Amanda hasn’t had what you call a “charmed life”. It would be right of you to think she struggled, just based on her past. She was born to a drug addicted mother, given up for adoption, sexually abused, was epileptic, dyslectic and dealing with typical health issues that arise from having parents who were dependant on drugs and alcohol. If you can believe it, things got worse.
Amanda went through the motions of life, moving out on her own at 16, obtaining her high-school diploma and going on to college. At 20, she dropped out of college when she found out she was pregnant with her first child.
She has always been a caring and giving person so she decided to care for a terminally ill man who had one dying wish, to be married and have someone care for him until his death. During this time, the man she was caring for had a prescription for dilaudid, while he managed his death from home. Having epilepsy, Amanda would have seizures and go to the emergency department afterwards for pain medication to help with the after effects of a seizure. Until one day, her partner suggested she take an injection of dilaudid instead of going to the emergency. This was the start of her addiction to dilaudid. After two years of rehabilitation and counselling to get and stay clean in order to get her life back on track, she finally had a diagnosis for what many described as “a problem child.” Amanda was living with bi-polar disorder.
Until a few years ago, the future was quite dark for Amanda. She was depressed, suicidal and had no interest in anything. By the age of 34, Amanda now had four children and two step-children, two of which have disabilities, autism and expressive language disorder. It was at this time that she started to feel depressed and suicidal. “I was a young mother of six children and I felt like I was stuck in the house.” She describes her life at this time as hitting rock-bottom. “The pain would only go away if I took it away,” she continues.
Having two children with disabilities, One-Kids Place would come to her home once a week. “I thank God that the worker at the time realized I wasn’t myself one-day and physically took me to see Dr. Talarico” (a Psychiatrist with Crisis Intervention). After meeting with Dr. Talarico and getting back on her medication, he thought it might be a good idea for Amanda to join Consumers Having Options in Employment Services. CHOICES is an outpatient program of the North Bay Regional Health Centre that focuses on helping people living with a mental illness learn the skills they need to eventually find employment. This is mostly done through real work experiences, starting out at CHOICES and then hopefully leading to a community placement.
“I had a lot of anxiety about even going to CHOICES,” says Amanda. She went from being suicidal and a shut in, to driving from Mattawa to North Bay once a week to continue working towards a goal of learning skills to use out in the real world. “I had no skills. I was in my 30s and had never had a job, I barely had any social skills, learning to be in a classroom and to share and get along with people was very difficult.”
Over the next three years Amanda continued with CHOICES. The day had come, when she was finally ready to pursue a real work experience at a local business. “CHOICES gave me the tools to know that I could do this,” she says proudly. Although she still had a lot of anxiety around people and found it difficult to even bear the thought of working in the front-line with the public.
The CHOICES staff were creative and came up with a solution. They approached a local funeral home that was able to accommodate Amanda’s need to work at her own pace and out of the public’s eye. She learned many skills during this placement that would serve her well in the near future.
“I went from wanting to be dead to wanting to live,” she says. “I am living proof that disabilities can’t keep you down.” As she slowly began picking up the pieces of her life and putting them together, Amanda discovered through CHOICES and God, she had a place in this world, she had something to contribute.
After her placement with the funeral home, Amanda went on to become a dispatcher at a local fire station. She was so interested in the profession she decided to become a volunteer firefighter, something she is very passionate about today. “For once, I can help people instead of people helping me. Their lives are in my hands,” she says with a big smile, a smile that was once rarely seen, especially in public.
“I’m lucky,” says Amanda. A statement that is a bit surprising to hear coming from Amanda, considering the life she’s had. When asked what she would tell others living with the same fears she had, she quickly says, “Hang-in. It won’t last, it can’t last. You can have what I have; faith, support, self-worth and a job.”
Today, she has a full-time job as a housekeeper in a local hotel, where she is collecting a regular pay cheque for the first time in her life. The main income in her home has always been her husband, he knows how hard his wife has worked to gain full-time employment, and her pay cheques are hers to spend as she wishes. It probably doesn’t surprise you that Amanda pays it forward. She spends it on her children, her church and often times the homeless.
Amanda is actively involved in her community and family, she has created a life worth living for. She’s doing things she never imagined she would. “I’m taking on special projects with my church and being home for my children and husband, but most of all, I am learning to forgive, let go and trust in God.” She may not have started out with a “charmed-life” but she is living one now.