via post. Now we can private message, video chat, audio chat, and text over phones lines and the internet. If you deal with depression, you know that you can’t always tell when you’re going to have a bad day, but you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that social distancing and sheltering in place can feel like isolation. Having access to supportive people is key to managing your depression.

As I blogged about before, I’ve been social distancing for many months now. Fortunately, I already did the work to set up my support network, but I’m always looking to grow that network. The more people you can rely on, the better your chances are to reach somebody when you need help.

When I want to expand my network, I follow these steps:

  1. Reach out to people with whom you already have a rapport. I wouldn’t recommend reaching out to people you think would be good to rely on. Reach out to people who already seek you out in social situations. These people have already proven that they care about you.
  2. Send them a “test” message to see how they respond. Send a relatively short message sharing your current struggle. Don’t manipulate; don’t overshare; and don’t directly ask them if they’d like to be in your support network. If they respond with a supportive tone, you may have found a new resource of strength.
  3. Give them a second chance. If their first response came up short of comforting or encouraging you, reach out to them again. They may have been busy, caught off guard, terrified, or happy to discuss anything with you EXCEPT mental health.
  4. Move on to the next person. If the second response is the same or worse, don’t force the issue. Some people are friendly, but not your friend. You can continue socializing with them. Light social connections are important, too. You just won’t rely on them for help.

I was feeling down recently. Nearly seven months of social distancing is hard to bear. I have up weeks, and down days. When I decided to test the waters with a new friend, I opened up to them via text message. We’ve had excellent conversations over the last four years, but I had not shared my mental health struggles before. They replied with a kindly platitude. I decided to wait for a few days before trying again, and they haven’t responded since. Time to move on.

Never forget that the people you want in your support network are just people, not professionals. They have their own problems to deal with. We may think that we’re just looking for somebody to lean on when we wobble, but they may see it as us asking to be carried. They may quail from the subject. They might not know what to say, or be overly concerned about saying the wrong thing. They might be totally terrific, but far too busy. They may be stretched thin helping other people. You simply do not know, so don’t judge and condemn.

I’m disappointed that person couldn’t be counted on because I liked them a lot, but I’m not going to hate them for it. I’m not going to withdraw my friendship. Maybe they just want to keep things light, or maybe their plate is full. I’ll look elsewhere. If I ever find myself in a bleak, desperate place where I need to call someone at three in the morning, I know the people in my current network will be there for me.

It is important that the people in your support network are reliable and willing to help. With careful effort and patience, we can expand that network. Now that we’re all sheltering in place, we can put the time in to do it right.

If you are suicidal and lean on the wrong person, you can find yourself falling instead of being supported. Please remember that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help put you in touch with local people who want to listen to you. Dial 800–273-TALK (8255). If you’re worried about them tracing the call, dial *67 before dialing the hotline. You can also reach them with an online chat.