In Praise of Support Groups
I have been officially bipolar for 18 years, long enough for it to become an adult and get a driver’s licence. And it has taken that me that long to become an adult too. I am 47. For most of the time since the diagnosis I thought if I took my medications daily, visited the psychiatrist regularly and did talk therapy weekly I would live my life as planned and more importantly no-one would know about my mental illness. By doing these things I believed, even without consciously thinking about it, that I was living as I had done BD – before diagnosis.
Problem was my life was not panning out as I thought it would BD. I had always assumed that I would be married, a mother with three children, live in a suburb of pretty houses and gardens with a loving husband and we’d work insatisfying jobs to support our children through school and university. These imagined children would of course be very intelligent, like all parents believe their children to be. Most of these things did not happen despite my weekly meetings with a psychoanalyst which I believed would get me on the road to my expected existence.
This fantasy did not look like even vaguely materialising despite 15 years of time-gobbling, expensive talk therapy. But I am here to say that talk therapy did not fail me. It led me towards a support group where, after being able to speak of my illness at length and publicly for the first time, I was able to unburden myself of my secret and get on with a new life, one where I am acknowledging my limitations rather than fighting to exist against them. I was amazed how often I was relapsing with debilitating episodes despite following the recommendations of psychiatric text books.
For me the women’s-only support group I joined has allowed me to speak openly for the first time, outside of the paid-for psychoanalyst’s room, about the difficulties and pleasures of being bipolar. And this in turn has led me to be able to talk to my family and friends about this annoying twist in my genetic coding and the havoc that grips my brain with unwelcome frequency. Join a support group that is good for you, one where you feel comfortable and able to share your experiences and have a laugh about the money you’ve spent on crazy shopping sprees, the things you said, the bleak thoughts and dreams you thought were real…and to help you when you can’t get out of bed and the world turns grey as you carry a dead weight that is really just you. You’ll find some amazing new friends to go to the movies or have a picnic with and call when it seems no one else can help or understand. And it won’t cost you anything. I don’t apologise for sounding like I’m selling you Amway.
Find a group, even if it’s online, go as often as you can because I reckon this is as important as taking the drugs or getting enough sleep. We each get different things out of it and go for different reasons but we all benefit. Please, find one and go.
Sally Fisher is a journalist who works in the Mental Health sector.