For the last 7 months, I have been ghost writing nearly every day for money (don’t ask… privacy agreement), and often write “for myself” as well. Even though I have been writing in one form or another my entire life, I have decided that now that I actually make money by writing, I’m officially allowed to call myself A Writer.
The art snob inside of me who believes creative people create because they want to and have to and not for money balks at this financially-based definition of creative person labeling legitimacy, however, because I don’t think you have to sell art to be an artist, sell poetry to be a poet, nor do you have to sell music to be a musician.
But I have to admit there is something extremely validating about the fact that I bought the new laptop upon which I’m presently typing with money I made putting words together into sentences and then into paragraphs. Finally, after years of working in retail, customer service, and in the restaurant industry, my not-passing-one-algebra-class-away-from-an-English-degree pays off. Will wonders never cease?
That said, I haven’t been able to write anything for over a week. Not for my job, and not for myself.
This is because I feel like a dandelion has been plucked from the yard of my sanity and blown away into the wind. Scattered. Uncertain. Scared. Each tufted seed representing something lost. Look at my last expectation flying away! There goes that dream! There goes my belief in myself as a parent! Fly away, small parts of my self-perception! Goodbye, you fluffy little unrequited hopes!
I say this because when we started my son on ADHD medication last week, it felt like something inside of me broke. I felt it give; the surface worn thin by constant pressure finally snapping. It felt like the shell covering my soul cracked. I won’t give you any more flower analogies, or compare my soul to an eggshell, or anything silly like that, I promise. Just let me simply say that I felt broken. Quite suddenly, unexpectedly broken.
And I still feel broken. I’ve been a mess. I can’t write. I can’t focus. I’m one Xanax away from a panic attack all day long. I hop on Facebook, crack a few comment-jokes, and then go back to obsessively clearing out and organizing a closet or cleaning or to the gym or some other form of the-working-out-of-nervous-energy. Or I get overwhelmingly sad-tired and go take a nap. A mental reprieve. My favorite brain break, next to reading.
Ugh. Forgive me if I sound hyperbolic. Or just plain old pathetic. I know I have First World Problems, I swear, but this is my only child I’m talking about, and I’m an emotional lass. But I’ll try to explain in more logical terms. (No promises, though. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, ol’ Right Brain is pretty much in control around these here parts.)
After 2 years of expensive behavioral therapy we couldn’t afford, and trying every holistic or dietary recommendation on the planet, we have watched our 7-year-old son fail at behaving appropriately for his age in every setting, but especially those involving noise and chaos (i.e. kids).
We have watched him be bullied and ostracized by adults (our lovely, “Christian” ex-neighbors) and kids (whose compassionate mothers told them my son was a bad influence, causing them to play a “fun” game of Run From the Bad Influence anytime he tried to approach them, which is totally what Jesus would do, obviously) for his overly-friendly, immature behavior caused by neurological chemistry beyond his control.
But worst of all, we have watched his self-esteem deteriorate accordingly, while his anxiety continued to rise, because of the way all of the people in his life have treated him, i.e. like a nuisance, or a pest, as he described himself to a psychologist we took him to for IQ testing. (In addition to being ADHD, he also happens to be extremely gifted, a.k.a. twice exceptional in the world of neurologically atypical labels, a.k.a. twice as hard to keep intellectually engaged in the world of parents and teachers trying to keep him out of trouble behaviorally. Sigh.)
So completely out of options and desperate to help raise his self-esteem back up, we started our son on 5 mg of Adderall the Saturday before last.
(I fought medication for so long because medicating for ADHD is the last thing I ever thought I’d do. I’m one of those green smoothie-drinking, juicing, holistic types who takes probiotic pills every day and makes gluten-free flaxseed-carrot muffins for fun. Unlike my type 2 diabetes-ridden aforementioned ex-neighbors who, to my horror, considered a bag of marshmallows with Capri Sun HFCS-waters an appropriate after-school snack for their kids, I am aware that eating simple carbohydrates is the same thing as eating sugar. I believe in the power of vegetables. In fact, I always said I’d homeschool before I’d medicate an ADHD child. And then I gave birth to the most outgoing, social little extrovert ever who would be miserable at home alone with me all of the time. He needs other kids. And I have an anxiety disorder that includes panic attacks and social anxiety. Homeschooling is not an option for us.)
The psychiatrist recommended we start the Adderall on a Saturday so we’d have two days to observe him before school. So we fed him the big breakfast that’s supposed to help keep him from having the common side effects of nausea and headaches, gave him the pill, and then I sat with my son in the living room, and talked to him. I was trying to reassure myself that he was okay as much as I was trying to comfort him and be there for him if he wasn’t.
As I watched my son’s pupils dilate until they looked like the big black pupils of friends I’d watched on drugs at parties in my youth, I tried not to panic. But it was utterly horrifying for a mother to see this. Those were dilated pupil drug-eyes. On my baby. The baby I kept alive with only my body for the first 16 months of his existence. The one I feed healthy fruits and vegetables to keep healthy and strong. The one I would die protecting from harm. And I had just given the child I would die to protect… poison.
And yes, I know poison is a dramatic word for medication, but that’s how it feels. I’m not giving my son ibuprofen for a headache, I’m giving him brain chemical-altering medication, and that holds much more weight with me. Because I LOVE my son’s brain. His brain may work a little faster than everyone else’s brain, but that doesn’t make it flawed, that makes it brilliant. And efficient. My son is the little engine that could… on turbo boost. The only problem is that the little engine that could race up the hill can’t control his own brakes on the way down.
And that’s what the medication is supposed to do for him. The part of his brain that controls impulses isn’t as developed as the rest of it, which makes him act with the emotional maturity and self-control of a child 2-3 years younger. Which gets him in trouble at school for not sitting still, for talking, singing, humming, and gets him made fun of by other kids whose parents haven’t taught them that it isn’t kind to tease children who are different. That’s why, even though it seems counterintuitive, a stimulant helps hyperactive kids with ADHD calm down and focus better: because it stimulates the part of the brain that controls executive functioning. Impulse control. Our goal with the medication is to boost up the part of his brain that is underdeveloped so he can behave in a more age-appropriate manner, and feel good about himself again.
He wants to behave so badly, and he’s so angry at himself when he repeats a behavior he knows he’s not supposed to do. Sometimes he’ll realize he just did something wrong, and he’ll hit himself in the head with his hand, or punch himself, because he’s so angry that the body did the wrong thing before the brain could stop it. I grab his hand and kiss his head and tell him to give himself a break and stop hitting the boy I love more than everything, but it doesn’t help. He’s mad at himself. He cries in frustration. He throws temper tantrums at 7 like the ones a 4-year-old might throw because he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he has the gifted intellect of a much older child with the emotional maturity of a much younger one, and this causes major inner and outer conflicts for him all day long. He wants help so badly that he eagerly swallows the pills in the mornings, hoping they will help him have the self-control he so desperately wants. This is not a defiant child; this is a people-pleasing, kind-hearted little boy who wants more than anything to be able to control his impulses, and we have exhausted every other option available to us.
On the first Saturday we tried the medication, after I sat with my son for a while, and realized he was okay, my husband took him to go watch football with the boys at a friend’s house, telling me the distraction would be good to keep our son’s mind off any weird feelings he might be having. I agreed that having him sit at home waiting to feel funny all day wasn’t a good idea, and let him go, even though I just wanted to hug him close to my body and not let go. Because I’m The Mommy. But I’m supposed to act strong and nonchalant, even when I’m scared, to protect my son. Also because I’m The Mommy.
I probably should have filmed the complete wailing-ugly-crying, snot-running-down-my-face, hyperventilating-myself-into-a-panic-attack emotional meltdown of perceived parental failure and the exact moment I finally let go of my last hope that my son might not have neurological issues that I had, if only so I could play it for the next ignorant person who thinks organic vegetables can cure everything and tells me I’m only medicating my child “for my convenience.” Because sitting on the floor with my throat closing while I try to breathe through the choking anger-sobs and dying-whale-noises until I have to do breathing exercises so I don’t pass out is TOTALLY convenient. Sheesh. Why didn’t I just stick these ADHD meds right in his baby bottles? This is GREAT. Mothers LOVE giving their children medications with potentially terrible side-effects. We LIVE for this shit.
My wise husband knew it would be hard for his green smoothie-drinking hippie wife who tried two years of behavioral therapy and every organic, Omega-3, probiotic, no chemicals, no dyes, no dairy, no gluten idea suggestion to “cure” her son’s ADHD, only to finally give in for the sake of his self-esteem and agree to medicate.
So he took the kiddo to hang out with the guys and watch football like I said above, telling me the distraction would be good for our son. But I think he knew I might increase our son’s anxiety, even with the big, fake smile I plaster on my face to try to hide my anxiety from the boy. (The fake smile my husband sees through because he knows me, and tells me totally creeps him out. You know. That one.)
My son did great. The meds helped, he seemed calmer, but still himself, and had no bad side effects.
As mentioned above, The Mommy completely lost her shit emotionally, took a shower to calm down after becoming able to breathe again, forgot to rinse the conditioner out of her hair until she was dressed, rinsed her head under the faucet, took 2 Xanax and then collapsed for a 3-hour nap. And then upon waking, stress-ate everything in the house that couldn’t outrun her.
(And then later described her experience in third person for no logical reason when writing about it. Because apparently, that’s how The Mommy rolls. Don’t hate.)
So I guess you could say I’m not handling the medication of my son for ADHD very well.
It was unexpected and shocking for me. I thought I had it under control. It’s cool. He seemed fine. But maybe it was the drug-eyes, the freaky-big pupils. I don’t know. A switch flipped. All I know is that one second I was calmly hugging my boys goodbye, and listening to the garage door close as they drove away. And then next second I was completely losing my emotional shit and clutching onto/leaning over the kitchen sink so the snot and tears had somewhere to go, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe and making those weird animal pain noises that we hear ourselves making, but can’t stop because they come from somewhere primal and uncontrollable. I honestly can’t remember the last time something hit me so hard.
But that motherfucking bottle of Adderall sitting mockingly on the counter suddenly represented every single one of my hundreds of failed attempts at helping my son control his behavior, like some sort of tiny plastic award for Worst Mother in the World. And I hated it. And I hated myself for failing my child. And I hated my flawed genetics for making life harder for my son. I hated my stupid brain for passing this racing-ADHD bullshit on. And I hated myself some more.
Because starting that medication meant I was letting go of my last shred of hope. NOW IT’S OFFICIAL, I thought to myself. As I cried, I pictured my son as a baby, and all the toddler-until-present-time years of stupid naïve little me ignoring the now-obvious ADHD signs so I could live in Magical Pretend My Kid Doesn’t Have a Problem Land where my son wasn’t neurologically atypical, and all the older relatives promising me he’d “grow out of it” were actually right instead of wrong. But he’s not going to “grow out of it” and he may never “grow out of it,” and if we don’t help him feel better about himself as soon as possible, it may have lasting negative effects on his self-image that he will carry with him into adulthood that may require MORE medications. So even though I logically knew we had to try it, emotionally the pill I gave him for the first time that morning represented the door to Magical Pretend My Kid Doesn’t Have a Problem Land hitting me firmly in the ass on the way out. Or, more accurately, in the heart. And it fucking hurt.
I am so incredibly thankful there have been no negative side effects thus far. We noticed more focus and a calmer demeanor at home the weekend we started him on the meds, but his teacher saw minimal impulsivity or hyperactivity improvement that week at school, we think because of his sensory issues (extremely sensitive to noise/motion/life… just like his mom), so we doubled his dose of Adderall last Saturday, as per the psychiatrist’s instructions. We will hear from his teacher at the end of this week about whether or not his behavior was better. I’m assuming that if not, we will try a different family of meds.
His psychiatrist said that if this family of meds doesn’t help him, there is an 80% chance the other family of drugs will, as well as a cheek swab test they can give his father and me to determine which meds might best work with his physiology. (Because ADHD is a genetic brain chemistry issue, all of you ignorant people who want to blame it on diet and/or bad parenting.) Isn’t that cool?
So I’m feeling cautiously hopeful. And less scared now that I see he hasn’t turned into a zombie-kid. He’s like himself, but calmer. Still goofy and silly, all big personality. Whew. The only side effect we’ve noticed, and the doc said it’s pretty much unavoidable, is the “coming off the meds” emotional meltdown phase at the end of the day. We had to skip karate one night, for example, because I corrected his after-school homework, very gently, to tell him he was using the wrong form of there/their/they’re in a sentence. (I’m a monster, I know.) He threw one of his classic ADHD tantrums, screaming, running to his room to flail, etc. His doctor promised us that would lessen as he gets used to whatever med we end up going with, though, so no worries. It’s not like we’re not used to having a tantrum-throwing, overly-emotional child, after all.
As the genetic links become clearer and research continues to show that ADHD runs in families, I only hope that neurologically atypical children will start being less stigmatized, in the way that people are finally starting to accept that other brain chemical issues (such as depression) are very real, and nothing of which to be ashamed. Before anyone doubts the legitimacy of any disorder in my presence, they’ll need to tell me why—if depression, anxiety disorders and ADHD are all made up and not real—then why does medication help people?
And from this point forward, unless someone has conducted studies and done extensive research, or is a doctor, scientist, neurologist, psychologist/psychiatrist, or in any other way very knowledgeable in the workings of the human brain, I’m going to assume they’re just another butthead on the Internet with an opinion and a forum in which to shit it out, and I don’t want to hear it. I’m not listening anymore. (Unsolicited Advice Givers: Take your raw, organic vegetables, your magic herbs, your unhelpful dietary suggestions, and the rest of your uneducated, unproven, and unwanted opinions about how I’m doing parenting wrong, and shove them up your sparkling clean, post-colonic, condescending assholes. KTHXBAI.)
Because I think I have made it abundantly clear at this point that the last thing I have ever wanted to do in this world is give brain-altering medication to my son. I would also like to go ahead and put it on record that the next time someone suggests that parents of ADHD-brained kids medicate them “for their own convenience” or because they are “lazy parents,” I’m not going to cite the weekly appointments to behavioral therapists I’ve driven my son to for years, or the really-hard-to-enforce-at-school gluten-free and dairy-free diets we’ve tried, and all of the punishments, positive reinforcements, and behavioral modification techniques we’ve tried, and all the meetings with teachers and counselors and principals we’ve set up to help him. I also won’t mention the fact that I took Omega-3 supplements throughout my entire pregnancy to bolster my son’s brain development, and have been giving him Omega-3 supplements for the same reason since he started on solid foods, or that I know more about nutrition than most of the population because I’ve studied it my entire life, or that we have never allowed him to eat excess sugar and don’t keep it in our house, or that he drinks things like fresh carrot/spinach/apple shakes with me, and eats avocados with me for breakfast. I will also no longer defensively mention that we rigidly monitor his daily one-hour of screen time, that we are consistent with discipline, as well as the fact that we are present and loving parents who set boundaries and give our son the consistent life routine child experts recommend, or any of the other descriptions of my parenting style that I don’t owe anybody else in the world, because nobody knows my kid better than I do.
I am not going to do any of those things anymore. Nope. What I’m going to do is say, “You have no fucking idea what I’ve been through, or how hard I have tried to fix this, or how much I have cried because I can’t fix this” and then I’m going punch them in the throat.
That’s right. Throat punch. You have been warned, general population of America. Don’t even. I’m done.*
Because fuck that. I am a great mother. I have spent too many years of my son’s life feeling like I’m failing at parenting, and worse, letting others make me feel like I’m failing at parenting (I’m looking at you, catty, petty, bullying, compassionless ex-neighborhood moms), and I’m finished with that, because that attitude doesn’t help my son. I can’t feel bad about myself and make him feel good about himself at the same time. My job is to model appropriate human behavior so he can learn it. If I want him to feel good about himself, I need to show him how. I need to feel good about myself first. And in order to do this, I’m realizing that I have to stop giving a shit what anyone else thinks of my parenting choices. Finally, I’m realizing this. My life, and my son’s life, and our family’s decisions, are nobody else’s information to review or criticize. Period. End of discussion.
So I’m trying medication for my son’s ADHD because I love him more than anything in the universe, and I want him to feel good about himself. Because everyone deserves to feel good about themselves. It’s truly that simple.
But if you don’t understand that, or you choose to judge me, have fun with that. Feel superior. Shake your smug head and cluck self-righteously with the faux pity disguised as piety and concern that is actually only a feeble and transparent attempt at masking your own insecurities; the insecurities that make you feel like you have the right to judge anyone else in the world.
While you work on your perfect blend of sanctimonious condescension, I’ll be over here trying to improve my son’s life and strengthen my relationship with him, now and for the rest of our time together. Because he’s an amazing kid, and I think… no, I know he’s going change the world for the better with his huge, compassionate heart and his super-smart, quick brain.
And I’m also going to keep writing about it because so many of my friends have come forward since the first time I shared our struggles with ADHD, and many people have shared positive advice and similar stories, and it has all helped me so much. I’m sending out a huge thank you from the bottom of my sensitive heart to everyone who has shared their own experiences with ADHD with me. Because feeling alone is the worst thing in the world.
So if you have ADHD, or a child with ADHD, and you’re reading this, please know that you’re not alone.
And it’s going to be okay. We’re all in this together, right?
You’re not alone.
*I’m actually very anti-violence, and won’t really be throat-punching anyone (except maybe in my mind). I’m just completely fed up with being judged unfairly, feeling angry, and venting up there. In reality, I’m one of those people who cries watching sad stories on the news, sobs during human interest stories on ESPN, and is emotionally ruined by nature shows where babies get separated from their mothers. In short: I’m a total bleeding heart empath of a girl. (Unless you mess with my kid, I mean. And then I have 5 planets in Scorpio I’d like to show you.)
But please, everyone on the planet, think before you write or speak about what parents might be going through before you decide what our motivations may or may not be for the decisions we make involving our kids. That’s the entire point of this article, actually: If you haven’t lived it, you can’t truly understand it.