Making connections to give, get support

Published 11:06 pm Monday, September 9, 2013

One recent sunny September evening, four friends gathered in their Connections group.

What sometimes sets them apart has brought them together: a diagnosis – such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or bipolar disorder – along with the willingness to support other people and themselves on life’s journey.

“Over the long run, we build alliances here,” said Benji, who co-facilitates the group. “Once I get here, I can feel the bond, the positive quality that I attribute to a connectedness built through our perseverance. Each person’s presence counts. You don’t have to have something grandiose to say. It’s about being together.”

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The Connections group meets from 7-8 p.m. every Thursday at Tryon Presbyterian Church, and anyone in the community is welcome to attend. Individuals interested in joining may show up at the next meeting or call Charlotte, group co-facilitator, for more information at 864-457-7278.

“Being here every week is important,” said Elizabeth, who attends regularly. “You never know when you’ll have a good week, or when you’ll have a bad week and really need the group. Being able to be yourself here helps. You may hold onto something all week because other people don’t understand. Here, even if everyone doesn’t understand, I’m allowed to say my piece, and that’s important.”

The group welcomes new members from the community. Two of the current members have been trained as group facilitators through NAMI.

“People need support,” Elizabeth said. “It’s part of our mission, to serve that need.”

The group has a few rules, such as starting and stopping on time, and avoiding cross talk or advice-giving. Most of all, everyone adheres to a strict policy of confidentiality.

“What’s said here, stays here,” Benji said.

The group keeps to its one-hour time and to a consistent structure. First, they have a check-in of two minutes each, so that everyone has a chance to speak. Afterwards, they review their principles of support. These principles include: “We find strength in sharing experiences,” and “We will never give up hope.” Then, they share and talk for a while, and after a moment of silence, the hour ends with each person saying one good thing that’s happened in the course of the past week.

“People are free to speak as much or as little as they want,” Elizabeth said.

They share strengths and strategies. Benji and Charlotte both said music made a difference for them. Benji participates in choir, and Charlotte plays an instrument and sings in a band.

“I also spend a lot of time outdoors, going on wildflower walks,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth added, “I crochet when I can do it. It keeps me from ruminating.”

Sometimes, a crisis situation can exacerbate a mental health condition, Elizabeth said. Being in a consistent support group provides mental health maintenance. Charlotte added that the group also has fun together on picnics and walks.

“It’s a tribute to us all, to be here together,” Benji said. “Since we are here week in and week out, doing the work of being here, we steadily get to know each other.”