I found myself through finding community – The Linda Shepherd Story

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) at the age of ten, which was the beginning of a life of chronic debilitating pain, broken bones, surgeries and lengthy hospital stays. The life of a disabled person with high medical needs can be a very lonely one, and that was certainly my experience. Once I became an adult, I came to Canada to visit my sister, and discovered that the Canadian climate was much better for my RA, which led me to emigrate from England to Stettler in 1977.

Trained as a bookkeeper, I started working within a few days of arriving, and got an apartment within a few months. Things were hard; because of my health, and because I didn’t make much money, I spent all my time working or at home. I didn’t even have a TV to keep me company! I was very isolated. After several years, in the late eighties, I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a singles club event in Red Deer. I took a chance, drove in to Red Deer and attended a dinner and dance. I made friends! This meant I started spending more time in Red Deer, which was an added expense because of the drive. Eventually I moved to Red Deer. Even though I continued to struggle financially, because of low wages and extensive time in hospital, I found life was better with a social circle.
I’ve always been a strong budgeter, a saver, and very careful with money, but when times were the toughest, I always found that my food budget was the first thing to give. Sometimes I went for days without eating, and when I did, my diet consisted mainly of rice, potatoes and pasta. Some of my hospital visits and broken bones have been due to malnutrition. Lack of nutritious food further deteriorated my health, which only made it harder to find and keep work over the years, and also kept me isolated.
In the mid-nineties, someone introduced me to the Golden Circle, a vibrant hub for seniors to meet, build community, and enjoy the company and support of their peers. Through the Golden Circle I was able to find out about, and secure, home improvement grants that have helped me make my home fully accessible; they also helped me to tap into many other programs and community services that really improved my life in many ways. For example, the R Own Food Coop that the Women’s Outreach Society offers, meant I had access to regular servings of meat and produce, for the first time on a regular basis. Even though my RA continues to increase its hold on my body, my overall health has greatly improved through good nutrition; and my previous solitary, lonely life, where I never felt valued, and had to work twice as hard as everyone else and still continuously “lost ground” is gone!

I am currently Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Golden Circle, a United Way Ambassador, a Director on the Board of Directors for the Central Alberta Council on Aging and sit on the CAPRA Transportation Committee. I am on outspoken advocate on issues people with disabilities face. I am financially stable, active and very happy. I give back to my community every day – because finding my community helped me find myself.