Tina Wardzala lies awake nights wondering and fearing what will happen to her and her sons if she loses the therapy and psychiatric medication she needs.
“I have to be well to take care of my children,” she told me recently.
I first wrote about Wardzala, 50, late last September. She has been a client at the Family Service and Mental Health Center of Cicero for 10 years. Men her mother invited into their home abused her as a child. As an adult many years ago, she was raped in the hallway of an apartment building when she was trying to deliver food to an elderly woman. It took seven years for her to muster the courage to tell her therapist about that. Wardzala has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and bipolar disorder.
She also suffers because of the state’s fiscal crisis and the budget impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.
The Cicero mental health center that provides coordinated counseling and psychiatric services was expecting to receive $190,000 in state grants this year. It’s received none. Since Tina and I first met last fall, the center has cut back the hours of its two part-time psychiatrists who work with adults and children by 30 percent, said Executive Director John Morgan. A bilingual child psychiatrist will leave the center soon and Morgan can’t fill that position. A mental health counselor who handled crisis intervention at the center also had her hours cut last fall and left the agency a few months later. Another therapist voluntarily cut her hours from full-time to part-time and other positions have been eliminated as well.
As a result of the cuts, Tina and one of her sons are among about 150 patients from the agency who now must go to a psychiatric hospital several miles away for their care.
Wardzala, who can’t bring herself to ride buses because they’re too crowded and make her feel too confined, got a friend to give her a ride to the psychiatric hospital. She sat in the car in the parking lot, looking around for a while. Then she turned to her friend and said, “I’m not ready.”
Eventually, Wardzala returned to the hospital. She pushed past her fear and mustered the courage to walk into the psychiatric hospital. She said she shared the basics of her history and managed to get through the intake process with strangers and loud noises and being directed to see new people in several different rooms. She and her son have a three-month wait before they can return to actually see a psychiatrist. In the meantime, her primary care physician will have to write prescriptions for her medications.
“The stress of all this, it’s not too much to bear because I have children who depend on me so I’m strong,” she said. “I guess I’m chicken, but I get sick of having to tell people.”
All of this change and upheaval and starting over and going into a psychiatric hospital is too much for some people suffering from mental illness. Wardzala said she knows some in her bipolar support group who just won’t go inside a psychiatric hospital. They fear they won’t be let out.
Some of them likely will go off their medications, suffer a breakdown and end up in an emergency room. It takes between three to six months once they are back on the medication before people with mood disorders recover, Tina’s therapist said.
“It’s a lot to carry,” Wardzala said. “I do want to keep recovered, but they make it really hard.”
Morgan, the executive director of the community mental health center that has cared for Wardzala for 10 years, has worked there for 39 years. “It’s definitely changed the feel at the agency,” he said of the cuts. “There’s definitely a cloud. My biggest worry is where does all this go? It seems like we’re on a path to oblivion.”
Wardzala believes her therapist and psychiatrist at the center saved her life. Now, the fear that keeps her awake at night grows.
“What’s going to happen in a year with this place? Is it going to be an empty building?” she asked. “Politics is serious and they’re supposed to govern,” she said of Illinois’ elected officials.
“They’re picking on the children, the sick and the elderly. How dare they do that,” she said. “Why don’t you care about us? We work. We matter. We contribute.”
Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.
Follow Madeleine Doubek on Twitter: Follow @mdoubekRebootIL