The phrase ‘changed my life’ is sometimes bandied about so much that its real meaning can get lost.
Local woman, Gertrude Butler, really has changed her life and she’s never been happier.
Fifty year-old Gertrude was born and reared in the Long Tower area of Derry in 1962.
Along with her four brothers and two sisters she enjoyed a happy childhood.
“I had a great childhood - growing up in the Long Tower was just brilliant.
“I remember one time going to Mass and my brother started mimicking the priest - he had me in stitches,” recalled Gertrude.
Gertrude attended the Wee Nuns school and Nazareth House P.S. before moving on to St. Cecilia’s College.
“I enjoyed school and I made a lot of friends there but I wasn’t the academic type.”
Gertrude left school when she was 16 years-old and went and worked in her uncle’s confectionary shop in Creggan before she got a job working in the Lee factory making jeans.
“I spent about seven or eight years working in the denim factory - it was a great place to work and some of the people I met there were just fantastic.”
Gertrude left the Lee factory to take up a post with Desmond’s in Newbuildings where she spent ten years before getting a job working in her brother and sister’s off-licenses in Creggan and Shantallow.
“I’ve been working in the off-licenses for the last 18 years and I am still there to this day but luckily, I’ve managed to take a few days off on holidays this week - isn’t the weather just amazing,” said Gertrude.
Working is something that comes naturally to Gertrude. She’s worked ever since leaving school over 34 years ago and in between time she managed to raise four children.
“I’ve two boys and two girls. The youngest is 13 and the oldest is 19 - they all still live with me at home in Mountjoy Street.
“Our house can be hectic at times but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she smiled.
Several years ago Gertrude started to feel unwell mentally and after a visit to her local doctor she was diagnosed with depression and to combat the illness she started taking prescribed anti-depressants.
“My typical day would be, get up in the morning, lie on the sofa watching television, do a bit of cleaning, prepare the dinner for the children, go to work, come home, go to bed and then repeat it every day - that was my routine.”
Towards the end of last year Gertrude decided she needed to change her life. She didn’t know where to turn but after hearing about some of the courses and services on offer at the Gasyard Centre on the Lecky Road she decided to give the place a go.
“I am not exaggerating when I say this but coming here has changed my life forever,” said Gertrude.
“I only started coming here in October or November time and already I’ve come off the anti-depressants and I have also lost over four stone.
“If you’d asked me to do this interview back then I would have ran a mile,” she said honestly.
Gertrude has taken part in four health initiatives in the Gasyard Centre; Families Achieving Change Together (F.A.C.T.), the Healthy Homes project, G.P. Referral scheme and the Waist Matter initiative.
“As a result of the way my life was back then I suffered from really low self-esteem but the different courses I have taken part in at the Gasyard Centre have all helped to develop and improve how I feel about myself - my self-esteem has gone through the roof,” she laughed.
“It’s really been the making of me and I think the children have noticed a big change too - I am no longer sitting watching television on the sofa - I am usually down here at one of my classes.”
Gertrude said one of the best developments to come out of the whole process was coming off anti-depressants.
“When I felt low I felt really low so I had to start taking anti-depressants but thankfully now that I have managed to get myself back on my feet I have been able to come of them - it’s been great.”
Throughout the four different courses, Gertrude learned about a variety of things impacting upon her health.
She took part in a healthy cooking initiative and she also received help from F.A.C.T. Family Support Worker, Laura McGuinness and G.P. Referral fitness instructor, David Doherty.
“I don’t think I could have achieved any of this had it not been for the help and support of people like Laura [McGuinness] and David [Doherty]. Christine Carlin has been a big help too,” she said.
Later on this year Gertrude, her brother and her children will spend two weeks holidaying in Florida.
“I can’t wait - I am working all the hours I can to save, save, save.
“I didn’t really think about this until the other day but when I am in Florida it will be almost a year to the very day I started here at the Gasyard Centre - I suppose you could say it’s a way of rewarding myself for all of the hard work I have put in.”
The Gertrude today compared to the Gertrude of 12 months ago is almost unrecognisable.
Some of those who helped her along her way said they can’t get over how much she has changed and some have said her story could act as an inspiration to others.
“If someone had have told me 12 months ago that I would be sitting doing an interview with the Sunday Journal and that I’d lost four stone and come off the anti-depressants in a year I would have thought they were off their head.
“I don’t want to get too ahead of myself because I have a lot of hard work to do to make sure everything remains on the straight and narrow.”
“I would like to say to anyone reading this article who might be in a similar situation to what I was in - there is hope and there is help out there, all you have to do is look for it,” said Gertrude.
For more information on all of the services and courses on offer at the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum contact the team on 028 7136 5330.