For a long time now I have been wanting to attend some kind of peer support group for bipolar. But there was just nothing available. I have been ‘googling’ and found the odd peer group session in the city. But my nearest big city is 4 hours away! The only peer support groups in the small town near me are Alcoholics Anonymous and for those who have had drug addictions. I didn’t feel like those were my peers. As I am not an addict. They also are on during the daytime which makes me assume they think that only people who do not have jobs have addictions and can attend these meetings. Which makes me a little ranty because we all know that mental illness does not discriminate and people who have a mental illness can also have jobs! But back to what I came here to write about…
A few weeks back on Twitter @BipolarStyle mentioned in his podcast about support groups and a group he attended: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) I was jealous! “God damn it! Why can’t I have a support group!” So I googled them and low and behold they have an online support group. That anyone in the world can attend. So for a little old New Zealand girl, this was perfect. You can find them here: https://www.supportgroupscentral.com/member_secure/index.cfm
They are a peer-led support group. The strength of a peer-led group is that it is run by someone who has also experienced a mood disorder. They have been hit with the shit stick too. They get it.
Before you get worried this is a legit website! You can tell straight away. It is very professional and has all the right safety checks. Once you have signed up to be a member you can register to attend a meeting. I had to play around for a bit to find a meeting that worked with my timetable, as these guys are based in the USA. My first meeting was today. I was a little nervous. In fact, I nearly didn’t go. But I thought willed myself to give it a try and if I didn’t like it I would never go back. Plus I figured these people live in the USA it’s not like I am going to bump into anyone.
Fifteen minutes before the meeting starts you can sign in. They use a software called Zoom which is free to download. If you have never used Zoom before then I would suggest that you turn up a little early and get yourself sorted. The best part is that you don’t have to have your camera on! So you have complete anonymity. There is no awkward turning up to a cold, dark, meeting room. That has no signage for the confidentiality of all the attendants but in reality, everyone knows that is where the people who have bipolar go to meet. You can do this from the comfort of your own home! You don’t even have to get dressed for this!
There was 12 of us at today’s meeting. Which seems like an awful lot and you might be thinking well how does everyone know when to speak and when to listen? The software allows you to virtually raise your hand if you have anything to say. Then you just wait to be asked by the facilitator to contribute.
At the beginning of the session, there was a preamble which tells you how the support group runs and then we went over the guidelines. The most important one for me is that what is said in the room stays in the room. The virtual room of course. So I won’t be disclosing any of the actual conversations that were had because that would not be cool. I was surprised at how comfortable the facilitator made me feel and straight away I felt like this was something that I could do. After we all briefly introduced ourselves then we had talk time. Which is basically an open forum for people to discuss things that are on their mind and for others to listen, empathise, and offer advice from their own experiences. Like I said I have never been to a peer support group before. So I wasn’t expecting much. But it was like walking into a room of people who knew you, they understood you, and they got it! It was a really powerful experience.
To wrap things up we quickly went around to say something we were going to do to look after ourselves this week. Just like that, an hour was up and my first online peer support group session was over! I would highly recommend these sessions to anyone who is looking for peer support and doesn’t want to meet with a group of people face to face or cannot due to the location of where they live.