Rule #1: Just Show Up

John McManamy Health Guide
  • In previous entries to my blog I described my most recent depression. Over in the articles section I have two articles on support groups. Now it’s truth or dare time: Did going to my support group help me through my depression?

    The answer is yes, but not for the reasons you might expect. In the first article, I said our support group has only one rule – just show up. Therein lies perhaps its greatest benefit.

    About two and a half years ago, I asked the readers of my newsletter to fill out an online psychology questionnaire (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and e-mail me the results . I analyzed the first 100 responses and discovered to my amazement that 83 percent of us are introverts. (This includes the unipolar depressed population, as well; however, since bipolars are depressed way more than manic, the results probably apply here with equal force.) Various scientific studies support this rude awakening of mine.
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    In other words, the vast majority of us possess the destructive capacity to isolate, even when we are feeling well. No wonder we love our manias so much. But when depressed, a vicious cycle can happen. Instead of reaching out, we cut ourselves off. We tend to distance ourselves from what little human contact we had prior to our depression. Alone and isolated, our mood has nowhere to go but further south. And here’s where it gets truly scary: Far too many of us find ourselves sinking beneath the surface unnoticed, with no one to throw us a life preserver.

    So getting out the door was crucial. The first week I broke my own rule and stayed in bed. Since I was fighting off a fierce cold at least I had an excuse.

    The following weeks I managed to drag myself kicking and screaming to our meeting. It was extremely difficult. The October weather was unseasonably foul and dark, and after 10 minutes of waiting for the bus I was ready to turn around and walk back home. But I knew from attending past meetings that I tended to perk up once I walked in the door. Having human company tends to do that.

    I found this a common occurrence in our group. People would arrive looking like they’d just barely survived a forced march reminiscent of the Trail of Tears and then walk out two hours later with a spring to their step. I’d like to attribute this transformation to my great facilitating skills, but in truth we have no magic wand. We could have been the local Jeff Gordon NASCAR fan club and the same thing would have happened. It’s the human contact, stupid, I kept reminding myself.

    Since I wasn’t a NASCAR fan, my only lifeline was my support group. So I waited for the bus. I was not about to ask for any help getting through my depression. I just needed to be around people.

    The bus trip home was completely different. I had my iPod with me, and put on some ‘30s jazz. The human contact had been a welcome tonic. It was a short-term fix, I knew. Tomorrow I would wake up depressed, but this outing had stopped its momentum. I had come up for air, which would sustain me through the week and encourage me to get out a few more times.

  • I can go into this in more depth in future blogs. For the time being, all you need to know is that my support group is to me what attending religious services is to a highly observant individual — with one slight difference. Many people attend services to avoid going to hell. But as well as avoiding hell, I found out I need to attend my support group for time out from my personal hell.
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    Exactly when you don’t want to go is when you should be going, whether it’s church, NASCAR or your support group. Just show up. The simplest rule can be the most difficult to follow. Please give it your best shot.

Published On: November 29, 2005