April Spotlight: Donna Heisler

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I just celebrated my sixty-second birthday. For most of my life I have suffered from a severe case of anxiety and depression that has caused me to make poor, self-defeating decisions. My anxiety was so powerful as a teen that I lacked sufficient self-confidence to enter a store and simply ask for a pack of cigarettes. I dropped out of high school as a sophomore and was basically home schooled by my mother.

An intense family dispute with my grandfather forced my father to move our family from Weymouth to Buzzard’s Bay. There as a teen I continued to have a negative relationship with my alcoholic boyfriend until I was twenty-four. This began my long history of being attracted to alcoholics. I realize that this attraction stemmed from the anxiety that caused my low self-esteem, that “I didn’t deserve better.”

At twenty-four, I fell in love with a biker. This lasted only one year. Then for the next fifteen years, I stayed alone and safe helping my sister raise her three children. Sadly, I lost her major support source when my mother had a massive stroke that impacted her thinking, emotional responsiveness and physical acuity. The mom I loved and to whom I told everything was gone, and I became her caretaker.

Then there was a huge fight with my father; he threw me out of his home. I became somewhat of a vagabond. I spent a month homeless in the New Bedford Homeless Shelter, followed by one and a half years at my girlfriend’s house. The accumulation of this history combined with the ever-present anxiety, depression, and bleak future led me to have a mental breakdown. I spent a week in the Arbour-Fuller psychiatric hospital. From there I lived at the Noah Shelter for a year having nowhere else to go. There I met a new significant other who was an alcoholic and a criminal who was to be sentenced to prison for two years. I waited dutifully until his release, and we got married in 2011. He cheated on me; this led to an ongoing separation. Once again, I became seriously depressed, quitting all my mental health prescriptions.

Independence House for Abused Women stepped in to rescue me. They referred me to the Duffy Health Center which in turn connected me to Homeless not Hopeless in September 2020. At my interview I was accepted on the spot and after a few weeks became the assistant manager of Eve’s House.

Today I have confidence proven by the fact that my story is written and published. I smile readily and laugh often. I am open, friendly, and relaxed. I now have a positive working relationship with my husband; he helps me with errands. Most recently I received real love when my housemates gave me a surprise birthday party at a local restaurant. At last, I am safely home and am calm and thriving.