Continuum of Care, Inc. provides comprehensive, community based housing and support services, crisis, case management, in-home healthcare, peer mentoring, and outpatient clinical care for adults with mental illness and/or developmental disabilities.The Agency touches the lives of more than 2,400 individuals annually throughout Connecticut.
Two years ago, Charlotte Burch’s world shattered. Aggravating a 30-year-old workplace injury had landed her in a care facility, unable to walk.
The anguish of losing her independence, rental assistance, apartment and belongings significantly deepened the depression that initially surfaced during her youth as a result of several traumatic life events. She was kidnapped from her mother as a two-year-old, an age when separation anxiety is already heightened. As an adult working in a male-dominated field, Charlotte's life was further disrupted by emotional abuse that led to life-altering physical harm. Constant bullying on the job escalated to a coworker purposely letting a tailgate land on her. Her muscles were severely damaged and she was bedridden for a very long time. She even lost her worker's compensation during this devastating period in her life.
Since 1990, the Dixwell-Newhallville Community Health Services had been helping Charlotte work through her psychiatric challenges. But with the recent added losses, she knew she needed additional emotional grounding and support.
Timing is everything. Dixwell-Newhallville Community Health Services had just merged with Continuum of Care, and Continuum’s Health and Wellness Department offered wellness classes, including a guided meditation and deep breathing class to help individuals cope and take control of their emotional wellness.
Charlotte instantly fell in love with the clarity she felt. “With meditation – that moment of having no thoughts is the most wonderful feeling. It helps me to stay in the moment and calm myself within.”
That experience inspired her to commit to enhancing her own wellness and self-care practices. She participated in more classes and support groups. She reveals, “I read a lot now. I do breathing exercises and meditation every day. I have a sound machine. I use adult coloring books and I write in my journal. I keep myself busy. I keep myself at peace.”
Charlotte also attends art therapy classes as a form of meditation. “It’s my spirit, my inner self that does my art. I don’t do art from my thoughts. I just allow.” Dixwell-Newhallville’s Women’s Group gives her the opportunity to open up to other people, and she says, “Knowing that you’re not the only one who goes through stuff helps a great deal.”
Charlotte, and many others like her, are finding that expanding wellness and mindfulness practices are essential components of keeping it together when the world around you seems to fall apart.
Charlotte benefits from other services that Continuum’s Health and Wellness Department provides. She recognizes that what you eat affects your mental health, so she meets with staff for consultations on her nutrition. She finds their yoga classes to be helpful with easing the daily pain she suffers from due to her injury, especially since physical therapy was cut at another program to which she belongs. And, of course, she continues to see her clinician and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor and does the step work – she’s 11 years sober.
All of her wellness efforts have done wonders for her mindset. She’s now focused on acceptance, self-love, letting go of the past, finding the good and solution in every situation and problem, and coping in a constructive manner when she feels depressed and overwhelmed. For example, she began to cry during the interview for this story as she reflected on past trauma. She got even more emotional as she speculated on the uncertainty of her future, noting the limitations she still faces due to her injury and the possibility of Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
Then she stopped herself – “I’ve got to stay in the moment” – and promised to do a breathing meditation after the interview to calm herself down. That’s her wellness work in action.
Now, Charlotte is grateful for the positive changes happening in her life and looking forward to all that she can accomplish.
Her two kids – their relationship suffered due to her drug addiction – are back in her life. She recently applied for an apartment and is so excited to live on her own again. Most of all, she’s looking forward to helping others “that have been and still are where [she] was” through doing mental health advocacy work at Dixwell-Newhallville and eventually becoming a Recovery Support Specialist at Continuum’s South Central Peer Services.
Charlotte just wants her story to encourage somebody. Even if it’s only one person.
“It’s alright to have mental health help. It’s a good thing because so many people have mental health issues. Once they accept it, life continues. There’s no more shame. There are no more secrets in your life. Life continues and it does get better. If you want it. I’m a living person that knows. There really is awesome care here, but it’s up to the person to want to receive it. I know being connected with Dixwell-Newhallville and Continuum will carry me where I’m supposed to be. I thought that my life had ended, but, no, I’m being reborn.”
Won’t you consider a gift to Continuum so that we can continue giving hope to people like Charlotte?