This is my first year participating in Ride Don’t Hide. To be honest, it is totally new to me – the Ride, but not the stigma that is associated with mental health.
As a Human Resources professional, mental health is at the forefront of what I experience every day. I currently lead and champion our organization’s human resources function. That means I work hard to establish a positive work environment for those around me, build organizational accountability through regulatory compliance, assessments, succession planning all the while navigating privacy challenges. Throughout my complex day, I see the humanity of employees – their daily work obstacles and struggles, their personal lives that can have wide varieties of mental health and substance issues for them or their friends and families, and sometimes traumatic experiences that have begun to frame how they “show” up to work.
In my personal life, mental health plays a much bigger role. I am the mother of a child who lives his life with many mental health challenges that will impact him throughout his lifetime.
In addition to diagnoses reflecting developmental, neurobehavioral difficulties (Autism Spectrum Disorder and a Specific Learning Disorder), he experiences significant anxiety demonstrated through his symptoms associated with “Just Right” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He has rigid thinking patterns, distress at small changes in routine, and hypersensitivity to sensory input. All this and he is 10.
My son has extreme difficulties with being wet – rain, sweat, pools, baths, hand washing, showers…picture your daily life and avoiding this feeling. He challenges his mind and body every day to overcome this feeling, and will need to continue to do this his whole life. When we drive by any body of water, he asks, “how deep is that water? Will I drown in that water?”
I regularly take him to the beach (he wears compression shirts to feel safe) and he doesn’t go past his knees in the water. For baths, there is maybe 4 inches of water in the tub but we make it work. We tried swimming lessons for a while but he was convinced his teacher was “trying to kill him” by asking him to tread in water over his head. We have now started going for pedicures where he puts his feet in tubs of colourful bubbling water. We celebrate every time he completes the “RIDE” through his anxiety peaks.
As his parent, I am regularly told by other parents:
“He doesn’t need a bubble, just tell him to do it and he will ‘get over it’ You are too overprotective.”
“He looks normal to me, he can’t have ASD.”
“Maybe he should go to a special school, and not take up resources at a ‘normal’ school.”
Despite some significant challenges, he enjoys social interactions, is well-mannered and polite and is a Junior Leader in his school environment. Since he “mirrors” the behaviours of other children, he makes friends easy because kids say, “he is just like me”. This does make it tough when he cannot discern who is a true friend and who is not, which causes additional challenges in his social interactions.
Without early mental health supports which have included cognitive behavioural therapy, occupational therapy, involvement in a sensory gym, hearing and speech therapy, he would not have been able to develop tolerance for situations that make him feel uncomfortable- feelings he experiences every day. We have been so fortunate to have amazing community supports which include his personal Child Psychologist, Occupational Therapists, Elementary Learning Leaders, fantastic classroom teachers, patient dentists, and supportive Principal.
Sensory processing, social communication, transitions, and life skills will be a life long journey of development for him. He is so strong and yet so fragile at the same time, and will continue this way through his lifelong journey. He is awesome and I am proud of his accomplishments every day.
Professionally and personally, I will always be thankful to the Canadian Mental Health Association and all that they provide to our communities.