Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stuff I've noticed


Inspired by the final blog post of Obesio the Loser, a former online-friend, here's a list of stuff I've noticed over the decades.

1. Sometimes it gets better. Sometimes it doesn't.

2. No two people are exactly alike, but few people are genuinely special.

3. I still don't know what love is and suspect I'm not alone.

4. Women say they like to look good for themselves, but they're still judging themselves by how others have taught them they should look.

5. People will sometimes deny that someone in their lives has depression because they don't want to face their own.

6. It's bizarre and disturbing the way Americans see their pets as children or "fur babies," and the rest of the world agrees with me.

7. Enough Little Debbie snack cakes will make it better for a little while.

8. When you create your own family of friends, you know who they are at the end of your life when you look back and see who was there for you.

9. When a man dives in and plants his lips on yours before you can react, past generations called that "stealing a kiss." We now call it "assault."

10. People who don't remember their dreams when they wake up are the lucky ones.

11. Hugs matter.

12. Not everyone can do what they love.

13. Making friends with strangers isn't hard, but it takes confidence, or at least acting like you have confidence.

14. To others, there is no difference between having confidence and acting like you have confidence.

15. "Middle age" is the middle of life. If we typically live into our 70s, then I, at 51, am actually a bit past middle age and I'm okay with that.

16. It sucks being the oldest child.

17. Experts who tell you it's easier to keep weight off than to lose it are idiots for stating the obvious, but they're right.

18. Pets are great for people with mental illness, unless your symptoms include a bad emotional response to pets.

19. When someone younger than you says they feel old, don't disagree. They are the oldest they've ever been and their feeling of being old is legitimate.

20. Everyone has an area of expertise, whether it's professional such as writing, or not-so-professional such as how to cook grains, being a good neighbor or parallel parking

21. Practice balancing. It will matter more and more as you age. When you get very old, it will be critical.

22. Not everyone can be whatever they want to be.

23. The old person who's holding up the bus line isn't driving and causing accidents.

24. You can't cure families, you can only prevent them.

25. I'm suspicious of people who don't use swear words.

26. When someone who looks perfectly able-bodied uses a handicapped space, don't judge. There are many illnesses and disorders that aren't visually obvious.

27. Many people live small lives because that's what they can do, and that's okay.

28. People who have cut family members out of their lives have usually done it for very good reasons. "But he's/she's your father/mother/brother/sister" doesn't hold up against decades of abuse.

29. Sometimes there's just nothing you can do for someone, and you have to accept that.

30. Every American generation aged with grace, until the Baby Boomers delusionally rejected aging and all terms such as senior, elderly and early bird dinner. They desperately try to retain the appearance of youth into their 60s and 70s. I'm counting on Generation X and Millennials to resume aging gracefully as the way to face life.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

If your friend is depressed, try this

This is what you can do when I'm so depressed that I sit there like a zombie and stare into space or can't stop crying. This might not apply to anyone else, but it's good for me.

1. Give me your full attention.
2. Say nothing. Just sit there in silence even if it's for five straight minutes (it won't be).
3. Don't smile at me.
4. When I start talking, listen.
5. Talk with me and let me guide the conversation.

I will respond best if you give me absolutely no indication that you wish I were different, that you want to make me feel better or that you'd rather talk about what you want to talk about. At the end of our exchange I might not look better, but you can at least know that you didn't make me feel worse. Chances are I will feel at least a little better because if you've done these things, I will feel cared for and I'll probably thank you.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

When it's not really respect

Recently a group of women organized a healing workshop in a suburb of Chicago. They incorporated meditation and movement, and one of the exercises used a gong. But they used the gong in a way that wasn't part of any Chinese ceremony or tradition. They simply took the gong and used it in a way that fit the theme of their event.

The reaction of Asian-American women included amusement and offense. These women were going to do what with a gong? Why? Whose idea was this? And what made this group of women think they could take a Chinese ceremonial object and use it as it was never intended?

A friend of mine asked one of the women on the event planning committee about it. She got the response that, yes, they had changed the traditional use of the gong, but they were doing it with complete respect for Chinese culture. These words indicated such a gulf between the viewpoints of the two of them that my friend didn't know how to respond.

Appropriating objects from other cultures that you don't know much about, and using them as they were never intended, is insensitive and exploitative. No amount of respect makes that right. 

But such respect isn't true respect anyway. That's an objectifying kind of respectFor instance, to see Asians as wiser and more spiritual than white people might seem good, but it's a stereotype. It objectifies Asians as being fundamentally different from everyone else. Such respect views a group of people in a way that keeps them mysterious and other. 

An analogy is the way some men respect women by thinking women are more precious, pure, good and close to God. It sounds good, but it's actually dehumanizing and leads to men not treating women like regular human beings with regular human needs.

Positive stereotypes are just as damaging as negative ones. I first heard the term "model minority myth" when I was at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980s. I didn't understand how being seen as smarter than brown, black and white people could be bad, but my Chinese-American and Korean-American friends explained it to me. 

They said the idea of Asians being the ideal minority group locked individuals into a set of  painful expectations. If you were Chinese-American and weren't good at the things Chinese people were supposed to be good at, you could disappoint others just by being you. White people could fail calculus or chemistry without evoking "But you people are supposed to be good at that." Such a person could turn to another major without reflecting badly on his or her entire culture. But an Asian-American student who did poorly in math risked not only a lower grade point average and disappointed parents, but the feeling that they had let down everyone who shared their cultural background, including ancestors who had passed on decades ago. It's a traumatizing burden to carry.

The model minority myth penalizes people for being themselves if their natural inclinations don't fit the stereotype.

Returning to the women's healing ceremony: to make up a new way to use a Chinese instrument because you want to include some ideal of Asian spirituality is bald cultural appropriation and evokes the stereotype about Chinese people being more naturally spiritual than others. To use the defense, "But we're doing it respectfully" indicates how little you understand the insult. 

When a Chinese-American woman tells you that your view of Chinese culture hurts her, don't try to convince her that she shouldn't feel hurt. Put your confusion or guilt or embarrassment aside and listen. The more hurt someone is by your actions, the more important it is to listen because it's an opportunity to learn.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Welcome Dialogue Christmas Party makes the news!

Well, here's a story.
Now I'm SO glad I bought that Christmas mantel covering!

My new Christmas tradition is to invite any internationals over to my home who don't have a place to go and who would like to celebrate Christmas the American way. I do this through my American Skills for Internationals Meetup and Welcome Dialogue, my business that helps expat professionals make more money and more friends.

This year I also posted the event on my neighborhood's Facebook page and got a message from a journalist from CBS Channel 2 Chicago. They asked to do a story on my party! Of course I said YES, so an hour into my party a news crew came over and took footage of me and my guests (and my impeccable Christmas decorations *ahem*).


Me. Talking.
After they left, I declared that my party was officially going until 10:00 so we could watch the news together and see ourselves. Most people wimped out and left before then, I guess because they have no lust for the public eye. But two of my guests and me were ecstatic to see that our news segment was the second story of Christmas night! Well, locally on channel 2, anyway. Here it is and I love the name of the story. One Woman's Gift to Strangers: Fellowship and a Christmas Meal.

My only problem is: how do I top this?


Reporter Charlie De Mar and my guest Sumayia Hassan

The Press. They're always trying to get into my parties...
My guest Ahmed Albandawi.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On the radio

Yesterday I was the guest on WGHC's "Loud and Clear" which highlights the arts. Host, Alicia Hempfling and I talked mostly about this blog, how I started it, what I write about, how I started writing as a child and topics such as depression, being part of an immigrant family and the state of American politics.

I had a great time. Alicia's show is an hour long, with musical breaks, which might seem like a long time to talk with no idea of what you're going to say, but I loved it. She said there was nothing to prepare and I should just think of it as a chat over coffee, so that's what I did. Sitting in the studio, waiting for the music to end and our cue to start, I didn't even feel nervous.

Although I feel perfectly comfortable talking about most topics on my blog, there's one that is not my forte: politics. When Alicia asked me for my opinion about things in the United States, I took my time answering, saying, "This is all going to get worse...now the rest of that phrase would normally be before it gets better, but I'm not sure about that half of it, so I just think it's all going to get worse."

Later Alicia asked me about the possibility of impeachment (the process by which the House of Representatives officially documents the crimes a president is accused of, and the Senate votes on whether or not to remove the president from office). Reluctantly I gave her my prediction about how El Idiota's term will go: "I think that impeachment is not going to happen. And I think that we are going to have our first president who was indicted and will continue to serve. And I believe that he will not leave office except on his own terms."

Alicia said my words made her sad and it hit me that I'm a terrible person to ask these questions of. But it's not because I'm a pessimist, although most Americans would call me a pessimist. It's because I lack the optimism bias most people (especially Americans) have. We Americans like to look on the bright side of things, expect the best of people and believe we're going to be okay. I don't. I'd call myself a realist and even say that depressives are the true realists.

Because I know how sexist and bigoted the United States is, I told a friend in 2015, "I'm afraid that if it comes down to President Hillary Clinton or President Crazy Town, we're going to get President Crazy Town." I believed that was extremely likely and I didn't like believing that, but it just seemed like what my country would do.

So I caution everyone (and certainly all future interviewers who might talk to me) not to ask me about politics or what I expect from the future. What I expect is that the US will just go back and forth between political lucidity (such as the passage of the civil rights act) and our worst instincts, back and forth, back and forth, with no net movement forward. Here and throughout the world, people will continue to exploit and kill each other.

In crisis, some people exhibit the worst of humanity and others the best. But the worst always dominates because that side of us is more wily, more violent and more ruthless. Our worst side has nothing to lose and that’s always the more powerful position.

People say they have hope that, given enough time, humans will achieve world peace and equality for all. I remind everyone of an inevitability we think about even less than our own death: that the human race -- like all other species in our genus -- will eventually die out. And we'll die out long before we reach world peace and equality for all.


Friday, December 08, 2017

Radio interview on Sat 9 Dec at 9:00a

Hey, all my friends:

A local radio station has a program that interviews artists in the community. For some reason, bloggers count, so I'll be on the show on Saturday, Dec. 9th at 9:00 a.m. Central Standard Time.

Legend Media, WGHC 98.3FM, broadcasts from Uptown in Chicago, Illinois USA. The show will last an hour.

It's a low-power FM radio station, so listen online. You can do this two ways:

1. Go to the organization's website and click on the WGHC radio link: www.newrhythmarts.org

2. Download the tunein.com app and search WGHC radio.

I'm not sure I recommend listening to me gab on for a full hour, but the novelty might be cool for a few minutes. Let me know if you tune in!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Making depression suck less

I'm proud to say that the depression support group I started through Meetup.com is going strong. As you can see in this screenshot, I started it on October 10th and we now have 111 members. Between seven and ten of us meet every Monday evening in Rogers Park and we have members who are managing monopolar depression, bipolar disorder, depression with anxiety, etc. If you know what depression feels like, you're welcome to join us. 
For years I attended a support group provided by the Chicago chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). DBSA is an excellent organization that offers support to people with mental illness and their families. Mental illness is sometimes hardest on those who live with the person with the illness, so spouses, siblings, children, parents, girlfriends and boyfriends need help, too. DBSA provides support groups all over the country and they helped me a lot when I was married.

But this is a new stage of life and I need a different kind of support group. I founded the Depression: Tired of Being You Meetup (DTBY) to be a group of people who support each other in meetings and in between. I want to build friendships among people who understand depression from the inside. We have weekly meetings and have also met for a casual chat over coffee and next Monday we're meeting at a local Irish pub and grill for a nice, festive meal.

We are creating a group of friends, not just people who talk about their pain once a week and then have no contact. I want us to really be a presence in each other's lives so we're all less lonely and isolated and feeling like freaks of the universe. I want life to suck less! That could be the motto of this group: Making Life Suck Less.

This is going to be a good support group for years to come, at least that's my intention. Unlike a therapist or DBSA facilitator, I'm making friends, emailing and texting people between meetings and inviting them to my home. I started this group because I wanted more friends who I don't have to explain depression to and now I have them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Depression: Tired of Being You

It's shameful how few services there are for people with mental illness. There aren't many ongoing support group for people in Chicago with depression (besides The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which is an excellent organization). So I started one.

Sometimes depression has a cause, such as divorce or job loss. Sometimes it doesn't: chronic depression just comes and goes for seemingly no reason at all. This support group is for anyone in Chicago who suffers from depression. If you have chronic depression like me, you might even feel great today, but you know the bleakness will be back.

For anyone in any of these categories, please join us. I'm no expert. I'm just a depressive woman who needs emotional support from people who know what depression feels like because they've gone through it.

We meet at the United Church of Rogers Park, where the pastors are generously letting us use their space. I'm grateful that Pastor Lindsey values mental health. Yay, Pastor Lindsey!

We meet every other week, at no cost. FREE. I'm hoping to eventually make it weekly, but we'll see. So, please pass this link to anyone in Chicago who suffers from depression. I want to spread the word far and wide! Send the link to everyone you know. Thanks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Outpatient program, part seven

You might start with Outpatient program for depression and anxiety, Part One.

Eleventh Session (Oct. 17, 2017)
I'm bored with this program and bored with blogging about it. Usually 10-15 people show up, but today there were only eight. The first exercise was to write letters to ourselves about how we've changed and then a letter to someone in our support system. I used my letters to complain.

I'm glad my last day in IOP is Thursday. I'm tired of a program that was never a good fit for me to begin with. Today the facilitator led us through a handout on gratitude and he actually started to suggest that when we're in depression it's good to remember things we're grateful for. What? Thinking of what you're grateful for is the last thing you can do when you're in depression. Several of us spoke up and educated him on how bad gratitude is as a depression coping skill. Maybe it's good when you're in between depressions, to keep them from coming on, but not when you're in it.

Twelfth Session (Oct. 19, 2017)
For my last day in IOP, I made cupcakes (yellow with chocolate frosting). I stowed them in the staff office til the end. We split up into two groups for the first two hours. After check-in, we discussed a handout on ways to keep your mood stable (exercise, hobbies, sleep, diet, etc.). 

For the second hour we did an interesting exercise the aim of which was group cohesion. Dr. B led that one and I was very glad to see him. I'm glad he made an appearance as a facilitator on my last day, but I wish he'd been more involved all along.

Then it was the end and two of us were completing our time in the program. I passed out my cupcakes, which everyone liked. They handed us certificates, applauded us and let us say a few words. Usually people thank the facilitors and talk about how much the program helped them. I wasn't that gracious. I just thanked everyone for tolerating my presence and made one last pitch for my depression support group. Yeah...that's me.

I left feeling SO GLAD to be done! I felt so relieved and happy to be done with sitting in a room, trying to discern what facilitators are trying to get out of us and trying to build personal connections with people in an environment with no privacy. I have my mornings back, I'm back on my regular schedule and I can focus on my job! I really didn't get much at all out of IOP except that I can now say that I've done it, I'm educated on what IOPs are like and I made a few connections that I hope last.

But I must state clearly that I simply didn't belong in this program. Many people have said IOP has helped them a huge amount and they're grateful for the coping skills they've learned, the emotional support they've received and the relationships they've built with the facilitators and psychologist. There are people who adore those facilitators and are extremely glad they got to learn from them. IOP teaches critical life skills how to manage your illness through things like exercise and activities, how to best use your support system and to be honest with yourself about what really motivates and affects you. In the eyes of many, it's an excellent program. It just wasn't for me. Maybe they should add to their assessment process, "Have you spent years solidifying your coping skills such as how to assert yourself, how to set boundaries, how to build support networks..." etc. For those of us who have, this might not be the best use of our time.
My last name is actually "Rodriguez-Martin."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Outpatient program, part six

Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago, Illinois USA
You might start with Outpatient program for depression and anxiety, Part One.

Ninth Session (Oct. 13, 2017)
There's one man who consistently dozes in group and I feel for him because it sounds like he's on too strong a sleeping pill prescription. But he's not allowed to stop (or start) any prescription without talking to his doctor and his appointment isn't until next month.

Poor guy! He's struggling to reach a normal level of wakefulness. It's bullshit that he can't get in to see his doctor for weeks and bullshit that he can't reduce his sleeping medication when he nods off every day and bullshit that today he said he had to take an energy pill just to stay awake.

Mental health services have been so drastically cut in Chicago -- and Illinois has such a crisis of too few psychiatrists -- that of course we end up having to figure out our own treatment. There are few professionals we can get in to see without having to wait one or four months, even if your health insurance is top notch. American mental health falls way behind that of other countries and it's infuriating.

But on to the program. At one point today, when the facilitator asked a general question about safe spaces, I made the following comment, "It really feels different in here when it's just us, as opposed to when therapists are in the room. So I'm wondering if I could ask, I mean, this is just a friendly suggestion, but would it be possible for therapists and interns and observers to leave the room as quickly as possible during breaks and lunch?"

He said he'd have to clear that with the director of the program, and I said, "Oh, sure. Then could you please pass that along to them?" He said he would.

During lunch (once we were alone) three women told me they were glad I said that and a couple of men sort of nodded. We agreed that it's really nice to just relax and talk among ourselves and not have a facilitator asking questions or a medical student observer peering blankly at us. (Speaking of the med students who observe us, they are so stone-faced! It's like they they're not allowed to look sympathetic or engaged in any way. I've looked them dead in the face while talking and they give no indication they even understand my words.)

As we ate (hamburgers and Sun Chips), one person said she notices when I don't attend IOP (we only go three days a week, so it's not always the same people there). She said they might be in the middle of a discussion and she'll think something like, "I wish Regina were here to make one of her comments right now." This kind of attention makes me uncomfortable. I told her, "When you think things like that, then YOU do it!"

As we all chatted up the place, I asked why people clam up when the facilitators ask questions. A couple of people said sometimes it's because they ask very specific questions and they don't have an answer. I also noticed today that when called on to speak, three people basically said that from listening to others they learn that they aren't alone and they get ideas for what to do the next time they feel bad. Listening seems to help them understand themselves. I guess maybe some people benefit from listening to us loudmouths and that's all they need.

This is consistent with remarks people made today about how IOP has helped them: they said it helped them be more honest with themselves. I guess either talking or listening in IOP has helped many people learn what really motivates them and what they're really feeling.

The second hour we had a group discussion about what we do to get through bad days, what coping skills we've learned in IOP and how we've changed since we started the program. Many others have gotten much more out of this program than I have. One man called the facilitators "incredible" and other people testified to how much they've learned and how much better they now cope. 

In the third hour people talked about how this program has changed or even saved their lives. I heard more stories of how people have benefited from it and how much the facilitators and Dr. B helped them get through bad times. It made me realize I've been a big, impatient snob because I've spent almost three decades learning the coping skills and self-scrutiny others learned in IOP for the first time. Much of my criticism and attitude has been unfair. I'm obviously not typical of their usual clientele.

So today I learned that even though this program hasn't given me what I came here for, I mustn't talk badly of it because it helps a lot of people who haven't spent almost 30 years figuring out all their mechanisms, building their boundaries and coping strategies, and tirelessly examining every single crack in their brains. That's just me.

Tenth Session (Oct. 16, 2017)
After today, just two more sessions and I'm done! By the way, the director told me last week that he had been reading my blog, which is good because I can tell that a few things have improved. The facilitators don't talk to us as much in the happy, chirpy voice, and when we're doing check-ins, they sometimes say, "I don't mean to seem like I'm being unsympathetic, but we have a lot of people today and sometimes I might have to cut you off so we can get to the next person." I appreciate that. And, of course, we've never done as many worksheets as we did that first week. I'm very impressed by how good this director is at receiving and responding to feedback, even when it comes through as informal (and obnoxious) a medium as a public blog.

Today during the second hour, we did a handout on protective factors. These are things that can help you maintain emotional balance and are basically what can help you deal with general suckiness of life. Listed were social support, coping skills, physical health, sense of purpose, self-esteem and healthy thinking. 

The facilitator had us rate how strong each of these factors is in our life and then we discussed it. One thing she asked was, "So, why do you think it's hard to be honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses?" Predictably, people didn't say much and soon we had silence again. I spoke up.

"I also wonder why it's hard for people to be honest with themselves. People were talking last Friday about how IOP has helped them be honest with themselves and I'm wondering, so why weren't you honest with yourselves before?"

Another pause, then someone answered me in part by saying something like, "You say you're all aware of stuff and totally honest with yourself, but what about sugar? If you're honest with yourself and have discipline you should be able to handle that."

I said, "I have the honesty but not the discipline."

He said, "I think they go hand in hand."

He seemed to push back against my bewilderment about why people wouldn't be honest with themselves, and he sounded a little defensive, like I was judging them. Maybe I could have taken that opportunity to say that while my mental health has been a priority for me for 28 years, I don't think I'm better than anyone else the program and I regret coming off that way. Even with all my skills, I still get just as depressed as anyone else. It's just that what this program happens to teach, I happen to have already learned from countless professionals, books, videos, support groups and fellow wackos. 

Basically, while normal people spent decades getting married, having children, establishing careers, buying homes and spending time with family, I have spent decades being focused on me, me, me. I've spent the past almost 30 years learning my inner mechanisms, motivations, emotions and triggers. I know myself very well. While others have lived full lives, I've lived alone and focused on my own emotional health. For 28 years. Sad, but true.

Anyway, at this point Dr. B happened to be in the room and he picked up on the question of why it's hard for people to be honest with themselves. He explained to me that sometimes it's not that people are actively not being honest, but that they don't have the self-view to be able to perceive what's going on with them. He used the example of the color blind test, which is impossible for people who don't have the biology to perceive certain colors. Likewise, people who haven't learned to distinguish between motivations might just be unable to know what's really going on with them. That made sense.

I wanted to turn back to the facilitator who had originally asked the question and said, "See? Your question was too hard for us. Dr. B was the only one who could answer it. Work on your questioning skills." The facilitators often ask questions that we can't answer because we don't understand what they're asking. Most of them need work on how to ask good discussion questions. Then again, we patients need to speak up when we don't know what they're talking about. Unfortunately, most people just sit in confused silence and then things go nowhere.

This leads me to the question: why can't Dr. B spend more time with us? He's great. We need a lot more of Dr. B and less of facilitators who don't seem to have spent much time leading support groups. I think most of them are psychology students or interns and I know that means that of course they don't have a lot of experience, but we deserve better than that. It's another indicator of the state of American mental health care. I imagine St. Joseph IOP can't afford to have a psychologist like Dr. B dedicated to the 9-12:30 daily group, but man if we could, it would be so much better.

After lunch (chicken wraps and Fritos), we had a group discussion about what courage is and what kindness is. It wasn't bad. It was interesting. We talked about how courage can include still feeling afraid and how kindness includes respect for others. It was ironic to me that we were talking about kindness, when I've seen these facilitators not be too kind. I'm talking about one outpatient who tends to talk out of turn and not stay on topic who's a little difficult to manage. A couple of other facilitators ignore his mutterings or they call on him and let him speak, but when he starts rambling on, they turn away and call on someone else. Singularly, the facilitator who led this discussion on courage and kindness listens to him and responds to what he says and treats him with respect. And guess what? He doesn't talk out of turn as much! Yeah, this man is annoying and takes a lot of patience, but come on. Let's be respectful and kind.

I continued to talk about the depression support group I'm starting on Oct. 23rd and one person said he's definitely coming. Besides that, there are 20 people on Meetup.com who have signed up to come! I know they won't all be there, but other brand new Meetups often get around 10 people (or fewer) signed up at their first meeting. The only other Meetup I've personally seen get such a big response from the beginning is a recovery support group. Clearly Chicago needs emotional support groups!

And here's the final part of this series, part seven.

Outpatient program, part five

You might start with Outpatient program for depression and anxiety, part one.

Seventh session (Oct. 9, 2017)
Today was weird. It was clear that at least some of the staff had read last week's blog posts and changed their behavior accordingly (on my third day there I mentioned that I blogged about mental illness, and someone on the staff looked up this blog). One facilitator was less chirpy and friendly which was good. But the one I criticized as "nervous," was friendlier and kept addressing me by name. That felt icky. Is he trying to get a "good review?" Because of this weirdness, I'll keep writing about each session, but I won't post any more of it until my final day in IOP. 

So during check-in today, I talked about the Depression Meetup I'm starting. I also mentioned that I'd had a really good date on Friday night and was feeling better than ever. And I'm continuing my daily log that I hope will reveal a pattern that correlates to my depression symptoms (sleep, exercise, meditation, stimulant consumption, meds, weather). 

The second hour we talked about triggers and how to handle them. The now-not-so-nervous facilitator led both the second and third hours, making me wonder if the director, after reading my blog, told him to get more time in group so he can get over his nervousness. He seemed a little more relaxed.

Lunch was chicken strips over a bed of lettuce with a roll. A couple of people got a vegetarian option. 

The third hour we discussed some prayers that were variations on The Serenity Prayer. One focused on relationships, one on self-forgiveness and one on love. It was another crawling conversation where it felt like people spoke up only reluctantly. 

I wonder if the lack of participation partly comes from a lack of trust. They switch facilitators on us every day, often for all three hours. It doesn't allow us to build rapport with anyone if every hour we're starting over again to reach a level of comfort with the face that's looking earnestly at us. I imagine the staff tries to evenly assign clinic duty, but it would be better if we could at least stick to just one person per day. The hourly change of facilitators does not give a sense of stability and, for me, it's a little jarring and annoying. 

The other weird thing is that people are starting to treat me, and even talk to me, as if I were a facilitator and not an outpatient. One woman has joked about my strong personality and said that when I sat down this morning I looked ready to lead the discussion. One man asked me last Friday to push him to participate more in discussion. Today sometimes people looked at me instead of the facilitator when they talked. One woman even asked if I have a degree in psychology. 

So I guess I'd better pipe down! I don't want to dominate, but as my depressive symptoms have disappeared, my natural desire to socialize has come out. I like to ask people their names and if this is their first day. During breaks I want to continue discussions we started during the last hour's activity. During lunch I like to get a conversation going with the group (we all stay in the same room for lunch). 

And sometimes during discussions I have questions for the facilitator or for the other people Maybe my ease with asking things instead of just answering them (or staying silent) makes me seems like some kind of leader? But dammit, I'm not a leader in that environment and don't want to be treated like one. In this third week, things just feel like they're getting weird, between me and the facilitators and between me and the other participants.

Two more days this week, three next week and I'm done!

Eighth session (Oct. 11, 2017)
Today the check-in hour was led by a facilitator who hadn't led a check-in yet. More newness. Each time a new facilitator does the check-in, I'm never sure how much information she has on me. I'd never told this one my story, but I've noticed that these therapists take very good notes. For instance, when someone tells therapist A something on Monday, therapist B follows up about it on Tuesday. So I figured this facilitator had information on my background.

I'm still feeling good with no symptoms, so I recounted to this new-to-me facilitator that my depression had lifted during the first week of IOP and mentioned my great Friday night date that had energized me and made me happy. While she had asked others about sleep, appetite, and if they have a support system, she didn't ask me any of those questions. She asked me if I have appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist, seemed satisfied with my good mood and moved on to the next person.

I didn't like that. Just because I feel good today doesn't mean I won't go right back down tomorrow. I deserved to be asked about my support system and how my sleep and appetite were, just like the others. In fact, I mentioned a couple of minutes later that I'd been awake for two and a half hours the night before.

The second hour we had a group discussion. It's really striking to me how much people clam up when we're in a group talking with the facilitators, as opposed to when we break down into pairs or small groups and just talk among ourselves. In fact, I wish they'd do more small group work because then we get to steer the conversation however we want to.

In fact, I wish they'd let us talk in small groups and then just leave the room. We really loosen up when facilitators aren't part of the conversation. For instance, in the third hour we filled out a handout with a series of statements to be completed such as:

I am most content when ______________
My greatest fear is______________
People think I am______________
My greatest joy in life is______________
If I let myself feel it, I'm angry that______________

Then we broke up into small groups and discussed. I relished sitting down with two other people and saying, "Okay, instead of going over these answers, what's more interesting to me is: what do you think the point of this exercise is?"

We didn't know the answer to that, so I moved on to, "One thing I had a really hard time with was the one about what my greatest joy is. I'm not even sure what joy means. What is joy? People always say their greatest joy is their kids, but I don't have kids. Did you answer that one? What did you put?"

The other two people told me what brought them joy and I sort of started to understand. Then we just picked the more interesting statements and talked about those. That led to a better discussion than going down the list of questions and reading off the page, which it would have been easy to do. I enjoyed our little talk.

I'm still trying to figure out why people don't talk with the facilitators in the room as much as we talk when it's just us. Is it about trust? Is it about not wanting to serve as some sort of example for the facilitator to pontificate on? Are authority figures just intimidating? I'm going to ask.

Oh and the best part of today was that lunch was cheese pizza! It wasn't bad, either.

Here's part six.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My people

One thing I like about mental illness support groups, outpatient programs and the nut house itself is that I can be myself 100%. Unlike anywhere else, I can take off my public face, express exactly what I'm feeling and say what's on my mind or stare dully into the distance and say nothing at all. There's no need to fake being normal because my weirdest behavior will be seen as part of my symptoms. It's a huge relief.

The other patients and I talk to each other about suicide attempts and hating our mothers (or loving our mothers) and feeling free to be exactly who we know we really are on the inside. There's no one to pity us or call us bad people or feel scared of us. This might sound odd, but these are my people. 

So I can't wait to get my new depression Meetup going because then I'll have that dynamic every week. I've got the kleenex ready!