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I don't always like groups, but when I do...

Tuesday December 08, 2015

Groups frequently mean meaningless small talk. Worse yet, groups can mean a complete lack of reason and logic as a herd mentality arises. The worst part of groups, however, is meetings. That’s an embarrassing revelation as I ran staff meetings, inservices and various other groups for over twenty-five years as principal of high schools and middle schools.

The primary issue with group meetings is some people pay attention, some people get something of value, some people knit or do crosswords, and some people let their displeasure of being present shine through with some degree of hostility. Most of the time in business and professional settings, attendance at meeting is mandatory. Sometimes people’s needs, wants and wishes are fulfilled. Sometimes not.

Being required to attend a meeting or presentation under duress does not lend itself to a positive and productive experience. That brings us to a wonderful concept: choice. Choice is the primary difference between my experience with groups and the concept of a support group.  Not only is attendance and participation voluntary, the content is chosen by the group. But wait, there’s more!

At first glance, a support group can be viewed as a bunch of like-minded whiners—which is what I first imagined. On the contrary, a support group can (and should) be a place where people with a shared situation, condition or disease can feel normal. That definition of a support group is more powerful than it appears. Feeling normal as a cancer patient who has lost her hair; feeling normal as a person with Parkinson’s disease—this is powerful stuff. At a PD support group, it is the person without tremors or slow gait or freezing that stands out. Knowing others will understand completely when you say, “My future with this disease scares the hell out of me” or “I know it will only get worse over time” or “My medicine is no longer working” are profound statements. Everyone can intellectually understand the words, but only another support group member understands it completely heart and soul.


AC WoolnoughBeyond feeling normal, for many people with PD support groups are a way to meet people and develop new friendship—especially important for people with a condition frequently associated with social isolation.  For these reasons, I am trying to start a Sandpoint Parkinson’s Support Group. The nearest one is in Coeur d’Alene and too far for most folks. If I can get at least two PwP’s (person with Parkinson’s) and/or their care partners to call me or email saying they are interested, we will work out a time and place to start our very own PD support group. I can be reached at acwooly@gmail.com.

Originally appeared in October 2015 River Journal

A.C. Woolnough spent 37 years in public education as teacher and principal in California, Idaho and Alaska. Diagnosed with PD in 2014, he is a member of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council, a PDF Research Advocate and an assistant state director for Parkinson’s Action Network.

A.C. WoolnoughA.C. Woolnough
NWPF Blogger

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