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Friday, March 18, 2011

Recovery From Mental Illness Should Include Groups

You or a family member has been diagnosed with a mental illness, what next? Part of recovery from mental illness is following your doctor's plan - which usually involves medication. Another step that should be part of any recovery plan is participation in  groups that cater to the mentally ill.

Participation in the groups does a few things for the patient with mental illness. It gets them out of the house. Many mentally ill patients find it easy to become reclusive or buried in their work. You won't find help at either place. Get out and meet other people who have similar issues.

Attending a group meeting is very non-threatening. Everyone there has some sort of problem they are dealing with. You will find a lot of empathy amongst the members of the group and no one there will subject you to the public stigma attached to mental illness.

At your first meeting, don't feel pressure to contribute. A good group leader will welcome you and offer you the option of speaking, but it is not required. Just go and observe, unless you feel motivated to speak. If you are overcome with fear about speaking, an acceptable response if you are called on is, "Pass." Everyone honors that word.

Some of the groups welcome family members. Comprehending mental illness can be hard for family and friends, so the more they know, the better it is for the patient.

My sister attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting with me last year. She was able to hear other consumers (people who are under treatment) speak about the challenges they face in their recovery. Issues of medication, family stigma, employment, and resuming normal activities were addressed. My sister came away with a much greater appreciation of what I was going through.

A good time to find a group and attend a meeting is right after you have been diagnosed or spent any time in a psychiatric facility. A meeting provides you with an immediate group of peers. No one is judgmental at the meetings. And you'll find more compassion there than you will amongst friends or relatives.

I currently participate in three groups each week. I have found nuggets of help, but I've also found that I can help other people. Helping others is very beneficial to a recovery journey. It builds self-esteem and gives you a feeling of purpose. The groups have given me a few new friends who completely understand the road I have been on. When you say that you take medication, no one takes a step back and gives you a strange look.

The three groups I attend are national. Links to their websites are provided. You should be able to find a meeting in your area, unless you live in a remote area. If you are having trouble finding a meeting, email me and I'll see if there is another alternative.

Below, I'll describe the meetings I attend and how they operate here. They may vary slightly in your community.

NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

This was the first group I attended in Las Vegas. At the time I didn't like the group, mainly because I was still in denial about my mental illness. Only about seven to ten people attended the group. However, they had a lot of information on how to acquire free medications in the Las Vegas area.

Since I moved to Cleveland, I found a very active NAMI group. Meetings are attended by upwards of thirty people and every type of mental disorder is represented. Format of the meeting is rather informal. The leader goes around the room and gives everyone a chance to speak. If they have nothing to say, their response is, "Pass."

This forum gives you a chance to hear what other people are going through. Members also offer advice and encouragement. If you're going off track, someone will usually speak up and offer suggestions that will help you get back on the recovery path.

In some parts of the country, NAMI offers meetings specifically targeted to family members. A friend of mine who has been battling mental illness for thirty years just found out about NAMI. His parents have lived in denial of his mental illness for thirty years. Recently, they attended a NAMI Family to Family meeting and for the first time in thirty years they are starting a dialogue with their son.

There is no cost for these meetings and no materials are required. Meetings are usually held weekly.

Find one near you.

Recovery International

Recovery International was formerly known as Recovery Inc. It was founded in 1937 by Dr. Abraham Low. The purpose of the Low Method was to provide tools for those with a mental illness that they could use in their everyday lives, with the hopes of keeping them out of a mental facility and possibly getting them to the point where they no longer needed medication.

Recovery International (RI) is especially beneficial for anyone with anger issues. Many courts make attendance at RI meetings part of an offender's sentence.

RI has a few rules at their meetings. You cannot talk about religion, sex or medications. To fully participate in the meeting, it is recommended that you acquire Dr. Low's book Mental Health Through Will-Training. The book is not required to attend, however, it does make it easier if you choose to be a regular at the meetings. You can find the book in your local library. My sister found an older edition of the book on eBay for $11. The normal cost of the book is around $25.

At the core of Recovery International are the spotting techniques. These are short phrases that you train yourself to use to help you address a specific event in your every day life and help you deal with the event before it escalates into debilitating symptoms.

Meetings are very structured. They begin with the reading of a chapter from Dr. Low's book. Then, the meeting goes into the example phase. A member will volunteer an example of something that agitated them or where they experienced symptoms. They will then give examples of the spotting techniques they used to get through the event. The other attendees are given an opportunity to offer additional spots that may have helped the person giving the example.

RI rules are that you cannot offer advice, but you can talk about spotting techniques that would be helpful. An example of a spotting technique is: Move muscles to retrain the mind.

I was having severe anxiety with regard to showering and shaving, so I rarely did either. I have no idea why, but I would seize up at just the thought of taking a shower. My body would become very rigid and I would start breathing rapidly - huffing to the point where I'd almost pass out. I had to take anxiety medication just to get cleaned up. The whole process of showering and shaving was taking me two and three hours to accomplish.

After several months of attending the RI meetings, I can now shave and shower several times a week without the need of medication. I used the spot: Move muscles to retrain the mind. There is no danger in shaving and showering, but my mind had created some sort of perceived danger. By forcing myself and just trying to go through the motions, I have been making progress. I'm not completely cured, but I've made tremendous progress in only a few months. I had been suffering from this affliction for over 15 months.

Another spot that has helped me is: It's not how you feel, but how you function.

After my stay in the psychiatric hospital, I became a complete recluse. I never went anywhere. I stopped blogging. I despised the holidays. That spot has helped me return to my love of writing and I started blogging again two weeks ago. I have felt listless and lost for months. However, since I returned to something I love, I became energized and have seen a marked improvement in my overall mental health.

Meetings conclude with a segment called Mutual Aid. This is more-or-less a chat session where you can discuss other support groups or social activities. Most of our members offer cheap places to eat, which can be very helpful if you're on a budget.

Family members can attend RI meetings for support.

I like RI because it is proactive. I am learning specific techniques that can help me face the majority of my issues. I've also learned techniques that I can offer to the friends of mine in the group who meet with me outside the meetings. The friends I've made through RI offer support, in person and via telephone.

If you do have a difficult situation, you can call the leader of any of the RI groups in your area and they will offer five or ten minutes of assistance. So you're never alone.

Making Recovery International work for you is a process. You need to commit to going to the meetings, if you want to see results.

Recovery International does ask a donation of $3 per meeting. And that amount is supposed to rise to $5. However, give what you can, if you can give at all. If you cannot make a donation, no one should give you a problem. It is recommended that you acquire Dr. Low's book, if you plan to attend regularly.

Emotions Anonymous

Emotions Anonymous of EA is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a 12-Step Program.

EA meetings are very structured. They begin with the Serenity Prayer (if you click this link, only the first paragraph is used). The 12-Steps are read, followed by the 12-Traditions. Announcements are made. One of the leaders will talk about one of the 12-Traditions. Then, the group members take turns talking about a predetermined Step-of-the-week and how it has impacted their lives. After everyone has had a chance to speak or pass, the meeting is concluded with everyone holding hands and reciting The Lord's Prayer.

Like AA, the EA program makes reference to relying on a Higher Power or God as you understand him as part of their methodology. If you prefer a strictly secular program, choose Recovery International.

The jury is still out on EA for me. I've been attending since January. Our group only has five regulars. One of the attendees has become a good friend of mine, so I go to the meetings more to see him than for what EA offers. However, we just cycled around the 12-Steps and we are now on Step 3. I made a commitment to get through all 12-Steps to see if the meetings were helpful.

This past week, my friend didn't make it, but we had three other people from other EA groups that showed up. It was helpful to hear their testimonies.

What I don't like about EA is that there is virtually no interaction during the meeting. No one offers any advice or comments about what you have to say. Chit-chat before the meeting is strictly coffee table talk and not helpful. Without any interaction, I feel like I could almost hold the meeting at home by myself.

I also don't like the traditional introduction that everyone uses at Anonymous meetings. At EA they say, "Hi, I'm Roger and I'm powerless over my emotions." To me that is a negative affirmation. To the members of the group, they might consider my statement a sign of denial.

I initially went to EA on the recommendation by a member of Recovery International. I have trouble controlling my emotions. My mental illness forced me to relocate to Cleveland from Las Vegas a year ago, leaving my 10-year-old daughter behind with her mother. I get very emotionally upset when I see kids playing with their parents on TV or commercials for animated movies that my daughter and I would have seen together. I break down crying and I can't stop for hours at a time. I miss her so much. Plus, I hate Cleveland and I dearly miss Las Vegas, the mountains and the desert.

To date, I haven't seen how EA will help me with my emotional breakdowns. Although, prior to the time I am allotted to testify at the meeting I think hard about what I want to say. That thought process and my resultant testimony seems to be giving me the most help. So, I'm still giving EA a chance.

EA meetings are supposed to be self-supporting, so they do pass a basket for donations. No amount is suggested. You give whatever amount you want or can. No materials are required.

There may be other groups in your area that help those with mental illness. These are the three I attend almost every week. By attending the meetings, you meet other people that you can easily relate to and you find out about other services within your community that can help you.

Besides your health care professional's treatment plan, find a group to attend in your area. It can only help your recovery from mental illness and shorten the time it takes to getting back to full functionality - and that's a goal we all share.

Related articles on this site:
Five Steps To Recovery From Mental Illness
Recovery From Mental Illness Should Include Groups
Mental Illness | My Psychiatrist Says My Mental Health Is Improving
The Stigma Of Mental Illness
Mental Illness | Mentally Ill Live Lives Of Quiet Shame, Anger Or Pain
Mental Illness | Catherine Zeta-Jones Treated For Bipolar II Disorder
How To Sleep Better By Using A Relaxation Technique
Mental Illness | Dealing With Symptoms of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Disorder

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