Catherine’s Story: Genesis Club Makes Mental Illness Survivable

“I lost my voice to mental illness and then found it again at Genesis Club.” 

When I moved to New England, my whole self didn’t arrive. I wouldn’t leave the house except for emergencies. I became paranoid, believing people were whispering about me and judging me. I believed I was at risk all the time and anything could happen to me. 

One thing I did to relax was plan my own suicide. The only thing that stopped me from following through was imagining the paramedics struggling to get my roly-poly body down the narrow staircase. I couldn’t bear to be the joke of their shift. 

I didn’t speak for days at a time. Going to family events was unbearable, but I knew my mother-in-law had a limited number of family events left. After her passing, I knew my condition was worsening and that I needed help. 

My therapist referred me to Genesis Club. I was desperate enough to give it a try. I had imagined a program where people would sit in a drab office space in front of a bank of computers, searching for work and then go home. Instead, I found a community.   

I worked in the Kitchen Unit. It was safe, but also stimulating after being isolated for so long. The kitchen was full of strangers, but we all had something in common: we had a mental illness. I didn‘t have to hide behind a persona of wellness. I had come to a place where I could exist as myself. I could help. I could work. I had a purpose.  

I began joining the lunchtime wellness walks. Later, I joined the Structured Exercise group, in which Genesis Club subsidizes membership at the YMCA to make the gym accessible. Going alone would have been too overwhelming for me. I realized that strangers at the gym were just people working out – “practice strangers.” I’ve lost fifty pounds. Taking control of my body helped me gain the confidence to take control of my life. 

Through Genesis Club’s Transitional Employment program, I worked as a mail clerk at UMass Medical Center. For the first time in ages, I was earning a paycheck.  Many days I had sweaty palms, my heart pounded in my ears, and my limbs froze. However, I knew I needed practice working, just like I needed the practice strangers at the gym.  If I could just hang on, I knew I would get through, and every week was less terrifying and more liberating.  

Today, I work two jobs. I’m a dietary aide and a pre-school gymnastics coach.  I love working! I love going out with my friends and family. And instead of feeling like a burden to my family, I now feel like an asset. 

Without the support and structure I found at Genesis Club, I would still be at home, terrified, and feeling useless.  I no longer soothe myself by planning my own suicide. I have plans and a future, and the future is bright!