I’m still processing it all. I’m back at home at my favorite watering hole, The General. I drank coffee every day this week (several times a day, too!), which only added to the magic of it all.
This past week I had the amazing privilege of sharing my time and heart with the staff and members of the Carriage House. The Carriage House is a Clubhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Clubhouse model is a resource for people in a community who live with a mental illness and/or mental disability. It is a radical model that complements the traditional medical model but also challenges it. The Clubhouse is not your standard in-patient rehabilitation center – there is no coloring or aimless movie-watching here. There is only the work-order day – the entire house, its business and its tasks are carried out by members and staff alike, working side by side. The model builds strength and resilience, and gives members confidence, a safe space and a family. You can find the 37 Clubhouse standards and more information here.
My time here gave me immense joy and happiness that I have not felt in months. I was there for only four days and I still formed bonds with some of the members. A member who was shy on Monday sought me out today to hang out before I left. Seeing her smile and laughing together made my heart happy.
The amazing thing was that all the members at the Carriage House had a diagnosis but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what the members had; they didn’t know what I had. It didn’t matter. For once, it didn’t matter. A person was a person, not a disease. We had all experienced hopelessness. We had felt helpless. We had all hit rock-bottom. We had all doubted our worth. But above those common understandings, we all had love, and kindness, and joy being with one another. We all worked together, we learned from each other and we spent time together. It was unreal. It was unbelievably special.
On Tuesday I took some me time for self-care and went on a walk around the beautiful Catholic cemetery across the street. I stumbled upon a small shrine for Mary in the rosary garden and sat there for twenty minutes. I closed my eyes and held my palms up, thanking God again and again for this day, this week, this moment and this life. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I would be alive today. I honestly didn’t think my life would make it to this point. Some say that God paints straight with crooked lines. Somehow, my struggles and triumphs brought me to that moment, a moment where I still lived. He did not intend for my plan to end before I was twenty, and after this week I think I have a better idea of where He intends to bring me.
I felt for the first time an immense calling to serve. For the past few months I have been caught up in a career whirlwind in which I felt unfulfilled and empty. I know logistically that I need to work for a few years before I pursue a Master’s in social work or public health, but eventually I think I am supposed to end up at a place like the Carriage House.
It just felt right. It felt good. It had its tough moments – I really had to own up to my own mental illness. I wear a bracelet that has “I am a survivor” engraved on it to remind me of how precious my life is and how I am a survivor of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. On Tuesday, a member noticed it and asked me what it meant. I explained it to him and he looked at me very thoughtfully and said, “You could be a member here too.” I could. There was a time in my life where a place like the Clubhouse could have been very beneficial, and there may be a time in the future where I will need it. It took months to pick up the pieces of the darkest moments of my mental illness and to see a place that saves lives by building strength and hope – I can’t even say how that makes my heart feel.
It was incredible to be with twelve other bright and insightful women who were all mad at how mental health is handled in society. After our last wrap-up session, Carriage House’s staff told us that the only thing they asked of us was to go out there and “do good.” We were passionate, empathetic, kind and bright gals, and it was our job to go out and use our abilities to bring good about in whatever we did.
I urge you to think about what makes you emotional – be it angry, happy, hopeful or sad. What can you do about it? It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, and this week showed me the amazing good that a small group of dedicated people can do. Do it. Go out and do good.
The light in me honors the light in you,