What we have experienced in our family is nothing short of a miracle. This time last year we were living in a state of daily crisis. We were on egg shells, wondering when our fragile family was going to break due to the uncertainty of the outbursts we were facing from our son on a daily basis. Our son would throw fits of rage at us and himself that deeply scared us and caused us to fall into desperation, wondering if our lives would ever be normal again. We found ourselves going from appointment to appointment, only to have doors closed on us with no solutions. It wasn’t until our son was admitted to the Children’s Hospital Mental Health Unit for suicidal threats did we start to be taken seriously for his condition.
Those were long, dark days.
Yet here we are, not even a year since the hospital with a completely different boy. He still has ADHD, and it shows. He still is on the spectrum with mild Asbergers, and it shows. But the Oppositional Defiance Disorder is almost non-existent – other than his normal desire to constantly question the status quo, but he gets that naturally from his mama. He still has moments of anxiety, but he is healthy, functional, and thriving! What an answer to all our nights of tearful prayers. He went from wearing all black all the time, to now choosing vibrant colors to wear. He’s gone from not wanting to leave our house to being more open to going places and trying new things. It’s not all roses, but leaps and bounds from where we were! He smiles now. That’s the biggest change.
So what changed? How did this happen?
We embraced the fact that this was going to be a long journey not something that could be quickly fixed. When it comes to battling mental health, you need to realize you’re in for the long haul. There’s no miracle method, pill, or quick fixes. It’s long and it’s messy. Just verbalizing to myself that I needed to pace through this process, forgiving my mess ups, forgiving my son for not getting it right, and embracing the chaos has been huge for getting through this far. It has now been five years we have actively battled with son’s mental health. The first four years we were in a war but didn’t realize what we were up against. As a new parents we thought this was normal family life. This journey has taken years to get to where we are right now.
We made connection, not correction the goal. We tried correcting my son’s “behavior” in the early years of dealing with outbursts. We would send him to his room, telling him when he was going to be a “good boy” he could come out. One psychologist told me that this was the worst thing we could do. She then said something I will never forget. “You never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer”. We started bringing our son closer during outbursts, attempting to hold him in his hurricane of anger. Sometimes it would take hours for him to calm down, now it takes only moments. We also made family connection the focus in our day to day lives, meaning we slowed down our personal lives completely to have more family time. I limited my evenings out to two nights a week. We put down our screens and made sure we were completely available to both our boys when we were all home. We went on more walks and outings, talked more, and snuggled on the couch each evening for “movie time”. Making connection stronger in our home has made it easier when we’ve needed to bring correction, as both our children’s trust and “love tank” has been filled enough to receive it when needed.
We brought our son home and decided to home school for now. This was a bold move. It was February. The fights and anxiety attacks around going to school were only getting worse. The amount of stress we were all facing around school was starting to become overwhelming. We would often have to carry our son out the door kicking and screaming at times to get to school, only to pick him up from school completely wiped from the energy it took him just to function all day. The teachers were doing their best to accommodate him, but he was wasting away, and his behaviour was getting more risky and rebellious each day. Bringing him home to home school has probably been the biggest factor in nursing him emotionally back to health. In the beginning weeks of home schooling, he spent a lot of time sleeping when needed. His nutrition got back on track, sleep patterns improved and so has his willingness to learn.
We started medication. I’m happy to report that in Canada doctors are not “throwing” medication at children. In fact, it’s taken us a few years to finally have our son on medication that is working for him. I’m thankful that our psychiatrist tried every option before medication. However, medication is not a miracle pill. I liken it to dieting: 80% is what you eat, 20% is exercise. Likewise I have found that 80% of mental health comes from environmental factors and 20% from the medication itself. Medication without working actively on making the home environment healthy will not be as effective.
I’m finding my own mental health. There’s nothing like having children to see your every weakness come to the surface. I never realized how mentally unhealthy I was until faced with this crisis. I have also dealt with depression, marital conflict, and anger in my adult years – all influencing the environment my son has grown up in. It’s humbling to look inside and know that your own shortcomings have failed the one person you swore you would protect. Since hitting my soul’s rock bottom and admitting my own failure and lack, I have made my own mental health top priority. I decided I needed to get up earlier than the rest of my family to have morning quiet time, reading, prayer and to do my exercise. I have chosen bravery to face my own inner turmoil and have invited God into it to heal and work. I am not afraid or ashamed of my brokenness. I am facing it with bravery knowing that it does not have to be my destiny. Just this alone has changed the emotional state of my home. My emotions seem to dictate my family’s emotional well being. When mom is well, so is everyone else.
We have limited screen time. No parent wants to do this. What would we do without the screens that keep a hyperactive child occupied so we can finally get something done?! However, I have done extensive research and have found my own experience with my boys: screens only magnify the issues we are trying to combat. Limiting screens has taken intentionality on our part, but has been worth the calm state of mind both our boys experience as a result. Another blog on this to come.
We watched God do what we couldn’t. I remember reading a book on the origins of ADD written by one of my favorite authors, Gabor Mate. It was a hard read as everything I read about regarding the reasons for ADD in our society I am guilty of. It was momma guilt on steroids. Every turn of the page almost had me in tears lamenting what I could not fix. Then I heard a whisper in my ear saying, “But Jesus….” I know some of you reading aren’t religious. This may sound strange, but it was as real as real could be, and it brought hope to my soul to know that I didn’t have to get this all right. I could be human with shortcomings and parent my child through storms of brokenness and come out on the other side. I didn’t have to be perfect or have all the answers, someone would be carrying me. I’m only so resilient on my own. There were times I felt so desperate and helpless I wanted to run away. I needed those words right at that moment to say that everything was going to be ok. Looking back through our journey, I can only stand in awe of what Someone greater, outside of myself has done. I did my part, then He showed off.
All of these together have brought us to where we are presently. Things aren’t perfect at our house. We are still committed to the work in progress needed, but we are on the other side of crisis. If you are struggling with your child, I want you to know that there is “the other side of crisis”. I write these posts for you; to cheer you on, bring you hope, and know you are not alone.