“Better to walk with a friend in the dark….

…then alone in the light”

I went to my first bipolar support group meeting last week. It was….interesting.  In some ways it was like everything you see in the movies.  We all sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, said our diagnosis, and how we were feeling that evening.

“I’m Nicole. I am diagnosed bipolar two with a variety of anxiety disorders.  Tonight I’m feeling anxious”

Group: “Hhhhiiiii Nicole” (yes, “Hi” stretched into two syllables).

Group Member: “Oh and by the way, let me pass you some kool-aid.”

Gonna be honest, the introductions part creeped me out a bit.  I was silently scoping out the nearest exits and slowly inching my way towards the door when a female voice caught my attention:

“I’m feeling just plain pissy today”

I laughed, which probably broke at least two of the ten rules they read at the begining.  And not because her discomfort is funny—instead, because anyone who’s been through a manic episode can relate.  There’s no other way to describe how I feel during those than just plain bitchy.

Now they had my attention.  I discretely moved my chair back into the circle and shifted my attention the lady speaking.

An amazing young woman began to share the extreme challenges she was currently facing and the hopelessness she felt because of them. The group gathered around her and brainstormed ideas and suggestions to help weather the storm.  Different individuals knew of community resources to aid in her journey, others offered her their cell phone numbers for support, but more than anything—the facilitator for the night looked her in the eye and said, “There is not a person in this room who has not been where you are.  While your experience is personalized and unique, each of us knows the sting of judgment from family members, the difficulty in maintaining a job, and the financial stress of treatment.  But—each of us is still here tonight.  We’re here, we’re alive, and we’re fighting.  And we’re here for you.  Keep coming and keep up your treatment plan, and one day you’ll be the one sitting here helping the newest member of the group.”

(repeat)

If this blog was a song—those powerful words would be the chorus.

I slumped back in my seat and whispered “wow”.  I was finally in a room full of people who “got it”.  People who can be impulsive, suicidal, anxious, and yes—just plain pissy.  But people who know that it’s not their fault, that at the core of these behaviors is some brain chemistry gone seriously wrong. As I looked around that room, I realized there was likely as much diligence and strength in that room as a professional athletes locker-room.  But way less grunting, butt slapping, trash talking and sweating.

I had found a place where people who had walked in my shoes (you know, the comfy sneakers—not necessarily my six inch heels) could offer advice and encouragement.  And when I was having stable days I could bless them in return.

Just a final thought—as I was looking around for support groups in my area I found a list on one website of “What a Support Group is NOT”.  See below:

  • Therapy groups where facilitators diagnose or treat emotional and/or behavioral problems.
  • Led by certified and credentialed counselors.  Instead, they are led by a trained facilitator who can steer the session and ensure that the meeting is not dominated by a few individuals
  • A dating or matchmaking service

What!? Really? It’s not a speed dating event?  I thought that’s why everyone was giving out phone numbers and business calls.  But I guess it’s lucky for me that it’s not a dating service, since I’m already married and all.

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