The Most DANGEROUS Support Group In Town!!!

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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.

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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!  

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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

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I Get By with a Little Help from Total Strangers…

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This post is dedicated to one of my favorite bloggers Blahpolar of Blahpolar Diaries

https://bipolardyke.wordpress.com

 

I’m sitting near Woman’s Best Friend at this very moment.  My sweet puppy Lucy is reclining next to me while I hunt and peck slowly, groggy from taking a bit too much Seroquel the previous night.  Lucy sidles up next to my foot so that we’re touching skin-to-fur.  I can feel her soft warmth as she snoozes, and our being together is one of the best parts of my day.  

I want to apologize for whining repeatedly about my difficulties with keeping up healthy friendships – both in the flesh and online.  I’ve blogged ad nauseam about how lonely I’ve felt in this conservative mountain town ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2007.  I’m going to whine a little bit more, but please bear with me.  The whining might will eventually end! 

As Kathy Griffin says, “Here’s the thing.”

(I don’t love everything about her, but I do think she’s funny.)

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After one of my few local, longtime friends “S.” unexpectedly moved 500 miles away in December, I felt even lonelier.   Years ago S. experienced postpartum depression and she took medication for it.  I never felt for a second that she judged me for having a mental illness and taking meds.  S. often told me that I meant a great deal to her, not because I was needy and I required her to do that, but because she wanted to shower me with gratitude!  

I knew that if I mentioned to S. that I was experiencing major fatigue from a medication adjustment, she’d immediately offer to help me.  Indeed, I had medicated-related fatigue hit me hard last fall, and lo and behold, S. was there for me from the start.  I didn’t have to ask her to help me – she figured that out on her own.

Empathy and offers of help didn’t occur to several other friends who I informed about my fatigue.  It’s possible these women had never taken psych meds, and therefore they couldn’t imagine what that level of med-related exhaustion was like.  But perhaps they were taking meds in secret.  I don’t know.  I wondered, but I never felt comfortable enough to ask any of them if they were taking medication for mood disorders.  There are numerous moms who still don’t want to tell their mommy friends if they take meds due to the insidious, ever-present stigma. But I digress.

Now more than ever before, I’ve wanted to form friendships with women who have psych diagnoses, who take meds, and who are willing to share that information with me.  Being the only one in my IRL circle who’s “out” with my stigmatized mental illness has made me weary. It may sound limiting to focus on being friends with other “labeled” women, but that’s what I want.  Hell, I’m not asking anyone else to do it!  

I knew that in order to meet women living with mental illness, I’d have to take the plunge and create another support group for those with mood disorders.  Been there. Done that.  I made a shitload of mistakes in the doing, but at least I learned a thing to two! 

This time around I’ll have the group primarily be about having fun and nurturing friendships; I don’t want it to be a replacement for intense group therapy. We won’t just sit on our butts either – we’ll go on hikes and embark on other fitness/nature activities. After all, I am a former American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and P.A.C.E. Circuit class instructor!  

To that end, last month when I spied a 50% special on Meetup.com to create a group, I made a split-second decision to sign up, just like Meetup wanted me to do!  I found out after I signed up that the 50% deal was for first-time Meetup organizers only, which I was not.  However, I emailed Meetup and told them I thought anyone could get the 50% off, and a friendly customer service representative gave me the special anyway. I took that as a good omen.

The last time I tried forming a Meetup group it didn’t go so well.  I made that group’s requirements far too limited (i.e. a group for moms with bipolar who lived in this county).  As a result, only one person applied who lived two hours away, and she wasn’t a mom.   

Within just two days of my new group’s inception, I got an awesome, strong response. Twelve women are confirmed, and there are two members pending!  I went a little gung-ho on promoting it, so I’ve made a waitlist.  I’ve learned from facilitating a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) support group with 22 women in attendance that having too many people is counterproductive and overwhelming for everyone.  

I felt sad that two members who wanted to join my new group were concerned that people from other Meetups would notice they were in a group for those with mood disorders.   Of course they were scared of the stigma of mental illness, and I completely understood why they wanted confidentiality.  I explained how they could hide their personal Meetup information from others online,and that made all the difference.   I was reminded yet again that despite the strides being made in mental health advocacy, there is a LONG way to go!

We don’t have our first meeting until the end of February.  I’ve scouted out a peaceful outdoor location near a State Park.  This area has gorgeous redwood-lined trails where I’ve spent hundreds of hours hiking alone. For safety reasons, that wasn’t the greatest idea, although I carried my cell phone and pepper spray.  I’ll take a friend along from now on, since unfortunately Lucy isn’t allowed in the State Park. 😦  

Anyway, a couple days ago I was informed of a mountain lion sighting in the general area where I plan to hold the group.  The big cat wasn’t in the exact same spot as our meeting place, but I had to laugh.  Was this some sort of sign?  

The mountain lion’s appearance has created quite a stir in my two neighborhood Facebook groups. Several members have shared a ton of mountain lion lore with the others.  I figure that chances are good that if we have a large group of women meeting together, we won’t be attacked by mountain lions.  There are humane actions we can take to scare it/them away – if you’re interested, check out this local link:

http://santacruzpumas.org/mountain-lion-faq/

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While I’m scared to organize yet another support group, I have a much better feeling about this one than I did with the other four support groups I ran.  Despite all my problems (including social anxiety and the Seroquel sleepies) I’m in a better place to do this sort of thing than I ever have been before.  

My daily “Dr. Mohmmad Alsuwaidan” workouts are helping me tremendously.  Plus, once I get to know the other group members in person, you can bet I’ll ask them for help, and recruit a co-organizer or two.  Going it alone is foolish!  

I’ll return next week to write about…drum roll please…WRITING!  I might be posting earlier than my regular day on February 6th, so stay tuned.  

Thanks for your wonderful comments.  I swear that when I read each one I get a little spike of serotonin in my brain.  I’ve read articles that suggest that a serotonin spike actually does happen! So don’t hold back if you want to comment, and if it’s only a two words, I bet the serotonin is still activated. 🙂

I’ll see ya round!

love,

Dyane 

 

I had to include this classic – I’ve always loved this song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y39MjhVrf_Y

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The Road of Disturbing Memories – Part One

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I drove on Highway 236 today.  It’s a windy, mountainous road high up in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of California, surrounded by towering redwood trees.  While driving this route I’ve often spotted families of deer along the wayside.  For all I know, I’ve unwittingly passed a mountain lion or two!  (There have been recent sightings of them over the past year.)

It was a slightly cool, sunny day as I wove my old, white Suburu Forester up and around the curves of the steep highway.  It takes me over forty minutes to reach my therapist “Tara’s” home office, and while it’s a total pain in the ass to get there, a session with Tara is worth the effort.  When I’m not feeling up to making the rigorous drive, I opt for a phone session, but Tara prefers to see me face-to-face.

GreenTara

The “Green Tara” Buddhist Goddess

Over the past four years I’ve driven this road to visit Tara in all kinds of emotional states. A few times I met with her when I felt fairly stable, a handful of times I was hypomanic and manic, but most of our visits have occurred when I’ve felt deeply depressed.  She has been supportive and available to me and my family in ways that have gone above and beyond what most counselors offer their clients.

I first met Tara at the co-op preschool where each of our daughters were students.  At first I found Tara a little intimidating.  She looked like a tall, blonde supermodel and she appeared confident and serene.  As soon as I found out what Tara did for a living, however, my intuition prodded me to ask her if we could meet.  

We had a good rapport, and I felt that Tara not only knew what she was doing, but she genuinely cared about helping me feel better.  It didn’t hurt that she hailed from Germany and had a beautiful, scholarly German accent.  Tara and I were able to keep our boundaries clear; it never became problematic when I saw her at the preschool or around town.

When I was hospitalized a year ago, Tara invited my daughter Avonlea to stay at her house to play with her daughter so Avonlea could have a good time, and to help make things easier for Craig.  Tara was also one of the very few people who offered to visit me at the hospital last summer.  She lived over two hours from the hospital, and I was very moved by her willingness to make such an arduous journey for a client.  

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Nowadays, every time I drive to a therapy session, I can’t help remember the Geodon incident. Several years ago, I was prescribed the atypical antipsychotic Geodon by my former psychiatrist.  I hoped with all my heart that it would make a dent in my bipolar depression, but since I was “medication-resistant” I felt dubious any pill could help me.   

The first few weeks it seemed that Geodon was truly helping me.  I was in shock to feel the weight of depression finally lift.  It was a sensational feeling as I hadn’t felt happiness like that in a long time.  But then my bipolar depression returned with a vengeance and along came some brand-new, terrifying sensations: derealization and depersonalization.

Before this experience happened in my life, I had no idea what deprealization or depersonalization even meant.  I’ll paraphrase their Wikipedia definitions: “Derealization is an alteration in the perception of the external world so that it seems unreal.” Depersonalization consists of “a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation.  The world has become vague, less real, and lacking in significance. ”  Both sensations were over-the-top horrific, as I’m sure you can imagine.

When I first experienced these conditions I was driving down a steep, super-windy hill on Highway 236 after a session with Tara.  The unnerving states came upon me suddenly.  I didn’t feel like myself.  Worst of all, I felt like I was losing my grip on reality.  I clutched the steering wheel so tightly that my hands cramped for hours into the night.  I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to keep my car from veering off the road.  It was a miracle that I made it home safely.

Unless you experience depersonalization/derealization, you can’t understand it, and I hope you never will…

to be continued

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