Years ago when I suffered with unrelenting bipolar depression, I wanted to connect with other people who understood what I was going through. During that time I wasn’t using the internet very often. The internet, in the form of online bipolar support groups and forums, could have helped me feel less alone with my agony, but it simply wasn’t on my radar.
To this day I don’t know how I did it, but I formed a chapter of the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). First I had to raise $125 to create a chapter. (I wish that DBSA could have underwritten the cost, but unfortunately they didn’t have the funds.) I had no money to spare, so I approached a popular Halloween haunted house located in my town. Each year they selected a community organization to receive its proceeds, and I qualified for their generous donation!
Although I was very depressed, I hadn’t lost every bit of my sense of humor. I found it funny that of all things a haunted house helped create a group dedicated to bipolar & depression support. I LOVE Halloween – it’s my favorite holiday, so I was pleased with the outcome.
With the credibility of the DBSA behind me and with access to their resources, I created a free support group for women with mood disorders. As you can imagine, it definitely was NOT the right time for me to take on such a demanding project. I was a complete mess with my bipolar disorder, but I felt motivated to form something that could help with my sense of isolation and help others as well.
The silver lining of that experience was that I learned what to do and what not to do regarding support group leadership, promotion, and management. I contacted a therapist who agreed to accompany me pro bono to the first meeting who could give me me feedback. I found a church that let me use their community room for free. I publicized the DBSA group all over our county, and I drew upon my promotions experience which I gained while working at a Silicon Valley special event production company.
I contacted Peter, the young, ambitious editor of the Press Banner, our local newspaper. I interviewed with Peter despite the depression and on top of that, horrid social anxiety. I still don’t know how I pulled that off either! Peter wrote a feature article complete with a color photo of me and my girls, so I came out to my community in a big way about my mood disorder. Every residence receives the Press Banner in its mailbox each week, and almost everyone reads it. I didn’t let the fear of social stigma stop me – I was focused like a laser on the DBSA group. I think that knowing I’d be meeting women with mood disorders gave me the strength to reveal my own struggle in newsprint.
Here’s a snippet of the article at BP (Bipolar) Magazine on Facebook, as the article is no longer available in the Press Banner archives. My girls are so little in this photo, unlike their Mom! I wasn’t exercising at the time, and I was eating comfort food all day long, so I was much heavier back then.
I love the optimistic title Peter chose for his article: “A New Day Dawning”
Unfortunately after several months of DBSA meetings, I became too depressed to function. Another member took over the leadership, but she was unable to sustain the group until I got well enough to return and didn’t renew the chapter.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t finished with forming support groups! A couple years later I made the ultimately disastrous decision to taper off lithium. When I first started tapering and became hypomanic, I created a new, independent group with a “natural, holistic” theme. While I tried desperately to be able to live without medication, it didn’t work. I relapsed and I had to be hospitalized for 3 weeks.
After that nightmare hospitalization experience, I began seeing a new psychiatrist. He was the one who eventually figured out medications that I credit with saving my life. I resumed taking lithium during the hospital stay, but when I was discharged I was still depressed. My psychiatrist added an MAOI (monamine oxidase inhibitor) called Parnate, and Seroquel for agitated insonia. This is the cocktail that restored my creativity and my quality of life. Yep, I’m a walking pharmacy, but it’s totally worth it.
So next year I may try once again to offer a free support group for women in my area. I’d make it simple. It can be independent of the DBSA and I can do it through Meetup and/or Craigslist. As far as I know, there are no support groups for women where I live in the mountains, and I know there’s definitely a need. I know there are other women living with mood disorders in my community who are “closeted” and who would appreciate connecting with others for encouragement, a social outlet, and more.
What does “Coming Full Circle” have to do with anything? Well, today the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance featured a profile about me called “Life Unlimited” on their website. Here’s the link:
I’ve come a long way since I formed the DBSA chapter. Someday after I finish writing my book, maybe I’ll swing by my favorite haunted house, apply for another grant, and bring a DBSA chapter back to life for our county. You never know! 😉