How I Learned Interdependence is a Strength, Not a Weakness
Here at VNL, we talk a lot about the importance the importance of social support and connectedness. However, for many of us, this isn’t just a research topic. It’s personal, as these issues affect us as well. Even to those of us who have been studying social relationships, our connections to others can be invisible. No doubt you’ve heard our founder’s story here, but I wanted to echo the importance of understanding social support with my own story. My support network was pretty invisible to me until I needed to activate it and realized that it lacked some necessary support.
I’m a pretty private person, so this feels a little scary to write. Deep breath…
I have epilepsy. While well controlled by medication, there have been times where I’ve needed help and haven’t known where to turn. Several years ago, I had a seizure and had to adjust my medication levels. As a result, I had some side effects that temporarily left me unable to drive or think entirely clearly. I was also living alone, and all my family lived out of state. While I had plenty of friends and mentors that I truly believe would have helped me out, we also live in a society that often values self-sufficiency over any dependence on others. Partially because of that, I was hesitant to ask anyone for help.
I found myself going through my list of friends and trying to identify who lived closest and who would be least inconvenienced if I asked them to pick up a few items at the grocery store for me. As a graduate student, I was also taking classes and doing homework with a bit of a cloudy brain. There were times when it was a real struggle. I relied heavily on my friends and classmates to help me out. When I missed classes, they provided physical homework assignments and lecture notes. They also provided emotional support during a tough time.
When we start at VNL, we take our surveys to familiarize ourselves with the platform. It was the first time I had an opportunity to fill out the PARTNERme survey and visualize my own support network. At that moment, I realized that I’d never had a healthcare provider specifically ask me about my social support network.
These networks, and their gaps, are often invisible to not only our providers but ourselves. It affects our ability to care for ourselves and our providers’ ability to develop good treatment plans. Visualizing my network could have helped me realize that I didn’t have someone to easily ask to drive me to a healthcare appointment or to go grocery shopping for me. That moment of need could have been a lot less stressful if I’d identified and filled those gaps beforehand.
What’s the solution? It’s complex, and there is no one solution. That said, I think there’s great value to being able to visualize your support network and describe how those people help you in times of need. We need to do a better job as a society of recognizing interdependence as a strength rather than a weakness. At some point in time, we’ll all going to need help, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.