Summoning strength to ask for help

An agency partner helped Geraldine realize just how strong she is.

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38-year-old Geraldine loved to care for others, so when she couldn’t do it anymore, it was devastating.

“I always looked after my family and friends. Even my job was about helping people; I was a rehabilitation assistant,” she said. “That was who I was.”

Geraldine was involved in several car accidents, and in 2007, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. As a result of the accidents and fibromyalgia, she developed debilitating symptoms, which made it impossible for her to work or even do everyday tasks.

“I have so many issues – memory deficits, insomnia, acid reflux, depression, anxiety, numbness in my limbs, vision sensitivity, jaw problems – even eating requires concentration,” Geraldine said. “I get tired very easily. I can’t walk well or drive anymore, so I need help going shopping and getting to medical appointments.”

Even the medication to ease her symptoms didn’t help, as she experienced major side effects, such as headaches, lack of appetite, and suicidal thoughts.

When Geraldine was working as a rehab assistant providing homecare visits, she was unaware she had fibromyalgia. In extreme pain, she would often cry in the car before seeing her clients.

“I didn’t want them to see me in pain,” she said. “I didn’t know I had it. I thought it was aches and pains from getting older; I was in denial.”

Currently, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia.

“My symptoms never go away,” she said. “And now I have to accept that I’m on disability because of my fibromyalgia, and I have to rely on others for help.”

In 2013, Geraldine learned about the Fibromyalgia Support Group in Winnipeg, and in 2018 she joined the Manitoba Brain Injury Association, which are part of Society for Manitobans with Disabilities’ (SMD) self-help initiative, SMD Services. SMD is a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency that provides services and support to people with disabilities throughout the province.

Summoning strength to ask for help - United Way Winnipeg

Geraldine with Angel Prefontaine-Gibson, a Program Facilitator at SMD

“I’ve learned that it takes courage to ask for help.”

Geraldine said every day is a challenge for her to accept her situation, but she’s proud of herself for trying, and she’s grateful to be part of a group that understands and accepts her.

“There’s a web of support for me that I didn’t have before,” she said. “And I’ve met others in similar situations. I know I’m not alone.”

Geraldine was also introduced to SMD’s financial empowerment programs. Angel Prefontaine-Gibson, a Program Facilitator at SMD, helped Geraldine with her taxes through their free tax clinic. Geraldine is now applying for her disability tax credit (DTC), which can help individuals with a disability, or supporting a person with a disability, reduce the amount of income tax they may have to pay. Having the DTC will also allow Geraldine the opportunity to receive the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), to help her financially in the future.

Angel said each year the number of participants at SMD’s free tax clinic has grown significantly.

“Last year, we had 167 appointments and filed 193 returns, including back taxes. And this year our goal was 200, but we had 279 appointments and filed 340 returns with more taxes still being done,” said Angel.

Angel facilitates the Money Management Program at SMD that Geraldine also took part in, with which SMD partnered with SEED Winnipeg. The program helps people on a low income save for needed assets while building money management skills. Geraldine is currently saving for a couch, and she is hoping to take part in the Individual Development Program (IDA) to save for a health-related need.

Geraldine said Angel really is an angel. “If it weren’t for her, I’d still be stuck in a dark place,” she said. “I’ve learned that it takes courage to ask for help, and with all the help I’ve received from SMD, I’m just so grateful.”

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