Building a Support System

Carnage afoot

I'm an introvert. So much so, that while having pizza last week with some delightful friends- I referred to the late 90's as a time I just watched the X-Files and crocheted in my apartment- alone. If that's not uber introverted dork-dom status, I don't know what is. Sometimes with introverts, we get overwhelmed with tasks, crowds, and general adulting. So much time is needed to fuel one's personal energy tank, that there can be carnage afoot when self-care is considered a non-priority. One of the vital components to surviving introversion (extroverts are totally good at this without much help) is to build a support system that allows an outlet for venting, vulnerability, and dare I say- friendship.

Let me paint a picture for you. Say you're in college neck deep in papers and presentations, or juggling a toddler while home alone most of the day, or working so hard that the majority of your time is spent in airport security or generic hotel rooms eating meat and cheese. All of these situations sound exhausting to me just typing them. Boy howdy- do these folks need a support system! Well what good would it do anyway? They're stretched beyond belief and there is no way a "support system" can take that load off! This is a valid point. The responsibilities I listed will continue to persist with or without aforementioned support. However, these challenges can become more tolerable with a little help from your friends. Let's look at these situations individually, shall we?

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Kill the pickle

In college neck deep in papers and presentations: When I was in undergrad, I was waiting tables and entirely focused on my Honors College status. My type A personality was budding with exceptional momentum, and despite my limited free time or desire to socialize in general, my support system of equally odd and eccentric individuals would meet me at Starbucks for coffee, or head out for a chalk talk girl run. What is that you ask? Well, my friend Shar would pick a group of us up in her old Jeep Cherokee while we blasted some faux gangster rap like Snoop Dogg or Eminem with sidewalk chalk in hand. We would hit the college campus well after dark and write quotes in chalk on the quad or even parking garage brick walls. Many of these quotes were lyrics from Ani Difranco, or excerpts from Shakespeare's prose. Some were just random thoughts or political statements. Shar was always insistent on writing "kill the pickle" because she hates pickles so much. We were a colorful group of misfits. Campus security stopped us once, thinking we were vandalizing school property. We claimed it was an assignment for class. He totally bought it- sucka. These nights were filled with delight. Granted, my responsibilities for paying rent, showing up for my shifts on time, and writing some ecofeminist rant on the phallic shape of missiles continued, but with much more laughter and camaraderie than would have been experienced in solitude while watching Mulder's weekly conspiracy theory delivered in monotone monologue.

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Resisting all reason to grocery shop

Juggling a toddler while home alone most of the day: The toddler years are rough, no matter how you shake it. Life is filled with deconstructed paste-like goldfish crackers and a general stickiness that horrifies and fascinates me at the same time. One moment there is laughter and snuggles, while the next is laden with a purple-faced monster who possesses a surprisingly rigid arched-back, resisting all reason to grocery shop. It's an isolating time that you both wish to cherish and plow through to school years at the same time. Enter generalized parenthood guilt. Don't worry, it doesn't go away. When I was living this phase with my daughter, I was in grad school, which was time-consuming and taxing, but in the summertime it was just the two of us for most of the day. Forget grown up conversation, logic, or laughter that doesn't spawn from delirium. It was rough. Most days, we would get dressed, watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for hours while playing with ponies, and eventually we made our way to the park for free lunch and swings on the playground. After our generic uncrustables and frozen grape juice we would hit the library for free movie rentals, books, and music, or walk by the river in her stroller until she had enough of...everything. Sometimes I would fool her into thinking that she was in a pool by filling up the bathtub with cool water, putting her in a swimsuit and rewarding her with an Otter Pop. Poor college students are creative. That day I described to you also had about 18 meltdowns mixed in with it. Not to mention boomerang-bedtime in which she would get up 50 times a night with night terrors. You know what kept me going? I lived on campus as a community assistant for one of the apartment complexes. Many of my co-workers were LDS, with a slew of kids my daughter's age. Almost every night, we would make our way to the locked community park where these moms sat in lawn chairs, deconstructing their own parenting turmoil of the day while sipping on homemade Italian sodas. These women were everything to me. Granted, I was a liberal single mom who knew little of their religion, and was frankly on guard- for fear that they would judge me. That day never came. What I got was unconditional support, uplifting words, positive feedback and the promise of hope that these days would pass. I don't think I would have made it without them.

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Working so hard that the majority of your time is spent in airport security or generic hotel rooms eating meat and cheese: You're thinking, meat and cheese doesn't sound half bad. True. Quinoa and kale don't have the same yum-factor for sure. Having worked in healthcare for the last ten years, I have met a few of these folks burned out post-heart attack at 45. We weren't meant to plow through life without joy. Going 150 MPH to get ahead is almost always bad for our bodies and emotional wellness. Here's the stinker. For almost the last year, I have worked curiously close to, or more than 60 hours a week. I opened a private practice last spring, and while trying to learn the ropes and build a considerable client load, I was still maintaining my regular full-time employment for benefits until my other income can compensate. I have been reeling. One of my friends refers to me as "crispy" as in crisp bacon that's about to crumble. Not only was I forced into putting my writing on the shelf for time and sanity sake, everything in my world suffered. They say that all good things come with hard work and sacrifice. If that's the case, I should be rolling in a daisy field full of puppies and iced lattes. This season has been curiously close to the most challenging time of my life- only overshadowed by my several near-death experiences in 2005. I honestly don't know how I haven't ended up in the hospital with exhaustion or worse. I'm not exaggerating. I think I've been living off adrenaline and sheer will for the last five months or so. But what has kept me semi-close to sane? My support system. I've learned to delegate when possible. Hiring a dog-walker, someone to clean my home every two weeks, massage therapy, and even pedicures. But best of all-a support group of fellow counselors. These women have been a sounding board and shower of hilarious GIFs in times of trial and absolute breakdown. Due to our mutual limited availability, we provide uplifting messages through FB Messenger in groups, individual text and periodic coffee dates, where we can let it all hang out (so to speak). I haven't a doubt that I would be rocking in a corner of a padded room somewhere babbling about Medicare or billing nightmares if it wasn't for them. Eternal gratitude doesn't come close to what I feel for them.

But what if I don't have people?

So that's great Audrey, a support system sounds super, but what if I don't have people? Now that I've convinced you that a support system is a prime way to stay alive amidst life struggle (not to mention easy breezy life moments too) it's only fair if I share some ways you might find your own support system if this is an area of life that is lacking for you. In a related blog, I go into detail about being able to identify who your real friends or tribespeople are, but this article is meant to get you started if you don't have a group to begin with. I meet so many people (introverts) in my practice that have either recently moved to the area, their people are too busy with family and career to even show up, or they have never really created a support system because they were hurt in the past and think people are just rotten. Not to mention social anxiety, which can certainly keep you from enjoying so many aspects of life. Let's get started.

  1. Do you have any special interests? Anything from clog dancing to underwater basket weaving. Or maybe you just like to read. Whatever your interests are, there's a group that likes to do that very thing. The website Meetup provides a safe and organized way to meet with other people of similar taste/interests. Now, a lot of people get this confused with a dating site. That's not what it is. Say you're in your 30's and love the outdoors. There is a group for that. One of my clients found a group entirely dedicated to discussing existential topics such as worm holes and time travel. Heck yes! They even have a group for depressed introverts! Though, I don't know if anyone shows up. (That's a joke) Give it a go!
  2. Do you have an active spiritual life? I meet tons of people who say "Yeah, I used to go to church when I was younger but I just haven't found the right fit yet." While others say "Organized religion is the root of all evil!" Hey, whatever your stance is, there is something for you. If you want to get reconnected to your faith of yesteryear, make it a priority to try out different churches within your faith base and see if you find the gem you're been searching for. There are often smaller groups available like bible study for males or females, older adults, even singles. If church isn't your thing- what about a unitarian universalist church that just believes in folks being generally good people, but doesn't affiliate with any particular dogma? That just might be your cup of tea!
  3. You want to learn something? Most communities have a learning center that provides classes about various things. For example, how to make your own kombucha or assemble a succulent wreath. There are dozens of different things you haven't tried before. Perhaps you want to learn ballroom dancing. There may very well be a class starting next week. Not only does this get you out of the house and learning something new, which is in direct correlation to personal happiness according to every study on happiness EVER, but it gives you the opportunity to meet new people and create a support system. It's amazing how bonded you can feel to another person after learning to bake artisan bread. It's not for the weak-hearted.
  4. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable! When we open up to new people it's a super scary thing. Dare I say, even terrifying to some. The thing is, you won't find meaningful relationships on your couch. It's simply not done, unless chat rooms are your thing. In which case, you go with your bad self (snap). For the rest of us, you absolutely must step out of your comfort zone and approach a new connection with a blank slate. Don't assume they are big old jerks like your BFF in 9th grade, or they are trying to manipulate you like that co-worker from college. Blank. Slate. Be appropriately vulnerable. Don't expose your childhood trauma after your first introduction, but share what your interests are, or maybe about your pet chinchilla named Floyd. Connection takes an exchange of sorts. A dance that meets the other person at the same level.

What it comes down to is really your desire and willingness to take the risk because you want connection. Sometimes it takes breaking down and asking for help from the resources you already have! Addressing your pride and simply calling a family member or friend and saying "Hey, everything sucks right now. Can you meet me for sushi?" 9 times out of 10, they will jump at the opportunity to support you (the tenth time being that they are trapped under a large object and can't answer the phone). Our people love us, but they can't help unless they know they are needed. There are few reliable mind readers out there. Take a risk. Text. FB. Call. You would be surprised how willing people are to just be present for you. I'm just saying, there's a reason that solitary confinement is considered torture. We are social beings (even introverts!) that require connectivity to thrive. Prioritize yourself and reach out. Plus, you might get a snazzy succulent wreath out of the deal.

AM