About the Aware Blog. Each month we will post an article on a range of topics relating in some way to Depression. A blog post may be the author’s personal experience, a reaction to public events, or views on how better we can support ourselves and others who experience depression or related mood disorders. Each of our posts will be from an individual viewpoint, this means that some blog posts may not reflect official Aware policy.
Blog Entry 24th February 2015
by Rosemary Carvill
What makes the Aware Support Group special?
As a Support Group Coordinator with Aware, every week I meet people who are devastated by the depth of their own feelings of depression, yet who have the capacity and generosity of spirit to put their own pain to one side in order to listen to another person and endeavour to find for them a ray of hope – some new thing for that person to try, that might help to alleviate their depression. Their expertise has come about through understanding their own unique experience of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other conditions so what is shared is very moving, real and deeply insightful.
I’ve asked some people who attend our support groups to share their thoughts around what made a helpful difference to them because I often hear that people come as far as the door of a support group many times only to walk away in fear of taking that first step.
Betty wrote ‘In my own experience what put me off in the early days is that I assumed everyone attending would be very sick; that they’d all be heavily medicated; that everyone would be in such a bad way that it might make my own anxiety and depression worse; why go somewhere that you are surrounded by people who feel as bad as you. Instead I was so surprised when I tried the first meeting; surprised at my own misconceptions – I met normal people – people you might meet at the shop. I’ve gained tips and understanding and support that have had a huge impact on my life.’
When people do take that first step, they realise that there’s nothing to fear; they’re so surprised to find this safe, honest space; where they can breathe, where they’re understood; sometimes sitting quietly is enough.
“When I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder my life was turned upside down. I was in shock and frightened and I knew nobody in the same situation as me. I didn’t know how to help myself or to try and move on with my life. I felt so alone and was experiencing so many new and scary feelings that I couldn’t tell anyone about. A close friend had heard about Aware meetings and encouraged me to try them. I kept saying ‘Yah, I’ll go next week’ and then I made excuses not to go. I didn’t know what to expect. It took me one whole year to attend my first meeting.”
“I remember sitting outside in my car, my stomach churning, fighting a strong urge to drive away. I didn’t. I walked in with my head hung low. I remember one of the Aware volunteers coming straight over to me. Her warm welcome reassured me and it was the first step towards a better life. The other members in the group were dealing with all their feelings too and over time, they helped me with tips and suggestions on how to cope with Bi-Polar Disorder. I continue to go Aware meetings and each one gives me hope. I am no longer alone”. (Linda)
People gain a whole support network without any demands or expectations being put on them.
“You can be who you are, how you are and no-one is judging or hoping you’ll pull yourself together! (Tom)
Linda also shared “there were two tips that really helped me. One was to keep a mood diary, the other was to ask trusted friends and family to act as mood spotters. The mood diary allowed me to monitor changes in my mood, over time. It helped me to see that I had periods of stability which increased my confidence. I brought the mood diary with me when I visited my Psychiatrist which enabled her to prescribe the right medications. Having friends as mood spotters helped me too. I would compare where they thought my mood was at with my mood diary and them playing a role increased my feeling of being supported in my illness.”
Some people just write numbers down if it’s too hard to write a diary – zero is a low mood day and five is good. People feel surprised when they realise that every day isn’t a zero day – it gives a sense of hope. The group share in each others victories against the ‘black dog’. With thousands of visits paid to our support groups every year it’s evident that people are getting something tangible from meeting others who are having similar experiences. It’s a far more optimistic environment than you’d expect from a ‘depression’ support group.
Susan said “I go to bed before 12 every night; I need my 8 hours or I easily slip off my wellness path. I try to make sure I walk early in the day because if I put it off till evening time, I worry about the dark and make excuses to myself. My diet is the other thing I’m watching, I try to eat healthy foods – because my medication is affecting my weight and then that affects my mood again. I’m doing the best I can and trying to live in the moment.”
“I try to challenge my thoughts; the ones that fuel my anxiety, filling me with fear about what might happen; the story I make up is often worse than reality. I’ve learned to ground myself in the moment; breathe slowly in and out at least three long breaths; it seems to slow down my anxious thoughts; I touch my face and hands and arms and plant my feet solidly on the ground. And I remember to exhale – and realise I’m ok” (Sean)
Even though it’s a depression support group meeting, people laugh too – this brings relief and is felt profoundly because it brings with it the realisation that it’s still possible and that it might happen again. Some people have been well for a long time; they come back to support others, keeping hope alive, sharing what helped them. Depression is a lonely experience yet I can’t count the number of those attending who say they love their Aware support group meeting; that they enjoy it; sometimes it’s the only place where they have a chance to speak to others for weeks at a time or to express themselves freely as they worry about how their mood affects family members.
Sean continues “Feel the fear”, “take the plunge” or “I can and I will”, are all quotes that come to mind when I think of the fear of going to the first Aware meeting, yes it is a daunting task, at such a low time but that’s the time when you need to take action, it’s the best move you will ever make and you’ll never regret it, as you are empowering yourself. Just do it for yourself and nobody else”.
What makes the Aware Support Group special is that we experience the stripping away of all of the protective layers that people wear to hide behind in the ‘normal’ day – I think when you attend a Support Group – you meet the person – not the outer shell so you come away feeling connected and understood.
The purpose of Aware support groups is to provide a safe space where you can openly share your thoughts and feelings and learn about what you can do to support others and yourself when experiencing depression.* The groups are free, you don’t need to be referred or to book. Please consider joining the many others in your community who are sharing coping skills and information.*Aware support groups are confidential within normal limits.
My thanks to the people who shared their thoughts here;names have been changed for their privacy. Rosemary.