Research has shown that social support is a key factor in supporting our mental health. Humans are social beings and meant to be in community with each other. We saw how damaging isolation can be to our individual and collective psyche at the beginning of the pandemic when virtually the entire world was in some form of lockdown.
Social isolation has been known to shorten life spans and contribute to such things as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Loneliness is a silent killer.
Personally, I’ve been very fortunate to have a tremendous support system of family and friends. It started with my parents. I was adopted at the age of six months and raised as an only child. We lived in a working middle-class neighborhood and my parents were always very attentive to my needs.
When I had my first episode at 18, my mother was crushed. She had pinned her hopes on me growing up to be successful and have a family of my own. I had my first couple of hospitalizations at the Buffalo General Community Mental Health Center. The following two, among those that followed, were at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center (BPC). This was when my mother ceased visiting me when I was admitted to a pysch unit. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see me, it was the fact that she didn’t want to see in this type of setting. It tore her heart apart.
My dad, on the otherhand, was steadfast. He would visit me virtually every day. I recall seeing him coming through the locked unit doors of the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) with a smile on his face. I still, to this day, cannot understand how he was able to smile under these circumstances.
On one particular occasion, I was sitting in the dayroom of BPC with another patient named Paul. I recall him saying that he was excited to be preparing to be discharged and that he was going to live at TSI (Transitional Services Incorporated), a local housing program that includes group homes. It didn’t occur to me then how significant this was in my own life. Never had I been placed in a community-based setting due to my mental health. I was always welcomed back home. This was due to the unconditional love I received from my parents. And I will say that I was very challenging due to my co-occurring addiction issues and unstable demeanor.
And then there’s my wife Suzy, who I’ve been married to for nearly 28 years. Suzy has demonstrated a special sense of love and care that has helped me through some very challenging times. But she has proclaimed that she does not “ride the wave” of my mental illness, which allows her to remain grounded and not to react to every time I experience an upheaval in my emotional wellbeing. Suzy has a solid spiritual life that she uses to support her own mental health and provides her with the sustenance she needs to live from day-to-day.
I too have my spiritual supports that have kept me afloat over the course of the 41 years I’ve lived with my mood disorder. I have attended a 12-Step program as well as my church Pilgrim-St. Luke’s UCC , in Buffalo, New York for over 34 years.
When I was in the midst of my most severe episodes, I would call Rev. Phil Smith, who was the pastor who confirmed me when I was a teenager attending New Covenant UCC. Despite these calls being in the middle of the night, he always took the time to be present and to listen, despite how much I was obviously disconnected from reality. He also, on one occasion, visited me when I was hospitalized at ECMC. He sat on my bed with me and when he was leaving I gave him the Dr. Spock “live well and prosper” sign. Don’t ask me what I was thinking.
Another pastor of mine, Rev. Dr. Bruce McKay, also from Pilgrim-St. Luke’s, has ministered to me in all kinds of ways. When I was experiencing my last manic/psychotic episode in 1995, he came to my parents house where I was staying. I remember trying to speak to him in French (once again, don’t ask me what I was thinking).
And then there’s my friend Mark who is a long-time friend I met in my 12 Step program in 1990.. At the onset of the same episode in 1995 I was at home with Suzy in our North Buffalo flat. I was hysterical. Suzy asked emphatically, “What do you want me to do?” I responded, “Call Mark!” So she did. Mark lived about 25 miles away in a city called Lockport. But I swear he arrived in no time whatsoever. It was as if he tele-transported himself to my front door.
When Mark arrived, the only thing he could think to do was to take me to a 12 Step meeting. When we got to the smoke-filled meeting, I stood between Mark and another friend, Ed (who happens to be about 6’ 2” tall). In my deluded mind, I thought that they were my bodyguards (as I stated previously, don’t ask me what I was thinking).
There’s a song by the Britsh group,The Christians, called “Hour of Need” that speaks to my experience:
“Fortune smiled upon me in my hour of need
I was naked and you came with clothes for me
After years of broken homes, broken hearts and broken dreams
Someone’s smiled upon me in my hour of need
Will you give me shelter in my hour of need
Be my guide and helper, never failing me
With your arms so open wide, shield me from the storms outside
Give me strength and shelter in my hour of need
Now I want you near me in my hour of need
But I’m far away from home and all at sea
Yet my distance is too great, worries all just dissipate
Knowing that you hear me in my hour of need
Jordan Occasionally ‘If You Want My Love’ (Live Performance) | Open Mic
Oh sometimes I feel like I’ve been blessed
As you lead me through this wilderness
You’ll be with me always in my hour of need
Making light of darkness and uncertainty
When I’ve sung out my last song and it’s time for moving on
You’ll be up there with me in my hour of need
When it’s time for moving on, and I’ve sung out my last song
You’ll be up there with me in my hour of need”
And there are so many others, my daughters Sarah and Lillie, my Aunt Helen and cousin Carolyn, my in-laws, including my late mother and father-in-law, Peter and Laurette, who treated me like another child ot theirs. Then there’s the many friends with whom I’ve counted like family, especially my vinyl buddies James, Tim, and Dave. And finally, the people who I’ve had the privilege of knowing during the years in my 12 Step fellowship.
What it all boils down to is relationships. I’ve said that if relationships equated to money, I’d be an incredibly wealthy man. “No (wo)man is an island. We all need each other. If you find yourself alone, reach out. If you know of someone alone, reach out to them. It is in the mutual connections that we can live healthier lives.