My support wheel

Erin Schulthies is the writer of Daisies and Bruises, a blog about "finding her way one step and one word at a time". After losing most of her youth to severe depression, she decided that since death was no longer an option, she had to find a way to live. This is it.

Remember how I declared 2013 as an “Art Year” for Daisies and Bruises? Well, I did some drawing for you this morning and ended up with this wagon wheel to illustrate this post. Yay!

I’ve talked about a wagon wheel representing my support system before, way back in 2011. I’m at the center of the wheel and each spoke represents a relationship in my life that keeps me strong and functional so that I can travel through my days. If you look at the diagram, the light purple spoke at the 12 o’clock spot is my therapist. Going clockwise, the next spoke is my psychiatrist, and the next three include each of my parents and my sister. Then I have two spokes for long-standing close friends. The last spoke, golden in colour, represents community resources like my local Mental Health Crisis Line, mindyourmind.ca, and the hospital when I may need it. The coloured spokes on my wheel stay fixed and therefore I’m never left alone.

Now look at the thin black spokes between each coloured spoke in my drawing. These are my secondary supports including other friends, my blog readers, and my pets. Maybe some of my favourite books can be a thinner black spoke too – basically anyone or anything I turn to for strength to keep me going. The more spokes we have for support, the stronger we are and the better we can weather bumps in the road.

In reflecting on the misunderstanding I had with a new friend last week, I am reminded of my support wheel. When I’d asked my friend if I could join her for an evening walk to help me stay safe, I think she felt overwhelmed with responsibility, as if she was the only spoke supporting me. That’s enough to overwhelm anyone. In reality, I’d only reached out to her as a secondary black spoke because she is my neighbour and I knew that she was up and active that time of night. She had also told me in the past that I could reach out to her in crisis, making me feel like she could be a reliable spoke on my support wheel. Last week I quickly learned that she was not comfortable being a stronger spoke in my life.

My next blog post will be titled “How to Say ‘No’ to Someone in Crisis” because even the strongest spokes on our support wheels are unavailable sometimes. Therapists go on vacation, and best friends have to sleep, but if we have enough supports, there is always someone else we can turn to for help. In crisis, however, we can forget that, so I hope to give you a dialogue you can use to educate those coloured spokes in your life, before a crisis happens. Perhaps you can use it as a dialogue for yourself if you ever are unable to help a friend in the ways that they need.

Take a look at the support wheel diagram (or print out a copy for yourself here) and try to apply it to your life. Who are the stronger coloured spokes who support you the most? Who is a thinner black spoke? Do you need more supports in your life?

Please remember that I am not a mental health professional, only a girl with 28-years of experience as a mental illness survivor/thriver. Visit my Help Page for more resources, and visit mindyourmind.ca’s Help Pages as well.