Crisis line volunteer Elissa* is no stranger to dealing with life’s hardships. She endured years of struggle and overcame many challenges before finding her way to Distress Centre, and she said that she’s been able to leverage the lessons she’s learned in her personal life to better support Distress Centre’s service users.

Elissa worked as a trauma and intensive care nurse before changing careers to pursue account executive and adult educator roles still within the healthcare industry.

“Professionally, everything seemed to be going as planned until 2016 when I was laid off due to corporate restructuring, secondary to Calgary’s economic downturn,” said Elissa. She had difficulty finding full-time work after being laid off and began working odd jobs instead. “This is how I was introduced to the gig economy.”

Enduring tough times

Elissa worked a variety of gigs, including teaching children to read and write, catering and even tree removal.

“I’ve never physically worked so hard in my life before,” Elissa says of tree removal. “Tree stumps are heavy!”

Though she was working very hard at several jobs, Elissa was still struggling financially and mentally.

“I was down to my last $500 and would not be able to pay my bills the following month,” Elissa said. “It was a dark time in my life because despite everything I had done to get back on my feet, nothing had worked. I was still drowning, unemployed – and now I was facing the possibility of homelessness and financial ruin.”

Elissa’s ongoing challenges brought her to a dark place mentally. Though she says she did not have a suicide plan or intent, she experienced thoughts of suicide as a way to escape her struggles.

“Friends and family who had never gone through this type of experience didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and I felt so alone. There was so much frustration, self-loathing and pain.”

Elissa had done everything “right” in life. She had gone to school, achieved good grades and was a good employee. Yet here she still was in an impossible situation, an experience that sadly countless others have shared. Anyone can do everything “right” and still experience crisis.

Volunteering at Distress Centre

Thankfully, Elissa’s situation has improved – she is gainfully employed and living with her parents while she gets back on her financial feet. She is working towards becoming a 911 dispatcher and feels that her volunteer experience at Distress Centre will help her achieve that goal.

Elissa said that she hopes that what she has learned during her dark years benefits Distress Centre’s service users who may be experiencing similar hardships.

The three lessons Elissa has learned are:

  1. No one is immune to crisis or trauma
  2. It’s important to have multiple sources of support and as well as a self-care practice
  3. Success and failure isn’t black and white – “It’s more of a continuum in that I have learned to move forward in the grey by taking small steps towards my goals.”

She started volunteering at Distress Centre in late 2020 and we are grateful to have her.

“Elissa has been a shining example of what it means to be part of a community of care,” said Sarah, Elissa’s mentor. “She is deeply passionate about helping our callers as well as her fellow volunteers. She has an energy that lights up a room and makes everyone smile and feel heard.”

Thank you Elissa!

Interested in volunteering? See our volunteer opportunities.

Help us provide compassionate support to those in crisis by making a donation in support of our volunteers:

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*Elissa’s name has been changed as she requested to share her story anonymously