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After the Diagnosis

Jul28

by

You can’t make me.

I still recall the first time my son said this to me. He was three years old. He was standing at the top of the staircase and I was at the bottom. I had sent him up to his room for a timeout and he refused, only going as far as the top of the stairs.

We both had our arms crossed. It was a standstill.

It ended when I launched a surprise attack and ran up the stairs. He screamed, ran to his room and slammed the door. I am not sure what he thought was going to happen. Truth be told if he hadn’t run away we would have just continued our stand-off in the hallway, because, like much of this parenting journey, I had no idea what I was doing.

*****

He was 7 when he was diagnosed with an alphabet soup of letters that would follow him, including ADHD, ODD, OCD and a few others that fell by the wayside over the years.

I had been opposed to medication. I was one of those all-natural mothers. My kids didn’t take any medications, ate organic foods. I thought it was all somehow my fault. The psychiatrist had asked me point blank, “If it is you and your parenting, then why aren’t your other children this way.” My mouth opened and closed a few times, but no sound would come out.

It was humbling for me as a parent to sit there in a psychiatrist’s office listening to medication options. It wouldn’t be the last time in my parenting career that I would step over that never-ever-will-cross line in the sand.

He is sweet and sensitive. The problem is his default emotion is anger. He digs in his heels even when he knows it isn’t in his best interest. I have often joked over the years that he would be a model prisoner of war. He could not be broken. Dark humor is what gets you through.

Nothing is perfect. And on the bad days I cling to the words the psychiatrist used, to think of him as an empty toolbox. Most of us come with a set of tools that help us cope with our life, we add to the toolbox constantly over the years, mostly without giving it thought. Kids like my son can’t access their toolbox as easily, the tools that are thrown at them bounce right off, leaving scars and shrapnel that hit those around them. That is the frustration of being the parent, watching the fall-out. Medication is the key that helps open the toolbox.

I wonder what it is like to be inside of his brain. How difficult ADHD really is. I think that all of the people who say that ADHD is a myth and that parents are just trying to sedate normal boy behavior should spend time with kids like him. It is painful to watch someone struggle with the inability to prioritize anything and struggle with keeping their actions and emotions in check. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be the one with all of this swirling around in their brain. A brain where everything takes on equal import– doing the math problem, relating a funny story about a friend, complaining about the noise level in the room, thinking about what to have for lunch the next day. All of those things seem equally important at the same time. All of them require immediate attention.

He is the one who says and does things in the heat of the moment without considering the consequences. They take risks without assessing the consequences. They live in the moment. They are so fun to be around. They are full of ideas. They make you laugh. They are fearless. They have delusions of grandeur. But, they don’t know when to take a step back and stop before it goes too far, and that small but important piece is the distinction between typical teenage boy behavior and my son.

*****

Fast forward 11 years.

You can’t make me.

The scene repeats itself.

Only this time there is no big, bad, scary mommy running up the stairs. The goal has always been self-control, not fear.

I take a deep breath.

You are right. I can’t make you do anything. I can only hope you choose to make the right decision. But, the choice is ultimately yours. But know this, continue to disobey and there will be consequences.

Yeah, like what?

I see a crack in his tough, angry exterior. That he is even asking what the consequence will be is a step in the right direction. A small step, but I take them all as victories.

To be honest I don’t know yet. I hope you don’t push me to that point. I assure you there will be consequences. And they will be swift, severe, and unpleasant. I really would rather not go there. The choice is yours.

I walk away.

That is always the hardest part.

He continues to stand at the top of the stairs. After a few minutes I hear him walk to his bedroom and shut the door.

He made the right choice this time. I can only hope that he continues to as he grows up. In the end, I hope that I have found a way to give him all the tools he needs in his dinged up, battered toolbox.

I hope. Because I have nothing else.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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32 Responses to “After the Diagnosis”

  1. Julie Wills Jul 28 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    Oh gods this made me cry. I live with my own mental disorder as well as both of my children having some of their own. Hope really is all we have. Very well written.

  2. Charity Jul 28 at 1:21 pm Reply Reply

    Truly amazing…a lesson for us all!

  3. Amy Jul 28 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you.

  4. Issa Jul 28 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    I could have written this. Truly, this is a great post Chris.

    I remember when my second daughter was born. She was so mellow and easy and it was eye opening. This is what a normal kid is like.

    ADHD, OCD, Anxiety disorder. My oldest has all the labels too. I thought, if I was just better at this, better parent, better disciplinarian, more consistent. But in truth, all I have to do is look at my two younger kids and I know it’s just who she is. She is so amazing and I can literally see her mind spinning. She’s intelligent and caring and my biggest challenge in life.

  5. jodifur Jul 28 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for writing this. It is so easy to blame ourselves, for our parenting. And sometimes, it is just who the child is.

  6. Lisa V Jul 28 at 2:11 pm Reply Reply

    I have a child with ADD. When people start to say they would never medicate their child I ask them if their child had diabetes would they give them insulin? Because it’s the same thing. My child’s body needs this chemical to function properly. I can’t imagine denying him the medication he needs to get through life.

  7. tanja Jul 28 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’d like to hug you. And your son. You’re doing it right. Both of you.

  8. Ashley Jul 28 at 5:56 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this – these are the kids that I work with every day in my group home. Unfortunately, their parents are not as patient and cannot handle their boughts of rage and disobedience so they are with us. It is more complex than that of course. You’re doing a good job. Walking away is the hardest but most important – giving him the chance to make the choice on his own.

  9. Kay Jul 28 at 9:55 pm Reply Reply

    I also have a 6 year old son with high end ADHD (I have known as a mom since he was 2). It breaks my heart and I like hate to see him struggle. I agree, medication has made a HUGH difference for him but it took a year of trying other options for us to take that step. In the end it was the best decision we have made for our son.

  10. Kay Jul 28 at 9:59 pm Reply Reply

    I also have a 6 year old sone with high end ADHD. It breaks my heart to see him struggle BUT moving to medication (after a year of trying everything else) has made a amazing improvement. It is not perfect and never will be but I agree we do what we can to help the best way we know how and hope/pray for the best

  11. Becky Jul 29 at 8:51 am Reply Reply

    This was really well written. I have an almost 14 yr old son who was finally just diagnosed with ADHD and depression. His default emotion was always anger. After much thought and consideration, we decided to go the medication route and it has honestly changed his life. He is like the child we once knew before this all really got crazy. And it’s so nice to “have him back” now!!

  12. julie Jul 29 at 9:15 am Reply Reply

    Chris, thank you so much for sharing this piece of yourself. This is also a piece of my life. It makes me feel more normal to know I am not alone. 

  13. fj Jul 29 at 9:35 am Reply Reply

    My 6 year old has ADD, but I cannot get her to take medication. We tried the patch, but it didn’t work for her. I think I’ve tried everything to get her to take the pills and she just can’t do it. But, if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.

    Chris says: I taught all of my kids to swallow pills by practicing with tic-tacs. I think it really is a matter of getting over the fear of choking and gagging.

    I have them put a big swallow of juice in their mouth, tip their head back a little, open their lips and drop the pill in. As soon as they feel the pill head to the back of their throat swallow the whole thing and gulp some more big swallows out of their glass.

  14. Melodie Jul 29 at 9:44 am Reply Reply

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I have to agree that it is nice to know that I am not alone.

  15. Barb Jul 29 at 11:34 am Reply Reply

    Chris, you are an amazing writer, and I appreciate hearing your prespective on this. My sisters son is medicated for ADHD, and the whole family talks behind her back about how he has become a ‘zombie’ and is not a little boy anymore. But hearing it put as you have makes me realize that his meds are necessary. thanks! i’ll have others read this to help them understand.

    Barb

  16. Jessica Jul 29 at 11:36 am Reply Reply

    I have a 14 year old son- Diagnosed at age 5-
    Did not get the medication right til age 11! That was 6 years of pure HELL for our entire family! Friends and distant family watched in horror!
    Talk about marital issues caused by his illness- we decided it was easier to take a united front rather than divorce and try to do it alone.

    Kicked out of school at age 5 and 9 did not make for a happy situation. Put him in a very small lenient structured school where the teachers took their time and loved him unconditionally. That made all the difference.
    Puberty and the correct medications have worked wonders in his life- He is now able to function in the real world somewhat normally. We have accepted that he will never be like other kids his age. He hates the outdoors, but relishes in computers, books and anything technical! Hoping that he will find his place in this crazy world and a decent paying job where he can hone his tech skills! I could write a book……

  17. Holly Jul 29 at 12:53 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, this is a powerful post. Thanks for writing it and being so honest.

  18. Holly Jul 29 at 1:19 pm Reply Reply

    This is a powerful post. Thanks for writing it, and for being so honest.

  19. C.Mom Jul 29 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for sharing this— as a teacher I have been on the other side- and a a sister, I watched my parents struggle with my brother’s own diagnosis. And for me, I finally accepted my own diagnosis of depression and started taking meds this year. Medicine is not always the answer, but often enough, it is a part of helping that inner person come back to the surface.

  20. Sue Jul 29 at 2:32 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for this post. If it’s any consolation my ‘difficult’ one matured immensely starting around age 17 – and now at nearly 20 is truly rather delightful and responsible. There’s hope!

    Also, when the counselor asked me if I blamed myself for the stupid decisions he was making at 15 and I said, without hesitating, yes, she told me to get over it.

    It took me awhile to accept that she was right and to change my thinking on that one, but I did and it makes a huge difference.

  21. fj Jul 29 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    How do you get them to not throw up. She throws up everytime. We’ve tried mini m & ms and having her swallow. I’ve tried putting the mini m & m in pudding and then letting her swallow the water, but every time she has thrown up. I just don’t know what else to do. I know her kindergarden teacher was upset I couldn’t get her to take the med. Her first grade teacher was ok with her unmedicated. I’m hoping 2nd grade teacher is like first grade! And I hope my son doesn’t get the same kindergarten teacher.

  22. Adriana Jul 29 at 4:12 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for this. My 8yr old has ADD. Oh heck I have ADD. I’m still figuring out myself as I didn’t know until about 2 yrs ago. You hit the nail on the head when you said everything is important at the same time. Drives my poor husband crazy.

  23. Amy Jul 29 at 9:28 pm Reply Reply

    Our son was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia when he was 9, and what a difference the meds have made (we too were against medication and refused until things got so bad he was going to be kicked out of his wonderful school).  Fast Forward to 2010. He graduated from high school with honors, has been accepted to one of the top universities in the country and was recruited to play a sport there.  HELLO? This is our kid?  The one I cried myself to sleep worrying about for years?
    But the medication helped him focus and the combination of his hard work and our consistent support made all the difference in the world.  The fact that he enjoyed his sport and stayed with it, working hard on and off the field was huge.  Let me also say that he was not a super star athlete as a youngster. Athletic, yes, but it was the discipline that he showed over the years that made the difference.  Without the meds, he could not have focused.  We have tweaked the dosage over the years, and now he actually takes less than he ever did even though he is 6 feet tall and 185 pounds…He also always aligned himself with wonderful friends and has honestly never given us a lick of trouble as a teenager.  Does that mean that he has never done any wrong?  Of course not, but in general we pinch ourselves each day.

  24. Jess Jul 29 at 9:45 pm Reply Reply

    fj, can you crush the pill and put it in applesauce or pudding?  I know you can buy pill crushers at the pharmacy.  I used to work at a school for kids with autism, and that’s how they got some of the kids to take their meds.

    Chris, Thanks for reminding me that my son’s problems (Aspergers) are not my fault.  I knew it, but somehow forgot.  I get mixed up with what is the aspergers and what is just normal teenage behavior.  We just moved and I feel like I’m under the spotlight (again) until the new people we meet learn about him.  But my other kids are just fine so I know my husband and I are good parents.  Thanks for the reminder!

  25. Cindy Jul 30 at 12:45 am Reply Reply

    Hi Chris.  My brother was medicated for most of his childhood.  It was definitely necessary.  A heads up-  be sure he is weened from them.  The doctor told my mom that it would be fine to take him off, and she did, cold turkey, not knowing any better.  His nervous system was rattled and he shakes/trembles.  Another med to control that.

  26. Jen W Jul 30 at 2:37 am Reply Reply

    I am 27 and I still have trouble taking pills… I can finally (just in the last couple of years) do it the way Chris said for the kids, take a big gulp of water and then head back, toss the pill at the back of my throat and swallow quickly, but it still gags me sometimes.

    The best way I’ve been able to get them down without fighting the gagging is to chew up a bite of something (something a little bit solid like a piece of meat or bread, not thin like pudding) until it is completely chewed and ready to swallow – then poke the pill into the middle of the bite right before I swallow it. Kinda gross but it works for me. I guess it doesn’t feel like a pill at all that way, just like a bite of food – whereas with water or pudding it still feels different.

  27. Candace Jul 30 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

    Great great article. Thank you for this piece. It was an eye-opener :)

  28. Laura Jul 30 at 8:29 pm Reply Reply

    Chris – Great article!  Thanks for sharing this part of your life with us as a wonderful example. I know it wasn’t all wonderful along the way, but your writing certainly is.

    I also love your strategies around consequences. “Love and Logic” taught me the same strategies, and I use them daily as a teacher.

  29. sb Jul 31 at 12:43 am Reply Reply

    compounding pharmacies can often make drugs in different forms–the medicine in a pill might be able to be a liquid, a thin-strip that dissolves on the tongue, a patch, or a nose spray.

  30. Kristen Jul 31 at 7:04 am Reply Reply

    Dear Chris, Thank you so much for your insight into the frustrations of parenting a child who can make your head spin. We are currently going through the ADD diagnosis process for our 6 year old daughter. It is so heart wrenching to see such an amazing child so out of control with her emotions. It has been a dream to read this article. It gives me the hope that everything will actually be okay.

  31. Jennifer Jul 31 at 4:09 pm Reply Reply

    I have 2 boys with ADHD and various other issues – SID, ODD, OCD, anxiety, etc. I was one of those parents that swore I wouldn’t medicate my child. That didn’t last long. I appreciate this post because it makes me feel not so alone. Sometimes it is so hard to think that I did something wrong or that if only I did x, then he would be different. Ugh, the doubt never seems to end.

    As for swallowing a pill, my 7 year old can’t do it. So the capsule, we break open and sprinkle it in yogurt and the pill he takes, we bury in a big spoonful of thick yogurt.

  32. Wicked Stepmom Aug 03 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    My 8 y/o has ADD/ADHD and like you his Dad and I prefer not to medicate. It hasn’t come up yet, meaning doctor’s or teachers haven’t suggested it, but he did have a difficult 2nd grade – which was partly due to his Dad and I separating.

    He’s been going to therapy for 6 months and we see an improvement, but I wonder what 3rd grade will bring and if he will be able to control those impulses that were getting him sent to the principal’s office weekly. I’ve read the comments and heard the complaints from his Dad about how ADD meds turn your kids into a zombie. Is it simply a matter of finding the right dosage? Does it have to be all or nothing?

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