Undeniably, our support systems, both natural, and artificial, play a vital role in our health & capacity to heal from sickness. Our supports have several important roles in our recovery & ability to problem-solve difficult situations without incident. It is my professional experience as a clinician & peer struggling with mental health disorders that we are only as strong as our weakest support. Whether the “weak link” is a friend, or service worker (e.g. case manager or therapist) this formula needs to signal to people carrying a mental health diagnosis & persons seeking better health & healing alike to identify your helpers and be sure to find players that have a vested interest in your mental health.
I call it: “Too Big to Fail”. I have been privileged in my recovery & healing in that I have always been blessed with a litany of helpers to guide & oversee my journey through the mental health system. When I was first diagnosed I had family visiting me in the hospital regularly & their gaze to ensure there was no mistreatment by staff members when I was in the state hospital. In addition to their participation in treatment, my family was a large part of my discharge plan back to the community and my rehabilitation from unresolved symptoms. I had the opportunity to witness countless patients without the same support I had from my family. I witnessed patients without visitors, friends, or outside professionals and without a home in the community to be released to after their recovery in the hospital.
Whatever the problem was, whatever the complaint from the hospital staff regarding my behavior and treatment progress, I had family for the staff to lodge their complaints. I had friends visiting from time to time to make sure there was no mistreatment by staff and I was relatively comfortable in the hospital. These supports and friendly visitors became unofficial members of my out-patient treatment team. When I re-entered the community and began out-patient treatment, my team of helpers were always there to advocate & facilitate my healing at every next turn in my recovery. In addition to family and friends, I leaned on my professional contacts to push the system along during “stuck moments” and holding patterns that many people either slip through the cracks or become subject to relapse and re-entry into the system.
Failure or a sense of defeat & isolation has never emerged on my landscape of health & healing because my horizon reaches beyond my immediate personal space into a large, unending pool of resources I continue to draw from when I feel like I am not making the progress I am working on & there are external mechanisms that a valuable support system can fix so I can continue on my path to healing and recovery. This is why you not only want motivated helpers you want helpers proficient in the system and your struggle so they can operate without your immediate supervision & act on their terms when you might not be available given your first priority is healing.
Too Big to Fail means you have so many people in your corner you can fallback into a learning moment without losing ground in your health. It also means your problems also reflect on the problems of a larger stakeholder in the system so that your issue becomes, in turn, the systems issue. I have seen people move the system to work for them because their interests & the people that espouse those interests, are motivated to squash “noise” and complaints out of fear patients might relapse without extra support or create a unseemly public display which would jeopardize the veneer of hope the system is supposed to create for those it serves.
Ultimately, there are limits to leaning on your helpers for support. Calling upon your helpers, whether it be friends or family, to do everything is not only unrealistic if can become abusive. There are boundaries to be put in place with your helpers so their work doesn’t ever negatively impact your case or cause more harm than good. Your helpers should be understanding and accepting of your limitations. This is not a license for next phase of your healing to be down the avenue of learned helplessness. Healing is a product of your strength in the end and should reflect your work in recovery predominantly and not your helpers political, financial, or family obligation to be there when you need it the most.