Having close friends and family that you can talk with and count on can make all the difference in how you approach and live with Kennedy's Disease. Building these relationships takes time and effort. The rewards, however, make it all worthwhile. In a Mayo Clinic article on Support Networks, it stressed, "A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you've had a bad day or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. It's never too soon to cultivate these important relationships — and your social support network can never have too many good friends."
A support network is different from a support group in two key areas. A support network is made up of family members and friends; people who know and care about you at a personal level. Support networks are very informal (casual) rather than a structured program scheduled on a particular day and time. You can call a family member or friend anytime just to chat, to schedule a lunch with them, or to meet somewhere. The talks are informal allowing both parties to share their thoughts and concerns. You are there for each other.
The Mayo Clinic article goes on to list three main benefits of cultivating a strong support network.
- Sense of belonging: Spending time with family and friends helps ward off loneliness. Knowing you are not alone goes a long way towards coping with your situation.
- Increased sense of self-worth: Having people call you a friend reinforces the idea that you are a good person to be around.
- Feeling of security: By reaching out and sharing yourself with others, you have the added security of knowing that if you start to show signs of depression or exhibit unhealthy lifestyle habits, your friends can help alert you to the problem.
- Stay in touch: Answer phone calls, return emails, respond to invitations are a few ways to let people know you care.
- Be proactive: Do not wait for someone else to make the first move. If you meet someone that you believe could be a friend, invite him or her for coffee or lunch. Strike up conversations with strangers and see how things go.
- Know when to say "no" and when to say "yes": Do not decline an invitation because you feel insecure or shy. Only spend time with people that you find supportive.
- Do not compete: Be happy instead of jealous when someone succeeds or does something that you would have liked to do, but did not or could not.
- Be a good listener: Find out what is important to your friends and family. You might discover you have more in common than you think.
- Challenge yourself: Keep looking for ways to improve your social and communications skills. Maybe it is by complaining less, being more generous and forgiving other's faults.
- Do not overdo it: Especially in the beginning, be careful not to overwhelm your family and friends with phone calls, emails and invitations. Give them some space. Save those high-demand times for when you really need them.
- Appreciate your family and friends: Take the time to say thank you and express how important they are in your life.