The Clubhouse Brought Out the Best in Me
By Arturo Soto
Though It Was a Struggle to Get There
I was but a small lad of ten feeling the pull of changing hormones, with puberty fast approaching, when I first started showing signs of schizophrenia. The outgoing, happy little boy who spent his summer days hunting praying mantises and grasshoppers in a huge abandoned lot near home was withdrawing more and more. No one paid any mind since I was always alone and aloof, even with my own room in a family of five children.
No one noticed my staying indoors for days on end during the hot summer months or staying up all hours of the night. Eventually, my disconnecting from the outside world led to hallucinations. Suicidal thoughts were developing in my mind, as I longed to be released from the growing dark solitude taking over my life. All of this was in sharp contrast to the brilliant summer sun illuminating my bed near the window where I found myself sleeping more and more. During the final week of July 1979 things came to a serious conclusion when I attempted suicide.
Over the following two years I did well, fueled by the thrill of starting high school and getting some nice female attention in a school that specialized in music and art. Unfortunately, I got involved with a religious group near my home. This may have triggered my disconnecting. I transferred from my current high school to one closer to home to be near the people in the religious group.
Eventually, the “religious” people who I thought were my friends changed on me as they looked upon the things I enjoyed as sinful. Next thing I knew I was being treated as an outcast. I started feeling more isolated, keeping to myself, skipping out on school, spending more time alone in my room.
Around 1986, I started seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis who put me on medication. He also emphasized my strengths, specifically my artistic skills. He was impressed by my bizarre Lovecraftian-style drawings, which I created while attending the High School of Music and Art.
In 1989, I met my sister’s future husband who introduced me to computers.
It was another miraculous life-changing moment as I sat in front of my Commodore Amiga 500 home computer. I found myself instinctively getting into computers with the help of my ever-present brother-in-law. It was an amazing thing to be able to do pretty much anything I wanted on a computer from creating music, drawing, doing some coding with AMOS, writing short stories and poetry, to working on 3D renderings and CAD programs.
Eventually, my mother helped me find an apartment in the projects, but my stay there was brief due to my mental illness and the bad neighborhood. Thanks to my therapist, I was moved out of that negative setting and into a housing program for the mentally ill called GEEL Community Services. It was like the doors of my dreams had finally opened and anything I wanted to do in life felt possible.
Where I was once shunned, I was now welcomed. Where I once felt the only place I could exist happily was in my room, now I knew there was a place in the world for me. Thanks to GEEL Community Services, I found my way into the welcoming clubhouse circuit. The GEEL clubhouse eventually changed hands about ten years later becoming Fountain House.
Fountain House has given me a sense of groundedness which caused me to realize and utilize my strengths. Thanks to Fountain House, I have once more begun to write on a regular basis beyond just using the Internet when at home, and computers for a new enjoyable hobby. It’s a good feeling to be praised and thanked outside of gaming forums for my writing skills. It is as if my presence has expanded in a more positive way, being face-to-face with people rather than facing a computer monitor.
Fountain House, along with my housing program GEEL, has taught me what a valuable and enriching gift being proactive is, where I can act on what I know instead of waiting for it to happen on its own. They have shown and instilled in me the confidence that I’m capable of pulling my own weight and living a fuller, more productive and comfortable life. All I need is to just get out there and do it.