Grace de Vos has struggled with mental health for most of her life, and she's now made the bold decision to talk about it to encourage others to be open-minded so we can all work together to be a better company.
Grace grew up on one of the roughest streets in Papakura, surrounded by unemployment, gangs and violence. From an early age, she also experienced behavioural problems, especially at school. She couldn't handle conflict, would get upset, and as a result she was treated differently.
The school worked with her to try and moderate her behaviour, but she was still bullied – emotionally and physically. Finally, a literacy test astounded her teachers and she was put in an accelerated class. She began doing well, but trouble still followed.
"Things happened in my family drugs-wise that didn't make it OK to live there anymore. I didn't want to be part of that life so I moved away.
"Grace managed to finish school and enrolled at Techtorium Institute of Technology where Patrick, the principle advisor, became a mentor. He taught her confidence, as well as a love of computing, and Grace graduated with a Diploma in PC Engineering that eventually led to her job at Spark.
"Part of the reason I had such a hard time at school is because I have Asperger's, and ADHD … and anxiety, of which Asperger's is really the most troubling. It means I can't handle emotional confrontations. My brain just shuts down. If I can remove the emotion, I can handle it. And at work that's fine … I can prepare for it. I feel really comfortable at Spark."
By talking about herself, Grace hopes she can bring issues into the open. "I don't feel judged by Spark as a whole. That's why I want to speak out so I can show who I am and help people to learn about me, because I know it's hard to talk about."
"I want people who are struggling, to know there are other people out there who are struggling too. People like me. And the best way to get through, is to look inside yourself to gain some perspective.
"Grace supports Spark's Blue Heart Pledge and when asked, "What's the point?", she has a poignant response: "What's the point in not being inclusive? We just need to all work together to be a better company."