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A Life Changed: Heather Vallier

“Living as an adult with mental health disorders can be extremely challenging. You want to live a normal life.” Read Heather’s story.

Good Morning, my Name is Heather Vallier and I have been a member of High Hopes Clubhouse since January of 2018.

Living as an adult with mental health disorders can be extremely challenging. You want to live a normal life.  You want to be able to make and keep friendships, to have your own vehicle, to have an apartment of your own, and to be able to be independent. You want to have the ability to find and keep enjoyable employment and make a living on your own.  You want to feel happier, healthier and better about yourself. Severe Depression, PTSD, Social Anxiety disorder, and Avoidance Personality Disorder, just to name a few of my own disorders, can make having normal living experiences far more difficult to achieve.

Before joining High Hopes Clubhouse I was a mess. I didn’t have Disability benefits at the time and had been fighting for them for 5 years. I had worked in the past, however bad experiences made me become fearful of working. I couldn’t find employment on my own. I would have anxiety attacks just trying to fill out applications. I was ready to give up. I hated myself in almost every way. My self-confidence was barely in existence. I never felt that I was good enough at anything I did. I felt I had to be perfect at everything and if I couldn’t be, then it wasn’t worth trying. I would avoid the situation.  I was always afraid and worried about everything. I was very pessimistic and easily became emotional. I cried all the time.

I had terrible boundaries with others and would often get taken advantage of or manipulated. I couldn’t say “NO”. Others tended to make my decisions for me and I let them. I felt very alone. I had a few friends. I had plenty of family but always seemed to come up with excuses why I couldn’t hang out with them, I always avoided parties and social interactions. I felt detached. I didn’t like to stick out or draw attention to myself. I always felt like people were watching me, judging me and that they thought of me in a harsh ways. I feared rejection. I couldn’t even go out in public alone. I would have had to have my mother or sister go with me.

Before finding High Hopes Clubhouse, I had been living with family for a few years. My space was in disarray, filthy and unkempt. I had unhealthy eating habits and gained a lot weight. I slept more then I should, but was always tired or I would suffer from insomnia. I didn’t take care of my hygiene as often as I should.  I let myself go and isolated myself from the world.

It was my case manager that introduced the Clubhouse programs to me. I wasn’t interested at first. I already attended DBT, had a Therapist, a case manager and DLS workers. What could another program possibly do for me that they couldn’t? After several attempts she finally got me interested enough to see what a Clubhouse was all about and how joining one could help. It was the most positive and life changing choice that I have ever made.

I took a tour of the clubhouse and completed my orientation to become a member. I felt extremely nervous, fearful and unsure.  I hardly interacted with anyone other than when doing unit work and I isolated myself and would watch the other members and staff socialize. A few times I became emotional and wanted to leave. My attendance was only a couple times a week.

The people at High Hopes, the staff and members alike, are wonderful. It didn’t seem to take them very long to break through my walls. They understood how I was feeling and didn’t judge me for my disabilities. They made me feel important. With their kindness and acceptance I was able to see that I wasn’t alone and that there were people like me that I could relate to. I saw that members were working hard to build better lives for themselves and it gave me hope that I could do the same. I started attending more often and went to the weekly socials. I started feeling a little less depressed and happier.

Merely a few months after joining the Clubhouse I was offered a TE position as a landscaper. The Clubhouse and Vocational Rehabilitation helped me acquire the clothing and supplies needed for the position. I had never worked in the landscaping field before and was apprehensive but felt motivated and up for the challenge. I would have job coaches there to assist me with my anxiety. The job was difficult. It was very hot and physical work. It definitely challenged my emotions and a few times I wanted to give up.  But I had the support of my job coaches. They taught me the difference between instructional critique and criticism. They made me feel like I was doing very well. They also helped me accept that things don’t have to be perfect. When at the jobsite on my own, my job coaches were only a phone call away and would come to the location if needed. The TE position ended sooner than expected and I was let go. That was ok though; I never gave up and worked hard until the end. It was a new experience that I could add to my resume. It also made me realize that I missed being employed and made me become more motivated to try something else.

I had finally been accepted for Social Security benefits. I felt more secure but had decided that I didn’t want to rely on benefits only. I wanted to continue looking into employment.

While attending High Hopes, The staff and members discovered that I have talent in and enjoy cake decorating, often designing and decorating cakes for friends and family.  I started making cakes for Social Night events. The other clubhouses started hiring me to make cakes for their social events as well. Staff and members suggested several times that I should use that talent and find employment in baking.

At the end of November of 2018, with the help of Lisa, our Clubhouse director, I started working a part time supported employment position as a baking assistant at a popular little diner.  Though I was working on my own, I still had the support of staff to help figure out what I should do, for the best outcome, if things got rough. I started learning new experiences in baking and became really good at what I was doing. A couple months later, I became the only baker and gained full time, often overtime, hours. I still find obstacles and have difficulties but I have learned a lot.  I wish to someday be able to increase my education and abilities and eventually find a position more dedicated to my passion of cake decorating.

In December, I was able to purchase a vehicle of my own. To help me be able to make my own decision and buy the vehicle I wanted, without outside influences, Lisa assisted by taking me to the dealership to pick out my car. She transported me to the bank to get my check and remained with me until I had signed the paperwork officially purchasing my new electric blue RAV 4.

In February, with the support and assistance of High Hopes Clubhouse, I was able to rent a wonderful 2 bedroom apartment. I finally was out on my own. Staff helped me acquire a much needed bed. I have also been able to purchase a new oven for better baking and a washer for laundry.

I have been able to do so many things that I once felt were impossible for someone like me. I have been able to maintain full time employment. Something that I haven’t been able to do in many years. At times there will be obstacles and difficulties.  I can accept that now.  I know that not all employment is perfect and I’m not going to always be great at what I do. But that is ok as long as I am trying my best. I have room to improve but I am motivated to do so and I try to stay positive. I’m not perfect, but I don’t have to be. I have become a far better person. I am less emotional and able to express myself in a more assertive way. I am more confident, social and independent. I feel a healthier and happier with the direction my life is heading.  I know that I don’t have to move forward alone. That no matter how rough things get for me along my path, I have the staff and Members at High Hopes Clubhouse to support and guide me for as long as I choose to be a member.

I don’t know if I could ever find a good enough way to fully express how much gratitude and appreciation I hold for High Hopes Clubhouse. The people there have made such a huge impact on my life. I am very grateful to have been able to become a member and thankful for all that both the staff and my fellow members have done for me. All I can say is Thank you High Hopes for what you do and for what you stand for.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my story. Have a great Day!

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