I speak a lot about the benefits of support groups following the diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness. What we should remember that the key is the word “group”. There’s a website, www.meetup.com, that has lists of groups in your area that meet socially for a host of topics and activities. I’m a big proponent of this group because social connections can be as important as medical treatment in the holistic spectrum of things.
Last night I attended a men’s group in the Denver area. The group has been meeting regularly for the past 35 years, and only recently was it added to Meetup. I was surprised to see over 20 men in attendance. The group was quite diverse in age, ethnicity, and I’m assuming religious/spiritual beliefs. This group meets weekly so there’s an opportunity to connect with these individuals on a regular basis, giving me the opportunity to make friends, and develop a support network.
While I was sitting in the circle listening to people sharing it occurred to me that we really all are on a continuum on each and every issue. If you’re attending a support group focusing on people who have the same diagnosis as you do remember that people will be on a continuum; everyone won’t be at the same place at the same time.
In a support group meeting there will be those who are healthier than you, and some who are sicker than you. You’ll find some people who have fully integrated their diagnosis into their lives and those who are still having a pity party and are very angry. Sitting in the rooms you’ll experience some people who make connections and depend on those connections between meetings, and others who are satisfied to interact during the group but don’t want to integrate the group into their life outside the group.
Why do I heed this warning? Because as I sat in the group last night I could have easily decided not to return because I felt I was ahead of the pack (I’ve spent the past 25 years on self-development, spiritual development, and lots of therapy). All it takes is one person with one nugget to make the experience worthwhile.
I’ll go back again and will see what other nuggets I can take away from the group and what new friendships I can develop. I’d love to hear about your group experience. If you share your group experiences it may help those who are still a bit leery about joining a support group.
For more information you can check out the website, www.survivingstrong.com
How do you feel when you spend time with friends and family (okay for some maybe just friends)? Do you feel good? Relaxed? Happy? Studies show that the lack of social connections can be as bad for you health as smoking, lack of exercise, or poor nutrition. Don’t you think that’s an incredible study outcome? You can feel better if you have enjoyable social connections.
As I ride the bus, for most it’s a solitary time. I have a stop where I transfer from one bus to the next and I’ve seen this one woman every day; and she’s always reading. I made the comment, “It’s so nice to see people reading”. She proceeded to tell me about her reading habits and those of her children. I saw her this morning and I started a new book and she asked me what I was reading.
Where am I going with this? Well first of all acknowledging the personhood of another is quite validating. When you have a common interest with another it makes the connection stronger and faster. It’s just nice to be able to talk to someone about something your interested in and want to share.
How does this apply to you after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness? Support groups are a great place to have your experience validated. When I worked in nonprofit organizations with those facing a health challenge; the greatest effort after basic services was about creating community.
When you have a community, or a tribe, you feel like you belong. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to be part of the illness tribe; it’s not a choice you have so how are you going to reframe it for yourself. Meeting people with similar challenges doesn’t mean that your relationship has to revolve around the illness. It does mean that these people will be a bit more understanding if you have to cancel last-minute due to health. They will know and inquire about how you’re doing when you going for treatment.
Having a network doesn’t mean you have to live in the world of illness. It does mean that picking people who have an understanding for your current life situation is affirming. It means that you don’t have to be along on social, emotional, or spiritual fronts. Try it out and see what happens!
When you have troubling news to share who do you call? How do people know that you’re in need? This past week I learned that the son of a colleague had been murdered and I received word from numerous people. What surprised me the most is the emphasis everyone put on the fact that my colleague is a very private person and we should all respect that about her.
It made me think about what do people know about our lives. I didn’t even know she had children much less three children and all adults. I never would have thought to ask her about her kids because in my presence she never referenced them. It’s amazing what we keep under wraps and aren’t even conscious of the omission.
There’s another type of privacy that boggles my mind. A few years ago my uncle was diagnosed with melanoma. After the initial surgery when the whole family called to lend our support we were provided a dictum not to contact him. He didn’t want to deal with all of us and yet knowing my family as I do we’re the furthest thing from intrusive. I was insulted at the time because I know the impact that isolation can have on your mental and physical well-being. Working with individuals and families facing a life-altering illness for the past twenty years I know that people come in all temperments, but if you don’t include people how do you rally the troops when you will need them.
I’m not saying that you have to form a friends and family committee for every medical decision or treatment. I am requesting that you keep people in your life informed by whatever means you feel comfortable. I know clients who have set up websites or blogs to keep people in the loop. Everyone is grateful for the opportunity to be in-the-know without having to be intrusive. Others have put a message on their answering service with an update so the family doesn’t have to answer the phone (especially in this age of caller ID) and people are still in the loop.
It’s much harder to rally the troops if the troops have left for another camp. Don’t leave yourself out in the cold…keep people involved in your life because there will come a day when we’ll need them.