We need friends and family for “life support”

Life support, a term and its meaning, that I came to understand far earlier in life than most of my peers.

The unknowns, the fear, the long nights, the anticipation – just a few aspects and thoughts/feelings that loved ones of a person on life support in the hospital may experience.

During my childhood and adolescence, I learned hospital lingo and experienced the physical and mental challenge of holding on to loved ones during serious medical uncertainties. That happened not by my parents’ choice, the reality just panned out that way. Graciously so.

Sound peculiar? If it does, I get it. Nobody loves being in a hospital setting or wondering if that last hug will be the “last hug.” Here’s the bottom line: we try our best to be a solid, trusted support team to our loved ones.

My parents made the constant choice to stand by their loved ones. Its selflessness at its finest.

They influenced me. This role of being life support to others is something I’ve now embodied.

It makes me happy; it makes me so proud of my roots; has given me much strength, and influenced me to be that same type of support system for them, for family, for friends, for you in our community.

We all need support.

I recently received “life support” from one of my longtime friends. Her response, encouragement and perspective amplified this conversation that I’ve now put on paper (i.e., via my blog on the Internet).

She’s always been there, non judgmental, understanding, and cheering me on.

One thing that really stands out to me is that she never loses hindsight of the struggles and victories all of us go through on an individual level.  She’s never “past that stage.” She exudes empathy. She trusts that the decisions I make are for my best self. She listens and doesn’t push ways of thinking on me, state what societal norms are, or try to dim my light.

Think about that. What a kind and powerful “life support” friend she is.

It can be easy for anyone to lose sight of what they have personally gone through once they have reached the other side.

We’ve all been through medical ups and downs, yet verbalizing our own journey, sharing moments of sheer sadness, frustration, or just ‘being over it’ can get lost in translation.

We all have experienced loss (whether it be via death, relationship break-ups, or financial matters). Maybe it’s not easy to look back to be able to relate to a friend of yours, but perhaps talking through it will offer comfort and healing for you both.

To me, discussing the tough parts of life is more important than sounding off on our easy, high parts. Buying a new home is amazing, beautiful, and an accomplishment for a family. But what did it take to get to that point?

How did we reach our career success? How did we find our inner happiness? How did we get to the medical treatment that’s working? And not just physically get there, but mentally get there. How did we get through the shock waves emotionally?

Authenticity can be more of a hidden trait in our society. I hope we can bring it to the forefront. Our weaknesses do not hold us back – they serve as forces that can move us forward. Authenticity opens the door for vulnerability, for compassion, and for real human-to-human connection.

We know so many people that put on a bit of a distorted front when in reality, they could use true support. There’s no shame in asking for it.

Keeping our weaknesses and struggles (migraine for weeks on end) internalized can really work against us. Pain aside, the mental aspect can be terribly isolating and turn into a vicious negative outlook.

Your support team is vital. Literally speaking. I encourage you to examine your support team. Does it need revising? Your support team should literally be making you healthier and stronger. If it is not, if it is derailing you instead, you need to make changes.

We all need ‘life support,’ but not just at the final stages of our time here on Earth. We need it year-round. 

Life support does not discriminate based on age, gender, socio-economic class, or anything else.  

How do you offer life support? Is it with open lines of communication, a non-judgmental tone, a helping hand, or a note in the mail just to say “I’m here for you as you navigate your health challenges”?

The support we give and receive can make someone more optimistic, more comfortable, and more awakened.

A few scenarios come to my mind: a friend going through fertility treatments who needs assistance administering the daily shots, a loved one who ended a longstanding relationship and needs their spirits lifted, and one who has found themselves with an empty nest and needs companionship. 

If your social circle (family, friends, others) are ones you can lean on, be open with, and share your thoughts/fears/excitement, then that’s fantastic. It requires work to get to this point. 

If not, it certainly won’t put you at a disadvantage to seek out a new friend or two (or strengthen a relationship with a family member), who in ten years, could be the ‘life support’ you may so badly need and want.

Food for thought – one thing I focus on is not staying complacent when it comes to support (both giving and receiving).   

I try to absorb what I’ve gone through, what I’ve read about, what individuals share with me and apply it to the next situation. There are always little takeaways in our daily lives. By refusing to stay stuck in one mindset or have unmovable views, I am able to offer practical, balanced insight and advice to my support team. 

Consider this. “Social isolation and low levels of social support have been shown to be associated with increased morbidity and mortality in a host of medical illnesses.”*

A plethora of illnesses are out there and we don’t need to give them a running start. 

“Numerous epidemiological studies have reported that poor social support is associated with the onset and relapse of depression, negative treatment response to dysthymia, seasonality of mood disorder, and the presence of depression comorbid in several medical illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.”*

If you read the interview with Stanford expert, Dr. Debra Kaysen, this will likely resonate:

“The Vietnam War may serve as an important example of failed social support during times of high stress and trauma. Johnson and colleagues found that many Vietnam veterans experienced homecoming as a highly stressful experience. These veterans reported ‘being insulted, feeling angry, resentful, and alone.’ In this cohort of treatment-seeking, outpatient veterans with PTSD, homecoming stress was the strongest predictor of the frequency and intensity of their PTSD symptoms.”* 

When looking at the other end of the spectrum, “In contrast to low social support, high levels appear to buffer or protect against the full impact of mental and physical illness.”* In this analysis, diverse populations were observed (some of which include widows, parents of children with serious medical illnesses, college students, etc.).

We’re all in this life together, why not be an active part of the life support team to those you care about?

*Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa.: Township)), 4(5), 35–40.

Coming next: “Stress alone can make you physically ill,” expert explains