icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blog

Strategies for Building and Strengthening Your Support Circle

Thanks for the great feedback and encouragement from everyone on my first blog post. I am feeling well-supported, indeed!

 

I wanted to share some thoughts now about how to strengthen your support circle, and I welcome readers to add more ideas in the comments below.

 

For those feeling disconnected, here are some suggestions to meet others and start to build or expand your support circle:

 

1)      Get involved in groups you care about: your kid's school, a place of worship, a nonprofit fighting for a good cause. This is a way to meet people with common interests and shared values.

 

2)      Volunteer! I recently met many of my neighbors at It's My Park Day here in Austin as we pitched in to clean up our community garden. Local newspapers, radio stations, and websites advertise upcoming volunteer events.

 

3)      Reconnect with long-lost friends and family: Track down those with whom you once were close but have lost touch. Reach out to more distant family members who you may not have seen in a while. Social media can help you reconnect, but a phone call or even meeting in person is better!

 

4)      Join a support group: This idea may seem obvious, but it can be daunting to reach out to a group of strangers to discuss a painful topic. However, support groups can be extremely beneficial. While I believe getting together face-to-face can be more healing, even online support groups and chat rooms can offer a certain level of camaraderie and advice.

 

5)      Take a class: Schools, colleges, art and athletic organizations offer classes for adults on a myriad of topics. Some classes are free, or scholarships may be available. I met one of my now-best friends in a mountain biking class 15 years ago, offered by the local community college. I rarely get to mountain bike these days, but I still see my friend regularly.

 

6)      Start a meet-up group: Pick an activity you love and invite others to join you. Find friends to exercise with you. Invite other parents to meet up for a regular playdate for your kids. Start a book club, a supper club, or a movie group.

 

7)      Meet your neighbors: Getting to know the people who live nearby can be fun and beneficial. Offer to pet-sit or water the plants when your neighbors are out of town. Double the recipe if you bake cookies, and take a plate next door.    

 

Please add more ideas below. Also, check out this wonderful post in Psychology Today about the importance of relationships for our well-being and more suggestions for building connections.

 

And remember, the best way to develop and maintain a strong support circle is to be part of the support circle for others. The reciprocity principle is alive and well in our culture. If you reach out to help others, they will likely be there for you when you need support.

1 Comments
Post a comment

Support Circles - for Multiple Sclerosis and Beyond

Me with Don - the most important link in my support circle (March 2018)

I don't like to keep secrets. And in the fall of 2009, I had a big one: a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Who should I tell? I am close with my family, and I told them right away. But who else should know? 

 

"It's considered a disability," my mom said. "People may see you differently. Do you really want to tell everyone?"

 

I rarely disagree with my mom, but in this case, I opted for a widespread broadcast. I called my colleagues at the clinic where I worked as a family doctor. I emailed friends and cousins. "I have MS. I thought you should know."

 

I provided more details: the dizziness and visual changes that led to my MRI that led to my diagnosis, the concerns about future disability, the potential impact on my career, my husband, and our daughters (aged two and four at the time).

 

Was I bold? Was I foolish?

 

Neither. If anything, I was, perhaps, selfish. I was lessening my burden by sharing it and asking for help. I was relieving myself of the pain of carrying around a secret, of building more barriers to protect it when it didn't need to be protected. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but most importantly, I was activating my support circle.

 

Like a magnetic force suddenly unleashed, my news brought well wishes and offers of help from all over:  home-delivered meals, cards of support, offers of playdates for my kids. I was overwhelmed with the generosity that bolstered my husband Don and me during those frightening days as we faced tremendous uncertainty.

 

I went from knowing no one with MS, to finding connections with half a dozen fellow MS patients who offered me - a stranger with nothing to give in return - encouragement, advice, and proof that my life wasn't over.

 

It was still a risk. Not everyone can share such news freely. People have lost jobs and friends when revealing illness. Even I have not been consistent over the years in sharing my MS diagnosis, especially with new bosses and colleagues. But over time, I usually have opened up to them as well. I have been lucky; I don't think anyone's reaction has ever disappointed me.

 

I was reminded of the importance of a support circle during my father-in-law's recent hospitalization for a sudden and unexpected illness. Twenty-four hours after hearing the news, Don was on the plane flying across the country. He had to go. It's just what you do when you are at the top of the unwritten list of support circle members for someone, as he was for his dad.

 

While Don – also a physician - was with his parents, he met his dad's doctors. He discussed treatment strategies and options for care upon hospital discharge. He also identified more people in his dad's support circle. Two aunts and an uncle would be there to help his parents when he had to return home. "We got this," they assured him.

 

Over my years of patient care, I have seen many people without a support circle. Or sometimes I have felt that I, alone, am the support circle. Some of them have suffered terrible losses, leaving them alone. Others have moved frequently, losing connections with each relocation. New immigrants may be especially vulnerable, uprooted from family, isolated by culture and language differences. I search for their strength - a bright personality, resilience, hidden talents and skills. Many have demonstrated great courage and fortitude. Over time, they will find their support circle, and I have been honored, at times, to help in that process.

 

In my next post, I will offer ideas on how to build and strengthen your support circle. For more lessons I've learned as a doctor turned patient with MS, see my article on CareDash: https://www.caredash.com/articles/8-lessons-learned-by-a-doctor-turned-patient. Thanks for reading!

13 Comments
Post a comment