I Get By with a Little Help from Total Strangers…

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This post is dedicated to one of my favorite bloggers Blahpolar of Blahpolar Diaries

https://bipolardyke.wordpress.com

 

I’m sitting near Woman’s Best Friend at this very moment.  My sweet puppy Lucy is reclining next to me while I hunt and peck slowly, groggy from taking a bit too much Seroquel the previous night.  Lucy sidles up next to my foot so that we’re touching skin-to-fur.  I can feel her soft warmth as she snoozes, and our being together is one of the best parts of my day.  

I want to apologize for whining repeatedly about my difficulties with keeping up healthy friendships – both in the flesh and online.  I’ve blogged ad nauseam about how lonely I’ve felt in this conservative mountain town ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2007.  I’m going to whine a little bit more, but please bear with me.  The whining might will eventually end! 

As Kathy Griffin says, “Here’s the thing.”

(I don’t love everything about her, but I do think she’s funny.)

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After one of my few local, longtime friends “S.” unexpectedly moved 500 miles away in December, I felt even lonelier.   Years ago S. experienced postpartum depression and she took medication for it.  I never felt for a second that she judged me for having a mental illness and taking meds.  S. often told me that I meant a great deal to her, not because I was needy and I required her to do that, but because she wanted to shower me with gratitude!  

I knew that if I mentioned to S. that I was experiencing major fatigue from a medication adjustment, she’d immediately offer to help me.  Indeed, I had medicated-related fatigue hit me hard last fall, and lo and behold, S. was there for me from the start.  I didn’t have to ask her to help me – she figured that out on her own.

Empathy and offers of help didn’t occur to several other friends who I informed about my fatigue.  It’s possible these women had never taken psych meds, and therefore they couldn’t imagine what that level of med-related exhaustion was like.  But perhaps they were taking meds in secret.  I don’t know.  I wondered, but I never felt comfortable enough to ask any of them if they were taking medication for mood disorders.  There are numerous moms who still don’t want to tell their mommy friends if they take meds due to the insidious, ever-present stigma. But I digress.

Now more than ever before, I’ve wanted to form friendships with women who have psych diagnoses, who take meds, and who are willing to share that information with me.  Being the only one in my IRL circle who’s “out” with my stigmatized mental illness has made me weary. It may sound limiting to focus on being friends with other “labeled” women, but that’s what I want.  Hell, I’m not asking anyone else to do it!  

I knew that in order to meet women living with mental illness, I’d have to take the plunge and create another support group for those with mood disorders.  Been there. Done that.  I made a shitload of mistakes in the doing, but at least I learned a thing to two! 

This time around I’ll have the group primarily be about having fun and nurturing friendships; I don’t want it to be a replacement for intense group therapy. We won’t just sit on our butts either – we’ll go on hikes and embark on other fitness/nature activities. After all, I am a former American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and P.A.C.E. Circuit class instructor!  

To that end, last month when I spied a 50% special on Meetup.com to create a group, I made a split-second decision to sign up, just like Meetup wanted me to do!  I found out after I signed up that the 50% deal was for first-time Meetup organizers only, which I was not.  However, I emailed Meetup and told them I thought anyone could get the 50% off, and a friendly customer service representative gave me the special anyway. I took that as a good omen.

The last time I tried forming a Meetup group it didn’t go so well.  I made that group’s requirements far too limited (i.e. a group for moms with bipolar who lived in this county).  As a result, only one person applied who lived two hours away, and she wasn’t a mom.   

Within just two days of my new group’s inception, I got an awesome, strong response. Twelve women are confirmed, and there are two members pending!  I went a little gung-ho on promoting it, so I’ve made a waitlist.  I’ve learned from facilitating a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) support group with 22 women in attendance that having too many people is counterproductive and overwhelming for everyone.  

I felt sad that two members who wanted to join my new group were concerned that people from other Meetups would notice they were in a group for those with mood disorders.   Of course they were scared of the stigma of mental illness, and I completely understood why they wanted confidentiality.  I explained how they could hide their personal Meetup information from others online,and that made all the difference.   I was reminded yet again that despite the strides being made in mental health advocacy, there is a LONG way to go!

We don’t have our first meeting until the end of February.  I’ve scouted out a peaceful outdoor location near a State Park.  This area has gorgeous redwood-lined trails where I’ve spent hundreds of hours hiking alone. For safety reasons, that wasn’t the greatest idea, although I carried my cell phone and pepper spray.  I’ll take a friend along from now on, since unfortunately Lucy isn’t allowed in the State Park. 😦  

Anyway, a couple days ago I was informed of a mountain lion sighting in the general area where I plan to hold the group.  The big cat wasn’t in the exact same spot as our meeting place, but I had to laugh.  Was this some sort of sign?  

The mountain lion’s appearance has created quite a stir in my two neighborhood Facebook groups. Several members have shared a ton of mountain lion lore with the others.  I figure that chances are good that if we have a large group of women meeting together, we won’t be attacked by mountain lions.  There are humane actions we can take to scare it/them away – if you’re interested, check out this local link:

http://santacruzpumas.org/mountain-lion-faq/

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While I’m scared to organize yet another support group, I have a much better feeling about this one than I did with the other four support groups I ran.  Despite all my problems (including social anxiety and the Seroquel sleepies) I’m in a better place to do this sort of thing than I ever have been before.  

My daily “Dr. Mohmmad Alsuwaidan” workouts are helping me tremendously.  Plus, once I get to know the other group members in person, you can bet I’ll ask them for help, and recruit a co-organizer or two.  Going it alone is foolish!  

I’ll return next week to write about…drum roll please…WRITING!  I might be posting earlier than my regular day on February 6th, so stay tuned.  

Thanks for your wonderful comments.  I swear that when I read each one I get a little spike of serotonin in my brain.  I’ve read articles that suggest that a serotonin spike actually does happen! So don’t hold back if you want to comment, and if it’s only a two words, I bet the serotonin is still activated. 🙂

I’ll see ya round!

love,

Dyane 

 

I had to include this classic – I’ve always loved this song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y39MjhVrf_Y

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Coming Full Circle

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Years ago when I suffered with unrelenting bipolar depression, I wanted to connect with other people who understood what I was going through.  During that time I wasn’t using the internet very often.  The internet, in the form of online bipolar support groups and forums, could have helped me feel less alone with my agony, but it simply wasn’t on my radar. 

To this day I don’t know how I did it, but I formed a chapter of the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  First I had to raise $125 to create a chapter. (I wish that DBSA could have underwritten the cost, but unfortunately they didn’t have the funds.) I had no money to spare, so I approached a popular Halloween haunted house located in my town.  Each year they selected a community organization to receive its proceeds, and I qualified for their generous donation!

Although I was very depressed, I hadn’t lost every bit of my sense of humor.  I found it funny that of all things a haunted house helped create a group dedicated to bipolar & depression support. I LOVE Halloween – it’s my favorite holiday, so I was pleased with the outcome.

With the credibility of the DBSA behind me and with access to their resources, I created a free support group for women with mood disorders.  As you can imagine, it definitely was NOT the right time for me to take on such a demanding project.  I was a complete mess with my bipolar disorder, but I felt motivated to form something that could help with my sense of isolation and help others as well.

The silver lining of that experience was that I learned what to do and what not to do regarding support group leadership, promotion, and management.  I contacted a therapist who agreed to accompany me pro bono to the first meeting who could give me me feedback.  I found a church that let me use their community room for free.  I publicized the DBSA group all over our county, and I drew upon my promotions experience which I gained while working at a Silicon Valley special event production company.

I contacted Peter, the young, ambitious editor of the Press Banner, our local newspaper.  I interviewed with Peter despite the depression and on top of that, horrid social anxiety. I still don’t know how I pulled that off either!  Peter wrote a feature article complete with a color photo of me and my girls, so I came out to my community in a big way about my mood disorder. Every residence receives the Press Banner in its mailbox each week, and almost everyone reads it.  I didn’t let the fear of social stigma stop me – I was focused like a laser on the DBSA group.  I think that knowing I’d be meeting women with mood disorders gave me the strength to reveal my own struggle in newsprint.

Here’s a snippet of the article at BP (Bipolar) Magazine on Facebook, as the article is no longer available in the Press Banner archives.  My girls are so little in this photo, unlike their Mom!  I wasn’t exercising at the time, and I was eating comfort food all day long, so I was much heavier back then.  

I love the optimistic title Peter chose for his article: “A New Day Dawning

https://www.facebook.com/bpMagazine/posts/214165082055695

Unfortunately after several months of DBSA meetings, I became too depressed to function.  Another member took over the leadership, but she was unable to sustain the group until I got well enough to return and didn’t renew the chapter.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t finished with forming support groups!  A couple years later I made the ultimately disastrous decision to taper off lithium.  When I first started tapering and became hypomanic, I created a new, independent group with a “natural, holistic” theme.  While I tried desperately to be able to live without medication, it didn’t work.  I relapsed and I had to be hospitalized for 3 weeks.  

After that nightmare hospitalization experience, I began seeing a new psychiatrist.  He was the one who eventually figured out medications that I credit with saving my life. I resumed taking lithium during the hospital stay, but when I was discharged I was still depressed.  My psychiatrist added an MAOI (monamine oxidase inhibitor) called Parnate, and Seroquel for agitated insonia.  This is the cocktail that restored my creativity and my quality of life.  Yep, I’m a walking pharmacy, but it’s totally worth it.

So next year I may try once again to offer a free support group for women in my area. I’d make it simple. It can be independent of the DBSA and I can do it through Meetup and/or Craigslist.  As far as I know, there are no support groups for women where I live in the mountains, and I know there’s definitely a need.   I know there are other women living with mood disorders in my community who are “closeted” and who would appreciate connecting with others for encouragement, a social outlet, and more.

What does “Coming Full Circle” have to do with anything?  Well, today the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance featured a profile about me called “Life Unlimited” on their website.  Here’s the link:

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=peer_life_unlimited#Dyane_Leshin_Harwood

I’ve come a long way since I formed the DBSA chapter.  Someday after I finish writing my book, maybe I’ll swing by my favorite haunted house, apply for another grant, and bring a DBSA chapter back to life for our county.  You never know! 😉

 

Another Meetup? Whaaaat??

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Have you heard of Meetup.com?  I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I’ve been a member of Meetup.com for several years.  Last year I attended only one Meetup –  a mom’s night out in my little town.  Over dinner at a new Italian restaurant I found that I didn’t have much in common with my dining companions.  Coincidentally the three of them recently relocated to our community from the fast-paced Bay Area, unlike me, so I felt a bit out of it from the get-go.  While the evening wasn’t excruciating, I wanted to make an early exit nonetheless. (I did it as gracefully as possible!)

I was the only mom present with older children.  That fact also didn’t help me connect with the other moms, despite my trying hard to be friendly and even, ahem “normal”.  (yeah, right!) Even the food was an expensive disappointment. 

To top things off, I had given up alcohol due to my MAOI bipolar medication. The other moms drank red wine and none of them stuck to just one glass. My social anxiety was in full force and I craved a few glasses of wine like the others apparently did.  I didn’t drink a drop, for to combine my medication with alcohol is a huge no-no and potentially even fatal!    

Although the evening was a let-down, I felt very proud of myself for giving it a shot.

Despite that bummer of a Meetup, I hoped that someday I would find a group that fit me well.  Browsing through Meetup’s website you’ll find a multitude of eclectic groups offered in my area.  It’s fun to take a look!  Some groups are pretty out-there, with occasionally hilarious themes. (“Cuddling Groups” and “Bigfoot Searchers” anyone?)  Of course there are the tamer-styled Meetups, such a book clubs, a WordPress group with a whopping 500 members, dog walking groups, movie nights and writers’ groups.  Oh, and don’t forget the Alien Sightings Meetup and Tantric sexual arts!

I arranged for Meetup.com to email me whenever a group matching my pre-selected interests is formed.  Specifically I’ve wanted to be contacted when a mental health group is created.  Once I spotted a social anxiety Meetup that sounded cool, but it met an hour away from my home so I passed as that was too far away for me.  A few months ago I started yearning to be around others who hate their social anxiety as much as I do, so I went in search of the “faraway” group only to see it had disbanded.

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Boo Hoo!

In 2013, I decided to taper off my bipolar medication, and I promptly became hypomanic. Whenever I’m hypomanic, my social anxiety vanishes.  So last spring I started my first Meetup group.  I shelled out $18 for one month’s organizer dues, and decided that the group’s theme would be for women interested in natural healing for mood disorders.  While in the planning stages of that Meetup, my hypomania turned into full-blown mania, and then sank down into suicidal depression.  I admitted myself to the hospital yet again. Needless to say my Meetup group folded before our very first meeting.

Three days ago Meetup emailed me offering a 50% reduction in first month fees if I created a group within five days.  It would only cost $9.50.  At first I thought, nope!  But I didn’t delete the email.  

I couldn’t ignore a little voice inside me that said, Well, you could try it and see if there’s any interestI thought about it some more.  No…I’m not gonna do it.  You don’t need one more thing on your plate.  And you need to work more on your damn book, not plan support groups!.

The pesky little voice grew stronger, adding, You’ve been wanting a Meetup do-over.  Even though you haven’t made time to see your closest friends (you know who you are, S.!) you know you’ve been struggling with social anxiety and you’ve been lonely in your isolated mountain town.  The internet has given you some wonderful online friendships, but you need more ‘IRL’ community with women like you.  Maybe having a group like this would really help your smorgasbord of mood disorders more than you realize!

So I took the plunge.  

What the hell,  I rationalized.  It’s just $9.50 to get started, and if no one joins, I can cancel it!  I knew I’d be creating a group with very specific parameters, so I wouldn’t have high hopes for many responses.  Still, I’d keep an open mind all the same.

TWO DAYS LATER…

After spending an inordinate amount of time playing around with my Meetup group’s title, description, its appearance, and researching other bipolar wellness Meetups’ agendas, the gung-ho wind completely vanished out of my sails.

I had an attack of massive “Meetup Remorse”:  

What the hell was I thinking???? I’m not ready for this! No way!”

Luckily Meetup’s policy is to wait two days after a group’s creation before its announcement and listing goes live to members and the public.

Despite the fact I’ve felt better in a lot of respects after last summer’s hospitalization for bipolar depression, over the past year I haven’t felt social. I’ve rarely hung out with longtime friends.  My idea of creating a group given the antisocial state I’m in is nothing short of preposterous.  

As I’m sure you’ve figured out already, a more realistic goal would be for me to join a group already in existence.  Sadly there’s nothing like that in my area. When I researched other similar-themed Meetups around the world, I was surprised and envious to see such awesome, welcoming descriptions.  Cool examples include a “New York Women with Bipolar brunch” group, and a “Sydney, Australia Women with Bipolar group”. There are many more mental wellness groups that look so cool and again, I wish there was one in my backyard.

It was fun to dream about forming a group that I’d like to be a part of, but the time isn’t right. Maybe someday I’ll have a change of heart and I’ll be in a better place with my social anxiety to pick up where I left off.

 

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