Clubhouse Essays: Is Clubhouse Philosophy Breaking Down?

After being a member of [a mental health clubhouse, name deleted] for nearly a year, I'm on the verge of deciding to leave for good. I now feel alienated from the other members because I'm seen as 'normal' by some other members.

[clubhouse's] goal is to help members becomre more functional in life; it emphasizes "wellness", and what peopel can do rather than "sickness" and what people can't do. Yet, unavoidably, "sickness" (to wit: mental illness) comes into play often. One incident all but shoved this in my face:

Six months ago, when we were redesigning the newsletter, a problem arose when one of the members, returning after being away for a time, had a problem with one of the assignments.

That member did not like the changes that we decided to make. I was told: "You're not being pad to do this! The newsletter should be for therapy, not a "serious" thing!" I was left speechless.

Thinking about it later, I became very angry; I inferred these things from that outburst:

  1. "I'm mentally ill–I should'nt have to try!"
  2. "You're normal–you didn't go through what I did, so you're nothing!"
  3. "You're too good for us!"

I see a kind of "reverse" caste system where the "ill" take the "well" on a guilt trip. Here's another anecdote:

Have you ever seen a handicapped person in a wheelchair as a child? What usually happens is that your mother sees the guy and takes you aside saying, "See that poor, poor man! He's in a wheelchair (or blind, or both)! You'd better thank God you're walking (or sighted)–you haven't gone through what he has!"

I see a cruel and bitter paradox here: The more functional someone becomes, or is, the lower he/she sinks in standing.

I think back on that episode and I say, "Why should I participate in house matters? If I were in the real world, I'd be praised for what I do, not condemned with the curse, "You're not one of us!"

What kind of clubhouse is this?! A place of bitter defeat? A last resort for people who can't live their lives and need someone to make a "lifestyle" for them? A place where people relive and reprise their personal tragedies for social standing? If so, then I guess I'm too "normal" (what's normal, anyway?) to belong here.

David Moisan
October 26th, 1990

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