I Finally Found My Group! (approx. 8½ - 9½min. read)

Almost thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After my diagnosis, I spent the following three to four years going from one mental health provider to the next; I was trying to figure out how I was going to get my life back. I listened to therapists tell me that if I did the work, I would get better and the work they were talking about was cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

During my first year of therapy, I went to a Cognitive Behavioural Centre in Oakville, Ontario, twice a week. In between my appointments I was supposed to do homework that the therapist assigned to me and that was to drive to a place that terrified me and sit there until I felt no fear.

I had been held up at my place of employment and I was terrified to go outside my front door, let alone go and sit somewhere amongst the public, but I tried. It was horrific, and I truly believe that my PTSD got worse instead of better during that first year.

After spending what seemed like an interminable amount of time going to this particular therapist, I asked to see someone else. I believed that if I could get into group therapy along with other survivors, I would find out what helped them get through the triggers, etc. and I would start to heal and be able to move forward.

Trouble was, there were no groups and the reason they gave me for not having any support groups was that “they,” being the mental health industry didn’t think PTSD group therapy would be helpful. They said that they didn’t think a group of survivors would get any benefit from group therapy because we would probably just sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, instead of exchanging helpful ideas.

At this point in my therapy, it had been just over two years since I’d started and instead of getting better, I had gotten so much worse. In fact, I was so terrified of the outside world that the only time I left my house was to go to therapy appointments and I didn’t understand their reasoning behind group therapy, at all.

So, I searched for a PTSD survivor group myself, but couldn’t find anything. My husband suggested that I start one, but I just wasn’t in the right headspace to put myself out there and instead kept going to CBT therapy.

Fast forward to August 8, 2015, when I created www.davinalytle.com and started writing about what it was like to live with PTSD.

…it was hard – in fact, it was terrifying! I had been the victim of death threats for decades, so I’d always tried to keep my identity and whereabouts hidden. Yet here I was being told that the only way I would be able to gain interest in PTSD and have a book published on that topic was to have a platform. I started a page on Facebook called I'm Still Here - A Survivor's Guide to Living with PTSD and then I signed up on Twitter.

I’m not sure how long it took for the first person to follow me, or for me to follow back, but it wasn’t long before I had that support group I’d been searching for. Most of the people I made contact with were also living with mental illness, and the rest were advocates, so there was no need for us to explain ourselves or our symptoms to each another. Which is something we have to do to almost every other person we know or meet and it’s incredibly frustrating.

It’s been three years since that first person followed me and I’m happy to say that I’ve developed close friendships with quite a few twitter followers even though up until last Saturday, I had only met a few of them face to face. I’ve been able to draw on their strength through their tweets and they’ve been able to draw on mine. In the beginning, we’d write a post and add a smiley face, then it would be an animal or a flower and then as we became closer to someone, we’d add hearts and emojis blowing kisses, but we were still just acquaintances.

Over time, I got closer and closer to these people. I shared my thoughts and feelings with them and they shared their thoughts and feelings with me as we tweeted about the types of days we were having, as well as the challenges we were facing. It was incredibly comforting because instead of getting sarcasm and insults, we got love and support. Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this week’s blog.

Back in March of this year when Gary (my husband) and I were staying at his parent’s place, I sent a request to some of my twitter family to see if anyone wanted to get together and meet face to face; a meet and greet so to speak.

The response I got was amazing and before I knew it there were almost thirty people and their partners interested in coming. I set out to find a spot for us to meet and then I threw a couple of dates at everyone to see when the best date would be to meet. After only a couple of days we’d decided to meet at Bronte Creek Provincial Park on July 28th; which was this past Saturday, and then we figured out how to set up a Facebook page so that we could open the meet and greet up to anyone else that wanted to come, that lived locally.

As the day got closer people started to cancel left, right and center and the night before the meet and greet, I had only heard from three of them to let me know they were coming. Honestly, I was okay with barely anyone coming because I was extremely anxious about driving two and a half hours to meet up with a bunch of people I’d never met before.

To be frank, if I wouldn’t have organized it, I wouldn’t have gone. I hate (I know it’s a strong word, but it’s the only one that fits here) being around other people, especially crowds and I told everyone a long time ago not to invite me to anything unless it’s a small gathering – really small. In fact, me myself and I are all I’m good with a lot of the time, but I was hoping this was going to be different.

The night before the meet and greet I was so anxious that I barely slept, and I was looking for any excuse not to go, but Gary and I had offered to pick up two of the people in our group, so we had to go.

The drive was pretty uneventful and even though I took a change of clothes, there was no stress sweat, which amazed me!! Our first stop was the Oakville train station to pick up warrior #1, and then West Oakville to pick up warrior #2 and then we headed towards the park, chatting about how excited we were to finally meet each other. There was a little confusion over which parking lot we were supposed to meet at when we got there because there were three parking lots, so my phone went off quite a few times. One of the women, that had been invited by another warrior posted on Facebook that she was already there, and she’d found a bunch of tables under a grove of really large trees, so we would have lots of shade.

When we got to the correct parking lot, I saw a woman sitting on a table in the centre of about six or seven more tables, and I was pretty sure she was one of our group. I don’t know where I got the courage, but I just walked over to her and said are you so and so and she said yes, so I waved the rest of our group over.

It was incredible because I felt absolutely no fear.

We all found a spot to sit and if I remember correctly we all sat down at our own table, as there were six of them …well except for me because I brought a lawn chair.

In the beginning, we kind of sat around making small talk while we were waiting to see if anyone else would show up, but after about twenty minutes, we figured it was just going to be us. The woman that had saved the tables; we’ll call her Rose, introduced herself to the rest of the group and asked if she could make a suggestion. Rose thought it would be a good idea to go around the circle and introduce ourselves one at a time, saying as much, or as little, as we wanted, and to make it easier for us, volunteered to go first.

I was sitting to the left of Rose and there was only one person in between us so that meant I was going to be the third person to speak. As I sat there listening to the first two warriors I realized that I was actually listening, instead of panicking about the fact that it was going to be my turn soon.

Usually, I would be on the brink of a panic attack; shaking so hard that my head felt like it was literally going to become unattached and fall off, but here I was listening.

This was huge for me!!! I wasn’t worried about what I was going to say or how I was going to say it because as I looked around the circle, I saw that I was among friends. Everyone was listening intently and nodding their heads in agreement and it felt like I was home – like I was finally among family.

All in all, there were seven of us warriors, nine if you included Gary and we sat there for four hours talking about the one thing we all had in common and that was mental illness and there was absolutely no judgement from anyone.

… as I’m sitting here typing out the words that have been bouncing around inside my head since Saturday, and reminiscing about how I felt during the meet and greet with some of my tweethearts, the tears are streaming down my face. Not because I’m sad, but because I’m so bloody happy; not just for me, but for all of us. I believe that we’ve all found a place where we belong. A place where we can be our authentic selves and work on our journeys to recovery and self-love.

Thanks for following. Stay safe and stay strong.