You know that old saying, “Mama knows best”? Never, EVER let anyone tell you that you don’t know something. You are with your child day in and day out, and if you feel something is off, wrong or isn’t going the way that seems natural or normal or right in any way, draw your claws and demand to get answers. “Let’s wait and see how this goes,” is not an answer I take kindly to. I’ll do the try and wait game for a small time, but be prepared to hear from me, a lot, and never go away until you are ready to move forward to the next step. I’m not going away. Oh, and forget to get back to me about tests or setting up appointments? Yeah, that does NOT go well in my book; you just entered my hit-list side of the notebook.
Moms DO know best. They know when their kid is being dramatic or attention seeking and when it crosses the line into seriously real. And, whatever you do, don’t tell a mom (me) to parent something that is your (the doctor’s) medical turf. If I say a medicine is screwing with my kid, I know it because I know my kid. I also will have done a lot of legwork on the home front to document and try to figure out which meds are likely the culprit. The changes in personality or behavior are not because I am slacking in parenting.
Let me direct you to some notable paperwork, dear sirs. It might be one of those drastic side effects they have listed at the bottom of the sheets that say something like, “Some individuals may have more severe effects, including: rapid mood changes, abnormal anxiety, heightened anger and aggression, suicidal thoughts, impulsiveness, restlessness and trouble sleeping.”
In our case? We had all those along with nearly every one of the others listed in the “not so drastic” side effects column. Was the medicine doing the job we began taking it for. Yes, actually it was. Frustratingly so.
It worked nearly perfectly. It was like a dream at first and I was amazed that it did so much good. It was because it WORKED that I beat my head against a wall and tried to decide if it was ME or really the medicine. I tried to decide if I was somehow screwing up with my kid. Do I REALLY want to muck around with meds AGAIN when they are actually doing the job they are being taken for?
Am I willing to trade the quality of life the “cure” offers versus the problem we were treating? Wow. I want to scream NOOOOOO! from the top of my lungs. And truly, it’s NOT worth it. But the battle we have here? It’s not as simple as that makes it sound. It’s hellish. I can’t describe it, and I can’t give words to the number of times we’ve traveled this valley of desperate and dark times.
The battle between body and medicine — specifically here it’s the body’s ability to regulate the chemistry of the brain with medical help — is complicated stuff. It is. Still, the fact remains, growing up a teen, while regulating medicines, can be daunting. Hormones and puberty clash with pills and prescriptions. The theories and ideas all make sense, how meds will increase or decrease this or that, how it will help alleviate one thing so another doesn’t elevate. I’m not anti-meds. But it’s hard as heck to ride this storm out.
Look, we’ve done the “no meds” route for years. Tried so many things I could still cry now from those frustrating days we ALL had. But by the time my child was 12 it was brutally and painfully obvious that we needed to seriously consider more help. Childhood onset of Bipolar Disorder is not something easily regulated. She also is OCD with anxiety disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder. The brain chemicals in this kid’s body just are not lined up. Her ducks don’t walk in a row like they are supposed to. Life is hard for her.
In order for her to stop the increasingly painful confusion of her mind’s fragmented reality, which was growing more the further she entered into puberty, we needed to help her regulate the chemicals a bit. It was just time to try something new. (Side note: I now understand why there are so many different medications out there. No two people are the same. No two are going to be chemically fixed by the same pill.)
Enter into today, where my daughter has been running in and out of the house all day—LOUDLY, breathlessly giggling, obsessing about her hair and clothes, talking to a boy and acting like a complete nut. She’s been wrestling with her sister, harassing her brother and chatting online with her friends. She’s 16. I expect nothing less than this. In fact this is exactly why I am teary. This is what we’ve been working towards; an active, loud, healthy, happy teen.
We’ve been working on her meds for more than four years now and it is a constant rollercoaster. We’ve just come off a 14-week stint where we have been weaning her on and off meds, searching for answers, trying new things, doing “wait and sees” and scratching whole ideas because I simply said “NO way in HELL we are doing that.”
The end result is this: I was RIGHT. I knew my kid.
Yes, she has significant trouble, and she is anxious and worried often. Has she ever been suicidal before, scared the crap out of me, harmed herself, done things that made me fear for her life, her very survival? Ummm, yeah, she has. In ways that lay me flat out, face down on my bed, fully-giving-my-kid-to-God kind of scared.
Want to know why I could go to a doctor and say, “Sorry, YOU are wrong. The meds are NOT right,” and do it with confidence? Because I know what those “down in the mucky pit days” look like. I know what the triggers are. I know what sets those wheels in motion. I know when to begin to watch her and I can hear warning bells going off just by looking in her eyes. I KNOW HER! When my kid starts doing things with no trigger, no warning signs, goes from 0-180 in a flat three seconds? It’s not me. It’s not her. It’s meds. Period.
We have routine. That no-trigger trip-out? It’s not the way we spiral here. We have a cycle, a system, a formula for our madness, if you please. THIS was something I wasn’t willing to let go, or to wait it out, or do a try and see. I demanded to be heard. Frankly, not being this proactive can land a kid in a hospital. Or dare I say it out loud? Yeah, I’ll say it. It’s my reality. It can land them in a grave. Everyone will say, “if only we had known,” and I will sit and beat myself to a pulp because I let myself be silenced, judged or second-guessed.
Medicine mixing for the brain’s chemistry is a hellish battle. I wish it on no one. It takes forever to get the right balance and when you do, especially in puberty, it can change before you know it and it needs to be adjusted again. I’d say it’s not for the faint of heart, but you don’t get to pick your heart. I had to learn how to buck up and become a bull in a china shop. I started out a bunny in a barn.
Today I stood in my kitchen looking out the window. I watched my daughter. She, for all the world, looked like every other 16 year old. She does not wear the battle scars on her face. The scars are there, make no mistake, but today her face radiated. It was brilliantly lit with a smile full of pure white teeth and NO BRACES! She was still celebrating today by not having popcorn hulls stuck in those old things. Laffy Taffy was chasing closely on its heels and she was grinning ear to ear.
The battle is long, the cost is high, but the rewards of the little victories we are winning along the way are truly worth it. Even though getting to the answer is tiring and time-consuming, we ARE getting to the answers.
There is no greater victory than one won for your child.