Aug 24, 2015

Posted on Aug 24, 2015


Having struggled with major depression since childhood, Wendy Rea has been in and out of treatment programs and services for many years. She has limited connections with many family members and gone through traumatic events. The colorful butterfly prominently tattooed on her right wrist signifies the change and recovery she continues to make daily.

“I believe that those really hard times helped make me a more compassionate, patient person,” said Wendy. “I have new tools in my box to help myself and others.”

Wendy first started working with staff from Rise in the mid-1990s when she worked as a co-coordinator for the Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Network (CSN).

Wendy often shared her story with others who have mental health issues as well as the general public and service providers. She also served on local committees and state councils in an effort to help expand the public’s awareness and community resources.

“Those experiences really increased my self-confidence and gave me so many great opportunities to work on issues I believed in and was passionate about,” said Wendy.

She moved to Phoenix with her son for two years to start her own business offering peer support services, but when things didn’t work out, Wendy returned to St. Cloud.

“I was depressed and felt like I had accomplished nothing in Phoenix,” Wendy explained. “I needed to start over completely – new therapist, new county social worker, and new psychiatrist. About a year after I returned, I started attending mental health day treatment three days a week and set new goals to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

In September 2014, Wendy returned to Rise’s Central Minnesota Works office in St. Cloud and met with Lea Engnell, a housing support specialist and ARMHS (Adult Rehabilitation Mental Health Services) practitioner. Together, they wrote a new WRAP, or Wellness Recovery Action Plan, to help guide Wendy through challenging times.

Lea assisted Wendy with accessing a number of community services for transportation and food, as well as fitness and recreational activities. Wendy also achieved her goal to eliminate her personal debt, and by making sacrifices, live within a budget.

Wendy realized she needed more structure in her days and looked for something that would give her a feeling of meaning and purpose.

Currently, she volunteers 15 hours a week as a foster grandparent working with girls 12 to 18 years old who reside at the St. Cloud Children’s Home operated by Catholic Charities.

“I enjoy kids this age and can really identify with them having had a tough childhood myself,” said Wendy. “I do arts and crafts with them as well as fitness and recreational activities like canoeing on the Mississippi River, baking, rock climbing and other fun things. We’re slowly getting to know each other. I think I could facilitate some of them to write WRAPs which would be really beneficial.”

“Lea has been so great in helping me figure out just what works for me and then track my progress,” said Wendy who added that she and Lea reassess her ARMHS goals every six months and update her plan. “I am committed to maintaining my recovery plan and following through to stay well.”

“Wendy is very resourceful and does well with advocating for herself and her needs,” said Lea.  “She has good insight into what helps to keep her healthy, and maybe more importantly, a good plan for when things aren’t going so well.”

“Now even my small victories are very gratifying,” she added. “I never thought I’d be able to handle all this, but now I know when and how to ask for help and can advocate for myself. I felt disconnected and isolated from others for far too long. Lea gives me the ongoing support I need so that I won’t quit, even if things get hard.”

Wendy rents a basement apartment from her daughter. Her son, mother and sister all live close by and she enjoys spending time with them. With a degree in American Studies that she earned with honors in 1996 at the age of 42, Wendy is keeping her eyes open to employment opportunities.

This article appears in the September 2015 issue of the Rise Reporter.

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