Contributions by Kim Rosenlund, PRN Senior VP, Marketing
I remember sitting on the front porch, tears rolling down my cheeks. It was a warm summer day in what was typically a buzzing neighborhood, but the impact of COVID-19 in the area made the streets eerily quiet. My head hung low and I held my cell phone tight in my hand. I had just hung up with my son’s pediatrician and was given the same ‘ol story that the school had told me: “This is out of our scope. We aren’t sure how to help.” My son, a husky 9-year-old kid with a heart bigger than his warm smile, had been acting out the past few months.
The isolation from his peers and friends, along with the removal of any familiar structure he was used to, had turned my lovable son into an irritable, angry, impulsive and extremely sensitive little boy. At the same time my 11-year-old daughter, who had been a bubbly, socially engaging little girl, couldn’t get out of her bed and had voiced that she felt life wasn’t worth living much anymore.
As I sat there, I looked at my phone. I had ten minutes before my next meeting began. I had started with PRN right at the beginning of COVID. Saying things had been stressful and intense professionally during this time was an understatement. Here I was trying to navigate my way with a new employer during a global pandemic while both my children were not ok. “Overwhelmed” was a word that hung constantly in my thoughts.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew from my own mental health struggles how I would handle this if my children were adults, but they were kids. Young kids. Where was the playbook on pediatric mental health? At the moment, there weren’t many resources and I felt helpless. As I stood up, I decided that no matter what it took, I would get my kids help. I would go the ends of the earth to get them the support they needed, and no matter what I would not give up.
As the weeks went on, so did the phone calls, the doctor appointments and the meetings for my kids — all while I was juggling a full-time, executive level job. What I discovered is that to address what was really going on, I needed to create a giant network of support for them that worked together and was on the same page. I started to build and connect the network. This network consisted of their pediatrician, neuropsychologist, psychiatrist, school social worker, school counselor, private tutor and private counselor. At the time, all these individuals were operating in silos. While they were doing their best to assist my family, they were all moving in different directions without any real clear path to a plan. My goal: open the lines of communication and form a plan.
During this time, my new employer barely knew me. I was working remotely out of Chicago while most of my colleagues were working remotely out west. I hadn’t even met most of them in person yet. Due to the emotional toll and time I was devoting to assisting my children, I knew I had to share my family’s circumstances with my boss and HR, as all this could take me away
from work from time to time. I had learned my lesson from previous employers that most bosses don’t want to hear that you have issues with your kids, and I assumed that by bringing my personal life into my professional life at PRN, I would be flagged as a “problem,” who was not fully committed to her role. While I was terrified to share my current situation, I knew I had no other choice but to be transparent.
What transpired was something I had never expected.
Our head of HR at PRN was not only supportive, but regularly checked in with me to ask if I needed anything and if things were going ok. She continued to tell me that my kids were the number one priority — something I had rarely heard in my 20-year long career. Receiving this level of support from a workplace during such a difficult, complicated time — it’s hard to even express how much that meant to me and the impact it had on the entire situation. I didn’t have the additional stress of work not understanding or supporting my family’s journey. And at the time, I’m not sure I could have handled that on top of everything else.
After months of non-stop coordination and follow-ups, my kids finally had the network and support they needed. I started to see a change in them. The best way I can describe it is that it was like two wilted flowers that were given sunlight and water. The light came back into their eyes and within time my kids were back. They were laughing and smiling again. Only this time, they had a team of people surrounding them making sure that they were learning to work through, talk about and cope with all the feelings and thoughts they were having. They had a team teaching them about self-esteem, self-confidence, boundaries and social cues.
Today, mental health is something we talk about openly, every day in my family. My kids understand the importance of it and to our family, mental health is something we will always be working on and living with. It will forever be a part of my family’s story. My children don’t see it as a stigma or feel shame, they are proud of the focus, awareness and commitment they have dedicated to their mental health. We share our story because we know we aren’t alone.
I have also realized how important it is to work for an employer like PRN who understands and prioritizes mental health among its employees. Without their support, I’m not sure this story would have ended the way it did. Because of PRN’s support, I was able to take care of my children’s needs much more quickly and efficiently.
Through it all, my family is stronger, healthier and happier. I don’t take a single moment for granted and the tears and overwhelming feelings are few and far between now. Every laugh, giggle and random hug, I hang on to just a little bit longer and tighter. We continue to live by our family motto, “We are not normal, but we are exceptional.” To all families out there who are struggling with mental health, don’t stop fighting and never give up. Be proud of the fight and hold your heads high for you may not be normal, but you are exceptional.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem, there are resources available to find out more information or get connected with help.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency.