The Group Dynamic (Originally published 11/13/12)

“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died”
– Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”

            Until Four Winds, I had never participated in group therapy, nor did I particularly want to.  I always figured that when it came to therapy sessions, it was my hour, why should I have to share it with someone who was potentially more fucked up than me?  When they told me 99% of my time at Four Winds was going to be in a group, I panicked.  First, my only knowledge of group therapy came from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Second, I didn’t want to divulge anything personal to strangers, especially to a group that was constantly changing because of discharges and new admissions.  I did, however, realize that when you have fifteen crazy people and only four or five therapists, group therapy makes it much easier especially when you are teaching the same skills.  It avoids repeating the same thing several times a day.

            The first adjustment was getting used to filling out a diary sheet every morning.  It took me a day or two to really understand it, but I caught on to the basics.  The first part was rating on a scale of 1-3, with 3 being the worst, if I was thinking of suicide, wanting to give up, and if I was coping negatively.  We were supposed to fill out the card for the day before, and there was also a checklist to mark off what coping skills we had tried.  After two days or so, filling out the card was pretty easy.  Shortly after that it was a brief part of my morning routine.  I would sit with my roll and coffee and fill it out and have it done before most of the other group members even got there.

            One all the cards were filled out we would have a few minutes before we started our community meeting, which was just a reading of the guidelines, going over the day’s agenda, and answering any questions we had our first group session which was everyone reviewing his or her card and come up with a goal for the day.  My first day, I not only felt like I wasn’t part of the group, but also that I didn’t want to be a part of it.  I wanted to sit in my corner, be quiet, and let the world pass me by.  I was also listening to people with PTSD, eating disorders, schizophrenics, addicts, alcoholics, and people who cut themselves.  There were also varying combinations of suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety.  I just didn’t want to deal with anyone else’s shit.  I wanted to sit and feel sorry for myself.  I was there to keep myself alive and safe.  I really didn’t care about coping skills.

            During the first week or so the morning group session became my favorite part of the day.  As each day passed, I began to share more and more.  Not only did talking about my concerns and my manic depression make me feel better, but something wholly unexpected also happened; other members of the group gave me significant suggestions for coping.    For the three weeks I was there, the other members helped me more than the therapists.  I found out I wasn’t the only one suffering from bipolar disorder, so it was made it easier to have someone with whom I shared symptoms.  It was strange that I went from being almost intimidated to feeling part of the group.  When I was discharged from the group it was bittersweet because felt better and was ready to cope with my problems on my own, but I would be out of touch with the group.  According to the guidelines, we weren’t allowed to contact each other outside of the group and that saddened me a bit.  Who better for a crazy person to turn to than other crazy people?

            I did keep my morning routine of filling out a diary card, only now I do it mentally.  I also try to have a goal for the day only instead of goals like “Stay mindful to handle panic attacks,” it’s more, “Update résumé.”  I also noticed how my diary card had changed.  That thoughts of suicide and giving up which I scored 2s on my first day at Four Winds were scored zeroes on my last day.  I have to give partial credit to the other members of the group.  Without them opening up and talking about their most heartfelt matters, I never would have.  I would have been nuts not to trust the crazy people.


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