Your First Support Group Meeting . . . “Ugh. Just Ugh”
It makes perfect sense intellectually that a support group can give you great ideas for coping with your diagnosis. After all, many of the attendees have experienced what you’ve experienced. They’ve tried treatments, been handled awkwardly by relatives and struggled with inappropriate shame on their own for years . . . just like you.
And yet when you stepped into that first support group meeting, it was torture, pure torture. The attendees obviously had far more problems than you did. They were weak, pathetic, WEIRD.
They were not like the “normal” people, those at work or in social groups who seem to have it better than you do. Life bobs along beautifully for them, no glitches, no struggles. You want to be like one of them, automatically, on your own strength and effort. You don’t need a support group!
Head’s up: people with no emotional challenges don’t really exist, despite their Academy-Award-winning performances in public. To give you the true picture, let me share with you some statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health 2009 report “Mental Disorders in America:” (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications.)
- 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder
- 15 million Americans have social phobia
- 19.2 million Americas have a specific phobia (dogs, heights, spiders, etc.)
- clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S for ages 15-44, affecting 14.8 million adults.
- bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years.
- in 2004, 32,439 people died by committing suicide. 90% of them had a treatable mood disorder. Four times as many men die by suicide as women.
- 6 million Americans have a panic disorder.
- 7.7 million American have a panic disorder (PTSD)
- 33% of college freshmen feel so lonely and depressed, it impacts their studies.
That’s right. Many, many individuals struggle with some emotional challenge. You are most likely one of them. But you’re smart enough to work your way out of it, you’ve looked for resources and support, a huge step.
Let’s get back to Support Group Resentment. For some reason, it seems to be human nature that when we walk into a new situation, a support group let’s say, we feel defensive (anyone out there with more experience in human behavior, please comment on this below!) Our uncertainty leads us into denigrating the other members and longing to run for the hills.
Making attendance even harder, it’s not quite the American way to reveal feelings and discuss challenges—the purpose of a support group setting. We’re not used to it. Take heart. Those brave enough to get used to it eventually come to a self-awareness and appreciation of life those with no emotional challenges ever enjoy. I’ve seen it time and time again.
Discomfort with group attendees and their disclosures can send us into an anxious/resentful/angry/sad fit. But that is just our first reaction. The brave ones stick with it until the anxiety decreases and we’re able to see the support group members as individuals. Connections and understanding through support groups come with time, with self-disclosure, failure, with picking oneself up and trying again. Please check out our webpage to find a group that fits your needs and schedule. Feel free to jump from group to group and to talk about your concerns with me Thomas Kelly, Director via contact form. Most of all, feel free to feel uncomfortable in a support group at first: it’s only normal!