Member Spotlight: Fatuma

Member Spotlight: Fatuma

No Longer Lonely – Acceptance and friendship at Vail Place have transformed Fatuma’s life

Before arriving at Vail Place in November 2017, Vail Place member Fatuma felt sicker and lonelier than she ever had before in her life. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, anxiety, and paranoia when she was only a teenager, Fatuma (now 38) had struggled with mental illness most of her life. “I had been seeing a psychologist for almost 16 years. But medication wasn’t helping me. I had no one close to me to share my problems with,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

A Phone Call Changed Everything

With the help of her doctor and Hennepin County mental health professionals, Fatuma was directed to Vail Place. The first time she visited, however, she felt uncertain about whether she would fit in with the other members of the Clubhouse,  whose backgrounds and interests seemed different from her own.

A phone call from another Clubhouse member named Caitlin changed everything.

“I was having a bad, bad day,” Fatuma said. “Caitlin called me and said she wanted to check on me and see how I was. If people don’t come to the Clubhouse, they call to ask how you are. She told me they missed me.”

Having someone demonstrate that they cared and were concerned made all the difference.

“I hung up the phone. I didn’t have a car at that time, so I walked right to Cub Foods and bought a bus pass,” Fatuma said. “I took a bus to Vail Place the next day.”

‘Everybody at Vail Place Understands Me’

From that point on, Fatuma said her whole view on life was changed. “I fell in love with this place,” she said. “I’ve been welcomed. I don’t feel alone and I no longer feel different.”

The acceptance has transformed Fatuma, who was born in Somalia and came to Minnesota as a child. “My whole life, people have been judging me,” she said. “English is my second language, but no one cares at Vail Place.  Everyone understands me, and they really listen to me.”

The connection she feels with her friends at Vail Place is powerful. “We are so comfortable with each other, sometimes we don’t even have to talk,” Fatuma said. “But I have friends here who I talk to about things, like my paranoia, and they talk to me about their problems. We understand each other.”

Since she’s been at Vail Place, Fatuma has completed a one-week course on the subject of mental illness, which taught her a lot about her challenges.

“There is no cure for mental illness, but there is a recovery. You can learn to live with it,” she said, adding that she received a certificate for completing the course.

A New Beginning

Vail Place was also instrumental in finding Fatuma a job as a part-time receptionist. Previously, she had worked in customer service for approximately 12 years.

“I started that job when I was very young. I love people, so I liked it. I worked with all women and they were like a family to me,” she explained.  But when Fatuma’s mental health challenges became severe, even that work atmosphere felt isolating. Her co-workers, while knowing she was sick, didn’t fully understand what she was going through and couldn’t offer the support she needed.

Today, Fatuma likes her new job and works about 16 hours a week. She is slowly finding that balance between challenging herself, while not pushing herself too much.  And every day, she comes to Vail Place.

Grateful in So Many Ways

Vail Place also offers opportunities for Clubhouse members to enjoy each other’s company in fun ways, which Fatuma said she really likes.

“We go to museums. We went to pick apples and pumpkins. I had never been to a place like that in my life,” she said. “In the winter, we went tubing—I never used to go outside in winter.”

In a variety of ways, Vail Place has changed Fatuma’s life. “I cannot explain how grateful I am,” she said, her voice breaking.

“I didn’t know what I was missing during all that time I was lonely and not socializing with people,” Fatuma added. “I would have come to Vail Place a long, long time ago if I knew how great it was. It is amazing.”