Making connections is part of the human experience; we must have connections in order to survive. As soon as we are born, we are reliant on other people to provide us with food and shelter. Most of what we learn is taught to us by family, friends and professionals. Without connections, we have nothing. Life is empty when there is nobody with whom to share your life.
Mental illness attacks these connections. It can convince us that nobody really cares, even as friends and family struggle to stay in touch. Mental health problems can make us feel isolated, so we avoid contact with other people in the belief that they won’t understand. Unfortunately, there is truth in this preconception and we cling to that truth in order to convince ourselves that all of our other assumptions are correct – that nobody loves us; that our friends would be better off without us; that people aren’t interested in our lives. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we feel isolated, so we isolate ourselves, which makes us isolated.
A lot of people are unable to cope with others’ mental health issues. They accuse us of being weak or fakers. They say we will be cured if we just go for a walk or find a partner. Some of these people might be nasty and spiteful, but the majority are ignorant. I think some people hold onto ridiculous beliefs about mental illness because it shields them from the truth: that anyone can become mentally ill at any time – including themselves. It’s easier to pretend that people with mental health problems are different, even subhuman, than to admit their own vulnerability.
But whatever reactions we encounter and however we dismantle our own connections, making connections is essential – especially if we hope to cope with or recover from our mental illness. It can be difficult, but it’s vital to start making connections as soon as you can and in any way that you can. It could be simply reading about other people with mental health problems, whether in memoirs and autobiographies or on blogs, social networks and internet forums. When you don’t feel like seeing your friends, you could try to email or text them. You might join a support group, either online or in person. It doesn’t matter if the connections seem tenuous or if you make very few connections; you are strengthening your network, which will help you.
When you feel well enough, you could make connections through classes and volunteer work. You may try online dating (as a couple of my friends with mental health problems have – one of whom married a man she met on a dating website!) or joining a club. You might write a blog and use it to reach out to people in similar situations to your own…
When making connections feels impossible, it is vital to try to make connections because that is how you can improve your mental health. Like many strategies for improving mental health, it’s easier said than done. In the first instance, the most important connection you can make is with your doctor – or someone who will take you to see your doctor – who can prescribe treatments that can get you to the point where you are able to start making more connections. Reach out – as soon as you feel able to reach out – and begin to form or strengthen connections.