I’ve been attending the Clubhouse consistently for almost four months now. Because I was in attendance as part of my overall treatment, my recent SSDI review was approved, and I am continuing to receive benefits. All in all, I enjoy attending the Clubhouse. However, as I mentioned in my last two posts discussing this wellness option, I feel a little conflicted about how it affects my identity as a person with a mental health concern. Within the confines of the Clubhouse, and with people who are familiar with mental health treatment options, I am considered “higher functioning” and I often receive praise for my accomplishments. However, it is difficult to translate this positive aspect of my treatment and wellness into something that can be understood or even bragged about in conversations with my neurotypical family and friends.
When speaking with my family, I rarely use the term “Clubhouse” – I call it a “peer mentoring group” because that makes it sound less like a wellness program and more like volunteer employment. I don’t often discuss the progress I’ve made, the fact that the directors have told me that I’m an asset to the program, or the types of essays I write for the newsletter, because this isn’t the sort of thing my parents can brag about to the rest of the family. While my parents have been coping with my being in treatment for many years now, my extended family (and even the rest of my immediate family) often views my mental health concerns through the lens of stigma. If I were to achieve things that neurotypical people are expected to accomplish (acceptance into, and maintaining good grades in, a good college; obtaining gainful employment and receiving promotions and raises; etc.), then my parents would gladly discuss with others the things I am doing with my life. However, because the Clubhouse is a wellness program, and because our society has been conditioned for years to not discuss health or treatment for health conditions in polite conversation (mental or physical, with cancer and weight loss being two notable exceptions), any progress I make in relation to my treatment is swept under the rug during general conversation and only discussed on a “need-to-know” basis.
I wish that talking about bettering oneself wasn’t limited to New Year’s resolutions. Participating in peer mentoring and taking an active role in my recovery is an extremely important form of self-improvement. Part of the issue is making a point to share things even if society sometimes deems them “embarrassing”. I admire the recovering alcoholic who was a customer at my old retail job. Every time he got a new sobriety coin from AA, he would show it to me when he checked out. He wasn’t ashamed to say that he was in recovery and he was proud of his progress. Taking charge of my mental health and exploring the limits of my disability are important things in my life. Educating neurotypical folx on the nuances of the spoon theory, or the reality of things like getting out of bed and eating food being progress in a disabled person’s life, is a valuable conversation. The mental health recovery movement is relatively new, but explaining that sometimes life experience is more important than clinical training is a great way to self-advocate and help others to do the same. My experiences as a disabled person who is working toward self-betterment are a worthy conversation topic. Full stop.
Editor’s Note: There have been some interesting (positive, but still interesting!) changes to how others have started to view the Clubhouse program through my description post-authorship. Next week I’ll explore those a little bit more. Apparently, education and advocacy DO help!