By Angela, a PCMH and Adopt4Life Community Parent
Mental illness has been a very real journey for our family over the past 8 years. My daughter was intentionally adopted from Haiti when she was 2 years old and had spent the first 2 years of her life in an orphanage, with a significant lack of quality care and attention to her needs. As a result of these early experiences, she struggles with her own mental health.
At the age of 5, she was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and a Generalized Anxiety Disorder through the Child and Parent Resource Institute (CPRI) in London. At that time, I thought that having a diagnosis would help make sense of things and then they could get better. However, in reality, the diagnosis was just the start of a very, very difficult journey.
Following diagnosis, we made connections with therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and accessed many of the community’s local children’s mental health services (http://www.frontdoormentalhealth.ca/). As time went on, our knowledge and understanding of the supports and services our daughter needed became clearer.
For a number of years, our family literally functioned in a perpetual crisis… If she didn’t sleep, we didn’t sleep, if she didn’t leave the house, one of us didn’t leave the house, if she was distressed, the rest of the house was in chaos. For about a year, we hardly took her out in public to try to save us all, her included, the embarrassment of a serious meltdown in public.
Although our family and friends were helpful and supportive, there was an overall lack of understanding of just how difficult it was to live like this. We felt isolated and misunderstood as parents, because we wouldn’t just ‘make’ her do things, go places or see people. I finally found an organization called Parents for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH) that offered support and a listening ear. Talking with other parents who were experiencing the same things as me drastically reduced my feelings of isolation and shame.
One of our most significant challenges was the transition to school. After 4 years of significant behaviours and aggression in trying to get her into the car to attend school, we formally requested the school’s support to help ease the stress she was experiencing in getting to school. After considerable discussions, the school agreed to put a ‘transition to school plan’ in place to help her. I cannot stress how much of a difference this made in helping her not only get into the building without a significant outburst, but also to help her learn. See, for young people with anxiety, their brain is on overdrive thinking about all the possible things that can go wrong. So as the brain is over focused on these possible catastrophes, it can’t focus on learning and retaining information that is being taught in the classroom. Having this plan in place helped drastically and was no longer needed by grade 3.
The school has been a huge partner to our family in really putting the right supports in place for her (including an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Accommodations such as allowing her to take breaks from class when needed and identifying specific support people within the school, allows her to have the confidence to know that when she’s at school, she always has a supportive back-up plan in place.
She has considerable resilience for all she’s experienced and is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I’m at the point where I recognize that my daughter really is my hero. Anyone who wakes up with the amount of anxiety she has and still gets up to tackle the day like she does is my hero.