Support networks, quite an odd, elusive concept, don’t you think? Well, it seems so to me.
I have heard it mentioned many a time over the years (I’m only 22 before you start) but it is only recently that I have seen it as something very real.
As something that I have always had, but not always seen.
Something that even if I know is there, struggle to use.
Something that everyone has and can be of benefit to all.
I have always been a private person. Someone who keeps themselves to themselves, you know. I’m out there but people don’t know everything there is to know about me. I’m happy to chat and meet new people but I love and need my alone time.
I come from a white, middle-class, complete family and I have always had friends. My parents are still together, and I have a good (although sometimes turbulent) relationship with my brother. I have always been respected by my peers and I have always succeeded in the classroom and most recently at university. I am straight and have been educated at a top 10 UK university.
I say this to give you context because I have also had my struggles.
I was bullied for several years, beginning at age 10 or so and ‘ending’ around perhaps age 16. I have struggled with what we can call chronic stress and persistent anxiety and depression which impact my day to day life. I have suffered family loss and setbacks from illness of close family members. I have also experienced what is called suicidal ideation (the visualisation but not planning to take one’s life).
I provide you, the reader, this context to give you insight into a common aspect of culture concerning mental health. Misconception. When you read that first paragraph, you might rightly infer privilege or comfort. But I give you both sides to my story for a distinct purpose. To break down your own assumptions about me. So that you can break down your assumptions of others and of yourself.
So, where does that leave us? Well, I hope to tell you about support networks and about their benefits. About how to identify yours and how to manage their progress and growth. I hope that I have laid the foundations to look at yourself in a different light. Like my own descriptions of myself. Both true, both telling different stories. We will do this through a 3-part process I invented about 10 minutes ago called the DFM Support Network Strategy For Living Fully. Or the DFMSNSFLF for short (ok, the name needs work). Let’s begin.
D is for Define.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a support network as a group of people who provide emotional and practical help to someone in serious difficulty. Now, I’d wager that they’re bang on apart from the serious difficulty bit. A support network should be something that everyone has and uses all of the time so that combatting the difficulties that life throws at you is less of a blow.
So, what typically makes up a support network? Let’s take a look at the diagram below from the lovely lot at Ed Place.
Ok. So, you’re the purple blob and moving out from there are different circles of different closeness levels. It might be family, friends, acquaintances who you see now and again and people like me who you’ve never met. This is a great representation of what a support network is and can be. It’s people who are already around you, who you know or not. It includes people from family to friends to teachers, role models and everyone in between. And that’s a big message from me is that your support network can be anyone.
F is for Find
So, now you have an idea of what a support network can look like. Let’s apply it to you. What does your support network look like right now? Who do you feel that you can trust? Who do you chat to when you’re feeling low? How many people would you say, ‘have your back’? Who could you go to in an emergency?
So, what does the F mean? It refers to the idea of acknowledging your needs and finding people who can meet them. This means looking inside yourself and thinking about who you are, how you behave and what you need in different situations. Then, thinking about if you have anyone around you in your support network who can help you with that. For me, I know that if I spend too much time alone – I can get sad. So, I have my friends who I play PS4 with every other night. I know that if I am struggling at work, there are two friends whom I will always speak to.
Think about what you need when you’re in different situations and map that to your current support network. Are there things that aren’t being met?
M is for Manage
Hopefully, after D and F, you now have a picture of what your support network looks like and how well it meets what support you need. This brings us to M for Manage.
Let’s use the image of a plant. A support network plant. Without tender, nurturing and the right balance of sunlight and nutrients, the plant will wither and die. Your support network is the same. To be kept at its healthiest, you need to manage it.
This letter contains some key tips to keep your support network as healthy as it can be.
I think honesty in communication is underrated but it’s often hard to come by. It requires you to set up a safe space and take a leap of faith with someone. Whether it’s sharing your vulnerabilities, communicating negativities. Honestly will always help in managing your support network. For me, that is about acknowledging that not everyone sees the world the same as me and managing the disagreements I have with my friends and family in a safe and honest way.
Finding new support and reducing toxicity.
Similarly, sometimes you need to recognise when you need to move on from someone. It may have been a relationship or friendship that doesn’t value you, it may be that you want to change the relationship with someone in your support network. This point requires you to ask yourself the question, does my support network currently look like my ideal support network?
If it doesn’t then that requires intervention. It may be that you must politely reduce your time with a certain friend, move out of your parents’ house or end a relationship. There are many other blogs within MindMapper and more broadly on the internet on this point, so I won’t dwell on it. But it’s central to reevaluating the relationship between yourself and your support network.
So, D for Define, F for Find and M for Manage. A simple, 3-step tool to evaluate where you are at with your support network, what your ideal support is relative to your needs and manage your support network.
I hope that it proves useful as you see yourself and those around you differently.
Consider how others serve what you need and put yourself first.
After all, it’s your support network.