Long-term and chronic illnesses can be exceptionally isolating. When we are given a diagnosis or begin to care for a loved one, our medical teams can encourage us to join a support group to share the burden. In my experience, we tend to let this advice fall by the wayside or feel like it would be an intimidating experience, yet being a part of a support group that can make a huge difference to how we cope with this transition in our lives.
Here are just some of the reasons you need a support group.
I know everything about my illness, what could I possibly learn?
We now have access to just about any information that we could ever possibly need through the wonders of Google and you may feel that a support group cannot give you anything that you cannot find online. However, this is not always true. Illness affects everyone in different ways and by talking to others you can find out more about the intricacies of an illness and how to cope with it. For instance, we can learn about the basics of dementia online (memory deterioration, mood changes) but to truly know and understand the specifics, we need to speak with others who have been, or are, in the same position as us. There is nothing more valuable than being able to sit down and talk to someone who has lived through what you are currently experiencing.
I am a partner, parent and full-time caregiver, I don’t have the time to go out to a group!
Technology and our ability to connect with people is ever evolving, improving and moving online. Whilst getting out of the house and making time for yourself is hugely important when being a caregiver, if this is just not possible, you can find some amazing support groups online. Getting recommendations from people within your community and searching Google or Facebook can turn up lots of groups.
It can be like gaining a whole new family
When the chemistry is right within the group, it can be like gaining a whole new family. It will become more than just a support group and you can become friends with these people that you share a common struggle with. Friends and family can tend to slowly disappear when a diagnosis has been made and it can leave the primary caregiver feeling isolated and frustrated. Being able to share these feelings with people who you have a unique bond with can help alleviate the burden that you are feeling. It can also afford you the opportunity to vent in a safe space.
You will learn to laugh during the darkest of times
When dealing with chronic and long-term illnesses, either for yourself or a loved one, there is no avoiding the dark days. The days when things go so horribly wrong that you cannot imagine how you will get past this period in your life. When you have a good support group, one that has members who are like your family, you can be sure that they will help you see the funny side. I can absolutely promise you, that there is always light in even the darkest of days and learning to embrace it and laugh at it can be the release that is needed to get you through. Your people will help you laugh when you thought it may never happen again.
You will develop new skills
As a member of the elite club of long-term and chronic illnesses, you will need skills that you never knew existed and never knew were within you. Not engaging with others in similar situations, restricts your knowledge by isolating you from those who can help you learn how to get someone out of bed on your own without hurting yourself and gives you the courage and strength to be the advocate that you need to be when dealing with medical personnel. Not only will you have the ability to learn new ‘physical’ skills, you will also have access to the tools and resources that the other members used, which in turn will strengthen your ability to problem solve and improve your coping skills. It’s an all-around win-win situation.
You will have access to the most up-to-date information and resources
Members of support groups have the most up to date information on all the resources and information that you need to begin to deal with the illness. Most of the members have been through the system and know which forms need to be filled in, which department to contact and what assistance you may be entitled to apply for.
Finding a support group that suits you may be tricky, or you may be lucky and find your ‘family’ immediately but the important thing is that you need to try and find your tribe to make this journey as stress-free as possible. Don’t forget that I have a Dementia Support Group that you can join here or our new Caregiver Support Group here.