Artistic, intelligent, and talented, Lisa Wallace was accepted and attended Oberlin’s conservatory of music out of high school. Though she loved singing, she soon dropped out and went to nursing school. She worked as a nurse for 10 years, but then worked as a book keeper, then an inn owner, and finally as a grade school secretary. “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up,” Lisa jokes after listing all of her past jobs. Though, at the time, she worried why she had such an inability to focus and invest in a career path. She found herself crippled by her anxieties. While still working as a secretary, Lisa developed a psychogenic stutter. She couldn’t get through a sentence when answering the phone at school, and she took a medical leave of absence.
This small, psychologically-triggered malfunction of speech, which still occurs when Lisa gets overly worried or excited, led to the diagnoses of larger issues that had plagued Lisa her whole life and made it nearly impossible for her to succeed professionally. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, major anxiety disorder, and borderline personality disorder along with fibromyalgia (deep pain felt in the muscles, joints, and tendons, often linked with depression). She was prescribed medication but could not return to work, and with no income she was unable to make her mortgage payments. So her family made them for her until she could sell the house, suffer only minor debt, and move back in with her mother. “You can imagine the feelings of shame and guilt I had,” Lisa reflects on that difficult period of her life. “I was miserable.” That shame and guilt coupled with her natural predisposition to depressive behavior convinced Lisa try to take her own life, her first of 5 suicide attempts. People everywhere live with depression and suffer from these sorts of ideations. But if you were to knock on Lisa’s door at Avesta Housing’s Cousens School apartment building in Kennebunk today, you’d find a very different sort of person.
Lisa waited on a list for a year before she was offered a unit at Cousens School which opened in 2008 and has lived there ever since. The housing provided Lisa with stability and a space of her own that she could make into a home she could take pride in. With that stability she found herself very active within the community. She lost 50lbs since moving in and the first year she lived in Cousens she ran a resident council. She finally had enough spending money to be able to buy small gifts for the children in the building during Christmas. She enjoyed crafting artful packaging for the gifts. She took an art class and learned how to use markers. Her work hangs on her apartment walls and are so well drawn they look like inventive interpretations of famous impressionists. She also writes poetry, makes origami, and she and a friend knit together. In the summer she enjoys knitting outside by the playground where she can interact with the other families that live in the building and listen to the children play.
As Lisa tells her story, she laughs and sometimes digresses while exploring other topics she finds interesting. She is curious about other people’s lives and loves relating to everyone in the room. She makes intricate connections between what people tell her and what she’s experienced in her own life, and she’s certain to teach those fortunate enough to speak with her a bevy of new vocabulary words. When asked what she thinks has helped contribute to this healthier, happier state of mind, Lisa replies “Drugs,” referring to her medication, then laughs. “No, it’s a combination of the right medication formula, a great medical team, great friends, and great socialization.” Then she sighs and adds “It took a while to get here.”
Those who know about depression and similar mental illnesses know that, for a woman like Lisa, her productivity and sense of personal contribution within her community is what fuels her happiness and her ability to function independently. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to live their own life.” Without the foundation her apartment provides, where would Lisa be now? Luckily that is not a question that needs answering, and instead Lisa meets with her friends and confides in them that she’s so excited for her son’s wedding this September. She has already started ordering dresses so she can pick out the perfect one.
Lisa Wallace, resident
Counsens School Apartments, Kennebunk