With A Little Help From Your Friends (Janelle Johnson)

So y’all, I just got back to school. It’s been almost 20 years since I graduated high school, and I finally did it. There are so many reasons why I didn’t go to university directly after high school, but I’m so excited to be here. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I feel I can be a successful student now and become a tad nostalgic. I remember how I felt in my late teens and early 20’s. The world was both exciting and scary. I was still discovering myself and there were so many new experiences to have. So, within this thought experiment I started thinking about the advice I would give to my 20-year-old self. Trust me, there was a lot of advice to choose from. Obvious things like leave that person who didn’t value me, trust myself, don’t be afraid to take up space, and quit smoking (I finally did that one a few years ago) but the thing that I feel has benefitted me the most is never underestimating the importance of a support system.

We’ve all heard the term support system before, but it’s not something that I think many of us think of our day to day lives. Support systems include our friends, family, religious communities, identity communities, online communities, structural support, and much more. Support can be broken down into four different types, and they all tie together in helping us make it through the tough times in our lives. Emotional support is the system most people are familiar with. This can be your friends, a therapist, or anyone who is there when you need to talk. These are the people who are there to listen to you and provide hope when needed. Instrumental support, sometimes referred to as tangible support, is support that provides aid and/or service. This could be financial, but oftentimes it’s not monetary. A friend coming over to help you study or cooking a meal for you is an example of Instrumental support. Informational support is advice, suggestions, or information. This can be the advice of a professor, mentor, or doctor. It also can be Resource centers on campus, books, or online communities. The final type of support is Appraisal support. These supporters are your cheerleaders. They are there to give you information that is useful for self-evaluation. You know, the friend who tells you that that person you are dating isn’t worth it or reminds you how beautiful and smart you are. Their advice may not always be exactly what you want to hear, but it’s necessary to help you course correct sometimes.

We need healthy support systems throughout our entire lives. Research shows that healthy support systems can help with everything from mental health, student success, even physical health outcomes. And people without a healthy support system tend to fare worse when it comes to those same areas. But how does one build a support structure especially those of us that are away from our families and friends? It can be difficult to connect with people in a meaningful way and knowing who to rely on can be iffy as well. Also, introverts, I see you, and I know how talking to someone new can be the last thing you want to do.

Here is where I insert my shameless plug for the Women’s Resource Center. We are here to help. First, we are open 9-6 Monday-Friday. We have a chill environment with comfy couches, snacks, and Netflix. You can connect with others or just hang out solo. We can help connect you with resources for different types of support. I also recommend just trying to connect. The older I get, the more I realize that we are all a little socially awkward. Putting yourself out there can be scary and downright difficult for some people, but the more you practice the easier it gets. My New Year’s resolution this year was to focus on connection with people. I made it a point to reach out to people I found interesting. I strike up a conversation and see where it goes. Since starting this project, my world has opened up a ton. Besides a bunch of new acquaintances, I’ve met a few close friends this year, and even scored a job from one of my connections. There have been a few situations that were less than ideal,but I remember, not everyone is for everyone. The key is not to take rejection seriously, which like talking to new people is a skill perfected with practice.

You may find that as you enter new phases of your life your support system may change. Sometimes things naturally change, and sometimes there is a falling out or ‘friend breakup’. From my experience breaking up with friends hurts way more than a breakup of a romantic relationship. Know that this will happen, and it’s natural. And you will utilize other members of your support system to get through it. Don’t let this harden your heart to engaging with others. Know that we learn something from everyone we encounter, and you will be better from those lessons. Relationships are a two-way street, so ensure you are there for the people who are there for you. Remember to ask for help when you need it. No one is an island, and you can’t do everything by yourself. Whether it is a listening ear, or that person to bring soup over when you’re feeling ill, having a strong support system will make life so much easier overall.

Ps. In the spirit of building community, we we will be holding our first Feminist Monthly Meetup on October 23 from 4pm-6pm at the Women’s Resouce Center- Union W93. The event topic is Fast Friends, and we’ll be doing a speed dating event for friendship! Come hang out and possibly meet your new support structure! 🙂