Finding Support in Our Lives: DBSA, Mad Mafias, and Occasional Normal

John McManamy Health Guide
  • We cannot do it alone. We need support. I bring this up because a few days ago I attended my first DBSA meeting in a good five years. Support groups are DBSA’s strong suit, and I would recommend that anyone with bipolar attend at least one meeting.


    I facilitated and attended support groups for a period of about seven years back when I lived on the east coast. Initially, I experienced the relief I encountered from being around people I could actually talk to. I still maintain regular contact with one of those people from that very first meeting some 14 years ago.


    Attending support groups also proved instrumental in my reentry back into the world. At first, this meant breaking out of my isolation in a safe environment. Then I stretched myself by taking on facilitating responsibilities.

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    The downside to this was I found myself living in a bipolar bubble. The problem is the world doesn’t organize itself into bubbles. Fortunately, I was able to break out. In many ways, bipolar is a crisis of identity. To stay well, we need to be around our own kind, to relate bipolar on bipolar. But we also need to think beyond our labels, and that requires cultivating outside relationships.


    Yin-yang. We need both.


    The yin part of the equation: I have my own network of people I can confide in. Call them my “mad mafia.” These are people who lead parallel lives, who have survived suicidal depressions, had their brains quit on them, had their lives turned upside-down, again and again. When the normal world blindsides me or lets me down or I just plain screw up, these are the people I can turn to.


    They can also turn to me. We all benefit.


    It’s not just support. These are people I can be around without having to worry if I’m breathing wrong. 


    The yang part: This evening I will be bringing a baked ziti to a didgeridoo gathering. I also attend drum circles and a writing group. In case you’re wondering, didgeridoo players, drummers, and writers are not exactly normal, either. But we all have the option in choosing our normal. What’s important is that tonight I will be leaving my bipolar back inside my place. When things go right, this is a very liberating experience.


    Anyway, one of my mad mafia suggested we attend a DBSA meeting together. My long lay-off gave me a chance to observe a support group with fresh eyes. Let me say right off that I was not prepared for the succession of hard-luck stories I heard. If you are looking to move on to a more care-free existence, you may want to ration the time you spend around people who are in worse shape.


    Having said that, the people in the group made me feel welcome, and I participated in some of the discussions. I actually knew two of them from way back, so it was good to catch up.


    There were two newcomers to the group, people who faced major social challenges in the outside world. This could have been me 14 years ago. I hope they keep coming back.


    Also, I found the quality of the advice excellent and insightful. One woman was dealing with harassment issues at work. Two other women in the group were there for her.


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    Most of the group were regulars, which meant they were currently sharing a seat on their life journey. There is no underestimating the importance of these connections. At a certain stage in your recovery, these are the people who represent your lifeline, your safe harbor.


    To tie this into a bow: Support groups can be a life-saver, especially if you are new to your diagnosis. The connections you establish in these groups will play a vital role in your recovery. A support group may not be for you, but make an effort to attend at least three meetings before you rule them out. 


    In due course, you will outgrow the need for a support group. It’s not always healthy sticking around. We need to move on. But if you do stay on, make sure it’s in a serving capacity, as someone who is giving back.


    At the same time, we never outgrow our need for support. Make sure you have your own personal “mad mafia” in place.


    Finally, find some form of normal that works for you and get out in it.


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Published On: December 28, 2013