In Her Own Words  – “Family Connections” by Sue Zywokarte

My name is Sue Zywokarte. I have served on the Board of Pathway Homes since 2006 and I was a Pathways consumer until recently. I now live independently. I was fortunate to come to Pathway Homes in 2002. My journey before I came to Pathways involved struggles with mental illness, substance abuse and eventually, homelessness. I struggled with relationships with people.

Part of me had a strong need to connect to people, but I never really felt like I fit in. I did well in school  – but I had a hard time connecting with other kids. I felt somehow that I didn’t belong.

This conflict – between feeling secure only when I was alone and yet wanting to connect with people – left me sometimes feeling worried and sad. I was diagnosed with depression in High School and had periods where I was feeling better as a young adult, but these periods got shorter and the substance abuse magnified my mood swings. I dropped out of Virginia Tech. My family tried to help but no thing was working. I had trouble maintaining a place to live because  relationships with roommates made me so uncomfortable and I couldn’t afford my own apartment.

I lost my job at the USDA and held a pizza delivery job for many years because it had minimal interaction with people. I often lost jobs because of calling in sick and being unreliable. I bounced from one bad living situation to another. I was hospitalized over 30 times. I’ve had to sleep in my car or on someone’s couch because I had no place to go.

On one frigid night I was trying to sleep in my car but could not fall asleep in the cold. The temperature was around 15 degrees  fahrenheit. I went into an emergency room to get warm but left after the security people asked what I was doing there.
Instead of asking for help, I left. I ended up in the Reston homeless shelter for a few months.

It was scary and I felt so alone. After ending up back in the Northern VA Mental Health Institute I was discharged into a temporary group home in Fairfax County. From there, I was accepted into Pathway Homes.

When I came to Pathway Homes, I finally felt the people helping me treated me with respect and dignity. They encouraged me and helped me feel I belonged. They helped me get over my shame and fear of asking for help. They helped me feel secure on the inside so I could sustain a real home on the outside. Knowing that I have stable housing – a place to call home has made such a difference in how I feel and what I have and will accomplish. I moved from my most recent apartment of 12 years in the Pathways’ Supportive Housing Program into a condo utilizing a Housing Choice Voucher I applied for last Autumn.

I need less support services at this point in my recovery. I have been clean and sober for over 15 years. I have so much hope now. I was able
to earn my Associate degree from Northern Virginia Community college and my Bachelor of Science from George Mason University. I recently earned my Masters’ Degree from GMU in geographic and cartographic science. I remember when I was in the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute, the art therapist took a group of us to an exhibit at the Fairfax GMU campus.

I can remember wanting so badly to finish college – at that time it seemed so unreachable. I have been working as a companion caregiver for about a year now and am still working with a job coach at Service Source to find a job as a cartographer. I sometimes still struggle with self – doubt, but I can reach out for help. Connecting with people helps me realize I’m not alone and that other people struggle with issues like I do.

Sometimes I just do the next right thing in front of me, turn negative thoughts into positive action. I like my job as a Companion Caregiver, and I was nominated caregiver of the month last December by my company for my reliability and my calm demeanor which helps clients feel at ease. I appreciate the challenge and this past year has built my  confidence level regarding my ability to hold on to and do well at a job.

The encouragement, therapy and support I received from Pathway Homes helped make that dream a reality. I appreciate being a Board Member and volunteering time to share my experience and hope. I have been able to rebuild relationships with my family and love spending time with them and helping them out when I can. I appreciate their love and support. I can be there for friends and family. Pathway Homes changes lives and brings dignity, hope and joy to so many consumers.

Sue Zywokarte