The Attorney General, The Clubhouse, and Unconditional Acceptance

The Clubhouse model is a powerful demonstration of the fact that people with mental illness can and do lead normal, productive lives.

***

Two years ago, I volunteered at a conference put on by a national mental health organization. The speakers at this conference were distinguished, successful, and insightful – all the things I was not. They also all had powerful stories.

The keynote speaker at this conference was a former attorney general who struggled, for a long time, with alcoholism. What I took away from his story at the time was…nothing. His story was insightful, interesting, and hope inspiring, and yet I couldn’t see the obvious – that his story was like mine. I was under the influence, an addict, and unwell. Nothing resonated with me.

When the attorney general had finished speaking, I approached him. Every muddled instinct of mine told me not to. Regardless, I told him a bit about myself. His response took me by surprise:

“You need to be extra generous to yourself,” he told me.

I had no clue what he meant.

At the time, I was becoming a burden to those close to me. My supervisors at work were struggling to keep up with my frequent, long and babbling emails. I’m sure they were beginning to see me as an unhealthy influence on the rest of the staff. I had zero insight. I was delusional, manic, and addicted to prescription medications.

The staff were the only community I had. They were also the only people in my life who unconditionally accepted me, despite my long history of mental health challenges. So, I clung to them long after I had left the organization.

I would often think about what the attorney general had told me.

“You need to be extra generous to yourself.”

When insight returned, after many medication adjustments and prolonged withdrawals, I began visiting a local Clubhouse – a place where I could go to find supports, and participate in social gatherings and events. I’d been hesitant to visit until then. I was holier-than-thou towards others who live with mental health challenges. I thought I was different. I thought I was better than the rest.

My first dinner at the Clubhouse was nerve-wracking.  I was shaky, and anxious. Walking through the Clubhouse doors, I didn’t know what to expect.  To my surprise, I was greeted warmly. I ate with the members, chatted, and then left with a smile on my face. I didn’t feel judged. I felt accepted.

“You need to be extra generous to yourself.”

Community is incredibly important to me. They say a close-knit social circle is the biggest determinant of mental wellbeing.  I had no innermost circle, and as I result, I was miserable for a long time. I was in pain.

When community greets me, I try to pay it forward. I volunteer – educating people on mood disorders and addiction. I take part in, and contribute to support groups. I run a mental health blog. I try to visit the Clubhouse a couple of times a week, and I’m beginning to build a social network of people I can relate to.

Every recovery story is ongoing. I don’t believe in reaching point B, rather I believe recovery is all about the journey. When I stumble and fall, I get back up. When I take a step backward, I bounce back with two steps forward. I must remember that I’ve come a long way. I deserve a great deal of credit for coming this far.

As I think back on my experience with mental illness and addiction, I’m thankful for the communities that embraced me as a person and not a diagnosis. However, not all communities are willing to accept people who live with mental illness. Stigma is prevalent in today’s society.

This week is mental health week. And it is my hope that this week brings open forum discussions on the topic of mental health challenges. Because education is powerful, and has potential to eliminate stigma.Andrew

Things are different nowadays –

Nowadays, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.

Nowadays, I’m kind to myself.

Nowadays…

I’m extra generous to myself.

 

-Andrew

 

#MentalHealthWeek #EndStigma #Recovery #Education

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