—by Nicole Clevenger
(Editor's note: This story originally appeared in "Work Is Recovery: True stories of real people who benefit from Supported Employment, the evidence-based practice," a booklet which was published in March 2007. This story also appears in Spanish in the booklet.)
Lorain, OH—Margarita Gomez was, at one time, virtually paralyzed by depression, but not anymore. Working part-time at a restaurant in Lorain County, a renewed Margarita stands in contrast to her former self.
"I love my uniform,” she says through an interpreter of her native Spanish, gesturing as if to smooth her apron and to check her appearance in a mirror. She smiles. "I am a different Margarita in my uniform.” Her pride in this simple ritual of getting dressed for work is striking, given that it can be a chore for some people or even insignificant to others, especially those who struggle with severe depression.
The Rewards Work
At the restaurant, Margarita cleans tables and brings bread to the customers, always striving to ensure a pleasant dining experience for the people she serves. While for some people a job is simply a series of completed tasks that provides a paycheck, money is not the main reason Margarita chooses to work. For her, a job brings a sense of purpose, joy, and fellowship with others: it is a way to remain positive about life.
Margarita has made friends at the restaurant, and she is proud of the work she does there. In fact, she enjoys the social interaction and feeling of accomplishment so much that, once, after a week at home during a scheduled two-week vacation, she felt the familiar flatness of her depression begin to take its grip. So she asked to return to work early. Her employer agreed.
"I was feeling depressed and overwhelmed and thinking about everything,” she recalls. "At my job, I feel better. I feel okay. I don’t have my symptoms. My mind has to be prepared for work.”
Back On Track
Margarita had to quit a previous job a few years ago when she was hospitalized because of her illness. The mental health professionals at the hospital helped her stabilize her symptoms, and since then, a team of providers at The Nord Center in Lorain County (e.g., a psychiatrist, case manager, and supported-employment specialist, among others) has helped her manage her symptoms and continue her recovery.
Her decision to return to work did not come without challenges. Yet, with help, Margarita has overcome every one of them. She has a payee who helps her manage her money and pay her bills. Also, she does not read or write English and, therefore, often relies on others to interpret. However, she does not view this as a barrier: she explains that her struggle with language does not prevent her from doing her job well. Margarita does not drive, but she is able to walk to work with ease because the restaurant is near her apartment. She enjoys the almost daily ritual of walking to and from work.
Margarita wants to share this story with others who may also be struggling on their respective paths to recovery. Her message is never to give up.
"Continue, continue, continue, continue,” she says. “After illness, you have to continue your life. Work will help you.”
The "Work Is Recovery" Stories
Nicole Clevenger, BFA, is a peer consultant at the Ohio SE CCOE, an initiative of the Center for EBPs at Case Western Reserve University. Edited by Paul M. Kubek, director of communications at the Center for EBPs.