Founder & Principal, Liberty Co
Generalized anxiety and anxiety related to autism

Wanda Deschamps wasn’t diagnosed with autism until her 40s, but always knew she was different as a child growing up with anxiety. It wasn’t until both her sons were diagnosed with autism that Wanda realized she might have the condition too. A complete breakdown at work and subsequent diagnoses caused Wanda to start her recovery journey. With the help of family, friends, and health care professionals, she focused on her well-being and is now living a fantastic life as the “Real Wanda” providing consulting on inclusive leadership, entrepreneurial thinking, and employee retention, while also destigmatizing autism and other neurodiverse conditions.

Wanda’s Story

How has your condition impacted your life? 

My autism and anxiety caused me to struggle academically and socially starting in childhood. I was teased, bullied and mistreated by my peers. For this and other reasons, I lacked self-esteem and thought I was stupid. At the same time, I lacked self-awareness, which caused further struggles, especially with interpersonal relationships as I aged and and especially in the workplace. There was always a duality though – in many ways I was outwardly successful, understood, had friends and advanced in my career. The dual nature of my existence was confusing to me as I often did not know where I stood in relation to others.

When were you first aware of your condition and what was your most difficult time? 

I always knew I was different; however, I did not attribute it to a different brain makeup until I was in my 40s. My grade nine, when I was 14 years old, was a very turbulent time, and the period when I was 41-45 was a time of complete upheaval. When I turned 40, my family and I relocated, and I noticed marked struggles interacting with some people in the workplace. The start of our second move was better, but then my mental health began deteriorating through the late fall of 2016 and winter of 2017 so that by the spring, it was almost debilitating. My mental health hit a crisis point and by May, I had a complete breakdown at work. Our younger son was diagnosed with autism that same month (our older son had been diagnosed a few years prior), and at my own doctor’s appointment, I asked my family physician for a psychological assessment, explaining: “I think I have it too.”

What is your life like now? What does success and living well look like for you?

My life now is fantastic – family, friends, community, work. I never knew life could be like this, meaning that I could be so happy and relaxed. I live according to my own values and principles. I call it living life as the “Real Wanda.” My husband and sons are the centre of my world and I can truly support them and be there for them as I do not feel weighted down by anxiety and confusion. That being said, I am always sure to pay attention to my own well-being as I know I cannot sustain being there for them if I do not take good care of myself.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?

Taking charge of my mental health with the support of a team of health care professionals. Receiving diagnoses leading to self-awareness. Placing a dedicated focus on mental well-being through therapy. Transitioning to entrepreneurship from an office work environment. Depersonalizing situations and experiences. Setting boundaries so that others’ issues and/or moods do not adversely affect me. Surrounding myself with people who support me and challenge me in positive ways.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

Practice mindfulness. Adhere to work/life balance. Ensure discipline around my physical well-being through diet and exercise. Access health consultations when required. Focus on relationships with family, friends, and community members. Pull in resources to help me both professionally and personally. Read and watch stories of others who have experienced adversity. Maintain perspective around the gravity of matters.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition?

Yes. Resiliency. Perspective from adversity. Increased empathy and compassion for others. Patience knowing that things will get better. Appreciation for all that I have because things have improved so much.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

Autism provided me strengths in the workplace; however, my lack of diagnoses caused challenges. My work is now related to my condition. My firm is a consultancy focused on increasing the participation level of the neurodiverse population in the workforce with a special emphasis on autism. I focus on inclusive leadership, entrepreneurial thinking, and employee retention. My motivation is to help create a smoother path for others. I also wish to help destigmatize autism and other neurodiverse conditions.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?  

Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts and follow your path based on your judgement.

What motivated you to join The Stability Network?

Leah Eustace told me about it and I welcomed the opportunity to share my story to help create a smoother path for others and contribute towards destigmatizing mental health challenges.

What resources (books, videos, websites) have helped and/or inspired you on your journey?

Autism in Heels by Jennifer Cook

Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenbeg

#WeThe15

I am an adherent of the #InclusionRevolution: a worldwide movement launched in 2018 to spearhead broader thinking about disability, especially disability employment.

Is there anything else you want to say or share?

Autism is still underdiagnosed, and misdiagnosed, in girls and women, so I also share my story to increase awareness as an autistic woman. Here are some articles about my story.

Broadview: I learned I had autism at 46. I now understand myself.

Reader’s Digest: I Was 46 When I Discovered I Was Autistic. Suddenly My Life Made Sense.

The Globe & Mail: How are workplaces supporting Canadian workers with disabilities?