monday night empathy

Monday night is group night.

In March of 2008 I discovered something that I find rather delightful, Meetup.com. There are groups for all kinds of interests in all different locations but the one I was the most interested in was a bipolar meetup group.

I spent a slight amount of time in high school participating in group therapy, but I am from a very small rural town and none of the adolescents in the group were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Regardless, I found the group dynamic helpful even if just to remind me that other people are struggling with similar issues. The idea of comraderee between a group of people with this illness was (and still is) very appealing to me and beyond that, how better to learn about an illness than to speak to people who live with it every day?

Finding this group was a big step for me, but the bigger step would be actually going.

I am a little embarrassed about this, but I didn’t actually attend one of these bipolar meetups until March of 2010, a full two years after I had discovered the group online.

They say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, I guess it took me two years to reach the point where I felt that going to a group was something that needed to be done. I had been unmedicated for a number of years as well as been without therapy for a year at least, being without the money or insurance to pay for either. My life required some amount of support and in silent desparation I turned to this group.

It is important for me to make the distinction that this group is not group therapy. It is a group, yes, and the results can be theraputic to me at times, but the distinction is that there is no liscenced moderator. There are no doctors, no counselors (which means it is free), just a group of people with bipolar disorder who meet frequently to discuss the nature of the beast we’re all dealing with.

One might ask if the live open forum of any number of people who are experiencing a wide berth of emotions or moods is necesarily a good idea without professional moderation… and though I’ve witnessed moments from time to time where uncomfortable incidences have occured, for the most part I think it does more good than harm.

I’ve been going to the Monday night group pretty steadily for the last year and a half, I’ve seen a handfull of people who come, if not regularly, with enough regularity for me to know them by name. Almost every Monday there is at least one new person, but lately there have been up to ten new people on any given Monday night. Some people participating for their first time have been hospitalized and diagnosed within the last year, others have been diagnosed for twenty years and are very familiar with how their symptoms take shape in their lives.

Bipolar computer programmers, med school students, artists, bicyclists, photographers, nannies, movie directors, sales people, wall street executives, construction workers, small business owners, the list goes on and I’ve met them all. Each of us are individuals linked by a common ground.

I guess my suggestion to anyone looking at going to a group like this would be to go twice before trying to make a decision about sticking with it. The group dynamic changes depending on who is there, the moods people are in, and even the weather (a big factor in Seattle), so your first impression of a group may not be based on the norm.

Also, please remember that we are all individuals. Bipolar disorder (like many medications) effects each of us differently. There is no cure, no single answer to remove our problems. I like to think of these groups as a brainstorming sort of situation, any time I feel stuck I can always rely on the people in my group to provide me with their ideas and sometimes even resources to help me make decisions I’d find difficult otherwise.

Individuals with bipolar disorder are often said to possess the skill of extreme empathy, something which can help counteract the anxiety of meeting up with a group of strangers in a coffee shop to discuss our inner-most thoughts. Being able to identify with the feelings of others in incredibly powerful when those feelings are similar to ones we’ve also experienced. Even with all of our differences, I feel strengthened to identify with others.

Perhaps the motto on the back of a bipolar dollar bill?

Strength through empathy!

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6 responses to “monday night empathy

  1. I only recently discovered meetup.com. I hadn’t thought of how valuable a resource it could be to those struggling with mental illness! Well done having the courage to participate! And advocate for them in your blog!

  2. I love how you stress the concept of individuality in this post. No two people diagnosed with any malady will have an identical course of it, and bipolar disorder (or as I still call it, manic-depression) – especially with its propensity for bringing along comorbid diagnoses – is an especially individualized experience. Being able to recognize this and still see the value in what others may impart upon you is a wonderful tool to have in your arsenal.

  3. Pingback: Saying It Out Loud « bi[polar] curious

  4. On Group

    Your therapist wants you to develop your own insights so that you can own them. It’s so nice to be in a group where people will just tell you what they see. Group is not available where I am and I miss it.

  5. Ah, more jealous. Why are all the bipolar people in my area in hiding?!

    • Well I live in a very urban area in a city that is very liberal (Seattle) which I think has a lot to do with the amount of support there is in the city, and how that support effects the people in it to be open. There isn’t a lot of widespread understanding about illnesses like bipolar disorder, so it could be that people are just uninformed.

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