During the past year I received wonderful online support from bipolar-themed social media contacts and bloggers. As fulfilling as their encouragement was, I also craved real life support, connection and friendships with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
A peer-to-peer support group is a great place to do just that!
The bipolar support group located closest to my home is run by the acclaimed organization National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). I found my local NAMI chapter by searching on their website at http://www.nami.org/Find-Support. However, this particular support group has a Christian-focus (Please note: not all NAMI groups are religious-based). Despite the fact that the support group has a kind, experienced facilitator, it was not the right fit for me.
As much as I wanted to attend a support group, I knew I had to wait until someone else created a group that fit my interests, or I’d need to form one myself. Months passed by, and there were still no other mood disorder support groups in my area in sight. After much deliberation, I knew the time had come for me to form a bipolar support group.
Now, I should disclose that I’ve created a bipolar support group in the past! I formed a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) for our county, and I served as the primary organizer. Unfortunately after two years I left the chapter when I had a relapse of bipolar depression, and my successor closed the chapter soon after my departure.
I won’t lie. Creating and facilitating a bipolar peer-run support group takes work. I also have social anxiety, so it’s a challenge to take on a leadership role, even among kindred spirits with whom I feel comfortable. But under the right circumstances, being part of a group of like-minded members is totally worth the effort.
I’ve learned a few valuable lessons from my support group experience that makes me hopeful that my new group will thrive over the long-term. (I'll be sharing those tips with you in my March post.)
Before I did anything, however, I decided to keep the bipolar support group logistics as simple as possible. Instead of re-affiliating with the DBSA, which I don't rule out doing again in the future, I created a Meetup.com group for the time being. In Part Two, I'll discuss the nuts and bolts of how I created my Meetup group, and I'll share how our first meeting turned out, making sure to keep all identifying details of the group confidential. I'm nervous, but I'm very excited about this new bipolar peer-to-peer support group! Stay tuned!