I came in for another tour with my sister, and we stayed and had a coffee. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. That was day two. I became a member and that was that. I was so bored with my life that I decided to return to Clubhouse and came in about once a week for a few hours about six months after becoming a member. At that stage the Clubhouse was set out quite differently and we had the roller door open most days. I chose to be in the Employment and Education Unit, which was on the ground floor directly opposite the roller door. I had my escape plan in order should I need it!
Gradually I got to know a few people in the E&E Unit and basically stayed there for a few years. It took quite some time for me to venture upstairs to the other units. The Café was upstairs then so I would go without coffee. I also used to go to the takeaway shop down the road, even though the Clubhouse made meals. I was so concerned with my nervousness that I could not bring myself to eat with other people. I learned what they meant by anxiety disorder.
I was introduced to the Employment program, as I was sure I wanted to get back to work. If I got a job I could break out of the cycle of government benefits which I was on. I am very thankful that I got sick in Australia as now being on the disability pension I could at least survive. I thought that work was what I was supposed to do, at least most other people do that. So one of the Staff members found me a job. What a disaster!
I lasted about six weeks I think and it really shook me that I could not work. Oh well I thought that is not the job for me I will try something else. I still knew that work would make me better, of course before I was ill I had always worked so the two went hand in hand.
A few more jobs mainly Transitional Employment opportunities which the Clubhouse offered, and I was on my way to “proper” work. My focus on wanting to work got me through a lot of hard times, even though I was not ready to work. I had no idea of this yet.
One day I was asked to go on Three Week Training to the USA. Well, what could I say? So the Clubhouse sorted all my travel stuff and within a month or two I was in St Louis, Missouri with two staff members from SSCH. We spent three good weeks there and it really dawned on me that there was more to my illness than what I thought. I knew there were 300 odd Clubhouses around the world, but I had not thought of how many people that means are mentally ill.
I realized I was part of a world-wide community and that I might have something to offer other people who were in a similar position that I was, years ago. Someone with no idea about mental illness suddenly thrust into the scary world of delusion.
The training involves a thorough discussion of members’ rights and responsibilities in the Clubhouse model. It gives you an overview of the world as a place where all should be included in society. It helps to explain why there is so much stigma. I think stigma arises from a lack of knowledge not hatred. So that is something we can change. It dawned on me that some people were not treated with their best regard in mind. I heard stories from other members, but didn’t really think about them. The stories I heard while on training were terrible. They would certainly scare most people.
I knew that the media always embellish stories regarding mental illness, and if a person has a mental illness that will be a focus. I made a plan of taking note of mental illness stories on the evening news. Pretty poor really. I suppose ratings are more important than human reality. Having spent a few more years working here and there, and having tried a few courses at TAFE I took some time out to find myself. I had been concentrating so hard on getting back to work, because that would fix me, that I forgot to just be myself.
Now I am trying to live the best life I can with the cards I have been dealt. It is not easy knowing that I am getting old, I am nearly 40, and all the things I wanted to achieve will not get done. I am hopeful of achieving a few things, like having a career that can help people, not just a job. If I can only decide what I want to do with my life, I will know how to help people. There is still a chance of finding a woman to spend my life with, and you never know what else may be around the corner.
While still having ups and downs, I am sure my days will be good and bad for a long time to come. I have a few weeks where everything is good and then for no apparent reason I have a day or two where I cannot function properly. This is not just a bad day, it is a time when I am scared to see the rest of the world. My energy levels are extremely low and I cannot face anyone. It is tough, but it only lasts a day or two then I regain normality. Then I re-join the world and act normal and everything is okay.
So I suppose I will just keep going along trying to keep out of the way of as many people as possible. I still only trust myself to talk to a few people and guard myself as best I can. SSC has given me a chance to be part of a community and I am working on expanding my abilities, both for individual communication and to get back into the broader society. I am now under no illusion that mental illness is easy to recover from. With ten years under my belt my recovery is ongoing and I presume always will be. My recovery is part of my growth and hopefully I can help someone else one day.
Thank you. JK