"Good evening," I said. "Welcome to the Tri-City mental health support group."
My hands were sweaty and my knees were shaking. I had a thousand butterflies in my stomach. The room seemed to be spinning. I was testing the very limits of my social anxieties.
"We are an informal and anonymous group that meets every Monday night to support each other and talk about how our illnesses affect our lives," I furthered. "Thank you all for coming."
I started the conversation with telling about my history of mental illness and how it had affected me over the years.
"I thought God was speaking to me too!" Mary, a newcomer, said when I got to the point I was talking about my rabid and weird religiosity. "It drove my then husband and my children crazy. I kept telling them they were going to burn in hell for being nonbelievers and sinners. It was a terrible thing to do."
"And you actually believed God felt you were so important as to directly communicate with you," I chimed in, glad to have another finally speak.
"Yes. Exactly," Mary said nodding her head in agreement.
"When I was manic, I spent money like it was going out of style," Kay, another newcomer added. "I spent $30,000 in less than a year. It took me a decade to pay most of it off."
"I have been known to spend recklessly as well," I replied.
The meeting went really well with the two people who called me for directions showing up. Rosa didn't say a word through the whole meeting until afterwards when she spoke to me as we were cleaning up the kitchen.
"You have a stage presence," Rosa said. "I got to see a different side of you tonight."
"Rosa, I was so nervous that I almost didn't make it," I replied. "I was scared to death. I felt like I was going to puke all over that podium."
"Well, I am proud of you and proud to call you my friend," she said.
I melted at Rosa saying that and gave her a big hug.
"Now, what are we going to do with all these leftover, scrumptious cheese straws?" Rosa asked as she smiled coyly.
"You can have them," I said. "They will all just go to my ass."
Rosa burst out laughing.
"And a nice ass it is!" she said as she patted me on the left cheek of my posterior.
I then walked into the meeting hall and sat down with a relieved sigh as Rosa finished cleaning up the kitchen. I thought of all the things I've done these past few years and felt I had finally found something I could sink my heart and soul into. I marveled that people can come together and help each other just by talking and sharing what ails them. I know I have often been a staunch critic of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it taught me that helping others will actually help you as well.
"You ready to leave?" Rosa asked, breaking my deep concentration, as she turned off the lights in the kitchen and walked out with a cardboard box of leftovers and sodas.
"Yeah," I said as I quickly drank the rest of my diet soda, got up from my chair and we started to walk out the back door.
I turned to look one more time at the dark and empty hall as I smiled and then shut the door to lock it. My therapist keeps telling me that social anxiety is manageable if I will just put myself out there in situations such as tonight and overcome my deepest fears. I will have good news to tell her next week when we meet.