I had a kind of awesome experience: I was getting frustrated trying (and failing) to find a support group or group therapy for people with depression and anxiety, so I asked for help. Within 20 minutes of my request, Mom suggested a local group by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I canceled my plans with Fox so I could attend group, which had the added bonus of giving me a blissful day to myself; I spent most of it writing the equivalent of 5 blog posts in my paper journal. There’s so much that’s been going on in my head but I haven’t been able to express it because we spend so much time in the same room… I literally can’t do anything without him being aware of it and vice versa. I… this was the third “blog post” I wrote in my journal; I don’t want it to derail my train of thought right now.
So I had a lovely day of reflection and brain-reorganization and then I went to this group. I was really looking forward to it as an opportunity to spend some time with people like me. No need to wear the mask. I could just arrive as I was, exist for 90 minutes, and respond spontaneously to whatever was going on around me. Kind of like what I do with my friends, actually, but with strangers.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I like being around people like me. They don’t make good eye contact and their lives are really difficult and they’re sad and anxious. They speak in monotone and their body language is weird and they look bored or tired. Sometimes they have trouble listening with empathy. The guy sitting next to me had something to say, loudly and energetically and with grand sweeping hand and arm gestures, in response to everything. And he touched me multiple times before I finally told him “I don’t like being touched” – which isn’t really true, but strangers randomly feel the need to touch my arms and it drives me crazy. You may only touch me if I gesture that I want a hug or put out my hand to shake. Common courtesy.
*spends a few minutes hugging the touched arm to zir chest, protecting it*
The facilitator passed a laminated piece of paper with the group goals written on it around the room, so each person had a turn to read one of the goals. They were things like “to create a supportive environment,” “to keep what is said here confidential,” and “to understand that this is a support group and not therapy.” We each had a minute (more or less) to talk about how we’ve been feeling; I and another new person were welcomed to the group. I talked about having to slow down because I’m having trouble balancing my mental health and school and it’s difficult for me to go into a helping profession while I need so much help myself. Joining the group is an attempt at self-care.
I wasn’t really able to say much else, mostly because of Mr. Response for Everything sitting next to me. I was very tempted to ask him to stop and give others a chance to talk, but I thought the facilitator would do that if he thought it was problematic and he said nothing. I was new, trying to get a feel for how the group operated, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I fell into my habit of waiting for permission to speak up, and it never came.
When we were putting our chairs away one of the other group members came over to talk to me. He thanked me for coming and said he was sorry I didn’t get a chance to share. He encouraged me to come back next week – I guess I looked like I wasn’t going to. Anyways, I appreciate him reaching out to me and I really hope I was able to communicate that. I felt overwhelmed and like I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. On the way home I said a bunch of things to my car that would have been really helpful to say in group; maybe the other people there would have been able to, you know, support me.
There was so much going on that I could relate to, all too well. I almost didn’t have to say anything because in a way it was said for me, and I still got to listen to how others responded to it. Financial issues, mental health issues interfering with career development, feeling as though my peers are doing so much better than me even though I’m just as intelligent and knowledgeable (maybe moreso, in some instances), loss, coping with changes I can’t control, feeling like I have no motivation, no direction in life, being afraid to go to the doctor, trouble getting the healthcare I need… I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting.
It was… not really what I’d hoped it would be. But it got me out of the house interacting with people, even if I wasn’t very effective at letting them know I was responding to what they said. I think I gained some benefit from it. And it felt good to be welcomed by a group and the individuals who reached out to me (even Mr. Touchy-Feel-y). I’m willing to let the experience be what it was, and see it as the beginning of a process (that will continue next week).