Social Support

Image: The Center
I never knew the importance of social support until I had it, and I didn't really have it until I was thirty years old, and now I am forty one. When I was growing up, I moved frequently, and never had time to make many friends. I had good relationships with my parents and sister, and enjoyed visiting my extended family, but they lived far away, so they weren't a regular part of my life. I started playing soccer when I was five and didn't quit until I was in college. I also took art and dance lessons, performed in school plays, regularly attended church, and went to summer camp. I interacted with people, enjoyed camaraderie, and worked on group projects, but I didn't have many friends until high school. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I began to feel comfortable in social situations. Before then, I never really understood how to connect with people or what to talk about. As a child, I was studious, and spent a lot of time reading and exploring the outdoors. As a teenager, I began to explore my social side. I believe this would have happened much earlier if I had grown up in one place.

By the time I got to college, I was better at making smalltalk, but close friendships were elusive. However, through a lot of trial and error, I found people with whom I had things in common and liked to hang out with. We laughed, had interesting conversations, partied, shared confidences, helped each other move, etc. I learned a lot through observation and imitation. After a friend invited me over for dinner, I began to invite friends over for dinner occasionally. I also discovered that invitations to meet for coffee and tea were mainly excuses to get together and talk instead of simply times to drink hot beverages. It was great to be able to enjoy myself with people I knew well.

In college, I had a serious boyfriend who had grown up in the college town. He had good friends, was  involved in the community, and was close to his family. I learned so much about relationships and friendships from him (and his friends and family) and I credit him with steering me in a better direction in life. He was warm and supportive and set a very good example of how to deal with others. Our relationship didn't survive our youth and  instability. I was struggling with bipolar disorder, and he was struggling with a lack of direction, but our long relationship was a positive and life-changing experience for me.

After I graduated from college, I decided to move to the city close to the small town I had lived in for three years during high school. Moving was hard. I had grown to love my college town. The only reason I didn't stay is that it was difficult for a recent graduate to find work there. So I ended up living in the city I have now lived in for sixteen years. I always felt that there had to be something special about staying in one place for a long time, and now I have found out that there is. It is comforting to have friends I have known for more than ten years, and some I have known for more than twenty years. I have had a lot of jobs in the time I have lived here, and I have enjoyed keeping up with some of my past coworkers. I also love running into people I know in random places around town. I have a good doctor, psychiatrist, dentist, etc. It is so hard to find all of the specialists you need when you move. Not to mention places to shop, bank, and the list goes on. I have many people to reach out to for help if I need it. I am also very familiar with the community resources. A few years after I moved back to town, my parents decided to do the same, and they have lived here since, so I have had the chance to have close relationships with my parents as an adult.

The variety of relationships and friendships I have enjoyed has helped me a great deal. I have learned much from my interactions with people over the years. Appreciating and cultivating social support has been crucial to helping me cope with bipolar disorder, and it has decreased my sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as deepening my understanding of the world.

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