I clearly remember saying those exact words to my then-11-year-old son who I’ll call TQ.
Disgusting even? For a father to say something like that to his pre-adolescent son while they sit together in the car in a Wal-Mart parking lot… it’s unconscionable.
You’re right. But don’t judge me just yet. Let me tell you our story.
TQ is our firstborn. His was my wife’s first pregnancy, the first child for both of us, and we were young.
Translation: We really had no idea what we were doing, but we thought we did and we proceeded confidently based on that misconception. Like all first-time parents, we were scared to death of screwing this up, but we were also convinced we were going to manage the impossible: raise our son perfectly, avoiding all the dumb mistakes our own parents had made.
TQ’s birth and early development were uneventful.
He was a bright, fun-loving infant who started walking and talking right when he should have. He occasionally showed signs of separation anxiety, but nothing abnormal. He liked to be by himself and could entertain himself – sometimes for hours – but he had no issues interacting with others.
All-in-all, he was a joy and we counted our blessings: he was about as low maintenance as a baby could be. In fact, we were so proud of ourselves, we went ahead and had his sister, EK, when TQ was a year old.
TQ didn’t give us the “Terrible Twos” that so many other parents had warned us about. We would smile and nod and try to sympathize with horror stories about temper tantrums and obstinacy, then walk away whispering to each other about how lucky we were.
Then came age three.
TQ started suffering night terrors. He would wake up screaming and nothing could comfort him. Sometimes his fits would last an hour or more. This went on for most of a year, then seemed to fade into the past (although it would reappear in other forms much later.)
He began to have temper tantrums that seemed to be set off by the tiniest triggers: a pencil lead breaking, a sock that bunched up too much inside his shoe. And these weren’t just little blow ups. They were full-blown rages in which objects were thrown, walls kicked, and his sister was hurt more than once.
As he reached the age of five, my wife started formally homeschooling TQ and quickly found these rages to be the only real distraction getting in the way of a successful school day. He had a difficult time sitting still (even for a five-year-old), would get frustrated and irritable over even the slightest noise (his sister turning a page in her book, the refrigerator kicking on at the other end of the house), and would often end up throwing himself on the floor or run out of the room screaming.
We took him to a pediatric psychiatrist on the advice of his pediatrician who believed TQ had ADD or ADHD. At age six, he was prescribed his first daily pill. (I honestly don’t remember which one it was. Life’s too short to keep track of that particular list.)
We were naturally hesitant to put our six-year-old on brain-altering medication for the indefinite future, but just a few days into the regimen my wife was able to note dramatic improvements in TQ’s ability to concentrate and handle frustration better. The school day went smoother and his progress improved.
Of course, nothing’s that simple.
As he got older, growing like a weed and developing his unique personality, the ADHD medication was a constant. He saw the psychiatrist once a month for years and the medication was constantly changed up in type and dosage to try to hit that perfect balance that would allow TQ to concentrate and relax without doping him up and making him sleep past noon.
We could always tell when he’d forgotten to take his pills in the morning because by noon he’d be bouncing off the walls, unable to quiet down or concentrate, and getting himself in trouble. It really seemed to be working.
But, despite these positive results, TQ’s academic progress started hitting a wall.
The main issue seemed to be memory. Concepts he’d learned and been able to apply previously started to make him struggle. He forgot the times tables he’d previously memorized. He couldn’t spell to save his life. Although he was a very capable reader, he started to despise reading because by the time he finished a paragraph, he’d have forgotten what it was about. His reading comprehension scores plummeted and with them went his self-confidence.
During this same period, we also started noticing what seemed to be negative personality traits creeping in that had never manifested themselves before.
We caught him in lies a few times. Caught him shoplifting a roll of LifeSavers candies from the Dollar General. Caught him pinching and kicking his sister when he thought no one could see.
This wasn’t how we’d raised him, and it started affecting our self-confidence as well. Who was this kid and what had he done with our perfect son?
More importantly, what had we done wrong to allow this little monster to waltz in and take over our household?
We resolved to “fix” him by buckling down on the discipline and investigating other medical options.
Since my wife’s family (herself included) had a history of bipolar disorder, that’s where we started. TQ’s psychiatrist was understandably hesitant to place a label like that on an 8-year-old kid, but he agreed that the symptoms we were describing seemed to point toward some sort of mood disorder.
So, he diagnosed TQ with “Mood Disorder – Unspecified” and treated him with a mood stabilizing drug in addition to the ADHD regimen. More fine tuning was required, of course, and visits to the psychiatrist, pharmacy, and lab (to make sure these drugs weren’t going to destroy our son’s liver) became part of our ongoing routine.
Over the next few years, the issues got better, but never went away.
Then, they stopped getting better.
(Part 2 of this article will be posted in next week’s blog. Stay tuned.)
Justin is a content developer for SPROUT Content. He lives with his wife, two children, and dog, Jupiter, outside Charlotte, North Carolina.