Self Help-What is it?
In the words of Len Borman: "Self-help
is barn-raising revisited"
Jack was a wonderful man who had been
a good husband, father to three children and provider during the sixteen
years of his marriage to Eleanor. He was a charming, personable and
professional man whose future seemed secure.
At the age of 42 it all came to a screeching
stop for Jack. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years
earlier, and despite following his treatment plan faithfully, he had suffered
a series of wild mood swings over the past year. He was no longer
able to care for himself, his work was haphazard (when he managed to show
up) and his life was falling apart. His boss suggested he take an
extended leave of absence until he was well.
Both Jack and Eleanor were devastated.
Life on the home front became close to intolerable. The children
were confused about all the changes in their lives. One black Sunday
morning a friend of Eleanor's phoned to tell her about a support
group for people with Bipolar Disorder. Eleanor was enthused…Jack
had been moping around the house for weeks.
When she told him about it Jack was skeptical
and unsure that he wanted to associate with "a bunch of nuts" but Eleanor
was desperate and went ahead and made the arrangements. Three nights
later they attended their first meeting. Paul was quiet, uncomfortable
with being with people like himself but Eleanor appeared to benefit right
away, learning more about the disorder and how other people coped and supported
their ill loved one.
At the third meeting a young man came
in…a newcomer. All of the fear that Jack had felt was written on
the newcomer's face. Jack spoke to him, and felt a powerful rush
of empathy as the young fellow told his story. After the meeting
he asked him to come to his house to share a coffee and further conversation.
As the weeks went on, Jack became something
of a surrogate father to this young man, and opened up more and more to
the other members of the group. As time went on his own feelings
of bitterness lessened as he felt the give and take of support from those
who truly understood the meaning of "Helping you Helps me."
Self-help Groups are any gathering of
like minded people for the purpose of sharing information, friendship,
What Kind of Support Groups are There
for the Mentally Ill?
Support Groups have sprung up all across
the nation for individuals diagnosed with Mental Illnesses. National organizations
have many, many chapters in towns and cities across the country.
These support groups are often associated with Mental Health organizations.
This type of support group is one you attend in person, on a weekly, biweekly
or monthly basis. Call your local Mental Health Center for information
about the support groups available in your area.
If there isn't one, form one! Find
a few friends with the same disorder and work to make a group of your own!
A few years a group of people in our small
city joined together to form a bipolar disorder self-help support group.
We weren't really sure what we were doing and became a member of the NDMDA,
but we had our own ideas. Education was foremost and we built a small
library and photocopied reams of information that was free for anyone that
came. When we started there were six of us.
The coffee pot was always on (decaf of
course!) and before long people began to come. Our meetings were
structured…each with one member of the group chairing the meeting and offering
a presentation, subject or story to be discussed around the table.
Our average regular attendance was about fifteen people, which swelled
to sixty or more when we had a guest speaker. The psychiatrists and
mental health staff were extremely supportive and even the psychiatrists
took time from their busy schedules to speak at our meetings. Other
professionals, pharmacists, psychologists and speakers from the government
disability offices were among other guest speakers.
I began writing a newsletter that was
distributed to the hospitals and all mental health areas in the city.
It was well received for the two and a half years I was able to write it,
before severe episodes interrupted my life and I was forced to resign from
Personal friendship and a warm, caring
atmosphere made the group special to each of us. We learned about
each other, and in doing so we laughed and cried together. I recall
the group's founder, Lorraine, recounting one of her episodes…Lorraine
was Bipolar 1 (pure manic!). "My father died and I was bequeathed
a sum of money…not a huge amount, but I was manic and there was enough
to get a manic in trouble. I spent it…all of it! I bought the
biggest and best dining room table and chairs I could find, and I bought
a huge brand new refrigerator with all the gizmos! And I bought a
new car! Now, you might think all this is fairly reasonable, but
what you don't know is that neither me nor my husband had a driver's license.
The car sat untouched in the driveway for over two years. I made
a trip to the doctor"
Well, of course her story broke up the
room and stories tumbled out one after another. In our sharing we
truly learned that we had many of the same symptoms and were able to understand
and empathize with each other. It was a very special time.
I could go on and on sharing the good
times and bad we shared, but most important was the support that was there,
always available and always freely given from the heart.
EMAIL SUPPORT MAILING LISTS and NEWSGROUPS
In the mailing lists (there is a list
of these and links to them on my favouite links page) you are able to give
and receive support through reading and posting email to a group of other
bipolar individuals. The advantage of a list is that you are able
to read and respond to others on the list at your leisure. The only
disadvantage I have found with mailing lists is that sometimes they become
overlarge and a person who may really need support "slips through the cracks"
either because of their reticense to email in a group where most people
seem to already know each other, or by a "non response" to their first
Mailing lists are an excellent support
resource and should not be overlooked.
FORUMS, MESSAGE BOARDS, BULLETIN BOARDS
All three of these are the same thing.
In a forum an individual may post a comment, question, remark or whatever
is on their mind on the "board." Others who go to the "board" are
able to respond and ask questions of their own. The information stays
on the board and you can often go back and read old posts.
Tha advantage of forums is that there
are normally fewer people who attend the board, and they become a closer
Bipolar Chat Rooms are set up for personal
"real time" conversation and support. There are many of these chat
rooms on the internet. The biggest problem with chat rooms is that
they are often not monitored...and oftentimes when you are ready to chat
it is to find "nobody home"
Bipolar World Has a chat room. I
am there every Wednesday evening from 7-9 p.m., and I am well aware that
there have been many people finding "nobody home" at other times.
I recommend Harbor of Refuge at http://www.harbor-of-refuge.com
for online chat or Concerned Counseling at http://www.concernedcounseling.com
Once you have met another person with
Bipolar Affective Disorder (perhaps through one of the above methods) personal
email is a terrific means of new found friendship and support.
Once you have started down the road of
supporting others with Bipolar Affective Disorder, even by just saying
"Yes, I understand. I have walked many miles in those same shoes",
you will begin to reap the rewards of "helping you helps me!" Trust
me, it works.