We all know that we need food, water, safety, and shelter for basic survival — but we tend to forget one critical need; the one that helps to give our lives meaning: community.
When faced with difficult situations, many of us tend to withdraw from friends and family or isolate ourselves as a coping mechanism. This is often true for newly-diagnosed Parkinson’s patients, especially those in the young-onset subset. Such a significant life change is overwhelming, and sometimes our knee-jerk reaction may be to ignore it or pretend that everything is okay.
The problem is that it’s a short-term solution that ultimately creates distance between ourselves and the people we care about — which is exactly the opposite of what we need. Being part of a community can have positive effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health, and is, in fact, the most important need humans must meet after securing food, water, shelter, and safety (according to psychologist Abraham Maslow).
The 3 biggest benefits of establishing community connections we’ve found through the Young Onset Parkinson’s Network include:
1. Reducing Feelings of Loneliness
When we struggle with big, life-altering changes, many of us unconsciously assume that we’re the only ones who feel the way we feel or that no one can really understand our situation. This is especially true for those affected by a rare disease like YOPD, whether you’re a patient, care partner, family member, or friend.
Joining a community of people facing similar challenges serves as a constant reminder that you’re not alone, and gives you a safe space to share your true self with others. In turn, being accepted by others fosters a healthy sense of belonging.
Feeling accepted and like you belong to something bigger can then make it easier to take care of yourself and participate in activities that improve your physical health.
2. Getting The Right Support
While we may want to believe it’s possible to get all the support we need from a significant other or a handful of close friends or family members, that’s a lot for one person (or even a small group) to be responsible for.
A community of people with similar experiences can sometimes offer more appropriate advice or tell you exactly what you need to hear in a way that a husband or wife can’t. Oftentimes, support coming from these groups can also feel more validating since it’s coming from someone who “gets it.”
Lifelong friends may struggle to relate when you recall what happened on your last “off” day, but you may find unexpected comfort in hearing a total stranger say “That happens to me, too! Here’s what I’ve found that works…”
This doesn’t mean you should completely stop relying on your spouse, friends, or family members for support — this is more to say that joining a community can balance out your larger support system and allow you to seek advice and comfort from multiple perspectives.
3. Finding Purpose
Not only are communities a good way to get the support you need, but they also provide you with opportunities to find purpose. For example, when we spend time among a group of people, we tend to fall into natural roles.
Perhaps you’re the one people go to for advice about intimacy and relationships with YOPD, or you find you enjoy spreading the word and inviting new members to join. Or maybe you’re the quiet observer who soaks up all this new information and uses it to improve yourself and your personal relationships.
These kinds of roles can give you a sense of purpose through helping others, both of which can breathe new meaning into your life.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open to new people and experiences can be frightening and difficult — but the rewards of joining a community far outweigh the initial fear and discomfort. Being part of something larger than yourself sets you up to live a more enjoyable life by establishing meaningful connections, growing your support network, and rediscovering your purpose.
Want to see what it’s all about? Click here to join the Young Onset Parkinson’s Network for free today.