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Class of 1980, North Platte Senior High (2010)

Support groups come in many formats, some formal, some casual, and some entirely accidental.

Last night Sherman and I met with our formal Alzheimer’s support group. One member, even as she was grieving her mother’s death, talked about the joy she felt knowing that her mother was free from some of the tougher aspects of this life. Afterwards others in the group shared what was going on as they cared for (and about) their loved ones who were still living.

Finally, someone mentioned how different the mood of our circle was from the general feeling today that there’s not much right in this world. People in our group care—sometimes too much. Someone else suggested that the idea that these were uncaring times was an untruth stirred up by a media hungry for a good story.

That’s when I thought, well, I’m part of the media, too. No one will confuse me with a big media source, but the words I write can show a few people somewhere that good stories still exist about positive things. Or maybe that some of us think positive things are good stories, even when they aren’t exciting.

And the positive good story I want to share is about my 30th high school reunion this past weekend. One statement classmates have been posting again and again is amazement at how much of the weekend everyone spent smiling. It’s true—look at the pictures (well the few Sherman took—I was too busy talking!) Of course, we came to have a good time and relax with the people who knew us so well (or not!) long ago, but that didn’t mean it was going to happen.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

What’s really amazing to me is how much those smiles contrast with the really tough life events many people have encountered, starting with the losing some of our classmates long ago. We could have grown cynical enough and angry enough at life to believe there wasn’t much to smile about. On the other hand, we could have decided life is short and we might as well just take care of ourselves and our own enjoyment.

Thank goodness, I didn’t see much of either side last weekend.

I saw people who did a pretty good job of walking the line between caring for others and enjoying themselves. In other words, these people were working to balance the good and bad in this life and still believe that on more days than not, it was all worth it.

Some family commitments kept them from one of the events or work obligations such as traveling or training meant they couldn’t make it to all the events—or the pivot broke, right, Sherry? Yet still they came when they could.

When people talked about their lives, so much was said about their connections and doing what was right by those they love: moving home to care for their parents or just being with them through their illnesses, helping their parents with household chores when visiting, spending time with them in care facilities and taking over their responsibilities when needed, sitting by the bed of an injured child, figuring out how much to do for their kids and how much to let them do, moving somewhere for a spouse, etc.

We had our serious conversations, when we were the parents or the adult children of parents or even the person with the difficulty—or all of the above. And someone always understood what we had gone through or were experiencing because he or she stood in similar shoes. We were that accidental support group.

Then we jumped back to forgotten memories, debated memories, and those we were busy creating. We spent a lot of time repeating ourselves—why don’t those other people speak up??!! (Turns out the rock music is getting the last laugh—well, the rock music and our future audiologists who will be laughing all the way to the bank.)

Reminds me of our class song, after all: “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas. Those of us who still get to celebrate this life are doing what it takes to keep working through our burdens and trying to keep the faith that, like the mother of the woman last night, one by one we’ll reach that peace when we set those burdens down for good.

Queen for a Minute, 2010


However, “carry on” has another meaning that means more than enduring. One possible definition, according to http://www.thefreedictionary.com, is: to behave in an excited, improper, or silly manner. I’m OK with the excited and silly part—and maybe even the improper part if it’s based on some rigid view of what it means to be an adult.

I’m willing to grow up enough to meet my obligations, but not so much that I can’t act silly from time to time. Acting silly with others provides me with another kind of accidental support group—and gets me through much of what is hard.

Thanks NPHS Class of 1980—carry on with me, (some of) the best is yet to be.

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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I like to help people, but deep down I’m a chicken. I prefer to help people from a distance, mostly by providing them with resources or getting some sort of task done for them that helps them with something in their everyday lives.

Truly, I like hiding behind my computer—behind words, numbers, etc.—not because I’m cold, but because I have a hard time forgetting others’ problems. I can imagine things well without having experienced them myself. Maybe that stems from the voracious reading I’ve done since I first learned to pick out words for myself. Or maybe that’s just how I came into this world since movies, songs, and visual pieces such as paintings and photos can reach me in the same way.

That’s why going to a support group can be a double-edged sword for me—sometimes I have to work not to feel overwhelmed. I love that I might be able to offer some information that might relieve someone else’s burdens, but often I find myself wanting to run away from the emotions that arise in such a group.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t run the Race for the Cure for several years. For anyone who has participated in the Race for the Cure, it’s not just the visual cues from the survivors’ pink hats or the heartfelt signs pinned to participants’ backs that make the event such a powerful emotional experience. I admit that cowardice has made me want to run away to avoid the race course’s tunnel—in such an enclosed space I know I am not able to escape from the emotions exuding from the crush of other women running so close to me. It’s as if fear, loss, anger, sadness, and whatever else are released from the sweat of those running and/or walking the course route—which is how it should be.

At this week’s Alzheimer support group I rather felt as if I were in that tunnel when the session started with a couple members in tears from deep loss—even as I looked to them with compassion in my eyes, I just wanted to bolt from that room and forget that anyone had to suffer through living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

But at the end of the evening a couple people who come solely to provide support—who have lost their loved ones—validated what it is we can give one another. The truth is most of us didn’t ask to know anything about this disease and how it affects people, but had to learn from the School of Hard Knocks.

There are so many of us out there—wherever I go I meet people who are dealing with loved ones with dementia and I do reach out to them in those spontaneous encounters —whether I have anything new to offer them or not or whether I’m just a fellow traveler on a similar journey.

My urge to run tends to occur more often when I’m in formal situations where people come together to share their burdens. However, running from others’ emotions is all about taking care of myself but not at all about helping others. In the end, others need me to help them in person, as much as I am able. I’ll never be that extremely warm person who always reaches out to others but I’ve come a long way. When you’re face to face with someone in pain, it’s pretty much impossible to retreat and think it’s good enough to give them help from a distance.

I can’t take away the main reason for other people’s pain and they can’t take away mine, but for a few moments side-by-side we can share one another’s burdens—and feel some weight lift from our shoulders before we leave to go back and do the hard work of helping our own loved ones through the long goodbye.

I’m so glad that last night people reminded me—again—why it’s so important for me to stop doing the stupid chicken dance and just stick around and be there in person for someone else.

Eliashand0609

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
Kahlil Gibran

What parents don’t project themselves on their children? Their values, dreams, goals. But at some point many parents realize they aren’t “us” and that we must let them be who they were destined to be. Or not.

As hard as I have tried to do that, I still have fallen short.

Sometimes we simply have a mismatch in our families between what makes us happy. Jackson loves to play long, complicated, competitive games, something that is very difficult for me to do—I know I have not played enough with him, but have tried to convey he is OK for liking to do so. The problem is mine, not his.

Earlier this year Christiana thought her father was saying she wasn’t good enough to be an artist. What he was trying to convey was that she needed to enter the field with her eyes wide open, being prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to make a living in such a difficult profession. After she gained some distance, she could see that in addition to working on her craft, she did need to look at viability issues. She’s begun studying business subjects—to take care of her own art business—and believes that by studying at a four-year college, versus an art college, she can emerge better prepared to meet the non-art challenges of such a profession.

However, my heart breaks when I hear of parents who refuse to validate that children have a right—even an obligation—to pursue their own paths.

heart

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert


Last night I went to the Women and ADD support group led by Linda Lewis. Most of us are older, with many women not diagnosed until menopause-related hormone changes brought them to a crisis point over their lifelong undiagnosed ADD. The tears mostly remain below the surface, perhaps with the wisdom of age, perhaps from too many years of suppressing them.

Undiagnosed ADD has not broken me in the ways many of these women have felt broken—but perhaps that’s because my family never treated me as if I were defective and let me know I could be who I was, even if we didn’t know ADD was part of that who.

As a society, many question the validity of how many more mental health conditions are treated in children these days. At least those of us in the group know that such treatment is necessary for many kids—and something that was sorely absent in prior generations. Still, there are those skeptics who refuse to see mental health conditions in their own families, despite fairly obvious signs. Such attitudes can be deadly, especially when combined with beliefs that parents can control who their children are.

Last night’s group was exceptionally large, with a few women in their 30s and 40s, but more in their 50s and 60s. Our usual custom allows us to tell our stories, moving around the table, in as orderly a fashion as you can expect from a group of women with ADD! As Linda states, many people with ADD have suffered the shame of being told they were talking out of turn (“I will not talk in Mr. So & So’s classroom”—oh yes, I’ve written that one over and over!) so she wants to make the group a safe place for being a little windy, if that’s what someone needs on particular night.

A beautiful, young woman patiently waited until her turn came at the end of the night, all the while making supportive suggestions to others. But soon after she began telling her story, validation from a sixty-something woman led her to burst into tears. At just twenty, she suffers from her family and friends’ refusal to see the bipolar symptoms. If only she could stop being so flaky and get down to the business of getting educated for taking over the family business.

If only she were supported for the artist she is and the help she needs for her condition. How is it strangers can see this, but those who love her cannot?

shattered

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Do people like this ignore the lessons from movies like Dead Poets Society, where a son can be considered so rebellious for wanting to act in a play and study literature?

You may give them (children) your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

Years ago I worked at a financial services firm with Rick, a business major who was envious of my “worthless” English degree, yet really wanted to pursue a master’s in literature. Once he asked me if my parents thought I had wasted a good education to work where we worked. I was stunned—my parents just wanted me to be happy. When his father called him at work, he became Richard and his voice took on a more business-like tone. Yet after I left the company, one morning he didn’t come in to work, seemingly due to a burgeoning drinking problem. That’s when they discovered he had been hiding unfinished work for weeks.

A year ago, just after Suicide Prevention Week at the kids’ school, a girl we knew tried to kill herself, but, thankfully, did not succeed. A multi-talented girl who earned good grades, she composed music, sang like an angel, and could design and sew clothes, as well as do so many other artistic things. But she wasn’t one of the top students like her cousin. Like the boy in Dead Poets Society, she too joined a drama production against her parents’ will. She didn’t expect them to attend, although they grudgingly let her continue. What I saw was a joyful, talented stage presence. Still, I guess she got tired of acting in her own home—and then set out to prove she was not who they wanted—by destroying herself. This formerly active honors student has left home and seemingly disappeared. It didn’t have to be. She was more than enough.

Perhaps having strong-willed kids from the beginning taught me early that control is an illusion. As much as I’d like a less complicated life with my kids, I am proud they do know who they are. I ask for their forgiveness for those times when I unintentionally made them feel they were not enough, just because they weren’t easy to parent or didn’t do things my way.

My own treatment for ADD has made it easier for me to be able to raise kids with ADD. Each family member in our home is difficult in his or her own way, but the more we understand our own biology and the condition, the more we are able to have tolerance for each other and make changes that allow us to live together with less stress.

It just makes my heart hurt that there are parents out there who don’t even believe their kids have the right to be themselves—and who will ignore biological mental health conditions just as easily as they ignore who their kids really are.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Not all bows bend in the archer’s hand quite the way Kahlil Gibran stated. Not all bows are stable. May that beautiful young woman find the support outside her family, even if the family cannot accept what she needs and who she is.

dandlion

(c) Christiana Lambert, 2009

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