Adapting and Finding Support in the Times of COVID-19
In March, many support groups that survivors and caregivers alike depend on were forced to make tough decisions in the face of community shutdowns across the globe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a leader of a local support group in my community. We also had to make the tough decision to cancel meetings until further notice. I did not take this lightly at all. This group, in particular, is comprised of mostly more experienced members and many people who are also in the "high-risk" category. In addition, our meetings take place at local hospitals, all of which are still under visitor restrictions. We really had no choice, as heartbreaking as it was.
Being isolated at home triggered a depressive episode
I, like many others, greatly look forward to and depend on the support meetings to help me get through hard times. Being isolated in my apartment alone, without direct human contact, was a challenge and triggered a depressive episode. I was not okay and I knew that some of the other members were struggling with things as well.
Using Zoom to meet with my support group virtually
It was then that I decided to move forward and try Zoom meetings. Not only did I offer them for my local support group, I offered them to friends I made at a national conference. These meetings were a godsend. They did not solve any issues we were having, but we at least got to see each others' faces. We could discuss things that were important to us...or random nothings at all. It was definitely a spirit booster!
Overcoming technology hurdles
My local group was slow to pick up on the Zoom meetings, being a bit afraid of the technology, and a lot of people for quite a while did not realize they could use a landline telephone to call in and participate in the meetings. But with the help of another member close to my age, we started getting people to join, and it has really been eye-opening for several people. After joining one night, one member even equated it to the "party lines" of the 80s and 90s. The idea of getting people to call in clicked finally. We all got a good laugh out of that! Several thanked me for offering the service so that we weren't trying to have meetings in parking lots!
Laughter and encouragement
With my friends from the national conference, on the other hand, most of us had been used to using this type of communication, so we jumped right on into it! Laughter and stories, encouragement and support through struggles and illness. We initiated random "challenges" like the "headgear challenge" to find something close by, really random, maybe even outrageous, and fashion it to be a hat for the meeting. We have been doing these weekly. Sometimes it is just a few of us. Other times, we've had about 20 people at a time. Regardless, whoever we have online is contributing to exactly what all of us need in that moment.
Connecting with others thousands of miles away
All in all, none of us are thrilled about how we need to meet at this time, but the important thing is that we are still meeting. Not only are we meeting with our usual groups, but since so many other groups are meeting in the same manner, we are able to attend other meetings across the globe at the click of a button. It has put names with faces, bridged thousands of miles in a matter of moments. It has allowed people to hear and share information with others in ways that would have previously been impossible. Things that were definitely not possible during the last global pandemic in the early 1900s!
Don't discount online support
You may loathe the idea of relying "on the interwebs" and greatly miss your in-person support meetings in your communities, don't discount the technology without trying. If you're unsure of how to access it, reach out to another member. Ask for help. After all, that's what we're all here for: support!