Welcome to Children’s Mental Health Week 2019! I’ve partnered with Children’s Mental Health Ontario to spread the word not only about what they do but also why it’s so important that we’re all aware of issues surrounding children’s mental health!
As a Dad with three- and five-year-old children, I’ll admit that their mental health’s not always at the forefront of my mind. I think about things that contribute to it—giving them a safe environment to express themselves; being present and listening to them as much as possible; emphasising time and time again that it’s more important to be happy than successful by someone else’s standards—but I think there’s some time yet before it becomes part of our regular family conversation.
But I’m not so naïve that I don’t see how important it could become in our future.
Why Children’s Mental Health MATTERS.
Children—and the world they have around them—pretty much change in the blink of an eye. The kids we know today won’t be those kids forever, and the decisions we make today will shape the world they live in tomorrow. They need us to lead by example, make the right choices, and help build a world that sees their cries for help as a priority—not just a phase they’re going through.
And that’s why this Children’s Mental Health Week, we wanted to really drive the point home and explore the various aspects of children’s mental health and why it’s so important to start caring about it now, not when it becomes a problem.
The other night I was typing up a storm in #blkcreatives—by far my favourite Twitter chat right now—when something caught my eye.
That month’s theme was money and money management, which invariably got us talking about how we make money. Black folk are all too familiar with the hustle. We’re raised believing we need to work twice as hard to get half as far as our non-Black peers, but no one discusses the consequences of this thinking when left unchecked.
We’ve never been big on mental health. I sought professional help a few times in my 20s because I just pushed myself too hard. Working hard is important—I don’t have time for those complaining about their lives while doing nothing to change them—but so is finding balance. I’ve spent much of 2017 putting everything I could into growing the brand, but with all the things tugging me in every other possible direction—my family, my job, and my church—I just reached a point where I’d no more to give.
And this sorely affected my writing.
I’m don’t lack things to write—my to-do lists dozens of items deep—but writing is a feeling process. How well you write is completely dependent on how well you feel, so when you’re feeling burnt out, it isn’t doing any favours to anyone.
Something needed to give before it was me who took the hit!
I had to do some real soul-searching to write this one.
16 was a hell of a year for me. So much was going on in my head, and so much was spiralling out of control. Everything I’d worked at for years was unravelling, and it started to become clear that I couldn’t continue what I was doing for very long. Something had to give, and I didn’t know it then, but 16 would mark the death of Casey Palmer as I knew him, and creating something new altogether.
Showing promise from a young age, my parents would do whatever they could to develop the skills they saw within me. My parents raised me to always strive for my best performance, but didn’t teach me as much about balance. I’m a child of the ’80s — a child of 20% interest rates on mortgages and two parents working their butts off to make ends meet. My first 16 years were spent cramming as much into my head as possible.
In hindsight, it all makes sense. Dad would work 70-80 hours a week tending to the restaurant, Mom had to balance 40-50 hours a week at a corporation that ultimately didn’t value her efforts, and come home to keep three rowdy boys in line that sometimes didn’t either. They indirectly raised me believing that the stress, working to the bone in the quest for success and never being satisfied were all just part of life.
And it wasn’t until well into my life as a 16-year old that I’d come to appreciate just how dangerous a combination that could be.
Case in point , the first 16 years of my life were always busy. To give you a brief summary of just how busy that was, this list gives you a quick overview of what I remember from those days:
Age 5-6: Kindergarten – Grade 1, French immersion; piano lessons
Age 7-11: Grades 2-6, Mode 3 education (aka “the gifted program” or “the brainers”), showing aptitude for language, problem solving and math
Age 11: Compete to get into the University of Toronto Schools, earn one of the 78 spots (from 1000+ applicants!)
Age 12-16: Grade 7-12 at University of Toronto Schools:
Deputy Prefect Althouse house
Tenor in the Junior Choir
Various roles, Junior Play (2 plays)
Member of Math Club, Film Qlüb, Impro Club
Track & Field Team (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, long jump, triple jump, high jump)
Half-back, Rugby Team
Volunteer, Square One Youth Centre (Vice-President of the Youth Leadership Committee and in charge of writing grant applications for the Centre)
Volunteer, Trillium Health Centre (Team Lead for coordinating the volunteers; co-editor of Trillium Talks, the volunteer newsletter)
Take-out cashier, Line cook and Host, St. Hubert Bar-B-Q
But Success Has Its Price…
It might sound impressive, but a whole heap of accomplishments can bring its own set of problems:
I never slept. I remember the first time I had to code a website on my family’s 386 when I was 14 years old — and going 5 days straight on almost no sleep to get it done. (We’re talking surviving from Coke and 15-minute cat naps, here….)
I was always broke. I was never home to eat and you don’t make a heckuva lot as a take-out cashier. I remember looking at my bank statements from this time years down the road, appalled at how much I spent on fast food and comic books!
It was never good enough. Despite having many people who cared about my well-being, a number of accomplishments under my belt and knowing that I was making a difference in my world, I was never satisfied. I could never focus on the victory at hand — I was always looking ahead to the next one. What could I improve? What was still on the to-do list? Why aren’t I at their level?
And when you’re not sleeping, always stressed about how much you’ve got left until the next pay cheque and never happy enough to change the habits breaking you down, all that pressure adds up, and the mind can only take so much. For me, it only led to one thing — me, huddled with my head between my knees in the Grade 12 hallway, tired. So tired. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I couldn’t be the son my parents wanted, and I was in too deep to find a way out of the mess I’d gotten myself into.
It was a full-blown mental breakdown.
There’s a Light at the End of Every Tunnel
It would take years to rebuild myself from the low I’d hit, but I’d eventually learn the skills I needed to find my place in this world. I learned that I didn’t need to bend over backward to get everyone to like me. I learned that it was okay if people didn’t like me. I learned that I didn’t need to meet my parents’ every whim to be a valuable human being. I learned that I could pour out every effort within me to make others happy, but if I burned myself out in the process, I was no good to anybody.
But most of all — I learned that there’s no second chances for those who give up, and that’s what’s kept me fighting since that day — another shot at finding a path that makes Casey Palmer… Casey Palmer.
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: