A tough part of mental illness — dealing with other people’s mental illnesses

It’s been a tough week emotionally, and unfortunately, the place that I normally go to for strength — my mental illness support group — became the root of my anxiety.

More accurately, it was someone who had been attending my group — someone with severe anger issues. If someone set her off, she’d yell and swear at the top of her lungs. She’d also throw things. I saw her throw a laptop. She also threw a remote, breaking a window at the hospital building where we hold our meetings. She was also harassing a fellow group member with vicious emails. She swears they weren’t mean, but doctors and security personnel at the hospital didn’t begged to disagree. They were very concerned about the emails — so much so that they ordered extra security for our meetings. Let’s put it this way, when you send emails and you call someone a cunt and a bitch (and those were some of the milder words) it doesn’t exactly win you points.

We had no choice but to kick this woman out of our group. I understand that for some, severe rage is a horrific part of their mental illness. But you can’t be in a support group — a place where we go to listen to one another and of course, support one another — if you yell, swear, throw things, and send harassing emails. You just can’t. I happened to be facilitating the meeting where this woman threw her laptop and the remote. It was quite scary and alarming.

Fortunately, things like this don’t happen very often. I’ve been a mental health group facilitator for about a year now, and this is the first time I’ve had to deal with someone who was so angry and disruptive. I know this woman needs a lot of help, and I hope she gets it. Maybe it’s just that support groups aren’t a good fit for her right now.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this woman. Even with hospital security warning her to stay away, I know she has already called the hospital and demanded that she be allowed to come. The hospital isn’t budging. She can, if she wants, come to the hospital for individual treatment. But she can’t come to our meeting. She cannot compromise the safety of those of us who attend.

After I witnessed this woman’s most recent episode, a friend of mine who attends the group said that I should think about the people I’ve helped; the people whose lives have been changed for the better because they can finally rely on others who know exactly what they’re going through. That was great advice, and it’s been a very comforting thought.

But if I’m going to continue trying to help others with mental illnesses, I must deal with the fact that, at least once in a while, I will come across people who need much more than I can possibly give.

Last night was the first night that the group met since this woman’s latest outburst. I briefly thought of avoiding the meeting. But that would have meant giving into fear. I didn’t want to do that.

I went to our meeting. I found many friends there, and met some new ones. We sat in a circle, talking about meds, frustrations, happy milestones, the good, the bad, and lots of things in between. We were there for each other, just as a support group should be.

Once again, it was the best place for me to be, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.








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