Susan D. always had a knack for caring for other people, so it was only natural when she chose to pursue a career in nursing. After earning her master’s degree in nursing in 1972, she became an emergency room nurse at Houston’s largest safety-net hospital, assisting patients with traumatic injuries ranging from broken arms and concussions to gunshot and stab wounds.
However, in 1995, after suffering a severe episode of postpartum depression, Susan made the difficult decision to retire from nursing and spend more time caring for herself and her family. She later was diagnosed with anxiety, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.
“I quit working because I couldn’t take care of my family anymore,” she said.
Susan sought treatment through a combination of different medications, psychotherapy, faith and personal development. Considering opportunities to enrich her life, Susan realized that she could bandage almost any wound, but she was at a loss when it came to navigating computers. She began searching for ways to learn computer skills and soon discovered The Gathering Place
, Menninger’s community clubhouse for adults with serious mental illness, where free computer classes were offered.
“Mainly, I was going to The Gathering Place because I was computer illiterate,” she laughed.
Since 1984, The Gathering Place has offered a welcoming, stigma-free environment where adults with persistent mental illness build friendships and participate in classes focused on healthy living, job skills and communication. Members may participate as much or as little as they desire; The Gathering Place is always there for them when they need it.
For Susan, The Gathering Place was a chance to learn and grow with the support of peers who understood her mental health challenges. She later began taking art classes in the community and volunteering with local Christian organizations. After being away from The Gathering Place for almost a decade, Susan recently returned to teach watercolor painting to current members.
“I just wanted to give back what I was given, you know? The Gathering Place still has the same computer director it had back then,” she said.
Every Tuesday afternoon at The Gathering Place, members gather around Susan as she guides them in painting landscapes and other scenes inspired by their imagination. Encouraging members to relax and let their creativity flow, her class has become a favorite with regular attendees.
While Susan says her journey with mental health has been long, she continues to put her coping skills to use and feels she is in a good place. “Last time I met with my therapist, we talked about where I’m at — I’m in recovery,” she said.