I went to a facilitator training last week to help me, and all who attended, facilitate the support groups we’re set to do.  I’ve been facilitating my bipolar/depression support group, Shelter from the Storm, for a few months now, and I was really looking forward to the training because I love learning, in general, plus this is content I’m very interested in – or else I wouldn’t have started the support group in the first place.  I knew this training would help me become a better support group facilitator.

I arrived at the training on day one, not really knowing what to expect, besides assuming it would be informative…other than that…well, training I’ve been to for other jobs was always pretty boring. Partly because those jobs weren’t right for me, and partly because some people should not be in the position of training anyone to do anything.  I’m sure some of you have been through similar experiences.

Well, let me just say that from the very start, I knew I was going to love this training.  Initially, with all of the trainees thrown in together, we were kind of quiet.  Hesitant.  Looking each other up and down curiously…you know, just not really sure what to expect.  Once we started doing activities together, we loosened up a bit. I started to get to know some of the personalities of some of the people I was interacting with.  It’s hard to explain…and this might sound corny, but…it felt like I’d known all these people my entire life.  I’ve had that feeling a lot lately.  I’m not going to quote the Bible or anything here, but this past year for me has been the most “magical” year. I think people have been coming into my life for a reason.  A specific reason.  Every one of them.  Including, and maybe especially, everyone at this training.

I won’t go through every activity we did, step by step, but just kind of give an overview of it all.  The first day we pretty much broke the ice, engaging in those intial conversations, learning about our backgrounds, which support group we’d be leading.  I just felt so welcome and “at home” with the workshop trainers…each one is a unique, deeply caring person, and I could tell that simply by looking into their eyes.

We learned a little about empathy, about how some of the people coming into our support groups might feel.  Everything was so interactive that it wasn’t possible to feel bored.  At the end of each day we had a “community meeting” where we all met up and contributed our thoughts about the day.  Even though I actually consider myself an introvert, I felt compelled to speak quite a bit during this whole process.  I think because I just care so much about it, and it definitely helps to know that the people training you really, truly care about you and about what you have to say.  I think that’s rare.
The second day of training was wonderful.  We were introduced to the concept of a “labyrinth” and how to make one…then how to go through one.  (A labyrinth is kind of like a maze, except with a maze, you have different choices of path and direction; with a labyrinth there is one single path that leads to the center and then back again.) This might sound crazy too, but before the labyrinth we made that day was even started, I envisioned the final product to be exactly as it was.  It was beautiful.  Each of us took turns walking through the labyrinth we made out of some craft supplies - colorful yarn, realistic-looking fall leaves, candles, and affirmations to stop and read along the way.  There was also music playing (which I’d also envisioned) sort of Enya-esque, and soothing. Once we walked through the whole thing, there was a bowl in the middle and we were to each take a card and pour this packet of sand we’d been given into another dish.  The sand represented something we wanted to let go of.  The card contained a concept and then an explanation; mine was about being in the present – something I’d actually been thinking a lot about.  The whole experience was very spiritual for me…I just could feel it in the air.  I felt so peaceful during the labyrinth experience.  It was my favorite part of the training.

I also feel that the experience opened me up more.  I felt more comfortable talking within the group after that.  On the inside, I’m a shy person…on the outside, I just go with the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy, like when I’m teaching.  I pretend to be confident and hope that I come across that way.
The three days of training was just so much fun for me…but it was more than “fun.”  It was one of those experiences that I feel truly bonded a group of people together.  I felt the same way after I attended a court-ordered weekend class because I got a DUI six years ago. I also felt the same way after both times I’ve done jury duty.  (And I might be the only person who actually loves jury duty – but I do.)

The leaders of the training, Kathy, Doug, Jerry, and Meghan, each brought something magnificent to the table.  Kathy is very intuitive, reflective, insightful…she just has the ability to make everyone in the room feel relaxed.  Doug possesses a refined dignity and thoroughly observes his surroundings.  Jerry is both hilarious and intellectual – the best combination.  Meghan is very accepting and kind, and like I told her at the training, I love her voice.  It’s almost melodic…graceful.  And all of the trainers were graceful.  They were also warm, caring, deeply invested, and charismatic. 

I really could go on forever about what I enjoyed about these few days…I think experiences like this do bond people together.  I felt a connection with everyone who attended the facilitator training.  We spent quite a few hours together, and each one of us wants to help people – I think I felt connected to everyone right away because of that, and then, through getting to know people better, related to them in many more ways.  I met so many strong, intelligent, funny, amazing individuals, and it is one of those experiences I will look back on as being one of the most extraordinary of my life.
My bipolar/depression support group meets Mondays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Delphos public Library if you, or someone you know, may be interested.