Three Secrets of Autoimmune Support Groups
One of the first things people do when they get an autoimmune diagnosis is go find a support group. They're looking for a place with people who understand - people who share a common experience. There are many places to find support groups. Facebook, Meetup, local groups that advertise in the newspapers and libraries, sometimes your doctor may know of groups, and even your herbalist, accupuncturist, or chiropractor can refer you. Sometimes the research organizations for individual diseases will have a list of local chapters or groups in your area.
I love support groups. The right group gives you a space to share your experiences, ask for feedback, and ask about new ideas. They're a place for you to share your treatment strategy and hear from others who have done that before. Having their experience helps you avoid the pitfalls and smooths out the learning curve (Secret #1).
Groups are the place you go to find comfort in knowing that you're not alone. All of the people there are struggling with your same challenges. It's a place where you find out that this is not your fault. You find out that you're not crazy and there really is something going on. Simply finding that peace of mind helps you feel better about your situation and your future (Secret #2).
Even though groups are so great, there is one thing you have to keep in mind. Groups, and especially groups that are longstanding and well established, can sometimes get stuck in an illness identity (Secret #3). Getting stuck in an illness identity means that you take an attitude of feeling hopeless. You begin to see your illness as your identity. You even start to introduce yourself as, 'Hi, I'm ________. I have __________ disease.' When your sickness is an excuse you give someone even before you've gotten to know them, you know you've taken on an illness identity.
Groups can start to reinforce your illness identity, to start to gather around you and buy into your story. Not that the group doesn't want you to get well, but they want to give you emotional support for whatever story you're bringing along with you. You see, everyone experiences pain differently, and while the group wants to support you, they tend to be reluctant to call you on your story.
The key is being aware of your attitude when you're in the group. Know that you are a whole, complete, and soulful person who happens to have an extra-intense immune system. Getting your systems back in balance will temper your immunity and reduce your symptoms - as long as you don't slip into an illness identity and forget who you are.
I always encourage my clients to look for a group. Join more than one if you like. Each group will have a different temperament. If you're looking for a safe, supportive group that won't let you become your illness, come join me in my group. We're getting started and would love to have you join us.