Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Support Groups

I wonder if this is a type of support group too. It sure made me laugh. I found it on Cute Overboard.

According to Anne Harrington, author of The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, the value of support groups for cancer survivors was heralded by Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. He and Dr. Irving Yalom (a colleague) had conducted a study in 1989, which determined that women with late-stage metastatic breast cancer who participated in a support group lived on average twice as long as those in control groups.
"It was the first time a randomized clinical trial--the gold standard of medical research--had ever been used to test the power of healing ties."
This wasn't surprising information. I'd read about Spiegel's study in the Bill Moyers' book, Healing and the Mind, which was based on the blockbuster PBS television special.

What was surprising to me was that the evidence from the original study has never been replicated. And that is a stunning realization. One of the reasons I started this blog was because I believe that we can help each other heal.

As I read further, the following paragraph provided me with a lot to think about. When Dr. Spiegel arranged for Harrington to visit the original support group, she asked the following question: "Living this particular 'healing ties' story from the inside, did they believe it? Did they think it was helping them live longer?"

Harrington said she will never forget what happened when she asked the question. There was silence until a number of women said they didn't believe the premise of the study. The reason why was because so many women in their group had died.

However, one woman said, "It would be nice if David's hypothesis proves out and maybe it will in the long run. But I don't think it matters to me at all. That's not why I joined this group."

When Harrington asked why she and the others were in the group, the women said "they stayed in the group because they learned there, from one another, how to live with cancer and how to die better with cancer, something they could learn nowhere else in our culture."
And I realized that is the reason why I continue writing this blog. I believe that illness enables us to look at our lives more honestly, and to speak more openly about important life issues. Perhaps if I had never suffered from depression, my life would have remained largely unexamined.
It's difficult to tell. But, what I do know is that is that being ill has enabled me to be with people who are ill. Surviving debilitating depressions has given me the ability to empathize with others who have suffered losses.

As I am trying to be more forgiving these days, I realize that I can finally forgive my mother's friends who abandoned her when she got Dementia, and moved into the assisted living facility.

At the time I found their behavior inexplicable, and so very disappointing. Two years later, I feel sad for them. What kind of people abandon a friend they have known and loved for most of their lives? Why didn't they know that while mother may not have remembered what she'd eaten for breakfast that morning, she retained most of the memories from her life, except recent ones.

Where was their compassion?

In my forgiveness mode, I pity my mother's friends. Whatever prompted their behavior, they missed out on the last years of my mother's life. They missed her smile, her sparkling blue eyes, and her love--which never diminished. And I'm so grateful that I didn't.

It was a blessing that I could be there for her. She lives forever in my heart. And I'm sorry for people who were either so frightened of their own mortality, or of illness, that they lost their humanity.

If that's one of the lessons I've learned from bipolarity, and from our discussions with each other, it's another reason to feel grateful!


Periwinkle said...

I have not been able to find a support group locally and have found this blog to be a great support in itself. I too have forgiven relatives that could not deal with my mother dying of cancer and just couldnt come to see her. It has taken years but after speaking with them, I know understand the fears they were going through.
Had a bit of a fear last week that I overcame, a dear friends husband took his own life while on vacation with his wife (dr. screwed up his meds, a real tragedy)one month ago after dropping my children off at midweek service I felt God prompting me to go visit her, I kept fighting it, but said this is nuts, my own brother committed suicide! she needs companionship, so I stopped by and that visit lasted for 3 hours, half a peanut butter pie and one steak were eaten and a thorough plan set for packing up the house. I had the privilege to sit with her in church this past Sunday and wrap my arm around her as she and I wept during the service. Yes Susan it is a healing process to forgive others and reach out to others......

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Periwinkle,
Thanks for sharing this. I've written about my mother before you started reading this blog. While people were very empathetic, thoughtful, and kind when I was struggling during her illness and subsequent death, no one said they'd experienced anything similar with a parent's friends or relatives. So, it was very helpful for me to learn you had.

I now think that I've continued to write about it because I needed to know that others have gone through the same thing, and to find out how they handled it.

Also, I was very moved that you visited your friend. How tragic her husband's suicide must have been for her, and how great that you could be there for her. And I can imagine how comforting it was for her in church when you hugged her as you wept together.

I'm so glad you've joined our virtual support group!


Mariposa said...

Wow! I love this topic.

Quite true, most of the time (if not all the time) we join support group not for complete healing from a specific illness/sufferings that we go through but rather to find acceptance, and a place to belong. As we journey we ourselves have learned to accept and let others come in to our live and together we find a place.

I admit it takes me really a long time to speak up and type comments in blogs which discusses our challenges, specially bipolarity. I simply go/come here then to read what others have to say and compare with mine...and as I go along I realized there are so much to lear and to share. Groups like this I never expected to offer me a panacea to what I have...nor to be there for me when I need company...but to know and to understand other's struggles and how they are dealing with it and share success stories and leverage on those is more than enough for me.

It feels good to learn from others that you are not alone and that there are people who understand what we go through because we share a common ground. It feels better to share and pass on this knowledge and information. To help is to be helped is certainly true to me in this case.

And you are so right, I guess had I not been diagnosse with Bipolar I guess I will not be dwelling too much in understanding human nature and behavior. Maybe I will not be as patient and as hopeful as I am. I'd say my infliction (if that is how others would call it) makes me a more compassionate person...a better person. I look at people and I just have to make my heart and mind as open as the sky...

Another most important thing I've learned is to be there for my friends and family. To be there for them when they need me...because more than anything I know now how it is feel alone and loney all at the same time.

I love coming here...because the topics you discuss are things which I'd love to talk about just that there's no one to talk to here and I to be honest, just do not know how to start a discussion like this.

I have not much to share but only stories of hope and successful you can tell I'm not even much of a help in sharing medications...because for the past years I've been more into healing for the soul.

Let me hit publish before I take over the post by bluberring so much! LOL

I'm happy to have found you and this groupd here.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
You're right and I didn't think of it quite that way. We truly are looking for acceptance. And, in a way, the value of an online support group is that we can read what people have to say before "joining."

In this case, it's kind of a self-selection process. Like- minded people find each other because our thoughts resonate. And people who don't share our point of view either stop reading or don't comment.

I, too, feel like I'm on a journey for my soul. Discussions about medications truly don't interest me any more because that's not the answer for me.

Independent of why we've had to suffer from this illness, it's so nice to be able to discuss issues that touch our hearts and our souls!

And I'm so glad you're a part of this group, and so appreciate your contributions!


Periwinkle said...

HI Mariposa,
Thanks for your long comments I appreciate them, check out my blog if you wouldn to it is "spring is here" and is on the sidebar from Susan's blog.

Periwinkle said...

Ok Susan didnt realize your mother had died also, I used to work for Hospice and a social worker suggested "Motherless Daughters" by Hope Edelman she has also written Motherless Mothers which I didnt like as much. It took me five years to read the first book. I'm sorry I dont know how to insert pictures of the books like you do.
On another note I went to Borders today and bought Bipolar for Dummies, cant wait to start it hopefully will give me insight as to whether or not our son may be diagnosed later in life.
I found Bipolar for Dummies reading another blog that you have listed on your blog, Susan.
Take Care.

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Periwinkle,
My mother died in 2007. I know someone who's a member of Motherless Daughters, but her mother died when she was just 20, and I know the organization's for women who lost their moms at a young age. But, thanks!


Wendy Love said...

You have put that so well Susan! Your blog has been a support group of sorts for me, especially since I don't do groups well, but need the support. Thanks again for speaking what I feel. Your words are affirming.

Carrie said...

I can't help but believe in a higher power when I decide to visit your blog, Susan, and the message I need to hear comes shining through.

We need each other.

Meredith said...


Hi! What a lovely post to re-find you! I had quit reading because, you know, you had quit updating! But I am about to start a new blog and I decided to peek back in. I'm so glad I did, and I'm so glad you're back!

Side note: do you do Twitter, or know of other people who are bipolar and do? I find it very therapeutic support-wise and communication-wise.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Meredith,
So glad to hear from you. I hope you're doing well, and would be delighted to read your new blog.

I don't do Twitter because it's just not me. Maybe it's because I'm too old, but I like my privacy, and can't stand the thought of people knowing where I am every moment of my day!

Alas...but perhaps some others do. I'm just not sure.


Meredith said...

What's interesting is that the whole "I'm eating lunch!" thing is what publicity Twitter's gotten, but in my experience, it's a lot more about awareness-building and things like that, at least among my network. Sharing links, resources, notes, messages--sort of blogging on a teeny scale.

I'm doing really well--I don't remember where exactly we left off, but I got into law school! My top-choice law school! So, I am about to graduate and go in the fall. Last week was my two-year diagnosis anniversary. I'm struggling some right now, but I'm hanging in there.

And, excitingly, this time I'm blogging fully as *me*. Well, with my full name. I'll be having to give up on some of the details, but I want to be able to have a body of writing.

Wellness Writer said...

Congratulations on law school. That's really exciting, and I'm delighted you got into your first pick!

I guess I'm just not that knowledgeable about Twitter, but it's something to check out.

And it does feel good to write under your own name. I can't imagine investing the energy in writing without my name attached to it. But, that's just me!

Anyway, best of luck, and stay in touch! All my best!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Carrie,
Sorry it took me so long to respond. I somehow read your comment and thought I'd responded, but hadn't. Thanks so very much. It made me feel so good! I really appreciate it!