By Kristina Rasmussen
When social distancing started in March, I had significant anxiety for my son Emery. He has bipolar disorder and autism. My husband Mike and I, the Walla Walla school district teachers, therapists, and medical professionals have worked hard to support him so he can live to his fullest potential. He was doing well, and I would say he was happy and content. He has two best friends Chey and Jayden. He was finally able to go to school for full days and likes all his teachers. He could sleep through the night, and was no longer self harming or suicidal. He was stable on his medications and was slowly being exposed to mainstream education. He has had good relationships through Parent 2 Parent and enjoys participating in their activities. Mike and I have a real sense of purpose caring for Emery. We are proud of him and ourselves for coming so far.
When the schools closed, it was especially hard when his class transitioned from in person to online learning, I was terrified Emery would lose the positive perspective of school he had gained. I wondered if he would slide back into the severe depression that he was born with because he wouldn’t get the daily exposure and supports needed to maintain his mental health. I was scared that me working full time and Emery getting an hour a day of online learning from his teacher would cause his mental health to deteriorate. I unknowingly started sliding into a depression and my supportive husband followed. I didn’t want this for us. I knew that I needed to change my mind set. This time being positive wasn’t enough. I decided to take action. Social distancing would be “our special time to be together.” We could work on our coping skills and find our joy again. For us, prioritizing time and making plans for adventures that could stretch us. Despite our pandemic anxiety, we had to be open to new opportunities and challenges that were available. We worked at letting things go that were overwhelming and would stifle our mental health.
We are mindful and know the importance of social distancing by wearing masks, washing our hands and using sanitizer when we are away from home and we need daily activity. Emery rides his hover board, jumps on our backyard trampoline, swims in the backyard pool that our neighbors generously allowed Emery to use. We found joy by spending time outside on short trips together. Emery started back with Blue Mountain Therapeutic horseback riding and his long term horse therapist named Scout. He took private swimming lessons at the Memorial Pool, and I was asked to swim with him. It was nice because it enabled me to be out there doing things with him. He did in person one on one classes at In Step Dance Studio, and now he is taking Zoom lessons there. He is excited for the Parent 2 Parent online activities. He enjoyed summer camp and social club. Emery and his friends participated with us at the WWVDN drive through trick or treating and are looking forward to their Christmas party at the drive-in.
We recognize that we are in this situation together, and the struggle of our support people is similar. Teachers, therapists, medical professionals care for us and have had to develop new ways of helping to support us. I recognize that I need to be understanding and have gained a new level of appreciation of what they have done for us in this unusual situation. I realized early that I am not able to teach Emery academics like his teachers do. During “our special time together” academics isn’t that important because it’s really hard, and we aren’t very good at it. I am confident that when the time is right Emery will reach his academic potential. He participates on one hour of online school daily to maintain the skills he has. We haven’t prioritized it enough to turn his school packets back in. I feel it’s a win if we can get online daily and call and text his teachers when needed and send them pictures of what we are doing so we can maintain our positive relationship.
Emery helps me decorate for the seasonal holidays more than he has ever done before. As the need for social distancing continues, I have no doubt we can handle it. We will work on making an outdoor space and enjoy our staycations as a part of “our special time together.” Even though we need to be socially distanced, we are still a part of this supportive community who cares and wants to include us. Our mental health is strengthened by overcoming challenges and finding pleasure with the relationships we have within our home and with our amazing community.