Over the past couple of years I have read countless self-help books on the effects of a dysfunctional upbringing. For better, or for worse, these books have opened me up to types of pain that I have avoided, and given me permission to feel them. While this awakening has been very exciting, it’s also been confusing and isolating. I have struggled to find someone to share these new feelings with and who makes me feel understood. Only my therapist and self-help books have validated me, for which I am grateful for.
But at my worst, I desperately wished I had an accessible group to rely on for support and understanding.
One day on Facebook I decided to search some specific keywords related to my mental health concerns. Not exactly sure what I was looking for, I found multiple Facebook groups with thousands of members.
Seeing these results alone, made me feel like Harry Potter walking into Diagon Alley for the first time. A whole world of people like me were living out in the open amongst each other. I didn’t feel alone. I requested to join three or four groups, anxious to see what people were posting about.
Admittedly, part of me initially felt a little betrayed by the world seeing so many people out there suffering like me, describing their pain in the same language I use from the same self-help books I’ve read. I felt like I wasn’t special anymore for my suffering. However, this was a way I made sense of my pain in order to cope, and it quickly passed.
That night I read through several posts. I was in awe at people’s openness with their pain, along with the paragraphs of support from strangers who knew exactly how they felt. Things I never felt comfortable sharing were now the main topic of conversation.
I remember making my first post. I was shaken up about an experience I had with a friend that was still bothering me the following day. I remembered the Facebook group I had recently joined, and went to put my feelings into words. I felt better already processing my feelings for an audience who I knew would understand. Later in the day I checked back to see several thoughtful and nurturing replies. I felt special in a different way this time, having my feelings taken seriously.
I had tried in-person support groups before but these didn’t give me the help I was looking for. What I like most about large online support groups is that I can reach out for help whenever I need it. I also don’t have the fear of overwhelming one or two people with my pain because the community is so big. Additionally, since many other members are always available to offer support, I don’t necessarily feel obligated to reciprocate in some way for being listened to. This helps me communicate my feelings more authentically and with less guilt.
I have also found similar support groups on Reddit. Generally, I prefer Facebook because I personally like that I can attach a real human name and face to someone who supports me. However, sometimes I prefer Reddit’s anonymity and overall support group culture.
So whether you’re “lurking,” actively participating in an online support group, or attending one in person, simply belonging to a mental health support group can give you the confidence to cope better with the heavy lows knowing that you are not alone and that help is there if you need it.
Note from the Editor: For more information about support groups and how to find one both online and locally, visit Mental Health America’s Support Groups page. If you run an online community, learn how to identify people in crisis and support them safely with the Lifeline’s Social Media toolkit and guidelines.