After 20 years of symptoms, today I went to my first support group.
There are a lot of reasons I never went to a support group before today. When I was a kid and the symptoms started, no one suggested it. Later, I didn’t know where to look (this was in the olden days, before Google.) After a while it was more that I was stubborn and scared. I’m still not entirely sure what I was scared of. I guess I was scared that I wouldn’t fit in. So many support groups are for specific diseases, and I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus or multiple sclerosis. What I have is similar, but not the same, and it doesn’t have a name, so I figured I wouldn’t be welcome at those meetings.
Earlier this week a friend forwarded me an email about a chronic pain support group just one town over. The regular meetings are in the library, but this one was at an assisted living facility. I pictured myself seated with 70- and 80-somethings who would think I didn’t belong. And anyway, pain isn’t my worst symptom, so why bother? I made excuses and had doubts up until the minute I arrived, but I pushed myself and went. What I found was a group of warm, supportive people. The guest speaker, a RN specializing in chronic pain management, was fantastic. He clearly understood. There was a teenage girl and a couple of elderly people, but most were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Sure I was one of the youngest, but no one cared. They welcomed me immediately as one of them.
I hope to keep going, even though they meet on Friday mornings. I hope that when I go back to work in a few months it will be part time, and I’ll try to get Friday mornings off. I can’t believe it, but I want to go back!
For a long time I didn’t understand the point of support groups. I didn’t want to be around a bunch of people whining about their symptoms (that’s not what this was.) I didn’t see how they could help, since they couldn’t get rid of the pain. Now I understand. The group won’t get rid of the pain, but it might help me find ways to reduce the pain. And reducing the pain would give me more energy to deal with my more pressing symptoms.
But the biggest benefit of the group, the one I should have predicted from the start but never did, is the community. For once, I was in a room of people who understood what I was going through, and I didn’t have to explain it to a single person. I didn’t have to say a word. Now that’s support.
If any of this sounds familiar, if you can relate, please share it on Facebook and/or Twitter so others know it’s not just them, that they’re not alone.