When my daughter was five our family began what was a long journey that led us through a series of heartbreak and moments of unbelievable generosity. My wife and I realized when she was very young that our girl was different. She was precocious, could speak at a level that was beyond many her age, and had an imagination that dwarfed my wife and I. She was always drawn to adults more than other children and when she was four watching her mom walk down our front path said “My mommy walks with grace and beauty in the sun.” Not the typical words you hear from a four year old.
At the same time, she had a fierce and unstoppable temper. She would sometimes rage for two hours at a time and would be extremely difficult to redirect or calm when these moods were on her. So when we arrived in London, in December 1999 we soon realized we would need help. My wife was, and still is, much smarter about this than I am. She understood much quicker than I did that something was wrong with our girl and she began, as she often does, to research and to seek resources in our new community.
Through the great work of All Kids Belong we began to seek informed options regarding what was going on. Mervyn Fox, a developmental paediatrician, was the first to suggest that our daughter may have Bi-Polar Disorder and through a series of endless paperwork and questionnaires we eventually and gratefully ended up at the Child and Parent Resource Institute. CPRI is a very specialized institution in London that serves much of western Ontario and offers families, children, and youth care and resources around mental health. It was there, over the next 13 years, that we would find comfort and help when at times the world seemed not to have a place for our girl.
Our journey has evolved over the last 13years from just trying to understand what was going on with our daughter, to fighting for her rights, to advocating nationally, provincially, and locally for those families, children, and youth that are often confronted by the confusing and difficult world of the child and youth mental health system. But it was CPRI that helped us understand what was going on with our girl, diagnosed her Bi-Polar Disorder at age seven, helped us advocate for the resources she needed in the school system, provided us classes in parenting a child with our daughter’s challenges and hosted an invaluable parents’ support group that showed us that we were not alone on our journey.
We have been helped by Psychometrists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Child and Youth Workers, Behaviour Consultants and many more invaluable people. And through it all, the staff at CPRI has not only been competent but provided us with that most important and life affirming aspect of care, understanding and empathy. They were there when we lost battles and won them, they were there when my daughter became the first child who was chosen as a national face of mental health, they were there for the many public speaking engagements my wife and I did, and they were there when we had no idea what to do. And that’s the most important part of this whole post. They were there, every day, at anytime, for the past 13 years.
Our daughter is about to turn 18 in a few short weeks and she will no longer be at CPRI. Her journey will continue through the adult mental health system and she is working with some amazing people at WOTCH. But is was CPRI that informed and guided us through most of our daughter’s childhood. It was CPRI that empowered us as a family to not only survive but thrive. It was CPRI that created the possibility for our daughter to fully realize her potential and achieve her dreams.
This week we went to CPRI for the last time and held a small celebration as our way of saying thank you to the staff that lifted us out of despair to empowerment. We took homemade muffins, scones, and some special cupcakes to CPRI and invited many of the staff that have helped us over the last 13 years. And they all came. We reminisced, and laughed, and we thanked them for the possibilities they showed us and support they gave us.
I walked out ahead of my family, overwhelmed with gratitude for these people who cared so much, and as I walked out the door, I saw a husband and wife walking up with a young girl and I knew that their journey was just beginning. Their journey, like ours, will be made lighter because of the dedication and care the staff at CPRI had for us and will have for them. That little girl and her family will go through similar ups and downs to ours but they will be supported, listened to, and ultimately will have the opportunity to lift themselves and their girl beyond a diagnosis to a full life.
Thank you is not enough for all that this group of amazing people have done for our family, but it is all I have. Thank you. Thank you for the being there during frantic calls and last minute appointments. Thank you for the many meetings and thousands of hours. Thank you for being there when no one else was. Thank you for being there for the start of our journey and for helping us move on to the next leg of it. Thank you for seeing the bright spark that was our girl and that brilliant light she is becoming. Thank you for all the small moments and all the life changing ones. And most of all thank you for seeing beyond your job titles to the the heart of what we all are together, a community of care and love. Thank you … for everything