Cam Jenkins: Journey to physical and mental wellness

written by Mary Dufton

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Cam Jenkins: Journey to physical and mental wellness

by Mary Dufton

Cam Jenkins believes that everyone has challenges – some are just more noticeable than others.  He dreams of a world that is more inclusive where people with disabilities will not be treated as second class citizens.  He strives to be a positive voice to change people’s perspective on disability and mental health.

The 49-year-old Brampton resident has spina bifida and hydrocephalus.  He’s in good health due to years of physical activity and self-care.  Except for a shunt revision as a teenager, he considers himself to be quite healthy. He focuses equally on maintaining his mental health. Whenever possible he encourages everyone to engage in conversations about this often-taboo subject.  

“Mental health is beneficial and a needed conversation to have.  So many people are ashamed.  I reach out to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and other similar organizations when I need to.  From meeting others through CMHA, I realize that my issues are like theirs and I am not alone.  Many people do not know what to do when they are stressed or anxious.  They need tools in their toolbox to deal with their feelings better.”

Growing up, Cam was treated the same as any other child without a disability.  He recalls his older sister Kim and his parents as always pushing him to do better and always being supportive.  Cam’s parents pushed him to try T-ball, swimming, and other sports. He also was in the Beavers and Cub Scouts.

He transitioned to adaptive sports in secondary school when introduced to them through the Erin Oak Treatment Centre, now Erinoak Kids. “When I was in school, I did not know very many kids with disabilities.It was nice to relate to other people like me, to know more about their issues which helped me deal with my feelings of having a disability.”

“My parents were there through thick and thin through my journey to mental health and have helped me adapt to the challenges of it. They researched depression and anxiety so they could educate themselves and treated me differently from what they learned and as a result, I felt better.”

Although Cam tried very hard to be like everyone else, with aging, he has learned to accept his limitations and accept that he does have a disability.  ‘’It’s a fine line,” he says.

For the past five years, Cam has been employed with Easter Seals Ontario as a Services Administrator.  He inputs data and assists clients with equipment funding and registration through their grants and supplies program. 

“About two years ago, I took time off from work because I was struggling with my mental health.  I began taking medication and seeing a therapist through CMHA and through my employer.  It was nice to talk to a therapist because they are impartial, unlike friends and family who do not have the specialty or skills, although they may care a lot about you.  I learned through therapy that I have feelings and it is ok to feel them.” 

Cam is grateful that his employer has always been supportive of both his mental and physical health, giving him the flexibility to work from home four days out of five.

Cam knows that physical activity is key to staying mobile, healthy and independent.  “ I make sure I look after myself and do what I need to do to stay healthy, like motivate myself to exercise.” He has participated in para ice hockey, swimming, shot put, javelin and discus. 

Unfortunately, in June he became ill with COVID-19, aurinary tract infection, tendonitis, fell and hurt his tailbone.Before that happened, he was working out six times a week doing cardio and strength training.Cam hosts a podcast on disabled sports called #TheNeutralZone through broadcaster Accessible Media Inc., with three other athletes who have disabilities.The podcast is designed to encourage people with disabilities to be involved in sports and to share the trials and tribulations of being an athlete with a disability.The podcasts are available at:@ApplePodcasts: https://apple.co/3yU4qj5 or @googlepodcasts: bit.ly/3TIXWBM or  Neutral Zone on YouTube: bit.ly/3F0Pnly

Cam is grateful to Hydrocephalus Canada for their support.He has attended monthly online meetings, created his own video on depression, anxiety, spina bifida and hydrocephalus. He shared his experience of mental health as one of the keynote speakers at last year’s Annual General Meeting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZs4J2HP9ac&t=55s  

To reach Cam Jenkins on twitter: twitter@NeutralZoneCamJ

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