Mental health doesn’t just impact the person who has the illness or disorder, whatever you want to call it. I know some words aren’t as PC as others, but really, with name changes over the years – I feel like I can’t keep up.
Kristen is a mom and her story isn’t about her own mental health, but the health of her son from her perspective as someone who is also impacted daily.
My husband and I had been married for a couple years when we decided to start having a family. After struggling for eight months to conceive, we sought the help of a fertility specialist only to discover we both had strikes against us in the baby making department. We were given only 5% chance to conceiving naturally. After countless surgeries, hormones, failed treatments, we decided to try IVF. We were in the early phases of the process when I discovered I was pregnant. Our miracle son, Caden was born on August 14, 2008 and our life was blissful with this squishy creature.
In the summer of 2011 when Caden was almost 3, I learned I was pregnant again, only to then discover I had a tubal pregnancy and would need emergency surgery. Caden was with us in the ER when the Doctors were speaking to us, and it quite an emotional moment for my husband and I and Caden was witness to everything. Two months later we enrolled Caden in Pre-K3 at a private school. A week after school started, he started waking up every night screaming and crying and the struggle of getting him back to sleep in his own bed proved to challenge us more than those 1st weeks home with a newborn. We spent hours awake every night for three weeks. I took him to the pediatrician – “he’s fine, it’s probably growing pains.” #sideeye
I knew in my gut this couldn’t be it. Not only was Caden not sleeping at night, I couldn’t even leave the room without him going into a mass panic. His separation anxiety was extreme. So, we sought the help of a therapist. After months of sessions, she shared with me that she believed Caden to have anxiety. I thought no way was this possible, he’s just a baby?!?! Caden had shared with his therapist that he didn’t like Doctors because “they made Mommy and Daddy cry, and he was sad.” My heart broke, that this poor child was suffering from anxiety at such a young age. We continued with therapy quite awhile for him, and his anxiety and fears seemed to sub-side for the most part – occasionally rearing their ugly head at times.
Years later, we learned that Caden was struggling in school. We decided to have him tested in the summer of 2015. Caden was diagnosed with combined ADHD. He struggles with all aspects – inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. After countless hours of research and reading, we decided to try him on stimulant medication once he began 2nd grade. The 1st medication was no help and Caden was suddenly crying all the time, so we nixed that in the rear. I spoke with our new pediatrician and shared Caden’s history of anxiety. I told her we thought it was just brought on by a traumatic experience, but had subsided for the most part. She shared with me that many children with attention disorders have a co-morbidity that can vary from learning disabilities to emotional struggles. We decided to try another medication because he was struggling so hard. Initially, it seemed fine. His grades and focus improved, Caden even made the honor roll. Shortly after the new year I began to notice he was having these “fits or meltdowns” over the slightest thing. When told to go to bed, he would become irate. When told it was time to turn off the TV, he would became enraged. When he would lolly-gag in the morning and I was rushing to get him to school so as not to be late for work – he would go into a sobbing, mass panic that fell into a heap on the floor. This went on for months and our happy home was now a nightmare. My husband and I were so beat down, Caden’s older half-brother (who lives with us while going to college) was tired of hearing his brother’s screaming. This sweet miracle baby I prayed so hard for was pushing us to the edge of our sanity. Our pediatrician recommended the help of a psychiatrist. So, off we went. We started bi-weekly appoinments with the psychiatrist and re-introduced weekly therapy while trying to help our son.
In May of 2016 – Caden had a seizure. This was the last day he took the stimulant. After seeking a specialists help, we learned that the seizure was related to fainting spells (which run in my family) and neurologically – he was fine. While the seizure was the scariest moment of my life, it was also a salvation because after it happened I wasn’t going to give him the medication anymore since we weren’t sure what was going on. Within a week – Caden was himself again. No more rage, no more hitting, no more violence. Yes, the anxiety is still there and I think it will always be part of him. Last month while out for a family dinner, he had a meltdown over wanting his salad before his chicken strips….sobbing at the dinner table in a steakhouse. Anxiety in it’s finest form beyond his control.
Caden has started 3rd grade and we decided to try a month without a stimulant. We were so fearful to re-introduce one since our experience with it was dreadful. However, a month into school Caden was struggling again. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t finish his work in class and was bringing home 30’s and 40’s on his work. We decided to give another new stimulant a try because my fear is this will eventually affect his self-esteem…the poor grades because of his lack of focus. Caden’s psychiatrist advised us it can take years adjusting the brands, dosage and delivery of the medication to find one that works. We have started to notice some improvement, yet the anxiety and agitation is starting to increase again. He has night terrors and comes into our room at night screaming in fear. We aren’t giving up….on medication or therapy. We continue with his bi-weekly therapy to teach him skills to help him cope through his fears, and have discussed if this medicine produces the same behavior as the last, well – we know the source and will have to try a new route. I will not give up on trying to help him, we are his advocate.
This experience which I once called a nightmare has become a humbling journey for us. It has humbled my husband to open his eyes be more accepting that true anxiety and fears are not always “just a phase” and something you can control. It has taught me as a mother to stop the judgement on other parents in public with the kid who is screaming out of control in Target….because we don’t always know what battle they are fighting. I have often questioned the Lord as to why this is happening with my perfect miracle……and while I may not ever know the reason – I believe it’s for me. To humble me as a person and as a mother – that having the perfect, poised, well-behaved son who ALWAYS does what he is told – DOES NOT EXIST. And that’s okay. The hot mess express with the mis-matched socks and dirty shirt – who is riding his skateboard on his belly down the sidewalk while dragging a piece of chalk…..and then runs in the house with a flower (okay, a weed) he picked for me…is my perfect miracle, because he is perfect in his own special way.