I have always lived on the northwest side of Milwaukee. I have 3 sisters and a brother. I’m "the baby." It only took 35 years for my mom to stop saying that. I went to Our Lady of Good Hope School. The early years were fine, but in the middle of sixth grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear a body brace. It was very difficult being singled out--I couldn’t do sports. I couldn’t even be in physical education classes. I had surgery the summer before eighth grade. That semester I attended school only for half days. By eighth grade graduation, the brace was off. When I went to high school nobody knew about the scoliosis, which was good.
I was bullied in high school. This didn’t impact my school work, but hurt my self-esteem. I contemplated suicide. I reached out to a teacher who helped me reclaim my self-esteem. I graduated in 1991 and went to Alverno College for two and a half years. I changed my major a few times. On a Christmas break, I had my first seizure and went to the emergency room, but they didn’t do anything about it.
Eight months later, I drove myself to work at Pick ‘n Save, worked 8 hours, and had a second seizure. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor on the right temporal lobe. I had surgery at Froedtert and they got all of the tumor and scheduled radiation treatment for 8 weeks.
After these treatments, I was so fatigued that I had to stay home for a long time. My employer said that I could go back to work whenever I was ready. So I returned to work and transferred to MATC. I graduated with an associate’s degree in medical assisting—which has both clinical and administrative aspects. My studies were challenging. My instructor suggested that I be a transcriptionist. After I graduated I got a job doing transcription at St. Francis Hospital, where I worked for 7 years.
Then, I couldn’t keep up with the pace and I got laid off. I moved back to my parents’ house. I was completely isolated. I was working with DVR and the counselor there saw that I could not talk about myself, so I could not go to any interviews. I just couldn’t talk.
The DVR counselor referred me to a therapist at Jewish Family Services who was very skilled and also told me about Grand Avenue Club.
I admit that I came to GAC somewhat reluctantly in 2019, but once I saw how friendly everyone was and all the different faces of mental illness, I felt more comfortable when I experienced how nice people were and how involved they were in working while also having good time. If they enjoyed being at GAC so much, perhaps I could too!
I got involved in the Retail & Business Management Unit because I liked doing all the research and data entry concerning the beautiful clothing that was being donated to the Water St. Boutique. I started to like everything: the people, the unit meetings, the lunches, and the whole atmosphere of GAC.
I’m a very active member of Retail & Business Management, but I also like to start my day working in the Culinary Unit preparing our fabulous (free) breakfasts! I am involved in GAC’s Supper Club which is starting up again tonight. Many colleagues—members and staff alike—prepare fabulous dinners that we can purchase at very low cost and take home for the weekend.
I also am beginning to get involved in paid employment. In 2019 I did the Group Placement at United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. More recently, I did the Group Placement at Redeemer Lutheran Church and I will be resuming involvement in that Group Placement next month.
I come to GAC at least 4 out of 5 days a week. I do it because there are so many people there who are responsible for my having a positive outlook on my life. They make me forget about my depression.
Let me count the ways in which I have gained confidence: I now feel comfortable opening myself up to others; I like taking leadership roles at GAC including hiring new staff members and facilitating all different kinds of meetings. I still like doing inventory on the boutique clothing. I will also add that I am surrounded by people who have a great sense of humor. I never realized how important a good laugh can be for the soothing of the soul.