Frequently new people attend the weekly Bipolar Insights meetings. Some only attend one meeting while others might come from time to time. There are many who attend regularly.
Without question, though, those who attend are in pain, they are confused, and they are desperate to find an answer to the weight of their burdens. Each individual has his own story, and more often than not, that personal story is not shared.
Each week I arrive early for the meeting. It allows me to set up the refreshments and make certain that I am ready to personally greet everyone as they arrive.
One Tuesday evening which wasn’t particularly different from any other Tuesday, a gentleman walked into class wearing a fedora hat.
I greeted him as I do all new members. In return, he nodded his head and sat in the front row. He intertwined his fingers on his stomach and slightly leaned back in his chair.
The room began to fill with chatter and movement as people picked up refreshments and greeted other group members.
Our new friend in the front row did not speak to anyone nor did he show any interest in the homemade cookies.
Indicating it was time to begin, I walked to the front of the group. As usual, the room became silent with anticipation, as people come to the meetings looking for answers to their struggles.
While I led the class discussion, the new attendee never uttered a word. He did, however, watch my every move as I taught. When the class ended, he departed in the same manner as when he arrived — with a nod of his head.
No words were exchanged, and I wondered if he would return. I hoped he would.
The following week I found myself watching the door in hopes he would return.
Just as I was about to begin class, I heard the squeak of the opening door, and there he was in his fedora. With a nod of his head, he took a seat in the front row, intertwined his fingers on his stomach and slightly leaned back in his chair. Week after week he returned. He watched me as I paced back and forth while teaching, encouraging and trying to reach each attendee individually.
As I teach, my goal is to make eye contact with everyone at some point during the course of the evening. It is important that each person feel as if I am speaking to them individually and reinforcing repeatedly that they have value and worth.
They need to understand that others can not define them. That I believe in them no matter what they have done, what they are doing now or what they will do in the future.
After my friend in the fedora attended for a few months, he would smile at me as he entered and nod hello. He seemed to sit just a bit taller, and his demeanor was slightly softer.
One evening after announcing the start of the class and waiting for everyone to get settled, I noticed my friend in the fedora raise his hand. I turned to face him and he said, “I am a drug addict and a drug dealer.”
You could hear a pin drop in the room as he continued. He announced that he had been in and out of prison his entire life; the last time was for manslaughter. He dropped his head for a moment then continued, “I was put in isolation and left there. I was enraged, lost and forgotten. When I got out, I knew I never wanted to go back to that cell and I decided to move … I heard about Bipolar Insights … I was told I had bipolar disorder when I was a child — but I never believed it.”
He took a deep breath, sat straight in his chair and leaned forward with his eyes fixed directly on mine. His face softened; emotion showed as he continued, “In my whole life, no one ever told me I had value. No one has ever said, I was worthy, and for sure no one ever said to me, I believe in you. He nodded his head, his eyes moistened and he said, “Thank you, Marcia,” and he leaned back in his chair.
My friend completed his rehabilitation, moved to Southern California, and opened a transitional house for drug addicts.
From time to time when I check my phone messages, I hear that familiar voice, and visualize a fedora hat as I hear, “Hey Marcia, I will never forget you. You believed in me. I love you.”
When I get discouraged, I remember my friend.
Remember you have value, you are worthy, don’t let anyone define you. I believe in you!
The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Weekly meetings start at 7 p.m., on Monday, at Room 304, Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, and on Tuesday at Marshall Medical Health Library, 681 Main St. in Placerville. The fee is $5 per person. Check bipolarinsights.com for complete details and further information.