The past thirty days have been a whirlwind of …. I was going to say, “change”, and while a lot of change was required to get to today, change is not really what the past month, or even the past thirty years have been about for me. Today, I realized, I have been on a journey to find my power.
I have always been an incredibly independent person who relies heavily on an internal process for planning, problem solving and generally thinking things through. I wanted my success to be my own and not something that other people helped me to achieve. Besides, how am I supposed to incorporate other people in my internal committee meetings?
As a result, I was left solving all my problems; relying only on self-generated motivation; and trying to create the kind of life I dreamed of having all on my own. Sometimes I had clarity and felt strongly about a decision. Other times, I felt more like I was walking along the edge of a cliff and one wrong step would send me plummeting.
I had friends and I would share my hopes and dreams with them, but I didn’t turn to them when the days were hard and I felt like giving up. When I didn’t know what step to take next or was overwhelmed by all that I needed to get done, I hid that from them. They didn’t know about the days where I hated myself for my lack of follow through and sustained motivation. I didn’t tell them when my anxiety was at a ten and I didn’t know how I would get to tomorrow. It was ultimately just me and more often than not, it felt very lonely.
I was alone even within myself and when things went wrong and chaos was waiting to take over, I often found myself trying to runaway and not acknowledge my feelings and avoid working through them. Somehow that always made things so much worse.
Years of self-isolation and burying emotions caught up with me about three years back and I found myself fighting just to survive each day. I dug down deep into my soul and doubled my efforts to make the situation better using the only coping skills I knew. I withdrew further into myself thinking the deeper I hid within myself the easier the situation would be to get through.
It didn’t help this time. Inside my own mind, the chaos was as much of a ruckus as it was in my outside world. Old battles and new ones battled each other to dominate my thoughts. Outside my headspace expectations, obligations, hopes, and fears screamed for attention and all I could see was a neverending cycle of disappointment, frustration, and failure. When I peaked out through the windows of my eyes, I couldn’t spot the love of those who cared about me. Successes and achievements were hidden from my view. I had been through the cycle more times than I could remember; I couldn’t bear to endure it again, and I didn’t rate the odds of this cycle ever ending very high.
Eventually, my therapist coaxed me into opening up more. It started in our sessions and as I gradually became more comfortable with the increased transparency, we began expanding my circle of support. (After all, one person doesn’t make a very big circle.)
By the time a major life upset tore into my life like a category five hurricane, I had come to rely on my tiny circle. I was beginning to see the incredible power of the circle of support. Not only were they a source of encouragement and emotional support when I was struggling, they often added joy to my life. When I was overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what my next logical step should be, they provided reassurance and could help me find the middle ground between panic and giving up.
Looking back I realized that so many of the gains I have made towards emotionally healthy living, vocational success , and building relationships wouldn’t have happened without their support. The successes are my own; I did the bulk of the work, and when I needed it, they offered encouragement, and a steadying hand so that I didn’t have to do it alone.
If you don’t have your own circle of support, I would urge you to start putting one together. To help get you started here are my top three tips for creating an empowering circle of support for yourself.
1. Identify how the individual can best support you.
Your circle of support doesn’t have to help you solve your challenges, sometimes that isn’t what is needed. When I suddenly found my life turned upside down and I needed to replace a member of my original circle of three, I shared with those I was adding that I knew I had a tendency to isolate myself from others. I asked them specifically to check in on me if I got too quiet.
2. Include people you can share your deepest darkest secrets without feeling shame.
I have made some mistakes I would rather not talk about. One in particular created decades of shame for me and I didn’t want to even reflect within myself on it. I didn’t see anything that could redeem my deplorable actions. The problem is the more I tried to bury it, the more shame and disdain I felt towards myself. It wasn’t until I was able to share that event with a member of my circle that I was able to begin to redeem that event in my own mind and show the young adult me who made that mistake grace.
3. Pick people who are willing to brainstorm and explore options rather than people who tell you what to do.
In this current stage of my life I am plotting a course towards bringing My Anxiety Toolbox to life. My circle of support are the people I turn to as I try to make it happen. I’ve explored what content to include, marketing strategies, how to prioritize all the different tasks that have to be completed in order for it to become reality. My circle of support asks clarifying questions, offers alternatives to my own ideas, or asks me if I had considered another way of approaching the situation that they may be aware of. In the end, I know they will still be in my circle even if I choose a different path than they suggested. The difference for me is that when I do decide which action to take, I know I am making a far more informed decision than I would have without their input.
Since those days of a three person circle of support, my network has grown to include about nine or ten fabulous souls. Not every person plays the same role in my circle but each is a critical part of my life . In building my circle of support, I got my power back! I am more confident and comfortable in my own skin and while I know I am not immune to the chaos of life, I know that my circle of support will lend their energy to help fuel my journey.