Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Support Groups Go Bad

Yet again, I have confirmed that I am not a joiner. Today I attended my fibromyalgia support group for the first time in months. The normal procedure is for each of the members to tell what is going on in her life, and how it affects the disease. Although I like most of the women in this group, sitting for two hours discussing illness strikes me as counter-productive because what you focus on expands. I would rather ignore the disease and do more interesting things. But to be fair, I may have that luxury because I am not as severely afflicted as some of the others.

There is a new woman in the group whom I had never met before. Leslie has a glass-shattering voice which caused my nervous system to accelerate from neutral to full bore migraine in 60 seconds. She hijacked the conversation to inform us that she has traveled the world extensively, that she has been a fixture for many years on the 100 Most Beautiful Single Women in San Francisco list, but that she has no boyfriend although she had stated earlier that she'd spent the night on her boyfriend's yacht in Sausalito. She inflicted a shtick routine on us about getting a bikini wax, announced that she has not had full toenails for years because of a fungus, and demanded the answer to all her life's problems, but when anyone made a suggestion, she yelled "NO!! I already tried that."

I didn't make any suggestions because I was lost in wonder that there is a list of the 100 Most Beautiful Single Women in San Francisco, and that she is on it. I was mildly curious about her ranking on that list, but chose not to engage her in any more conversation than necessary because her voice was like cracking black ice on a winter pond, the kind that kills people.

I only went to the group because Shirley, the leader, has a new dog, a Belgian Shepherd, and I wanted to meet her. The dog, who is beautiful and sweet, has been debarked. I would have preferred that if anybody permanently lose her voice, it be Leslie. Life is unfair.

Yesterday, Flip and I attended our weekly Alzheimer's meeting at which the diagnosed parties are separated from their caregivers into two groups which meet in different rooms. When I rejoined Flip afterward, he told me that Heather, the woman who leads his group, had yelled at him. He was unable to remember exactly what she said, but he was very clear that she tore into him, broke his balls and it was humiliating. He stated that he would not return as long as she was there.

It seems that he welcomed a new attendee, and Heather's agenda did not allow for "side conversations." I think the meetings should be more flexible as these people are already dealing with a horrible disease, and perhaps her ego also needs an adjustment. I don't know exactly what happened since I wasn't there, but protecting Flip is my main concern. Nothing should be added to his huge and unfair burden which can be prevented. Plus, they don't have any dogs at the Alzheimer's meetings.

I suggested that from now on, we be each other's support group. He agreed. "They're just bitch sessions anyway," he said.

"So how are you doing this week?" I asked, dangling my reading glasses over my book.

"Shitty," he said as he idly thrummed his guitar. "How are YOU?"

"Crappy." I put my glasses back on and found my place. "Ok, meeting's over. As you were."

I feel so supported now, it only took ten seconds, and we didn't have to go anywhere. I think we may be onto something.


Bob said...

"I feel so supported now, it only took ten seconds, and we didn't have to go anywhere. I think we may be onto something. "

great meeting, but was there a dog?

Molly said...

It does seem a better idea to go do something fun than to sit around listening to self-centered women from ANY list of 100 most beautiful bitch and moan and spurn any overtures made by others. If you do go again you should make sure she isn't going to be there, and that the Belgian shepherd IS! Your's and Flips own personal support group sounds much more appealing!

And, in a pinch, you have us, your adoring fans!

forest wisdom said...

I had to laugh when I got to the end of this post. Your new "support group" is definitely my kind of support group! Yes, very short, sweet, and efficient.


the walking man said...

And I thought there was only one beautiful woman in San Francisco...that chick married to that handsome dude named Flip.

Not dumping on support groups but your experience is exactly why I never could get sober with AA. My support group of me and myself has worked for a decade so I guess it was the right move for me.

Warty Mammal said...

Dear god. These groups sound like a slice of hell, worse than the conditions themselves. Worse even than a meeting in a corporation.

I suspect that Ms. Glass Shatterer's key issue may not be fibromyalgia, but something rather north of that. Say, in the cranium.

Re: Walking Man's comment, I once had an alcoholic/psychotherapist friend try to force her version of AA's twelve steps on me. She didn't take it too well when she asked if I believed in a higher power - nay, demanded that I do so! - and I replied that yes, I believed in the IRS.

His Sinfulness said...

I can't see the words "support group" without thinking of Fight Club...

Your meeting sounds much more productive. :)

nick said...

That sounds like a much more productive support group than the official ones. What a strange attitude to take, not allowing someone to exchange a few words with someone else. I don't see how being humiliated can count as getting support. Perhaps there are some better support groups on the net somewhere? My sister Heather, who has motor neurone disease, gets a lot of support that way.

Avril Fleur said...

While I can understand the main premise of support groups which is to help people deal with a common issue, I don't think it's necessarily helpful to keep focusing on a problem with such intensity. What you focus on expands, and I think we don't want to expand our problems, but manage them so that we can keep on living our lives as normally as possible.

The CEO said...

I hear you. You're really missing a cat.

Jo said...

Oh, goodness, Hearts! I am just now catching up visiting my favorite blogs, and I read your last few posts. Goodness gracious! I'm glad you were able to dislodge the potato skin. Did you know, we are able to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on ourselves, using a chair? If you go to this website:
they will show you how.

As far as support groups, I joined one once, and all I realized was that I came away feeling so much better because everyone there was much more f*cked up than I was! I never went back. :-)

I just Googled the 100 Most Beautiful Women in San Francisco, and no such list exists. However, Google DID take me to your website! *heh, heh* Does that tell you something?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sadly, no. Our landlord does not allow pets so I make play dates with friends who have dogs.


My online support group is definitely the best!


Maybe I'll start a support group for loners.


They do help many people, but as I said, I am not a joiner. And at the end of the day, we still have our diseases.

At least the fibro group used to share remedies, medical and alternative, not dispense dating advice to people who blame their status on the disease despite being So Very Beautiful (barf.)


How could anyone not believe that the IRS is a higher power?

The earnest ladies were offering Leslie advice about meeting people while she insisted that she already knows 3,000 people. She claimed that men keep breaking up with her, which did not surprise me. You can only wear earplugs for so long before they hurt.


If I had stayed any longer, it would have turned into Fight Club.

Thanks for your visit.


The main purpose of the AD caregivers group is to vent, but hey, I have a blog.

I'm glad your sister gets the help she needs.

Shaming people never produces anything good. I am livid that she did that to Flip, who is one of the kindest people on earth.


That is the exact principle I had in mind, that energy flows where attention goes. I prefer to acknowledge the disease and move on rather than give it even more power.

Thank you for coming by!


I am missing her. And also a wolf, three horses and many dogs. Most of my best friends have been four-leggeds.


I found that site the last time I choked on something - (I seem to have a narrow throat passageway) but was unable to do it so this time, I went straight for 9-1-1.

I also Googled that list and waddya know, it doesn't exist. Except in Leslie's feverish imagination. Maybe the bikini wax affected her brain, which probably resides in that area.

It's strange that you were directed here from that "list" because I didn't use it as a label on the post.

forest wisdom said...

"a support group for loners"

I think that's what blogging is, isn't it?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


YES!!! Exactly.

comfortandjoy said...

You didn't know about that list?

I'm on it.

In fact, I am it.

I'm so beautiful that the Most Beautiful list writers came to me and said, "You are so beautiful, we don't want to make a list anymore."

And I said, "Guys, really, I know I'm stunning, but you should give other beautiful women a chance."

And they said, "But, CJ!"

And I said, "Guys..."

And they said, "Fiiinnee."

And that's the story of how I saved the list.

Ever Humble,

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I am humbled. I am humbled by your phenomenal beauty and your dazzling humility.

It is impossible to imagine a more worthwhile cause on which to expend your phenomenally dazzling energy than the Most Beautiful list so that women like Leslie can aspire to it. Your generosity brings tears to my eyes, which are green and of course, beautiful.

(I am ever humble, too.)

forest wisdom said...

I'm kind of a newbie, does it always get this deep in here?

You might have to start furnishing shovels for your comments section.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


No, sometimes the comments are pretty shallow. It all depends.

But when it's deep, the policy is BYOS. (Bring Your Own Shovel - or Shit. Whatever works for you.)


Warty Mammal said...

I forgot to mention that there's an award for you over here:

I know some don't care to participate in these bloggy award things. No worries if that's the case.

Los Angelista said...

Good grief, how the heck does somebody de-bark their dog? I mean, it's a dog! It's supposed to bark!

If only the dog could have somehow nipped homegirl, that would have been priceless.

I am coming up to your city tomorrow. It'll be nice knowing I'll be in the same place as the REAL most beautiful lady in SF!

thailandchani said...

Ugh! People like that are the ones who prompted the old saying "a turd in the punchbowl".

In general, I'm not in favor of support groups unless they're informational/educational. Too many people use them as excuses to stay stuck.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you so much! This really means a lot, but I stopped posting awards in my sidebar because the last time I did, I lost my entire blog in html hell and had to rebuild it. It was a really bad experience.

I am absolutely thrilled to be one of the first blogs you read in the morning, and I'll try to post more often to make it worth your while.


I am beaming with delight at the thought of Carly-the-dog biting Homegirl. Hell, I would have bitten her myself if I'd thought of it. Where were you when I needed you?

I totally agree about debarking dogs. That's right up there with declawing cats, neither of which I would ever do.

Have a wonderful time in San Francisco. Dress warm - it's rainy and windy today, turning cold tomorrow, especially for someone used to the perfect climate of L.A.


Flip is right that they are mostly bitch sessions. The fibro group always passed around information about drugs and drug trials which I tuned out because I dislike drugs, and alternative treatments like acupuncture, which I do like. But bikini waxes are a far cry from that. Thank God Leslie didn't do show-and-tell, probably because we ran out of time.

riseoutofme said...

Sometimes egos can be such a pain in the ass .... Seems like you and Flip have a good thing going ... all it takes is to really care enough to ask? Absolutely loved your post on ridiculous laws ... laughed my way through it ... Humans are funny creatures.

Kvatch said...

I tried therapy once...for about 3 visits. When it became clear that a long term business relationship (with me on the paying end) rather than results was the fairly obvious point of the process, I quit...and felt a whole lot better afterward.

Pearl said...

I like the idea of de-barking some people... I wonder if cases could be made, if there is a commitment process and what said process is.


Googled 100 most beautiful san fran and found nothing but you. Nice!


On a limb with Claudia said...

I wish you were joking. I wish I could tell you that this type of thing never happened or only happened to you but.... I've seen this and worse.


((hug)) If I can help at all, I am here.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, ego is surely one of the Deadly Sins.

Sometimes I think that humans are my least favorite species. Only sometimes.


Shouldn't that be an "e"?

I agree that therapy often benefits the therapist more than the therapee. Luckily, you found a way to help yourself.

Thanks for your visit. Your photos are extraordinary!


If only there were a way to debark those who need debarking and send them to the Land of Lost Larynxes. Maybe we could start a petition.

There is no list. Along with everything else, Leslie lied.

I'm so glad you came by. Please come back!


You've always been a marvelous support system. If it ain't broke...

I think some people get so caught up in the image of themselves as helpers that they forget to help. And some are so obnoxious that you can't muster the desire to care about their problems.

When I find myself pondering that the fibro meeting took two hours out of my life that I'll never get back, it's time to part ways.

Gayle's Joy In Life said...

Good for you! I have a hard time connecting with self-absorbed strangers, too. Not sure if that's because I'm so self-absorbed myself but I'd rather take a walk in the sunshine.

Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, Heart: Well, you've made a believer out of me! I have been diagnosed with undifferentiated connective tissue disease and have thought about support groups. Actually, I think maybe going to see a good movie or call up a best friend might work just as well. And how could someone debark a dog? That sounds cruel. Maybe someone needs to debark Miss Beautiful! D

Maria said...

I used to go to a pain management support group and I swear, I always felt so much worse when I came out. Plus, it always seemed to be a one-up session. People were always telling each other things like, "Well, consider yourself lucky because you only need a walker. I had to sell my walker years ago to make a down payment on my wheel chair..."

I haven't gone in years...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Connecting with the natural world has always been easier and more pleasant for me, too.


Nothing would delight me more than to see people like Miss I'm So Beautiful silenced.

I've never been really convinced that misery loves company. I agree with your ideas on worthy distractions, and I also don't choose to define myself by this condition.

So lovely to see you here as I've enjoyed your comments on other sites for a long time.


Yep, competitive belly aching. Their pains are badges of honor and the meeting is a coven of martyrs.

When you look at it that way, maybe not so much fun...

Anonymous said...

Wow, Flip;s group sounds like the antithesis of a suport group, andyour had an unruly member who was not honoring the spirit of it being a group, rather than a one-woman show. No loss if you never go back to either.

Jocelyn said...

Shared misery is the best support.

Oh, and "I was lost in wonder that there is a list of the 100 Most Beautiful Single Women in San Francisco, and that she is on it."--I have to admit I got a little derailed in your post when this first cropped up. In Duluth, I don't think we could come up with 100.

Or would feel the need to.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


We're really batting 1,000 on support groups, aren't we?

I'm sure there's a message in this: If your tolerance for BS is limited, there is probably a better course to pursue.


Duluth shouldn't feel bad. (Don't Cry, Argentina..) San Francisco doesn't really have such a list either -- Leslie the Bigmouth Bass has a rich fantasy life.

furiousBall said...

"Shitty," he said as he idly thrummed his guitar. "How are YOU?"

I love Flip, I bet he and I would be best buds if there wasn't a continent between us.

seventh sister said...

I have never understood the concept of support groups...of course, I have never been to one. It was suggested that I attend one after the loss of my daughter but I was afraid that it would just be a lot of people talking about their own losses and feeling really bad together. I was feeling bad enough all by myself. Something told me to just stay away from that concentration of grief.

I suppose that if people there really had positive things to share, it might be helpful.

meno said...

You must go back and tell Leslie that if it's indeed true that she is on the 100 Most Beautiful Women in San Francisco list, that she must come in at 99.

Just below your friend's dog.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I would love to hear you jam together ~with the amps cranking.


That would have been my instinct, too, to grieve alone, in private.

The alleged purpose of support groups for diseases is the dissemination of helpful information, but neither of them seems to be doing much of that.


I think 99th is pushing it for Leslie, but the dog IS beautiful.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

You're definitely on to something, except I'd like to nudge you just a bit and remind you that you have a pretty strong and devoted support group here, as well.

We love you, lady.

All pets & animals allowed.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You guys are absolutely the best support group anyone could have!

Thank you.

I love you, too.