Why I left my depression support group in the first month of recovery.

No, it wasn’t because I’ve started feeling better and I thought I didn’t need to go.

On the contrary, I’m committed to finding a support group that works for me, but unfortunately this wasn’t as automatically a good fit as I had hoped. I liken the situation to going to a therapist for the first time, and just not clicking as much as you had hoped, and deciding that you need to look for an alternative.

My expectations going into support group meetings were to have an open platform to share, to be able to talk to other people about coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, and to celebrate small victories, like opening up to others about your depression and breaking down stigma barriers. This wasn’t quite true for what went down and it meant that I had to think long and hard (and talk to friends and family) about whether I was going back or not.

My first red flag was – to no fault of the group itself – that I was the only male at the session. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I found that a lot of the discussion in the group was centred around female issues and that built up a rapport of support for each other quite closely related primarily to these specific issues. I’m more than open about talking about these things (I grew up with two sisters who I am close with and have always gravitated to female friends), but it was really just the realisation that I felt quite othered while sitting there, now so much more aware that there is a bigger stigma around talking about depression among men, but also acutely aware that I didn’t quite fit in with the group. I cracked a joke about being the “odd one out” but I could also tell that having a male around made a few other people quite uncomfortable to share, which is not something I wanted to be contributing to, especially as these ladies had taken a big step towards their recovery by showing up to the group in the first place.

The second thing that threw me off a bit, was that many people decided to use the group as a pseudo-therapy session. My expectations were clear – I don’t necessarily want to carry what I’m dealing with in therapy through to a broader group of strangers, but I also don’t think it’s fair to just offload your baggage in the meeting and to make the session about yourself only. I wanted to have engaging conversations with others about what they had tried, what had worked for them, and what hadn’t. I wanted group to be a tool that would help me generate positive momentum, rather than being a space where it’s just about talking and venting. I understand that sharing can be a big deal for some people, and it can be an important factor of recovery, but my type A personality possibly just isn’t comfortable with not feeling like we’re actively doing something to get from where we’re at now, to where we’d like to go.

I think the key to finding a good support network around you is to make sure that you feel 100% comfortable, supported and that you can connect with the group. It wasn’t just about being the only male in the group, but also because the group mainly had people that were a lot older than me. I understand that dealing with depression and anxiety is a lifelong battle, and I take nothing away from the group being set up the way it is, but simply put, I need to be able to talk to people who are still working full-time, possibly those who have experience being an entrepreneur and running a business, and also those who have a better idea about millennial struggles in 2018.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I had other ideas for what group will be, but I also think it’s important to be firm with myself about what will help my recovery, and what won’t. I could attend these meetings and take on a lot of the baggage of the other members, which is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’m doing my best to set some healthy new boundaries in my life in order to prioritise my recovery. It remains a work in progress, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction at least. I wish the group I left well and hope to find one that suits me a bit better soon.

Conrad was here.

What it felt like to show up for the first depression support group meeting.

It’s a little bit like wearing a “hey, I’m depressed.” sign on your forehead, which is not the easiest thing to deal with just a few days after being diagnosed. But pull off the bandaid we must and we did.

Showing up is definitely the hard part. All week I’ve been focused on getting there, focused on just getting myself planted down onto a seat at this meeting, though I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety I would feel going into the session. Let me clarify that this isn’t related to a fear of needing to share with a group of strangers. In fact, the moderator told me that there is no obligation for me to even share on the day, which was reassuring.

It’s more related to the fact that showing up to one of these groups is a personal admission that I am depressed. There’s no going back now. It is saying to a group of strangers “Hey, I’m here, I’m depressed, I’d like to talk about it. I’d like to do something about it”.

Funnily enough, showing up to meet with a handful people in person and talking about the illness felt harder than posting about it to hundreds of people on social media. I had more expectations of how my circle of friends and acquaintances would react (hell, they know me of course) but frankly there is a lot of self doubt in your mind if you’ve been raised in a culture where you simply have to get on with it. Funny thing is – and I only realised this now while writing about it – the other people at this meeting are there for the same reasons, but your depression will make sure you question the process regardless. They are also there to share, open up and find a safe space to heal.

While all contents of the meeting are confidential, I can say that it was both wonderful and very overwhelming to hear about the struggles that other people are facing. My anxiety levels were through the roof afterwards, which I’m not sure is a good thing, but mostly this is because I naturally take on the feelings of others (a major blessing and a major curse). The meeting reiterated to me that depression and anxiety related disorders can be majorly debilitating in multiple spheres of your life, and in fact, it can only get worse if you don’t face it and seek out treatment and support. I gained a lot of perspective from going, but better yet, I got to show up, and admit to myself that there is this thing that I have to start navigating in order to get back to a good place in my life.

Conrad was here.

Finding a depression support group right on my doorstep.

As soon as I got home from the doctor, having just being diagnosed with depression, a brilliant 10 days before my 30th birthday, I had three immediate thoughts as I dropped my keys on the counter.

One – schedule your follow-up doctor’s appointment now. Like, right now. If you don’t do it, you probably won’t go. So I did. 18 July, I see you.

Two – take the damn pill. Just take it. Don’t overthink it.

And Three – there has got to be a support group nearby. There has got to be more people than me suffering with this thing in my area.

A quick Google search brought me to a Facebook Group that has been operating for a couple of years, aptly titled around the broader area I live in. If I like the page, my friends on Facebook will see I have depression. Who cares, Conrad, you actually DO have depression. The group is small, so it’s probably dead and I shouldn’t apply to join. Conrad, request to join, just do it. What if they tell me it’s all made up and that I am not depressed enough? A medical doctor diagnosed you with depression. You have it. It’s real, dude.

All of these thoughts and more raced through my head, and I still ended up only just managing to get enough courage to e-mail the group admin. I started the message off with “I was diagnosed with depression yesterday”, which surprised me. I hadn’t said it out loud, but had written it at least and I was very proud about that. “I am looking to join a support group in the area, when are you meeting?”, I asked.

Nobody is going to respond to you. Yes, they will, Conrad. The group probably only allows women in. No, they don’t. Depression affects everyone. You will have to drive so far to get there. Perhaps, but how about you find that out first. You’re wasting your time. Go to hell, depression.

*PING*

Response, featuring “I’m so glad that you reached out so quickly after your diagnosis”. Their next meeting is in 3 days, and if you’ll believe it, it’s taking place less than 1km from my house. Ask for help if you’re struggling, it’s out there, I promise.

Conrad was here.