An inspiration to both staff and her peers at West Chicago Terrace, Denise agreed to share her journey toward recovery from mental health conditions.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis and seizures, Denise received in-patient psychiatric treatment, after which her doctor recommended ongoing care at West Chicago Terrace.
Initially, Denise reported that, despite staff and her peer’s best efforts, she stayed in bed a lot, didn’t talk to anyone, and didn’t take care of herself.
After a steady diet of quarantining due to her mental state and the constraints of COVID, Denise noticed that she had gained weight. “I decided to start making healthier eating choices,” she recalls. “I felt better, so I did more.” She began walking laps in the hallway, taking better care of herself, and feeling a little better about herself.
“Then I began opening up more,” Denise reports. “I came out in the evenings, found friends, and socialized. I learned much about other people’s journeys and stories, and it took me out of myself.”
Denise began participating in a prayer group, helping with art class, and taking walks with staff. “I laughed for the first time in years and started to find joy.” She also began going to group therapies. “It was the first time I talked about myself – to anyone.”
Letting the Light In
Denise eventually earned a Level 3 community pass of up to four hours (pass levels are an integral part of the West Chicago Terrace program as residents work toward increased independence). Now she walks with a friend daily, gets fit with other West Chicago Terrace residents at cardio workouts and weight training classes, and helped develop West Chicago Terrace’s resident cardio-drumming exercise routine. She also calls Bingo, serves as the Resident Council Secretary, and is learning French and Spanish.
“The staff members encouraged and cared about me along the way,” she says. “At first, the little things I did made me feel better and kick-started me; then it snow-balled.” Denise takes fewer medications, stays connected with her family, and has a boyfriend. As one of the West Chicago Terrace nurses says, “Denise let the light in.”
Denise is fixing “loose ends” while planning for her future. Meanwhile, she focuses on “being grateful, focusing on the positive, living my best life now, and moving forward.”
Denise inspires others to start their journey by taking the “little steps,” like going outside and getting fresh air. Then, “take that risk to talk about yourself” by participating in group, journaling, writing letters, and connecting with others. “Once I stopped keeping everything inside of me, it helped a lot.”
Denise is currently planning her next “little step,” which is researching supportive living options for the next big step in her recovery – further integration into the community.