The first session of my new Chronic Illness/Chronic pain Support Group was Wednesday.There were four participants, plus me. Three of the people there already knew me from the Akron area Sjogren's Support Group that I helped found, and that I co-lead. At the Sjogren's group I am the 'education chairperson', or as I like to call it, the 'science officer' (I guess I watch too much Startrek). I often share little tidbits or longer presentations on topics related to living with Sjogren's. I take it as a vote of confidence that these people have already seen me in action, and wanted more. The other person there was one of my husband's patients who has chronic pain.
Each session will have an education/discussion segment and a creative portion (art, craft, writing- no experience necessary). The creative portion will support the education portion in some way. I get to combine several aspects of my life together doing these groups. I am a psychiatric Occupational Therapist, a big part of my job is teaching coping skills. I am also an artist in a variety of media. I think the creative portion will provide a number of benefits. Focusing on a task can take the mind off of the body for a while. Learning new skills helps build self esteem. Some of the participants may discover they really enjoy a particular media, or are really good at it, and want to pursue it on their own, giving them a new hobby or outlet. People can interact and socialize while they work, and maybe make some new friends. And last, but not least, its FUN! The other aspect of my life that applies is that I have lived with chronic pain and illness for over 20 years, so I know what it is like.
I think the first session went very well. First we introduced ourselves to each other, and I introduced the concept of the group.Then I talked about journaling, the benefits, how-to's, and a variety of types of journals. Then we made our own journals, starting with a packet of bound pages and other materials. We actually did bookbinding, ending up with journals bound in our choice of covers, including a ribbon to mark the page we are on.
I think this support group is unique in its format. I don't know of any other programs that combine the creative and didactic together as I am doing. Most support groups focus on coping with a specific illness or issue, and some end up being 'bitchfests, where people complain about their lives or problems. While having someone who will listen, and who understands what you are going through is important, I want my group to focus on coping and living our lives to the fullest, despite our issues. I am not a trained art therapist, so what I do is not art therapy, but in some sessions we will talk about our art in similar ways to art therapy. I believe that the two segments will add to each oher and make a stronger and more interesting program.
My group is the first and third Wednesdays of each month, 4:30-6:00 pm, at my gallery, SherylsArt Gallery, 3241 Oakwood Drive, Cuyahoga Falls, OH. The cost is $15 per session, to cover materials and supplies. If you are in the Cuyahoga Falls/Akron area, come join us. Otherwise, look for support groups in your area. People who have been through similar issues can be very supportive.