The Hub Leah Stienstra: hardship and healing
Transforming Lives: Learners at AU

Leah Stienstra: hardship and healing

By: Leah Stienstra

Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by AU students and alumni who want to acknowledge how AU has helped shape their lives.

It’s a space for those who want to thank the people who have helped to support and transform their lives through Athabasca University; all while looking forward to their future educational and personal potential.

Their stories are worth shouting from the rooftops! Have an inspiring story of your own to share? Email us! We’d love to hear it.

Wake-up call

On April 6, 2011 at approximately 4:15 I was at a crosswalk in Bangkok, Thailand—after reading a BB (text) message and laughing, my next memory that exists is waking up in a hospital bed with this constant compulsion to smile and love (because I had been given morphine). I had been hit, as a pedestrian, at 80 km/hr by a drunk driver. The instant my cannibis-induced laughter began, was the instant my heart stopped. It was the instant I once again spoke with death.

Despite the fact that my human body totaled the drunk driver’s SUV, I had zero injuries from the vehicle’s impact. My only injuries were from the ground which my body was thrown into after the crash. I did not recognize this period of time back then, but (the accident) was a wake-up call from death to remind me that I did not die (years earlier).  November 1, 2007 was my first experience with intimacy and sex which was filled with torture, violence, and powerlessness stealing my body, my life, and my integrity.

(After the accident in Thailand, the feeling of) USELESSNESS triggered memories in my senses that felt identical to the ones I had already gone through. Screaming for someone to hear me, hear the truth—screaming, but no sound is heard. All that is seen from the outside world is my fighting body, my dramatic silence, my compulsion for attention and power.


The people, maybe the world, that were watching me were not aware of the titanium soundproof box that was trapping me, slowly suffocating me. The outside world did not hear my voice, my cries for oxygen, my fight for love, my fight to fix the errors, to heal their stress with truth, with clarity, with love. My screams to open the door, and hopes of that if they open it, they will understand, and I will breathe.

At 4:15 (on April 6, 2011), I was rescued. I survived. I am alive. It took me two years of poverty, hard work and determination to realize that despite being alive, I was not living. Having been so alone in every sense and every feeling and every thing it was only after more loss, more running in circle-after-circle-after-circle, more poverty, more disassociation from self, more loss, and more hope. I realized I was taught in early childhood that threat is love, love is death, and death is nothing compared to sense of fear that ate up my whole identity. With it came the shame that exposed my naked body to the glass shreds of air that stole every breath from its passage.

An open door

It wasn’t until summer 2018 when members of financial AID, student counselling/advising, and the office of students with disabilities at Athabasca University opened that door without question. That breath of fresh air that hit my lungs brought back a lost, or rather a stolen, sense of hope back into my dreams and into my life. Three years of continued support to assist me in accomplishing the courses that I set out to do. Courses that have been completed and are near completion; courses that have built a new, old, and present foundation that have turned the undefined darkness to be defined by luminescence (astronomical population diversion and chaos). This foundation has crafted my dreams into movements of today and has opened my invisible titanium soundproof door, so that for the first time I hear the echo of my voice and all that I feel is hope.

I wasn’t given up on, or made useless, or wrongly accused and punished, or unprotected—nor did I ever feel misunderstood with a silenced voice. Instead of death, hope came to remind me to keep living and to never give up. At Athabasca University I have been gifted with sufficient space and time to find my steps again and feel the secure sense of my feet touching the ground, the earth. I was supported for the second time in my life, and that sense of stability reactivated my determination and my motivation to never give up on those dreams within, and to always let hope lead the way.

A path forward

I will not lie, has been very difficult to self-teach and/or self-initiate and sustain healthy study routines at a distance with, or without, the added traumatic processing or the Autistic experiences—but, despite the latter I have never been more supported at an institution than I have been at Athabasca University.

I am an Autistic woman, I am a survivor, I am a human being, and I, as well all other human beings, have the potential to dream and to accomplish. I have an immense sense of gratitude towards Athabasca University for not giving up on me three years ago, and for continuing to believe in and trust in my capability to accomplish. That belief reminded me to believe in myself.

Thank you Athabasca University for helping me to recreate the lost key to unlock my potential. MD-pHD research in mathematical consequence in neuropsychiatry/neuroscience after my second degree completed at AU is my goal, my dream and my passion to build a career working in the field of mental health and medical wellness, and family rehabilitation.

Knowledge is power, and at Athabasca University I have been able to rebuild my power

“I am an Autistic woman, I am a survivor, I am a human being, and I, as well all other human beings, have the potential to dream and to accomplish.”

– Leah Stienstra
Leah Stienstra is a 33-years-old woman who has high-functioning Autism. She is currently enrolled in applied mathematics with Athabasca University. Leah is the sole owner, director, and officer of painted CONNECTIONS healing. She also is the company’s Ayurvedic practitioner, visual artist, children’s mental health program creator, and respite worker. Painted CONNECTIONS healing strives to build stress management tools through the use of mindful art exercises, movement, and inter-familial collaboration so that children, families, and individuals are able to carve out and create a unique accomplishments that will unlock the doors to their own potential.
  • April 23, 2021
Guest Blog from:
Leah Stienstra