I never imagined the day I walked through the doors of Catholic Charities nearly 6 years ago that today, at 46 years old, I would have a career, confidence, spiritual enlightenment, genuine support, and most importantly….hope. Yet, on that fateful day, I would meet the woman who would help me change the course of my life. I had no health insurance for the first few years of treatment and was surprised that I could be seen without fear of cost.
I had no idea what to expect as I anxiously sat in the waiting room for a stranger to take me into another unknown place, of which I have gone many times before. After 20 years of therapy, hospitalizations, psychiatric evaluations and detox, this was my last chance for recovery. Fortunately, a kind and warm woman greeted me, and I felt a sense of relief for the first time in years. We walked down the flight of stairs, which is now so familiar and comforting to me, strolled down a narrow hallway and entered a small room that would eventually become my safety zone. However, it would take years to unravel the woven mysteries of my life.
The details emerged in a random order, similar to the manner in which my brain functions. I live with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, ADHD and anorexia/bulimia. Now that I think about it, she was a saint to enter such a chaotic storm and choose to stay by my side, regardless of the waves that hit the shore time and time again. First we worked on building trust, which is never easy for me. I was sexually abused as a child, which continued throughout college despite my cries for help. As a means of coping with the trauma, I developed an eating disorder and began burning/cutting myself. At 18, I attempted suicide and for the first time and finally saw a therapist….for one session. Being berated for my behavior was not my definition of rehabilitation. Thus, my trust continually deflated while my illnesses quickly escalated until I had my first bipolar episode at 26 and checked myself into a hospital. It was the biggest mistake of my life, as strange as that sounds. Not only did I learn ways to enhance my eating disorder and self-mutilation, but consumed an endless array of medicinal cocktails that began a 15 year nightmare of more hospitalizations, suicide attempts, endless psychiatrists and therapists, sexual assault and ultimately…alcohol and painkillers. It was a wonder that I walked into her office 3 years sober.
While I quit drinking and popping pills, I was still what one would identify a “dry drunk,” ridding myself of the addictions but continuing the same destructive behaviors. It became a battle of wits. How much could I test my therapist before she would leave, like everyone else. I encompassed a great fear of abandonment from my parents’ divorce when I was very young. My therapist worked diligently through this anxiety, trying to assure me that not everyone is meant to be in our lives but that those who are will stay. I fought her at every angle. She would leave too. I knew that. So I refused to get too close and held back. I just couldn’t open up for fear of someone seeing the “real” me and running away. I was a mess. Who could possibly accept and even love such a broken woman? She could. And did.
In time, I began to open up about the struggles with my family…an absent father and overbearing mother. We worked through the understanding that I cannot extend expectations upon someone who is not capable of living up to my anticipations. Now, I’ve learned to accept that certain people are going to leave, but that it’s not necessarily my fault. My mother chose to stay, and we finally possess a miraculous relationship that I never knew could exist. However, we still faced numerous fiends that afflicted me, which remained deeply imbedded in my heart, surfacing slowly through my tears. These tears are healing. Oddly enough, her office provided the only comfort where I could cry. In the outside world, I put on a mask, laughing and pretending I was a stable woman, capable of anything. With the help of my therapist, she was able to show me that when the inside heals, the outside reflects the beauty of who we are. I just needed to get past the guilt and shame of my eating disorder and the pain of neglect and abuse festering inside me. I also lived with a spiritual disease and was grateful that we could speak about faith. For me, the answer was God. I have since returned to church and my faith.
Through my therapy at Catholic Charities, I have been able to embrace self love, accept myself for who I am, express anger without the fear of rejection or abandonment, learn to trust myself, slowly learn to trust the world, deepen my spiritual foundation and never give up hope. While I still struggle with my eating disorder, now we celebrate my accomplishments.
When I first entered these doors six years ago, again, I never imagined that I would be where I am today. Although I still have a long way to go, I know I will continue to receive the guidance and support of my therapist. No, she will not solve all my problems but she has provided me with the skills and the courage to believe in myself and know that I can face the world without fear.
Naomi enrolled in Catholic Charities’ Pregnancy and Parenting Supportive Services program in December of 2016 when she was six months pregnant. She was on bedrest for a high risk pregnancy and was experiencing depression, but was not able to access mental health services.
Naomi has two other children, ages eight and two. Naomi’s home visitor started working with her to reduce her stress and find additional support in order to promote a healthy birth outcome for her daughter. Naomi had her daughter, Joy, at just 24 weeks gestational age. Naomi struggled to make her rent because of the amount of time she was spending at the hospital and because she needed to pay others to watch her other children while she was at the hospital. Naomi found it extra difficult to find someone to watch her eight year old because he has Asperger syndrome. Her home visitor was able to assist her in getting a grant to pay her bills, referred her two year old to birth-to-three services for speech therapy, and supported Naomi in the hospital through the many procedures Joy had, including one at just five weeks old. Once Naomi’s needs were met she was able to focus on her mental well-being in a greater way.
Thanks to the Aurora Better Together fund, as soon as our mental health clinician was hired she was able to starting working with Naomi. Naomi was feeling extremely overwhelmed, stressed, and was starting to get depressed. She had little support and had just broken off a three year relationship with the father of her baby, Dante. The clinician started working with Naomi and Dante in February of 2017. The clinician worked with Naomi to develop more patience, made a plan to deal with her stress, and helped her with anger management skills. Naomi and her whole family have made significant progress. Dante is now back in the home and is being a support and co-parent. They now work together and have broken the cycle of fighting, breaking up, leaving the home and now communicate more positively, work out problems calmly, and are much better role models to their children. Naomi has seen great improvement in her depression symptoms. Joy is now discharged from the hospital and doing really well in the home.
When asked about the program Naomi replied, “An abundant amount of support has been provided from the beginning to now. I couldn’t have been referred to anything better than Catholic Charities!”
She went onto say that the past few months have been very trying, but if it wasn’t for what she had gone through she would not have met some of the great people that have come into her life to support her and make her a stronger person for herself and her children. Naomi is thankful that the clinician was able to come see her at the hospital and now meets with her in the home, due to her lack of transportation and childcare assistance.
Kristin came to this country several years ago on a visa to join her children’s father, John, who was applying for citizenship. She now has two children, Jake is three and Jason is one. She started working with Catholic Charities’ Pregnancy and Parenting Supportive Services program during her pregnancy with Jason. Kristin’s home visitor helped connect her to community resources and assisted Kristin in connecting with other moms through our monthly support group and private Facebook group, since Kristin was feeling very socially isolated.
The home visitor also worked with Kristin in regards to her concerns about Jake’s behavioral issues and speech delays. She assisted Kristin in getting Jake connected to a speech therapist and suggested an autism evaluation. After Kristin had her second son, Jason, the home visitor noticed a change in Kristin’s mood and after Kristin scored high on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), she offered the services of our mental health clinician.
In speaking with the clinician, it was found that she had a lot of stress and anxiety due to the fact that her visa had run out. She feared having to go back to her home country where her boys would not be able to access the services they are receiving here. In addition, she was in a lot of denial about Jake’s autism and had not followed up with an assessment. She was not going to her son’s school as she was very afraid that she would be deported and separated from her family. The therapist was able to get her a lot of information on immigration rules, assisted in decreasing her anxiety, and focused on education surrounding autism. She also connected Kristin with a support group for parents that have children with autism. Jake will now be receiving services for his autism, Kristin is no longer afraid to go to his school to meet with teachers as needed, and Kristin and John are looking to settle down permanently in the Milwaukee area with the hopes of buying a house. Kristin’s stress level and anxiety have greatly improved. She is very thankful that the clinician can come see her and her boys in their home due to a lack of transportation, health insurance, and childcare for her boys.
“When asked what Catholic Charities means to me, I have to pause, breathe, and hold back a tear. The first thing that comes to mind is the immense amount of support, kindness, and encouragement my family received.”
Catholic Charities was contacted by Eva, a 35 year old Caucasian woman, who was facing an unplanned pregnancy. Eva was looking into options regarding her pregnancy. She was struggling to get custody of her son, whom she voluntarily sought help for through CPS, and was worried about the well-being of her unborn child. She was lost in decisions and needed guidance. Jessica St. Martin-Trejo, Pregnancy Support Coordinator, met with Eva and provided strength-based and client-centered services in Eva’s preferred location. Jessica sat with Eva for over two hours the first time they met. Jessica explained what a voluntary adoption plan would look like. Eva was receptive and thoughtful with her questions and responses. Eva shared that she knew she had made mistakes, was still working on her sobriety, and that she wanted to do right by her children.
After much thought Eva decided she wanted to parent her unborn daughter. She knew it would be hard work, but she was willing to put in the effort to make a different life for her children. Jessica was able to provide Eva with support and information to assist Eva in having a healthy birth outcome. Jessica helped Eva advocate for prenatal and postpartum resources and provided her with emotional support and education.
“I cannot express how wonderful, compassionate, and patient Jessica has been to me over the past year and a half. It makes me emotional to think of where I have ended up without all her help. She has listened to me when I needed and ear, given me strength in feeling like someone genuinely cares about my family, and above all has been an endless source of inspiration, even when I wanted to give up.”
Eva went from couch surfing, to a group home, and is currently renting a home for herself and her two children. She is now working full-time and her son has been returned to her care. Her daughter is now one year old and is thriving. One thing Eva has observed is how her change of lifestyle has really impacted how her daughter is growing compared to her son. Eva has mentioned on several occasions that the lack of chaos in her life has been a tremendous change and the family is learning something new every day. There have been several challenges and barriers, but Eva continues to come out stronger on the other side.
“Jessica continues to be such a great help; working together with the rest of my support network to help me form a plan to deal with my barriers, stresses, and needs. That has led me to feel more and more empowered and closer to being the type of adult and mother I would like to be.”
Jessica and Eva continue to work on parenting skills for both of her children. Eva is aware that both of her children have individual needs and is willing to go the extra mile to support each child individually. Jessica and Eva talk about child development, safety, and how the interaction and relationship she has with her children will make her the kids first and best teacher. Eva reaches out to Jessica when she is having a particularly hard time and knows that today’s struggles will be tomorrow’s victories!
“The parenting skills Catholic Charities provides me with will continue to impact my children and the relationships they have with others. The parenting education I receive helps me to form life-long communication skills that will unceasingly strengthen the bond and health of my family. I hope to lead and teach my children by example. I am certain that in doing so, I will show them that with empathy and kindness all things are possible. We have forever been changed for the better.”
In June of 2017, the Hoarding Intervention and Treatment Program at Catholic Charities received a call from a 76-year old woman by the name of Louise. Louise let us know she was facing eviction due to excessive clutter that had built up in her apartment over the past couple of years. As a retired elementary school teacher, she spent most of her life in a very active, social environment. In 2014 she lost her husband and suffered a string of health issues, including a stroke, partial vision loss, and chronic back pain. As the months, and eventual years, passed by, she grew isolated and lonely. Unpaid bills began to pile up, as did the clutter.
When we first met Louise her apartment was filled with old VHS tapes, piles upon piles of unopened mail, mounds of unkempt clothes, and miscellaneous objects from her days as a teacher. She was halfway through a 30-day eviction notice and was convinced she would be homeless by the end of the month. Although she was very anxious, she was also friendly and quickly assumed her poise as a life-long teacher. We ensured her we would help her declutter her home and advocate for her. By the end of the assessment she was singing educational songs and asking our case manager riddles.
After the assessment we contacted her building manager and acquired a specific list of tasks we would need to help Louise complete by the end of the month, to delay her eviction. These tasks included creating a clear space in front of her air conditioning unit, and clearing access to the plumbing beneath her kitchen and bathroom sinks. Our home coach accomplished these objectives over the course of their first two visits, and Louise was granted another month to complete a new set of tasks, which primarily included removing or filing away all of her loose mail.
During this time, Louise began receiving visits from our behavioral health professional to focus on the cause of the hoarding disorder, and ensure she was in a healthy enough state of mind to maintain the work we were getting done. Over the course of these visits we learned that Louise had not paid her taxes in years and was fearful to open any envelop that may hold any financial information. With this information, our case manager contacted a daily money manager to help sort through her mail and make sure her finances were in order.
We have continued to provide both home coaching and therapy services to Louise over the past few months, and the changes in her life have been eye opening. What was once a packed space with no seating options is now a functioning living room with a recliner chair and a flat screen TV; what was once a neglected, dirty kitchen is now a clean space with room for food preparation and consumption. Louise has a noticeably brighter spirit and has begun attending a lunch program at her local senior center on a weekly basis. Although there is still much work to be done throughout her home, she is well on the way to being a complete success, and no longer has the fear of eviction or unpaid bills weighing her down. She has been a model client for our program, and we enjoy visiting her as much as she enjoys receiving visits from us!