We didn't know trouble was lurking.
Around 2003, our youngest daughter Kaitlin starting exhibiting peculiar behaviours around age eleven. Things like continually blinking her eyes randomly. She became more withdrawn from her friends. She needed to be around her mom way more than usual. Prone to migraine headaches, she started to have them almost daily. We noticed other signs as well but just chalked them up to perhaps quirky little habits.
When we would ask her about these behaviours she would provide an answer that seemed plausible, after all, we didn't know anything about mental health issues and the signs to be aware of.
In the fall of 2005 her world came to a screeching halt.
It was the second day of school when Donna tried to drop Kaitlin off but she wasn't able to exit the car. As Donna said afterword, "if you could only have seen the sheer look of fear and panic in her eyes that morning."
Immediately when they returned home, Donna opened the phone book and turned to the pages for a psychologist.
The first child psychologist she found was Dr. Kelly Moroz. She called to get Kaitlin an appointment but the receptionist said the first opening was a month from now. Donna pleaded saying you don't understand the condition she's in, luckily the receptionist asked "can you be here in fifteen minutes?"
At the age of twelve, after many counselling sessions she was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and severe anxiety.
None of us knew how difficult the next few years would be for Kaitlin and our family.
There's no such thing as simply saying "get over it" or no "tough love" cure and no amount of hugs and kisses can help.
We faced many agonizing days and nights that tested our strength but we tried to stay strong for Kaitlin.
After more than four years of counselling Kaitlin started to have more good days than bad.
Kaitlin slowly regained a much happier life through her high school years. Dancing was one of her greatest joys and was she ever good!!!
But when faced with a life long illness like mental health the issues can resurface unexpectedly.
The fall of 2012 was an especially difficult time for Kaitlin. She left home for the University of British Columbia in Kelowna with high hopes. As it turned out, her thoughts that she was able to control for a few years returned. This made it impossible for her to continue her schooling in B.C.
Kaitlin returning home to Calgary in a bad state of mind. Not only was she going to need more counselling, now piled high on top of everything, was a huge sense of embarrassment.
Kaitlin regained control of her life again through hard work and determination.
To me she seemed to be in a really good place with a new found strength and resolve to move forward again.
One day we started to revisit a discussion we had a while ago about whether she wanted to share her story publicly.
Kaitlin agreed. Maybe she could help others deal with their own issues by talking about her life.
Kaitlin went public in a very big way. Two National news stories were written about her across Canada. Joe O'Connor of the National Post did an amazing job telling Canadians what her life was and is like living with a life sentence of dealing with mental health issues.
Likewise, Lauren LaRose of the Canadian Press detailed Kaitlin's struggles in an article that captured her spirit beautifully.
This in turn has led to many media requests for Kaitlin. She is phenomenal when speaking candidly about her battle with OCD and Anxiety, whether it's in a public forum or in front of a TV camera.
She's very open about her struggles, mainly her fears of death and disease. These two thoughts were completely debilitating to her to the point where she couldn't leave the house in the fall of 2005 as well as the fall of 2012.
I can speak for our entire family, Donna and Kaitlin's two older sisters Jessica and Megan when I say sharing her story has had a profound impact on all of us.
We have found the response to be extremely heartwarming and equally heartbreaking when people share their very private stories with us.
Most heartbreaking is when families with young children come up to us to talk about their family and we can see the pain in their eyes. We know the battle that lies before them and the hard work needed to find a better existence.
Conversely, it's incredibly heartwarming when strangers including teenagers feel comfortable enough with Kaitlin to ask for a word privately with her to describe to her what they're going through.
As a family have noticed a renewed confidence in Kaitlin since going public in the spring of 2013. She has a strength and a belief in herself now that impresses us and everyone that she crosses paths with.
We can't imagine exactly what she went through in the hardest times even though we with her everyday day but we do know that she showed incredible courage, strength and perseverance to be where she is today.
We know many others are going through this as we speak and many others will be thrown into this battle without even knowing trouble is lingering below the surface but what we do know is that help is available.
Please reach out ask for help, talk to a trusted person in your life, it can get better.