At the age of 17, I suddenly lost my mother to leukemia. Being the eldest of four, I took on the role of a mother and a caregiver.

Between studying full-time and working part-time, there was little time left for anything else, let alone sleep.

Less than 15 years later, I would give birth to our first child who was later diagnosed with Asperger’s. How does one prepare for such a journey?

I spent countless hours doing research, attending workshops, going to doctors’ and other specialists’ appointments, all while building a business. I had no family support, as they all lived in Quebec.

Later, my second child would go through a major challenge of his own, being diagnosed with a series of severe social and school phobias, a debilitating condition that would practically paralyze him with fear. I desperately needed more help.

It was in 2014, while attending a Transition Fair for my oldest child, when I heard about the Alberta Caregivers Association. I registered for the COMPASS program. “Better late than never,” I told myself.

I met amazing people who shared their stories. There is so much value in stories. With COMPASS, I felt heard and understood.

My advice for caregivers is to take care of yourself, as you can only give what you have. In the long run, everybody wins when caregivers care for themselves.

I am continually reminding myself to shed my need to do it all, and to allow myself to ask for help and take time for myself. It’s like when you’re on a plane … you’re told to put on your oxygen mask first before you can then turn around and help your loved ones.

I have met wonderful people on my journey, and I have grown beyond my wildest dreams. For that, I am grateful.