Suddenly managing schooling and health care during a pandemic, on top of working and parenting, Lynn Valley’s Lisa Bournelis turned to writing for respite. Her first novella hit the shelves at the local library and online stores in July, and she hopes it will help kids with their mental health.
Being a parent is hard. Being a parent of a child who is unwell is harder. Being a parent negotiating the mental health system is exhausting. For Bournelis, her journey into this world began a couple of years ago as her son showed signs of obsessive compulsive disorder.
“As a parent, we can’t step in and can’t make this go away – that was the hardest thing ever,” she said. “I started to see these compulsions and I was unwittingly enabling him.”
Bournelis credits her son’s hard work, the care of the BC Children’s Hospital, and its exposure and response therapy (ERP) for his improvements. According to Dr. S. Evelyn Stewart, the medical director of the Provincial OCD Program, OCD is a disease characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions that cause significant distress, take up a great deal of time or limit a person’s functioning. An obsession is a repetitive, intrusive thought or image, and a compulsion is a recurrent action or mental act that is intended to reduce distress related to the obsession.
“It’s horrible – not what is portrayed in the movies like washing your hands a lot, or compulsions shown in a funny way,” Bournelis. “That is not what it is. It is a compulsion that if you don’t complete it something horrible will happen to you or your family. Therapy has been incredible, to learn OCD ‘lies’ to you. One in 40 people globally has OCD. People are good at hiding it.”
Despite it typically beginning between seven and 18 years old there is little information readily available to parents and schools. Frustrating because early intervention can help prevent adult crises, she said.
“It’s actually very debilitating.”
Cutoff by Covid
Similar to school and other health supports, when the covid pandemic began Bournelis’s family also lost access to therapy.
“A lot of the good, hard work he had done, was undone,” she said. “Like many parents with children with complex health needs, we found ourselves unable to access therapy when we needed it most. We had to go back to look at our notes and step in as therapists.”
Soon the repetitive days were wearing thin.
“I was really stuck – it felt like a perpetual groundhog day,” she said. “I set an intention to write every day as a release. The story of Louie and the Dictator flowed out and I hope it helps other anxious kids. I poured my heart and soul into this book.”
With fingers to keyboard Bournelis penned the story of Louie and the Dictator.
“I wrote an uplifting children’s novella that will help anxious and neuro-divergent children see themselves as heroes of their own stories. They will be able to apply some of the fun ‘tools’ in the story to help them remain calm, or shift mindsets,” she said.
Her son offered important insight and enthusiasm during the writing process.
“He loves it,” she said. “He is my biggest cheerleader. I did consult with him throughout the process and ask how he feels, if he wants it published. He was very much a collaborator. He would give insight into his compulsions and I also added in others he didn’t have. A lot of the experiences you will read about did happen to him or our family.
“He is loving reading the reviews coming in and knowing he is helping other kids.”
The story also weaves in aspects of the pandemic. Bournelis says she wanted to help address the ongoing challenge and growing anxiety facing children.
“We have all experienced trauma in the last 18 months,” she said. “The health care system is seeing more mental health concerns, more agoraphobia, more anxiety, more repetitive things because people are worried now. This isn’t just my son, this is the experience of many children. They are worried about the air they breathe, what school will look like, will they see their friends.”
One of her goals with the book was to support the very programs that helped her son. Bournelis will be donating some of the profits to the OCD program at Children’s Hospital. The other goal was to empower children.
“This book shows that kids can have control, that change is incremental and small shifts can improve our circumstances.”