Sally Hayward is intimately familiar with the problems that can arise from becoming cut off from the outside world.
Sharing her story at last month’s “Staying Connected” event, Hayward, 76, related how after years of self-imposed isolation and declining health, she learned how becoming involved with community activities and organizations can have positive benefits to her physical and mental health.
“The secret ingredient for me was coming out of my cave and being with other people on a regular basis,” said Hayward.
Originally from New York, many years ago Hayward moved to Florida for work.
Following the deaths of her husband and both parents, she says, she began to feel isolated. “I felt lonely and afraid to be alone,” she said. “I lost interest in everything except eating.”
As she gained weight, she began to experience health problems, including diabetes. She began having panic attacks and was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.
Moving to be with family in Kenosha, she found they were busy with their own lives, and soon felt lonely once more.
“I became a recluse, going out only for doctors’ appointments,” she said.
Hayward says she finally got “tired of her own company” and looked for something to do. That was when she connected with Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services, not as a consumer but as a volunteer.
She worked on a newsletter and was a Friendly Visitor, but says nothing quite clicked until Cathy Coleman, Friendly Visitor coordinator, asked for help on a new project.
On June 7, 2011, Hayward helped launch Senior Center Without Walls, a call-in conference call where participants can have discussions or hear about new topics from guest speakers.
“As a bonus to me I found I enjoyed the interaction with these people and I didn’t even have to leave my home to do it,” Hayward said. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, KAFASI sort of lit a spark for me. And I started thinking more about what I could do for other people.”
Today, Hayward facilitates more than 20 calls a month in Kenosha. Additionally, she collects food for veterans in Racine and has become the “new unofficial activities director” for her apartment complex.
Hayward says these activities are translating into positive changes in her health profile as well.
“Helping other people helps me,” she said. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”