Support Group Nerves & How-To’s – Part One

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As thunderstorms roll in tomorrow afternoon, I’m meeting with a bunch of women I’ve never met before.

Each of them has a mood disorder including bipolar disorder, anxiety and/or depression.

This is not my the first time meeting strangers at a mood disorders support group.  I’ve been around the support group block three times before as a creator/facilitator.  I know I can get through this meeting in one piece! But I’m still nervous – it’s a similar feeling to stage fright because I’ll be in front of at least 36 unfamiliar eyeballs for part of our meeting.  

A ginormous plus is that I have three women attending who I do know – I’ve been friends with two of them for years, and they’ve stood by me during all my mood swings.  One of these gals has graciously offered to be my timekeeper during our self-introductions.  I could easily ramble on for ten minutes – just look at my blog posts if you doubt me – but if everyone does that, then we’ll have no time to talk about other topics.  Each member will have a few minutes to introduce herself to the group, and a way is needed to track her amount of time.  

Enter my faithful friend with her timer.  We also have a bull whip as backup.  (Just kidding.)

As with planning and executing any special occasion, be it a wedding or a music festival, you can’t rest easy thinking that the event will roll out effortlessly.  I planned our wedding and I used to work in large-scale special event production, so I know that for a fact. There’s also a given that something unforeseen will happen.  That’s what freaks me out the most, but I must kick that fearsome thought out of my brain and tell myself I can handle it, and ask for help too.

At my other support groups I arranged for us to meet at church social rooms or at non-profit community centers.  That worked out pretty well (although some of the complicated alarm systems totally frazzled me!), but those rooms were sterile or had a churchy vibe, which is a turn-off to some attendees.  So this time around, with visions of spring, I assumed we could meet at a beautiful spot in the redwoods.  I had it all plotted out until a few days ago.

Enter unpredictable weather.  I naively thought that rain wouldn’t be likely, and if it did rain I’d have a Plan B for an indoor location.  Unfortunately all the possible Plan B locations I scouted said they couldn’t help me. 😦  So Plan B is now my small home (which I had deep-cleaned back in November, but you’d never know that now.)  I’ll do some basic cleaning, but I’ll try my best not to wig out.  It’s not like members will walk around with white gloves testing for dust.

It’ll be, um, cozy!

Inspired by forming this group, I wrote my monthly post for the International Bipolar Foundation about forming space alien support groups.  Below is the first section in all its glory…if you’re on the fence of creating a tribe of your own, please check it out.  I’ll let you know how my adventure goes (without sharing details compromising the group’s confidentiality, of course) – I have a hunch it won’t be boring. 

Send me good luck please, and I wish you all a great weekend!!!

XOXO,

Dyane

Thinking of Creating A Support Group? You Can Do It! – Part I

During the past year I received wonderful online support from bipolar-themed social media contacts and bloggers.  As fulfilling as their encouragement was, I also craved real life support, connection and friendships with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

A peer-to-peer support group is a great place to do just that! 

The bipolar support group located closest to my home is run by the acclaimed organization National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).  I found my local NAMI chapter by searching on their website at http://www.nami.org/Find-Support.   However, this particular support group has a Christian-focus (Please note: not all NAMI groups are religious-based). Despite the fact that the support group has a kind, experienced facilitator, it was not the right fit for me. 

As much as I wanted to attend a support group, I knew I had to wait until someone else created a group that fit my interests, or I’d need to form one myself.  Months passed by, and there were still no other local mood disorder support groups in sight.  After much deliberation, I knew the time had come for me to form a bipolar support group. 

Big gulp! 

Now, I should disclose that I’ve created a bipolar support group in the past.  I formed a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) for our county, and I served as the primary organizer.  Unfortunately after two years I left the chapter when I had a relapse of bipolar depression, and my successor closed the chapter soon after my departure. 

I won’t lie.  Creating and facilitating a bipolar peer-run support group takes work.  I also have social anxiety, so it’s a challenge to take on a leadership role, even among kindred spirits with whom I feel comfortable.  But under the right circumstances, being part of a group of like-minded members is totally worth the effort.

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons from my support group experience that makes me hopeful that my new group will thrive over the long-term. (I’ll be sharing those tips with you in my March post.)

Before I did anything, however, I decided to keep the support group logistics as simple as possible.  Instead of re-affiliating with the DBSA, which I don’t rule out doing again in the future, I created a Meetup.com group for the time being.  In Part Two, I’ll discuss the nuts and bolts of how I created my Meetup group, and I’ll share how our first meeting turned out, making sure to keep all identifying details of the group confidential.  I’m nervous, but I’m very excited about this new peer-to-peer support group! Stay tuned!

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The link to this post on the International Bipolar Foundation website is: is: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thinking-creating-support-group-you-can-do-it-part-1)

 

The Most DANGEROUS Support Group In Town!!!

funny bipolar cat delete hare

 

After I published my blog post last Friday, I received a phone call from a beloved friend who reads my blog.  By the icy tone of her voice I prepared myself for criticism about my topic.

“I must tell you,” she said soberly, “that I’m very concerned about this support group you’re forming.  I’ve spoken with Jabba the Hutt (her counselor) and he and I agree that it seems dangerous!”

At first I thought she was referring to the recent mountain lion sightings in the area roughly where our first meeting will take place.

scary

Nooooooooooooooooo, she was not!  

She wasn’t referring to those magnificent-yet-potentially life-threatening beasts!

Her disparaging comments concerned a cat of an entirely different color.  

She declared, It’s just not safe to be around those BI-POH-LAHS!”

Yes, the very “bi-poh-lahs” who would be in attendance, including…

BI-POH-LAH ME!

 She addedJabba and I think that you need to have a professional with you!”  

Matt Foley

(Chris Farley in his SNL role as the “professional” motivational speaker Matt Foley*)

While yes, it’s a wise idea to have a professional facilitator at some groups, I deemed it unnecessary at my informal, social group.  I had sound reasons for my decision, some of which I wrote about in my last post.

Now I knew that my friend didn’t intend to hurt me.  I realized that her opinion was based, in part, upon decades of deep-rooted stigma imbedded into our society. However, her opinion and tone still cut me to the core.  

What also angered me was that my experience in forming and facilitating other support groups wasn’t acknowledged by my friend.  I created the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) ** Chapter of Santa Cruz County.  The DBSA is a credible, national organization that provided me with group training materials and other resources designed for leading (safe) support groups.  

I arranged for a therapist to attend our first DBSA group to give me feedback after the meeting. I was grateful for her help, especially as she donated her time.  The therapist offered useful advice, but frankly her points were ones I had realized on my own.  

As you can guess, my conversation with my friend ended badly, and I was very upset.  I turned to some friends for support (thank you Lady K. & Sista Sweet), and I worked out on my elliptical.  I calmed down.

Over the next few days I thought about what separates a good, safe support group from a bad one.  I became a little paranoid.  What if I was creating a dangerous support group after all? Meetup can only give me so much information in each applicant’s profile. I had asked prospective members to fill out a detailed questionnaire before I accepted them into the group, but who’s to say they were telling me the whole truth in their answers?

My paranoia grew.  I envisioned a few members turning up at our first gathering brandishing large knives, ready to strike if they encountered anyone resembling the dumbass FOX commentator Tom Sullivan!  

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Other members might be of the unwashed hippie persuasion.  Their five-foot-long, crusty dreadlocks could be filled with families of mice. I’m sure that their body odor would be fetid enough to make anyone sitting close by them become woozy or even pass out!  

dreads

Lest I forget, several ambiguously Pagan folks might grace us with their presence, carrying some cauldrons and magical wands.  They’ll surely wear enough Stevie Nicks-style velvet to clothe a small village.  Their patchouli oil perfume will be so pungent that it’ll scare away all the approaching hungry mountain lions!

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Of course it almost goes without saying that a cannabis grower will take a seat, ready to share a batch of medical marijuana brownies and a cannabis cake topped with edible flowers.  To round out the group, a Scientologist or two will probably join us so they can convert us to stop taking our medications!  

ha ha Guess who?  

My imaginary support group is truly dangerous…  

Not a support group of women with bipolar, anxiety and/or depression.

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“Matt Foley” Saturday Night Live skit – it’s truly funny!

*http://www.hulu.com/watch/4183

** To read my DBSA Life Unlimited Profile & my friend Kitt O’Malley’s profile, please visit this page:

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=peer_life_unlimited