The Power of Connection in Mental Illness

There is a lot of research out there that backs up the idea that the therapeutic alliance is the most important element in the treatment of a mental illness. A sense that the therapist is in your corner, cares about you, and is someone you can connect with and trust is incredibly important. For me, that boils down to the feeling that there is a real person who is actually listening to what I say, rather than seeing me as a puzzle or simply trying to find the right set of words to make things better. It’s a feeling that I crave in all my relationships: deep connection. I like to know what the other person honestly thinks and feel that they care when I want to talk about things that are important to me.

Earlier today I got a comment on one of my posts about mental illness that let me know that another person really resonated with what I had said and that they wanted to let me know where they were now. It was the kind of comment that made me feel like someone had truly listened to what I said and wanted to really communicate back to me. It felt like a peer alliance.

These were the types of feelings that I never had when I was in group treatment. I never resonated well with the other people that were in my groups (for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I wanted to talk about Serious Angst and Ennui and they wanted to talk about life), and I often felt that there was no one there who wanted to look out for me or just know me for me.

When I get those types of comments (which I do on a semi-regular basis), I tend to get a little choked up. I feel proud. I feel intensely determined to continue down a healthy road, to continue writing, to continue doing things that I care about and that impact other people.

Connection, not just when it comes to the therapist/patient relationship, is one of the most important ingredients in a healthy mental life. Of course we know that having a good social circle and healthy relationships is important, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking instead about the ability to connect on important and vulnerable topics related to your mental health. It’s not just about having people who love you and care about you in your everyday life, but having peers that can relate to you and share insights.

When someone else says that you have offered something to them that was useful and then they offer something in return, you get a bolt of confidence and vulnerability all in one. It may sound oxymoronic, but it’s also real and incredibly helpful for revitalizing a commitment to health. If my recovery inspires you and your recovery inspires me, we’re both in this for someone else. That connection is amazing.

It’s hard to explain what exactly it is about the moment of clicking with someone that makes you feel as if you should keep trying, as if you need and deserve to be in this world. But it is a powerful feeling, one that keeps us coming back to groups, to blogs, to message boards, and to any other place where we feel we might find it.

So thank you to everyone who has left a comment or written their own posts. Thank you to the friends that give me suggestions and let me know how their disorder and recovery worked. Thank you to the people who just show up and say “me too. That is exactly right.” You all are why I keep writing.

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