Have you ever wanted to talk to someone about an experience, but didn't know who to call? Have you ever wanted to call your mom, sister, or best friend to discuss your feelings about a major change in your life but you thought she wouldn't understand? Have you ever thought your circumstances were not serious enough for therapy, but yet you could still use a good nonjudgmental, unfiltered conversation with someone who gets you? You are not alone. I have been there too.
A few years ago, life put me on a rollercoaster. In the beginning, the ride was steady and predictable, but when I got to the top, I plummeted down at different speeds, turned through loops and curves, and sometimes remained suspended in the air for much longer than I'd liked. I thought to myself, "when will this rollercoaster ride end?" and waited patiently for the response. This left me feeling very insecure, uncertain, and anxious about my future. As a result, I steeped into depression and withdrew from my family and friends. I was very reluctant to seek professional help and suffered in silence for years until a friend of mine convinced me to go to therapy. I gave it a shot, but I was not satisfied. The intake process was daunting. The therapist asked so many questions! I revealed so much about my past, thinking if I went back as far as seven years old, she would have a better understanding of why I currently struggle with financial insecurity, or why I swear when I'm angry. Needless to say, I didn't find therapy useful, so I stopped attending.
I wanted to give it another try, but without the formalities. I wanted to talk to someone who was like my best friend, but who also understood my feelings and experience because she, too, had the same or similar experiences. I didn't want to answer any intake questions, or complete any forms. What I needed was full emotional support, acceptance, and to be embraced. I needed to know I was not alone and there are others with whom I could connect. This is when I learned about support groups.
A support group is an organization of people who share common experiences or concerns, who gather to discuss their experiences, and provide each other with encouragement, comfort, and advice. The key difference between a support group and therapy is that the support group is not group therapy, or led by a professional therapist. It is a self-help support group led by peers. The more I researched support groups, I became more interested in finding a depression support group with women in my age group, and of my ethnicity. I couldn't allow myself to be vulnerable to just anyone--it had to be with people who looked like me, talked like me, and could relate to my personal story, even if theirs differed. Finding the perfect group was discouraging, so I created my own!
The I Love My Sufferer In Silence (S.I.S) support group is a safe space for African American women and girls to share their experiences with depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts, and receive emotional support and encouragement from women who have similar experiences. It is a place for women to feel encouraged to end their silent suffering because she has realized she is not alone. One of the benefits of this support group is that it provides a huge relief to its members, myself included. Realizing that "hey, I am not alone and there are other people who have the same problems" instills a level of comfort inside which makes the rollercoaster seem less scary and uncontrollable. It also inspires me to help others do the same. There is strength in numbers, and together, everyone can be stronger and overcome their silent suffering.
If you are interested in joining a support group, do your homework first! You can research the websites of leading organizations specializing in a particular cause, like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and visit a local chapter in your area. Every group is different, so finding one to call home may be overwhelming, but do not give up! Support groups have many benefits, but one important consideration to keep in mind is that a support group is NOT a substitute for individual or group therapy, or any professional counseling. The support group will not provide a medical diagnosis or provide any medical treatment. Many people who are in support groups seek professional medical treatment, as well, because it can create a balance that is centered around their overall well-being. Whether you decide upon a support group, professional counseling, or a combination of both, I encourage you to seek out the best method for your emotional healing.