Donna’s Story: I Can Be Me

Donna is among those to have come through the Good Shepherd’s LEAP programme, offering people with lived experience of homelessness and complex issues the chance to volunteer and provide support to others going through similar challenges. 

LEAP – standing for Lived Experience into Action Project – has been funded by the Oak Foundation, and allows volunteers to follow a tailored programme of support to not only help service users at the Good Shepherd, but also take advantage of training opportunities to develop their own skills. 

There have been many successes so far, both in the work and support LEAP graduates have delivered within the Good Shepherd, but also with candidates going on to secure employment opportunities elsewhere. 

In her own words, this is Donna’s story. 

I have had a lot of challenges in life which I have come through to get to where I am now, and I think a lot of it is linked to the fact I am bipolar and also have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 

I didn’t get diagnosed until later in life, so I wasn’t receiving medication, and that affected everything about me – my persona and my attitude – so when I was younger, I was just branded a naughty child. 

A lot of my life has been spent getting through barriers as a result. 

My son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of five, and I was diagnosed at the age of 30. 

From there I was able to learn so much more about the conditions and realise that there is so much support out there for people like me. 

But because of what I was going through, I ended up becoming drug and alcohol dependent. 

I had been introduced to cocaine on a night out and it all went downhill from there. 

It eventually got to the point where I was taking it when I was alone at home, and yet, even then, I didn’t realise the effect it was having on the people around me.  I just thought they were being ridiculous. 

But my boys had to go and live with their Dad, and I was on my own with no support – my life fell apart. 

There were times when I spent £200 in one night, but because I was fighting a battle, the drug and alcohol use were my only way of coping.  Ultimately, I lost the plot and had a nervous breakdown, because I still wasn’t being medicated for the bipolar and ADHD. 

I was just sinking and sinking, I had lost all my relationships, and I felt so alone. 

At one point, this couple, who I thought were my friends, asked me to go and live with them. 

I thought they wanted to help me, but they ended up using me as their slave, and when I say slave, I mean slave. 

Eventually I tried to kill myself, and ended up in hospital. 

Still, I felt the drink and cocaine were my only option, I was thinking everyone was against me, but in truth it was more about me being against the world. 

Then I found Goddess Living, a charity which helps women find accommodation, and something just snapped in me. I don’t know what it was, but I just decided enough was enough. 

They were brilliant and offered me amazing support, it was only then that I realised it’s ok not to be ok, because finally I had people who understood me on my level and didn’t judge me for anything. 

From there I joined the LEAP programme, here at the Good Shepherd, and have now spent over a year studying for my Level 3 Diploma in Health & Social Care. 

Being part of this project has given me hope, it has really grounded me and made me focus. 

It has always been hard for me to do everyday things with ADHD, but here, I am allowed to have ADHD and I am allowed to have baggage.   

When I am working with the service users, where there are people who are – or who have been – drug and alcohol dependent, I know how they are feeling because I was once that same person on that journey. 

Being able to help people is my kind of thing, it helps me as well, and it is down to this place that I have been able to keep going. 

I now have a purpose, I feel good and fulfilled, and when I walk away from the Good Shepherd at the end of the day, I am smiling. 

People will often come here who are really down and broken-hearted, feeling they have no support and nowhere to turn to. 

When they leave, because of the help the Good Shepherd are able to give them, they are smiling as well, and that means everything. 

I have now been clean for three-and-half years, and while I’d like to think I am now strong enough to stay clean on my own, I also know that LEAP and the Good Shepherd has given me so much to fight for. 

I just have too much to lose now if I was to do drugs again. 

I have also been able to take advantage of so many opportunities, just recently sharing my story by speaking at the Molineux Sleepout, and then talking to people ahead of Robert Plant’s concert at The Halls when the Good Shepherd were given a stall in the foyer. I also spoke at the SJOG conference in York, which was a bit nerve-wracking but something I was really happy that I managed to do.

As a project, LEAP, and the support it provides, is amazing, and the team who are involved in it are amazing. And for me, I now feel really confident in what I am doing and what I am saying. 

I also know that if I feel unsafe or anxious, I can turn to anyone in this building and they will understand and they will help me. 

I can’t ‘big’ everyone up enough, they have given me so much that I can’t even explain it properly in words. 

I have been assessed on the programme and have been told that I am doing really well, and the things that I have learned are opening doors not just here but with other organisations, such as Recovery Near You, who are also such a good team. 

It doesn’t matter who comes into this building, it feels like a family, and that is genuine, I am not just saying it. 

My whole life fell apart and I felt alone, but at the Good Shepherd, I am allowed to be me. 

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