Donna: A Work in Progress

During her years of struggle with depression and Attention Deficit Disorder following a major breakdown in 2003, Donna (that is not her real name) was told by doctors that she would never work again. Today, she is employed by the Canada Revenue Agency after a return to school that saw her graduate with a 94-percent average and high honours.

Her journey has been fraught with isolation, doubt, anxiety and fear. Nonetheless, she found the strength to rise above her circumstances and secure the help she needed to prove her doctors wrong.

Donna’s challenges began during her first career path as an HVAC mechanic. As one of a few women in the field, she faced a toxic work environment characterized by sexually aggressive behaviour and harassment. The emotional stress of this experience led to a short-term disability leave and cycles of depression that culminated in a mental breakdown.

“I didn’t recognize the symptoms (of depression) that were there,” Donna said. “Instead I criticized myself as just being lazy or stupid.”

After leaving her job, Donna became involved with the Ontario Disability Support Program. However, the financial assistance provided by the program wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

While she was able to find temporary work, she lacked the technological skills to advance and secure permanent employment. In addition, her doctors’ dismal assessment of her prospects had eroded her confidence and self-esteem.

During her job search, Donna considered various organizations that help individuals receiving disability benefits secure employment. She found her way to Linda Simpson and the team at Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC).

After speaking with quite a few service providers, I felt that Linda really was the most interested in what my needs were,” Donna said.

PPRC is not an employment agency, but it does help people with physical or developmental disabilities, as well as those who are coming off of any kind of disability leave, get their foot in the door with employers. It specializes in finding a strong match that will result in a productive, long-term relationship.

PPRC’s services are offered under the auspices of the ODSP at no cost to clients such as Donna. Instead, the Ontario government provides funds to PPRC to help clients find gainful employment that will eliminate their reliance on government assistance.

A helping hand that put Donna’s needs first

“Linda has always supported me, and validated me, which made me grow to trust my own judgment,” Donna said. “Linda goes above and beyond for her clients, putting their interests before her own.”

This was evident when Donna realized that her interests were best served by returning to school. But PPRC receives its funding by helping clients return to work, not to school. Nonetheless, Linda put Donna’s needs first and helped her get back into the classroom.

“I felt good about having some support to do this as I was struggling to find permanency,” Donna said. “Linda also offered me individual basic computer tutoring and a customer service course which helped me to gain confidence in my abilities.”

Another benefit of working with PPRC is the community of support it provides for clients.

“PPRC has cafés where clients get together socially to discuss issues, network and resolve common problems or obstacles,” Donna said. “We were treated like professionals and like we were important. It gave us the opportunity to be understood by others with similar issues.”

A year after graduating from Business Administration, Donna is working for the CRA in a front-line customer service role where she processes payments and bank charge backs. She enjoys the engagement with people and the attention to detail that comes with handling large sums of money. Her ambition is to move into an HR role in the public service dealing with compensation.

Donna’s successes of the past two years have bolstered her self-esteem and freed her of the deep anxieties she once felt toward being in social situations. These positive changes have not gone unnoticed by friends and family, including Donna’s mother, who has stood by her at every step with emotional and financial support.

“It is always good to have somebody you can count on,” Donna said. “You can count on PPRC. Linda has always treated me with respect and sensitivity and that makes you feel worthy. My strengths were always pointed out and reinforced, and my areas of needed improvement were identified and dealt with. Through all of this I have accepted that I will never be perfect, I am however, and will always be, a work in progress.”