Attending a Support Group for Family Members of those With Mental Health Issues

A support group is an odd thing. It was hard to convince myself to look one up through the NAMI website. Then it was hard to convince myself to go. I drove myself to the state hospital which houses psychiatric in-patients, and wondered what on earth I was doing there. I was told “go down the hall and through the door.” But the hallway had about eight doors, so I had to go back to the front desk for better directions. A different woman walked me to the room, but it was the wrong support group. A lady from the wrong group walked me to the right one. All that meant I walked into a room of strangers already intimidated by the location and feeling lost and out of place. I wasn’t sure if I even belonged there. Would I face something intense because all the others were dealing with conditions more severe than what my loved ones had? I really didn’t know what to expect. In the end, the group was small. Just four of us and two were the ones whose job it was to be there.

The point was to talk. I wondered if that would be hard, but it turns out that when the listeners are interested and sympathetic, the stories flow freely. I tried to form a coherent narrative, but I don’t know if I did. My thoughts jumped from kid to kid and all along the timelines of our lives. At first we took turns, but then it became more conversational, thought leading to thought. Person talking to person. Telling the story of what is going on doesn’t change any of it, but somehow it does. There were parents there who’ve felt what I feel and they survived it. Not having to be alone with the struggle, having someone to listen and witness the difficulty, changes me.

A support group meeting is strange, awkward, intimidating, embarrassing, boring, validating, and helpful. As I sat there, the observer part of my brain was watching how the meeting was handled, the ways that the leaders helped people take turns, the careful validations of feelings and providing of information. That observer part of my brain is often so ready to claim that I don’t need things because it can see how the things work.

Yet, when I came home and walked in my house, I was glad to be there. It has been a long time since walking in my front door has been a glad experience. Of late it has always been a re-shouldering of burden. I came home from the support group and was glad for my house and my people. Such a tiny shift, almost imperceptible, but significant things can be tiny. If that is all the group ever gives me, gladness on returning home, I’ll take it. Sign me up for another meeting next month.