I don’t know what I was expecting. Part of me wanted to find a room of intellectuals sitting around discussing politics and current affairs, as if the mental health illnesses that had brought them together were nothing more than the catalyst for uniting some incredible men and women of great wisdom. Another part of me expected to see people dribbling and rocking backwards and forwards in the corner, the mental health ‘professionals’ keeping watch like bored prison guards in a scene not dissimilar from that of The Asylum in American Horror Story. In truth, my first trip to crazy club was something in the middle.
It’s official name obviously isn’t ‘crazy club’. That’s just me trying to lighten things with a little inappropriate humour. It is actually a drop-in centre run by volunteers for people who struggle with mental health issues. In my bid to recover from PTSD and BPD before it completely ruins my life, I was prepared to try anything. Abstinence from the bad things I had previously relied on, such as alcohol, sex and drugs, was the first step in healing myself. Adopting some Buddhist philosophy into my life was the next. Now, I was actively seeking out support and understanding from people struggling with the same issues as me. It also gave me an excuse to get out of the house at least once a week, an activity that most take for granted but that I was finding increasingly difficult.
I was pretty confident when I first walked into the old Victorian house converted into a selection of meeting rooms. I’d taken diazepam to calm my nerves and was so determined that joining crazy club would help me, that walking through the front door was almost like entering a big ball of light. Full of promise, full of healing.
There were two women cooking in the kitchen and they directed me into the main room, where the rest of the group were situated. Lounging around on sofas or gathered around a large table, there were men and women of all ages. Julie appeared to be the youngest, around 19. She had a very loud and deep voice, mild tourettes and clearly enjoyed being the centre of attention. She talked repeatedly about being a lesbian and how she was useless at attending her drug addiction therapy.
Belle was an older woman, in her 60s, with a soft, gentle demeanour and slight smile fixed upon her lips. She sat quietly at the table, taking in everything around her and only occasionally wincing when Julie dropped the F bomb. ‘I’m getting you a swear jar,’ she muttered, ‘ or maybe we’ll need a bucket’.
Marjorie was the volunteer leader of the group. A former journalist, her mental health issues had caused her to leave the job she adored. Now in successful recovery, she worked part time and dedicated the rest of her time to helping others.
Marjorie informed me about the diversity of the group and how they could help me. Crazy Club had it all, domestic violence and child abuse survivors, schizophrenics, bipolars, PTSD, narcissists, recovering drug addicts and alcoholics and eating disorders. I, however, was their first Borderline.
I explained the criteria of Borderline Personality Disorder and how it affects my life. Marjorie looked at me intensely, clearly taking in every word I said.
‘You’ve survived a lot,’ she said, ‘and you’ve done so well to come here’.
Julie had gone outside for a cigarette and proceeded to bang on the window and pull faces at Marjorie and I,
‘ She means no harm. She has a heart of gold’.
‘I’m new,’ I reassured Marjorie, ‘she’s just showing off a little’.
Marjorie smiled and nodded, ‘exactly’.
Marjorie went on to explain how I would be an asset to the group and how she hoped, in time, to use my intellect and skill set to aid the group. She told me Peter had been an Oxford University professor before his breakdown and that she expected we would get along very well. She warned me that Darren had issues with personal space and that I shouldn’t be intimidated by it and that Mary talks to herself as much as she does anybody else and that the best way to deal with it is to act as if she’s fully integrated into whatever conversation we may be having.
‘ And we have the quiet room,’ Marjorie concluded, ‘ you can come in here and hide, read a book, take a nap, whatever you need, whenever you need to. Everyone here understands anxiety and the feelings of being overwhelmed’.
Marjorie looked down at my shaking, jittery leg. I was anxious. I was overwhelmed. But I also felt safe. This was a place I could turn up to, covered in self harm scratches and smelling like month old laundry and nobody would question or criticise. This was also a place where the simple achievements of leaving the house or making an important telephone call would be suitably praised and my self esteem lifted.
Maybe I’m not talking to myself like Mary, squashing my face against windows like Julie or standing so close I could lick your neck like Darren, but I wasn’t so different from them. I’ve been known to rock back and forth in a corner, screaming at myself and wishing for death. In truth, everyone is a little bit mental. To meet a truly sane person would probably scare the shit out of me.
So I will attend Crazy Club once, maybe twice, a week. I will join in their art, music and gardening classes. I will disappear to the quiet room when I’m not in the mood for people, or will help Verity prepare lunch in the kitchen when I need a calming, spiritual person by my side. I will use Crazy Club to help me help myself and maybe, just maybe, I’ll make a friend or two along the way.