- Amy Payne, CPS, Executive Director
From Then Till Now a Recovery Story
Heidi Garner, our new Executive Director
Over the years I have enjoyed the opportunity to write for Gathered News. My favorite article to write is “From Then Till Now.” Sitting down and interviewing the people that I write about and helping them tell their story is such an honor. The pain, struggle, and successes that these individuals have found on their journey to mental health recovery just makes me sit back in amazement.
Today, I am honored to be able to give you a glimpse of the road that the new Executive Director of The Gathering Place, Heidi Garner, has been on. As I was interviewing Heidi, I felt the strength, resilience, determination, and compassion that this beautiful soul has to offer others and The Gathering Place. As I listened to her story, I found myself smiling, then tearful, then sitting on the edge of my seat, and then laughing.
I know that this article, in no way, can begin to tell her story with the justice it deserves but perhaps I can offer you a peek into who she is.
Heidi lives with Schizophrenia. When I asked her if I could include her diagnosis, she was a little unsure at first. Her fear stemmed from the stigma that makes people think that those who live with mental health conditions are somehow broken.
Heidi was afraid that people wouldn’t believe that she could do a good job. I explained to her that The Gathering Place is a place that is known for being run 100% by people who live with mental health conditions and that is why and how we are able to make such a difference.
I told her how important it is for people to know that people who live with mental health conditions can be successful! So, before I get into her journey, I would like to tell you that not only is Heidi the Executive Director of a very reputable non-profit organization in the community, but she has a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has already affected the lives of many!
Heidi is the perfect person to use as an example that the stigma surrounding mental health conditions is simply WRONG!
On to Heidi’s journey. Heidi had always loved exercising, learning, and teaching. Her love of teaching came from the 7 years she had taught Sunday school. When she was 27, she was a straight A student in college. She had just given her 2 weeks’ notice to her manager at the grocery store where she was working so that she could spend more time working on her education. All she had left to complete for her degree was the “student teaching” segment of her education and she would be able to be an elementary school teacher.
Out of nowhere, something that she thought that would never happen to her happened. Mental illness reared its head, and she suffered an episode of auditory hallucinations and delusions. Heidi continued in school but after one more semester she had to seek out medical care for her symptoms.
The doctor gave her pills but did not give her the diagnosis. She did not find out about what her diagnosis was until she read the pill bottle. There it was in black and white…. the pills were for Schizophrenia. At that very moment, she tossed the bottle of pills across the room in disbelief. That meant that she had a mental health condition.
All at once, her world shattered like a mirror that had been hit. She could still see herself in the mirror but now life became more complex as she looked at the many pieces. Her goals and dreams would not work as planned and there was grief.
Heidi started taking the pills that were given to her. Almost overnight her size 6 physique had an added 30 pounds, and she was devastated by this. She still struggles with the side effects of her medication today but will NEVER give up! Not giving up is so important to her. Heidi has a strong faith in God and through this faith, she believes that there is a reason that she lives with a mental health condition.
After learning that she had Schizophrenia, Heidi had so many questions that needed to be answered. She went to the library and checked out books that would help her learn about the stone that had broken her mirror.
At the time, Heidi did not know about any resources in the community that could help her with her mental health care so she had to be her own therapist and talk her way through her episodes and life. She still had not fully accepted her diagnosis though. She moved to Bellevue where she didn’t have the financial resources she needed to pay for her medications. This led to auditory hallucinations and being in a position of almost losing her apartment, car, and job. She called the Crisis Center. They got her the help that she needed, and she accepted that her mental health condition was real.
Since that time, Heidi has moved back to a more supportive environment, takes her meds, sees her doctors, and has a therapist. It has been a very trying journey, but her faith gave her the hope that she needed to get through the darkness.
When I asked her why she was telling her story, she gave me a very powerful statement that EVERYONE needs to know. Heidi said, “I hope that my story can challenge people to live up to their potential as much as they can…To get through the rough times, empower yourself and know that it ALWAYS gets better…For the people who love those who live with mental health conditions, please just be there for them, listen to them and if they need a hug, please give one.” She also said that even though she went through this journey alone, “you don’t have to.” The Gathering Place would have helped her on her journey because it’s a home away from home!
Having been the Executive Director and knowing what it entails, I believe that Heidi has exactly what it takes to keep The Gathering Place moving forward in new and exciting ways that will help so many people and the community. She is a survivor and will never give up! As Heidi says, “Life can be good!”
—By Amy Payne, CPS