|I believe that all of us want the same thing more than anything else: to be understood. In my opinion, pretty much everything you want that's worth having comes down to being understood. Lots of people in group say what they want more than anything is to have friends, to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or to have a better relationship with their family. What they're really saying is that they want to be understood. If you don't consciously think that your biggest need is to be understood, then you're thinking it subconsciously.
Why do we all have friends or want to have friends? It's because when you're with good friends, you can totally be yourself. You don't have to wonder if you said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing. Friends accept each other as is. Friends understand each other. That's why we're all so comfortable around our friends--they *get us*, which is just another way of saying 'they understand us.' The same thing goes for boyfriends/girlfriends--a relationship is most meaningful when both people understand each other so closely. Relationships go wrong when one or both people don't feel like they're understood by the other. Being understood doesn't mean your significant other, friends and family members believe all the same things you do. It's more about knowing why each person believes what they believe and accepting them because of (or despite) that.
When I got released from the hospital, was still wrapping my head around my illness, and was coming to terms with the things I'd done, it affected my family. There were a lot of fights. That's because my parents didn't understand what had happened and was still happening to me. It wasn't until months later where, after a lot of time and effort, my parents had informed themselves about mental illness. They didn't really understand all of it, but the little they had managed to understand went a long way. There were less fights and more open conversations. Because they made the effort to try to understand, we started to understand each other more than we had before all the mental illness stuff happened. They actually attended the support group months before I did. What they learned there was something I still preach today (now that I'm the leader) to parents who show up at group for the first time: "You'll never really understand what having a mental illness is like, but you can learn to be understanding."
Lots of depressed, lonely people have come to group over the years. The common denominator with all of them comes down to not having people who understand them. When you're not understood, you feel alone. When you feel alone, it's because you're not understood.
Many of these people are lonely and alone because they tried too hard to get people to understand them.. like trying to push a square block through a circular hole. This can be true for a variety of reasons--they might be talking to the wrong people, talking about their illness the wrong way or (most common) trying to get people to understand them and their illness when they don't understand their illness themselves. Along those same lines, you can't be understood if you don't understand yourself.
Early on in the recovery process, a lot of people feel like they've changed on a profound level (for better or for worse). For these people, trying to be understood can be exactly what you need or it can be the last thing you should think of doing. First, you need to understand yourself. That needs to be your priority. Some people are too eager to talk about their illness and it results in an awkward situation (for more on that, see my blog 'Stigma'). Don't make the mistake of talking to others about your illness before you understand your illness yourself.
If you do think you understand your illness, and want to talk to someone about it, make sure you choose the right person to talk to. A parent, a sibling or best friend is a good one to start with. But the lonely people I meet at group would say, "But what if you don't have a parent, sibling or best friend? Who do I talk to then?" The answer should be obvious, but to some people, it's not. The person you just started dating is not the right person--some people have the misguided belief that the person they're dating will respect them more or appreciate them more because they've "been through so much." It doesn't work that way. If you try too hard to be understood, you're only going to end up misunderstood.
The answer to who you should talk to if you don't have anyone in your life is: a support group. When you find (the right) support group, you'll find people who understand you. A lot of people struggle with the fact that they aren't in a relationship--that if only they had a girlfriend/boyfriend, then that will make everything better. It won't. But a group can help with that. When it comes down to it, when you're in a committed relationship, you can be who you truly are... that you can talk about the most personal of feelings. That's what makes a relationship work, but you can still get that stuff another way--at a support group. A support group, just like being in a relationship, can fill part of that void in you--you can talk about things you would never tell your friends or even your family... things they wouldn't understand... things you'd only tell a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife. A support group is the place you can unload all the shit that people without a mental illness don't want to hear about or can't understand. At group, you'll be understood. That's so important because it means, in your day to day life, you won't be walking around with all this shit you need to get out of your head... you won't--out of desperation--end up unloading your baggage on the wrong person.
I just want to sum all this up real quickly: first, understand yourself. second, understand your illnesss. third, strive to understand the people in your life on a deep level. fourth, once someone feels like you understand them, they'll want to understand you for all the right reasons, and they won't be scared off.