How a mother and son Lafayette turned a long-standing mental health struggle into a haven for others • The Current

Clarice Gallegos has spent too many years waiting for that dreaded knock on the front door – the one most parents fear.

“We found your son dead by the side of the road,” the police said.

As the mother of a “problem” child – her cross to bear – she always expected the worst. Whether her son Brian was near or far, those tumultuous years never seemed to give way or end. They only grew in intensity, compounding his worry and anxiety.

But that blow never came.

If Gallegos, 67, then knew what she knows now, she admits, “I probably could have done so much better as a mom, but I’m so on the guilt trip.”

Clarice Gallegos is direct and gets straight to the point. She made peace with the past.

For Brian Boswell, 46, the past lingers and there are unresolved issues to reflect on.

But that didn’t stop this family from coming together and creating a refuge, Focus Clubhouse, for people with mental illness like Boswell.

When the Lafayette association opened its doors at 904 General Mouton Ave. in January 2020, it became one of over 300 clubs in over 30 countries affiliated with Clubhouse International. It is the only one in Louisiana. Boswell credits the Miami clubhouse with credit for changing his life. He was in his early thirties when he found refuge and responsibility there. “I grew up. I became an adult in Miami,” he says.

Before and even after being diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder, Boswell flirted with suicide. It was nothing for him to call 9-1-1 and threaten to swallow his entire bottle of medicine. And then follow to the end.

Sometimes hooked on alcohol and crack cocaine, and whatever drugs he could afford, sometimes Boswell was ready to turn his life around. And other times all he wanted was a warm bed in a homeless shelter so he didn’t have to freeze to death sleeping outside. The warmer weather was the main reason Boswell chose Florida as his next destination after South Carolina politely kicked him out with a one-way bus ticket there. He was also inspired to go to the Sunshine State because the New Orleans Saints were playing that year at the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens. “It was my state of mind at the time,” he says. “I was going to watch the Saints in the Super Bowl.”

Prior to his healing journey, there was a lot of heartache and horror, the kind that destroys many families. And for Brian Boswell, they started at such a young age.

Gallegos recalls one specific event that seemed to define a future that she, like so many parents, was not ready to handle, let alone accept. It happened when Boswell was only 5 or 6 years old. That day, she almost forced him to get on the school bus. Later that evening, he refused to change his school clothes for his play clothes. And when Gallegos tried to discipline him for disobeying, his world immediately turned upside down. “That little miller gave me a slap in the face,” she recalls. “And that really scared me.”

She remembers thinking: if he did that at 5, what would he do at 12 when he was bigger and stronger? For Gallegos, those early days were also marked by a love-hate affair with Ritalin, which was prescribed for his son, and a sense of helplessness but upset when his hyperactive child was placed in classes of special education simply because he was a slow learner. She was sure schools passed it on from year to year just to get rid of the problem child. And it didn’t help matters that Boswell apparently became enthusiastic enough to blame his bad behavior for forgetting to take his meds.

Her son was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and Gallegos was unsure of the impact the lack of oxygen had on his mental capacity and his life. “No one knew about mental health issues in the 1980s, and there was no common ground for slow learners,” she recalls.

For Boswell, his problems – and pain – are deeply rooted in what his mother describes as “a horrific incident.” This happened when he was about 7 years old. His parents were then divorced and he was living with his father at the time. This is the reason for his PTSD.

According to Gallegos, he had “the lighter” because he probably stole cigarettes from his father to smoke them. Anyway, Boswell and a few boys were playing, then one boy poured gasoline on another. “Brian didn’t pour the gasoline, but he did provide the lighter,” says Gallegos. The little boy is dead.

“It changed my life,” Boswell says today. “Being a normal little child, I didn’t understand what had just happened. I haven’t been able to treat it the right way. The incident continues to haunt him and the nightmares only heighten his anguish. “Something traumatic is changing you,” he continues. “You’re not normal afterwards.”

This tragedy worsened his self-esteem issues. “I’ve hated myself my whole life. I had problems at school, ”he says. “When I was 15, I was using cocaine and drinking alcohol at the same time. “

At 16, Boswell left high school. Although he worked afterwards, he partied. “And I have consumed all the drugs faithfully known to mankind except heroin. I always assumed you had to use needles, ”he says, noting his fear of needles.

Then, about a decade later, in 2001, her father, a Vietnam veteran, died of cancer. The loss devastated Boswell, who was close to his father.

As the years turned into decades, Gallegos desperately tried to help her son until she realized she had allowed it.

She had bought him vehicles to see them destroyed. There have been countless nights she paid for hotels. She was never sure if he was actually spending the night there or buying more drugs. There were the rehabilitation periods that she took out.

She still had a tremendous sense of guilt and thought she had to help him no matter what.

One day, she says, she got sick and tired of being sick and tired. “I didn’t know if he was going to live or die. I had no idea where the child was, ”she said.

What she knew for sure was that she couldn’t go on like this. So the next time he called she lied and told him she didn’t have any money to send him. “He knew I was lying,” she said.

But the hard love had started, and just like that, her son had lost his catalyst.

“I hung up and cried and cried and cried,” Gallegos recalls. “I cried like a baby. But I couldn’t let him know.

His action definitely had an impact. “I haven’t heard from him after that for a long time,” says Gallegos.

Teachers have treated Boswell, on the left, as a “problem child”. Her struggle with mental health was compounded by trauma at an early age. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Join the club

While the Miami clubhouse was not the first clubhouse model Boswell encountered, it was the first that made him believe he could stay sober and drug-free, and have the life that he was really dreaming. The concept of the clubhouse made him feel like he was no longer a stranger – no longer a strange man. He had finally found his tribe.

“You are not with ‘normal’ people,” says Boswell. “You are surrounded by someone who tackles similar issues that you face every day of your life. “

As in clubs around the world, there are members of the Focus Clubhouse who have tried for too long to integrate into the so-called normal world. And it brought them unnecessary grief and pain.

“What I love most is the gratitude the members feel for the clubhouse,” says Gallegos, who is the manager of the clubhouse. “They really enjoy their time there. It’s just a sense of accomplishment for me and for them.

Member Dawn Koch, 51, gets chills just talking about the powerful impact Focus Clubhouse has had on her life and what it means to be around like-minded people. “We all work together,” Koch says. “We are like a family with each other. And that means checking out each other and taking care of each other. “When I’m isolated, people worry about me,” Koch says. “I tried to kill myself three times.

Now she looks forward to her days and the camaraderie she feels with the other members.

Diagnosed with depression at 28 and bipolar affective disorder later, Koch wants the public to understand how important it is to have a safe haven where other members understand what they have been through or going through.

Family and friends, Koch said, need to understand that small triggers can turn people with mental illness off. This is why it is important to have the correct diagnosis.

They shared their stories and broadcast their linens, so the audience could get a glimpse of their world and be able to better understand and help family members and friends who may have mental illness, or even themselves. .

Gallegos dreams of the day when Focus Clubhouse will have a bigger building (it now has around 10 active members) and can help more people supplement their Social Security disability checks for mental illness with 15-20 hours of employment through to a professional transition program. . She also wants to build a garden where they can harvest their own food.

To donate to Focus Clubhouse (your donation can help with Uber rides so members can get to and from the clubhouse every day), click here.

Above all, their goal is to become an accredited clubhouse, which they believe will take another two to four years. They are there for the long haul.

When Boswell decided he wanted to come home, he called and asked his stepfather, David, for permission to return to Louisiana.

His mother remembers when he called her. “For some strange reason, I said yes,” she recalls. “I have always blamed God.”

Returning to Louisiana for his son meant finding the nearest clubhouse so he could stay on the mend. But there were no clubhouses in the state. And that’s when Boswell made a big life-changing decision: “Well, I’m just going to start one. “

At first, Gallegos was reluctant to embrace his business. But when she saw that her son was serious, she came out of his recent retirement and joined him. The Louisiana clubhouse does not provide medical and clinical services, but members already have such providers. That doesn’t stop Gallegos from urging everyone not to let the stigma keep them from seeking professional help if they suspect they have a problem, whether it’s a counselor. , a therapist or a psychiatrist.

Looking back, Boswell acknowledges that his life has been that fork in the road. “You can go the right way, or you can go the wrong way. I went the wrong way, ”he says. But he doesn’t regret anything. “Personally, I wouldn’t change it for the life of the world,” he says. “I understand why God kept me around – for the clubhouse. ”

For Member Koch, it is important that the audience understands who they are.

“People with mental illness are incredibly gifted people,” says Koch. “And if they find a place where they feel comfortable to get help when needed, they are very knowledgeable and efficient. A lot of us work and continue to work, and are very good at what we do.


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