Rebecca is a woman in her early 30s who faces a number of systemic challenges. She identifies as a lesbian, is autistic, lives with anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and is currently in the process of being evaluated for ADHD. She lives with her wife, her mother-in-law, both of whom live with significant disability and mental health challenges, and their three cats, one dog, two mice, snake, and fish.
Rebecca is the only person in the household capable of maintaining work, and supports the household financially, as well as physically, as her wife and mother-in-law struggle to meet many activities of daily living. Rebecca reports that she felt many things – useful, burnt out, frustrated, loved, needed, uncertain – about her arrangement. Most notably, however, she reported feeling alone, as she moved from several thousand kilometers away to be with her wife, and has no friends or family members of her own in Northwestern Ontario.
She joined New Directions Speakers’ School thinking she was going to leave after the first week or two, as she noted that she becomes painfully shy when speaking in public. However, when other students were receptive to hearing her story and she found she was enjoying the content of the course, she persevered and, over the course of the fourteen week class she found herself opening up more and more, finding connection with others who were able to empathize with her trials and tribulations, share in her joys, and be entertained by her dry, quirky sense of humour. By attending our course, as well as maintaining ongoing contact with our facilitator she was able to develop her confidence, as well as have better access to community resources such as food banks, as well as counselling supports.
While Rebecca repeatedly denied she would be able to do a graduation speech, she was amongst the graduates who participated in doing a speech at City Hall, taking the audience through a tour of her day-to-day life with her wife and mother-in-law, as well as her journey of training her wife’s service dog. While her speech reflected heavy content such as the difficulties of system navigation and feelings of isolation, it also embraced the joys she finds in life, and was a testament to finding ways to succeed even when faced with significant barriers.
Rebecca’s story reflects our outcomes through her increased confidence, and increased ability to advocate not just for herself, but for her loved ones as well. She started the course feeling alone and powerless, and left recognizing her own capacity for growth and change, and how she can use that to improve her life and that of those around her, and be an engaged citizen who can speak to the challenges faced by those living with disability respectfully, earnestly, and honestly – but without despair or hopelessness.