“It took me a long time to stop running,” said Christine Callan, speaking of her battle with depression. “It took a long time for me to say okay, this is real.” Instead of seeking help, Christine sought relief from alcohol. “I drank so that I didn’t have to feel,” she said. Things changed for Christine about a year ago, when she began attending a free support group for people who have depression, bipolar disorder, or both. “It felt good to hear about other people’s experience and to learn from them,” she said. When she heard another group member say that she had quit drinking, for example, Christine decided that she, too, should quit. “Hearing about others are making good choices inspires me,” she says. “And it feels good that I’m taking action.”
On the night that I sat with the group, there were about ten men and women gathered in a circle. The overall vibe was one of warmth, acceptance, and genuine interest as each person shared something about what his or her life had been like that week. Sometimes the stories were about a victory, like finding a job, or having a good time on a vacation with family. Other times they were about struggles, such as coping with the death of a beloved pet or a change in medication. One woman described fatigue so debilitating that she stays in bed most of the time when she is not at work.
Extreme fatigue is a common symptom of depression, as are irritability, hopelessness, self criticism, and loss of interest in things a person once enjoyed. But trouble sleeping can also be a symptom, particularly when the depression is bipolar rather than unipolar. Bipolar symptoms can also include unpredictable swings between feeling good and feeling lousy, impulsive behaviors like gambling or shopping sprees, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addictions.
“Sometimes it feels like it is never going to get better,” said Tatiana Mucyn, a basic science researcher who has been attending the group for about a year. “Sometimes it feels like there is no escape and I feel trapped by my depression. Everyday life seems like a mountain to climb. Just going to work brings a lot of anxiety.” Though she had been seeing a doctor and a therapist, Tatiana knew that she needed something more. “I wanted to find a support group like AA but for depression, and so I started googling.”
For Tatiana, the group provides a safe, non-judgmental space where she can share both her successes and her failures. “And I like to see how other people in the group evolve, to see how they get better over time.”
“The group also helps with self stigma,” said Christine. “Because every time I go, I can see other people who are struggling with the same problems that I have.”
The group is officially called “Depression and Bipolar Support Group,” but no one needs to have an official diagnosis to attend. The group is organized and led by members, rather than a therapist or doctor, though recommendations for helpful professionals in the community are sometimes shared. The group meets on Tuesday nights from 7:30-9 pm at the Binkley Baptist Church on 15-501, near the intersection with Estes Drive, though the group has no religious affiliation or orientation. Usually the group meets in Room 17, though the night I went they weren’t in there and I had to look around.