Meeting Notes – February 23, 2011

by Bruce on March 2, 2011

There was a larger group this week, due to the anticipated talk from Dr. Jenifer Culver on current therapy options for depression and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, she had to cancel at the last minute to care for a sick child, and hopes to reschedule for the 4th Wednesday of next month.


We began the meeting in usual fashion, with each person answering the questions below (and passing if they preferred not to). 1. Your first name 2. Your diagnosis 3. Your mood on a scale of 1 to 10 (bad to good) 4. What do you do to take care of yourself?.

(The 2nd item is chance to let others know when you’re in need of support after the meeting and during the week.   The 4th item gives a taste of the endless number of things that you can do to improve your quality of life, even if you live with depression or bipolar disorder.)

Meeting Format

Throughout the meeting, we circulate the question bag (just a paper bag with a big “?” on the side). Anyone is free to write virtually any question relating to living with depression bipolar disorder. The question is read by the facilitator and members of the group respond from their own experience. The writer of the question remains anonymous, but benefits from the collective experience and wisdom of the group. The discussions are often quite lively and humorous.

(The only topic we don’t discuss are individual medications and health care providers. There is too much variation in individual’s response to a certain medication or certain doctor and what might work for one person might not work for another. We do have general discussions about classes of medications, and people are welcome to ask during the meeting for feedback on a particular medication or doctor and then discuss it with others one-on-one after the meeting.)

Small Group

Since we had a larger group this week (25+), Katherine had us divide into smaller groups for a more personal “check in”, with the option to discuss the question, “What is one small improvement you’ve seen in your life recently?” In one group, someone mentioned the need for better housing. Someone else mentioned the Home Sharing Program in San Mateo County, a program that matches home seekers with home providers, to make housing affordable for both.

Q & A Session:

Now, on to the main event:

Q: Does depression make you more aggravated? I feel like I’m aggravated all the time for no apparent reason.

A: For me it’s a flag that my meds need to be adjusted.
A: When I’m being irritable with everyone, I know that it’s my problem (not theirs).
A: I get irritated by small talk. When I’m feeling depressed, I really don’t care how much tomatoes cost at Safeway. I usually try to remove myself from the situation until the feeling passes.

Q: What does a bipolar person have to offer in a romance?

A: Lots of ups and downs (laughter).
A: Variety (more laughter).
A: Having the illness doesn’t mean that we don’t have wonderful qualities. It is very important, though, to go slow.
A: If you don’t have your own support system, then your partner should understand that it will fall on them. If they’re OK with that then OK. But they should be aware of that.
A: An entire self.
A: For me, I try to look for people that don’t irritate me. Some people you’re just naturally irritated with.
A: Emotional depth and sensitivity. You could say that we’re emotional gourmets (laughter again).
A: There was a group member who said that she felt it made her more sexually responsive.

Q: Is anybody taking Depacote?

A: (Show of hands). We’ll talk about it after the meeting.

Q: Have you ever forgotten that you’re depressed or bipolar?

A: One day I was just doing errands and was enjoying the beautiful day. Then the though went through my mind (laughs), “Oh, I forgot that I had this illness hanging over me.”
A: Most of my life I didn’t know that I was bipolar. I just had times when I had a great deal of energy and others when I felt down. More recently I’ve been feeling really depressed, and finally found a doctor that helped me put it all together.

Q: What are the worst features of the illness for you?

A: The cost of the meds.
A: Stigma.
A: Feeling angry.
A: The sense that I don’t have control over my life.

Q: Does anyone have a learning disability along with bipolar? (Show of hands.)

A: Dyscalculia.
A: Dyslexia.
A: A.D.D.

Q: How did you deal with being bipolar at your wedding (or other major life event)?

A: Stay single (laughter).
A: A woman I know did a really good job delegating to her sisters and sisters-in-law. She handed most of the responsibility to them so she could stay healthy.
A: Funerals make me manic.
A: A bipolar friend sometimes is “cool as a cucumber” in situations that really stress most people out. Maybe we have a special reservoir that we can tap into.

Q: Does being bipolar affect your spiritual life.

A: No.
A: No.
A: My ex-wife was bipolar, and was studying Sufism. The instructor said that, while most people need help having “high” experiences, she was going to need help staying “low”.
A: I disagree with the idea that being bipolar doesn’t affect your spiritual life. We are the sum of our experiences, so it’s inevitable that our experience of being bipolar is going to affect our spiritual life.
A: I have to wonder if my depression didn’t influence my experience with religion. I have experienced depression for as long as I remember. When I was five, I was already having reservations about my parents’ religion. This seems very strange to me. What five year old cares about things like that? Sometimes I think that being depressed makes me less able to feel love – both love from others and love towards others. There are times in support groups when someone is sharing some deep pain in their life and I feel compassion – it sounds strange, but it can be such a relief. It makes me feel human again, like I have a connection with other people. So I wonder if my depression made it difficult for me to connect with the idea of a loving god, since I wasn’t feeling the love that was around me.
A: In depression, I am overwhelmed by a sense of worthlessness. In my mind, it seems like I’m not worth anything . . . to God or anyone . . . like I’m totally disconnected. In mania, I can feel like I’m totally connected to God.
A: I know someone who finds prayer very helpful in dealing with her depression.

Q: I am a survivor of sexual abuse and trauma. How do I know if I have circumstantial or clinical depression?

A: Get evaluated by a mental health professional.
A: If you depression is circumstantial, you can point to a particular event and a period following where you felt depressed.   If you feel depressed and you can’t think of any reason why, there’s a greater chance that it’s clinical depression.

Q: Does anyone have experience with sudafed or prednisone?

A: (show of hands) We’ll talk about it after the meeting.

Q: Does anybody get worried about taking a trip? How do you stay healthy when you’re out of your normal surroundings?

A: Make sure to take time alone and limit the length of the trip. Honor yourself and don’t feel like you have to do everything your family or friends are doing.
A: Take something from home that helps you relax. Pick an outfit ahead of time that makes you feel confident.

Q: Does anybody else deal with financial stress?  How do you afford treatment when you’re having trouble making ends meet?

A: If you have Kaiser, you can apply for the Medical Financial Assistance Program (MEAP). It can cover a significant part of your medical expenses.
A: The Gronowski Clinic at 5150 El Camino Real in Los Altos provides counseling on a sliding scale.

We then passed the donation bag. A $4 donation is suggested, to help support the DBSA national office, to cover recurring expenses like refreshments our Meetup group, and to help support those who want to go to the DBSA national conference (which is being held in Houston, TX this year from May 20-22).


We ended the meeting in typical fashion by each person sharing something good or neutral that happened to them during the week.