Imagine nine people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle in a quiet room of a community center. There are women and men of different cultural backgrounds, ages, educational levels, and socioeconomic statuses. During the next ninety minutes, some speak a great deal, while some observe quietly. Some speak of their spouses; others discuss their parents. Some have just begun a difficult journey, while others are old pros.
Despite their differences, these nine people have one thing in common: they are all caregivers.
I’m shy by nature. Ever since I was a small child, I hesitated to speak up in class; when I did, my entire head flushed to a deep shade of red. In small groups, especially when I don’t know anyone that well, I marvel at those who talk openly and without nervous hesitation. Conversely, I astonish myself when I interject a comment and hear a voice that resembles Peter Brady going through puberty. “Who is that?” I wonder, until I feebly realize, it’s me.
Despite my moderate case of social anxiety, I’ve witnessed one small group situation that welcomes the shy and gregarious alike – support groups. Alas, support groups sometimes get a bad rap.
Let’s break it down (linguistically, not like MC Hammer). Support indicates a need for encouragement, assistance, and someone to lean on during difficult times. Group signifies the value of many compared to one.
Hmmmm….two concepts that run contrary to the pervasive value of rugged individualism and the notion that we should be able to trudge through on our own, even if it costs us our own well-being. This kind of stubbornness makes me growl, even though I’ve succumbed to such thinking myself.
I’ve seen magic happen in support groups. I’ve watched a husband on the verge of collapse finally concede that it’s time to look at senior living options for his wife with dementia. I’ve seen a daughter caring for her father with cancer finally forgive herself for resenting her uninvolved siblings. I’ve watched a wife who had never talked about the intimacy issues that had surfaced with her ill husband finally open up and start grieving for the life she used to know.
If you’re a caregiver and have never been to a support group, I strongly encourage you to consider one. Connecting with other caregivers is crucial to your caregiver blueprint. If you’re unfamiliar with support groups, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Types of Support Groups
Support groups can be open, meaning anyone can attend without advance notice, or closed, meaning that a screening process is necessary. Closed groups exist for more specialized topics such as early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The screening process isn’t meant to be exclusionary or judgmental; it’s simply a way of ensuring an appropriate fit between the caregiver and the purpose of the group.
Support groups can be ongoing or time-limited. Time-limited groups tend to follow a specific agenda, such as an eight-week support group for caregivers of cancer patients going through chemotherapy. Each week is dedicated to a different topic. Ongoing groups, on the other hand, follow a more fluid agenda.
Finally, support groups can be geared toward providing education, emotional support, social opportunities, or a combination of these things. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the support groups you’re considering to see if you’re comfortable with the parameters.
How to Find Support Groups in Chicago
The best way to find support groups in Chicago is through the good old Internet. If you’re caring for someone with a specific health condition, search for an organization that focuses on that disease, then click through that organization’s website for support groups. Most sites list locations, times, and contact information. You will be amazed at the range of groups available!
Other places to find support groups include hospitals, home health agencies, hospice agencies, senior centers, mental health agencies, churches, and libraries. Ask for calendars listing public events to check for support groups at these locations.
Below are some examples of support groups in the Chicago area. This list is far from complete! It is meant to give you a taste of what is available, but there are literally hundreds more.
Sampling of Chicago Support Groups
Again, this is a very short sample of the many, many support groups available in the Chicago area. A quick Google search will turn up gems that might be right around the corner. Please comment here on groups you’ve found or that you offer for caregivers – I want this blog to become a rich resource for caregivers who are seeking support.
Stay tuned for Connect with Chicago Caregivers – Parts 2 and 3: Online Communities and Special Events.
And please give support groups a try, even if you are a shy type like me. It’s worth it.