Woman on the Rise – Shannon

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Woman on the Rise: Shannon Gray-Chappell

Although the majority of Together We Bake graduates are transitioning back into society from the corrections system, the need for a second chance takes many forms.

Meet Shannon Gray-Chappell, a graduate of TWB’s spring 2016 class. The 40-year-old wife and mother of two worked for the federal government for 17 years before, as she tells it, “I had a nervous breakdown.”

Gray-Chappell was employed as an administrative assistant at the Treasury Department, enjoying the benefits of her job but struggling with escalating mental and emotional unrest for years, when she reached a breaking point.

“I was standing in the middle of Times Square – I’d been sent out to a district office to work on a computer program,” she says. “I had been feeling good and making money and doing things with the money and then all of a sudden it was gone. Was I happy? No. It was great to spend the night in $600 hotels and have drivers and responsibilities. But was I truly happy? No.”

After much soul searching with her husband, Gray-Chappell last fall decided it was time to finally prioritize her health. She sought help through inpatient programs in both Fairfax and Falls Church, where she was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

“There was a lot of stress in my department, and I knew I wasn’t performing as well as I should have been,” she says. “I made the decision to get out and get myself together. It was a financial strain on the family and that in itself sent me into a deeper depression because I felt like my independence was gone. But I had held on as long as I could.”

Today, Gray-Chappell is focused on the lofty goal of “having a year of no stress… I’ve been seeing my therapist every week, I take my medication and I see the doctor once a month. I try to understand what mental health is now. I remember that it was something you didn’t talk about in the family, you had that relative you just didn’t talk about and you didn’t really know what was wrong with them.”

And she’s getting more comfortable openly communicating about her mental health, which has brought her to a realization that inspires her to share her story: “There are a lot more people out there are dealing with mental health issues than we think.”

Working in the kitchen at a local wellness center brought Gray-Chappell to Together We Bake, where some initial concerns were quickly laid to rest. “At first I didn’t feel like I would fit in, but I have some of the same fears, same insecurities. I wasn’t physically imprisoned, but I was imprisoned in the mind in so many ways – and that’s the same thing to me,” she says. “Talking to someone that understands that, having a group of people that understand, is irreplaceable.”

Hoping to use the ServSafe certification she received through Together We Bake to enter the conference catering field, Gray-Chappell says, above all, TWB gave her a community. “It’s an opportunity to be around people who, even though they didn’t go through my situation, we all are working on something. I think I’ve gotten more out of talking to the ladies here than any private therapy session. And I can tell you why. It was natural. It was pure. It was honest. We all are looking for opportunities to better ourselves.”

– Cathy Applefeld Olson and Olivia Olson