Have you ever used face-to-face support groups?

Have you ever used face-to-face support groups, where you sit in a room with other people struggling with the same illness and if so, did it help? If you haven’t, why not?

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When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I actually attended quite a few face-to-face support groups. At first, I had no choice — they make you do it in the hospital and, of course, you can opt not to talk, but that’s not going to help make your stay there any shorter. Plus, I was all about getting better. I had checked myself in, so why not take advantage of everything they were offering?

For me, I find that it always helps to get your own things off your chest, especially if you’re with a bunch of strangers. And not just strangers….these are people who are going through the same types of things you are — at least in their heads. So it’s nothing really that scary. My main problem, to tell you the truth, was my anxiety. Speaking in front of the group. But they were generally small and I just forced my way through it. Probably talked way too fast and turned bright red, but I always felt better after.

But the best part was hearing what everyone else had to say. It was amazing what resonated with me.
I Was Not Alone. I Wasn’t The Only One To Feel Like This!
Of course I wasn’t happy others had to feel as horrible as I did, but it made me feel less crazy. Things made a bit more sense.

At one point down the road, even after I had moved back home away from college and away from that hospital, I still traveled down the hour and a half (one way!) to attend a fabulous group one of the doctors had put together.
At these meetings, I just sat in a comfy recliner and we all complained about our problems, whether it be depression or restless leg or whathaveyou.

I felt groups like these helped me — helped me work things out in a way such as a journal, yet different — but I wasn’t so sure what I had to say meant much of anything to anyone else.
Until my last day of group. My number of sessions had come to an end, so we spent a good deal of time talking about me and what I’d taken away from the experience and if it had helped and, if so, how. I remember telling everyone how much they’d helped me and, to my surprise, the others said the same. Many had specific examples of things I’d said over the months that made them think about certain things and how I had made them think about different things in their own lives! So that was pretty cool.

So yeah, in my experience — I think support groups are great and you can take a lot away from them. Granted, I have attended some that were just too large or more social than anything else. The ones that were the best cost some money, rather than just being free support groups around town, but that’s not to say you can’t get anything out of the free groups. Or even put together one of your own. Or help to better organize an existing one. To make it more intimate so people can get more out of it. Find a way to limit the size, maybe hold one more meeting to split up the people. I know the places cost money to rent out, but there’s always a solution or a donor somewhere — you just have to find the resources.

If you haven’t tried a face-to-face support group, I highly suggest doing so. And not just once or twice. Give it a fair chance and see what you can take away from it. See if you can make a friend out of it. Someone closer to you situationally (is that a word? well it is now lol) than others might be. There’s always something good that can come out of it.
Heck, if it comes down to it and you cannot stand the idea of speaking in front of people, talk to your doctor about your plans to attend a meeting. I’m sure s/he will be more than supportive and offer help. Mine gave me extra anxiety medicine specifically for the groups. Only a few more a month per Rx, so it’s not like I was going to abuse the medicine….I was using it for a good reason.
Just ask, try, and see what happens! If, after a few times, you find it’s truly not for you, well then at least you know. But the worst thing in life is not knowing, in my opinion.

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