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)

 

“Out in the Milkweed” & Stigmama

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Happy Friday My Blogging Friends!

I wrote this piece “Out in the Milkweed” for the cutting-edge, award-winning website/blog STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”  I loved it as soon as I read that.  I started writing for Stigmama just after its inception in March, 2014.  STIGMAMA was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a trailblazer whose new book “”Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth”, is an Amazon bestseller receiving rave reviews.  Last year I asked Dr. Karraa if she’d write the foreword to my upcoming (i.e. by the time I’m 90) book “Birth of a New Brain” – I was deeply honored when she said yes.

STIGMAMA has showcased the work of 70 talented contributors, giving writers a chance to shine (some for the first time) in a public arena writing about deeply personal experiences.  The STIGMAMA page has over 15,000 likes!  Not bad for a blog that’s less than a year old!

Perhaps you’d like to be a STIGMAMA contributor too – visit http://www.stigmama.com and check out the 2015 writing schedule for details.

This free verse (very free! 😉 piece “Out in the Milkweed” expresses how I’ve felt stigmatized by those who see me as mentally ill despite the fact that I’ve been stable for quite some time.  While it’s obvious that I’m very angry about this situation, I believe there’s hope for some healing.  It will take time.  For those of us who are adversely affected by stigma, we can practice vigilant self-care, stay current on research, and do all that we can to become and remain stable.

In turn, we can once again have conversations with our loved ones about stigma. Perhaps our family member or friend could attend a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) family member support group.  We can give them a handout or a book that includes how to be aware and sensitive about mental illness stigma.

Even if we can’t change the way others see us, we can focus on ourselves and work on our self-stigmatizing issues, either by ourselves or with a trusted friend or therapist. If you have any suggestions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for reading!

love,

Dyane


"Out in the Milkweed"

In some disturbing way that you would never openly admit
You want me to remain
Mentally ill, labeled by the seven-letter word bipolar
You prefer me to fit neatly in a suffocating cocoon
From which I can never fully emerge
As the soaring, vibrant Monarch butterfly that I once was

If I speak with “normal” cadence and joy
You scornfully say that I sound manic
Your words cut me deeper than you could ever imagine
And I shut down, hesitant to share myself with you again

I’m not manic, but you continue to see me in stifling ways
And no matter how high I soar within the realm of stability
You view me through shame-colored glasses

Why do you choose to see me as permanently damaged?
Could it be schadenfreude?
To make your own ravaged self esteem and depression not seem so bad?

I believe that you regard my brain as forever broken
due to ever-present stigma, insidiously affecting us all
I may even permeate your misconceptions by living fully
and throwing my own shame to the wind

Now that I’ve returned
To a life where I don’t stay in bed wanting to die
I can be a writer, a mother, a wife, a daughter
I can laugh, weep, and be present

I will research about what prevents relapse, and be proactive with 
self-care

After years of looking to others for biochemical salvation
It feels good taking care of myself

I don’t know what the future holds
But I’ll do everything I can to remain a butterfly
Hovering amongst milkweed drinking nectar
No longer in need of hermetic, protective coverings
It's time to fly, unencumbered, once again

So Many Amazing Blogs….

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After two looooong weeks without reading your blogs, I suffered the malady known as SBWS, a.k.a. sudden blog withdrawal syndrome.  I returned to catching up with your lives this past week, and what a relief it was!  I cared about how each of you fared through the holidays, and for most of you it was rough – I wished I could have offered you some lovely “likes” and/or comments of support sooner than this week.  Better late than never, right?   In hindsight, to go from a daily routine of reading blogs to nothing overnight (due to no internet access at our remote spot) was way too extreme.  I certainly won’t let that happen again!      Upon my return home, I savored the unique sense of connection I felt after reading each post.  I was reminded of how lucky I’ve been to tap into a world where I’m understood, and where I don’t have to prove myself or attempt to act “normal”.  I also was once again blown away by all your writing talent featured in every single post.  Recently I read that a large percentage of professional writers have bipolar disorder, and I’m not surprised.  I didn’t make any hard and fast New Year’s resolutions, although I have a “soft” intention on my mind.  In my day-to-day life I seldom interact with anyone who’s a member of The Bipolar Club and I would like that to change this year.  

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I know it’s up to me to do something about it.  Yesterday I daydreamed that I won the California SuperLotto Plus jackpot, and I flew everyone in my WordPress Reader here for a beach party extravaganza.  (Don’t snicker too much – someone won $50,000 at the spot where I buy my lotto tickets! 😉  I wish!  Then again, you never know.  I watched an inspiring episode of “Lottery Changed My Life” ( yes, I watch the vacuous TLC channel :0 ) and the winner was surprisingly philanthropic with his loot – sure, he bought a fancy $100,000 sports car, but he helped others as well.   Interestingly, I received  a flurry of phone calls about bipolar support groups in my area just before the New Year arrived.  I haven’t gotten any similar calls for many, many months.  My contact information from my defunct support groups still floats around on the ‘net, and these people found it.  Craving in-person support with others living with bipolar is in the air.  There are no support groups in the valley where I live, but I’m not quite ready to form a group again. Maybe in the spring…in the meantime, I called everyone and I referred them to the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter in my county, which offers a consumer support group.   You might wonder why I don’t attend that group.  Well, it has a Christian-focus (I’m a Jewish-born agnostic, and I’d prefer there to be no religion connected with a bipolar support group).  The meeting takes place at night, when my energy level is low.  Lastly, it’s a forty-minute drive each way and I want a group that meets closer.  Yes, I’m a bit picky, but hey – I want what I want! And now, back to YOU….what I REALLY want is to thank you all for continually baring your souls through your words, and for what each of you add to our virtual community.  You help me, along with countless others, more than you know.     Love, Dyane p.s. I encourage you to check out Broken Light: A Photography Collective and apply to them if it appeals to you. Their blog has almost 15,000 followers!  I contacted them last year, and I was excited to be selected.  Here’s the link to my profile and you can find their contact info. there too: http://brokenlightcollective.com/2015/01/04/pursuing-my-dream/