It's a story that cannot be told in a few paragraphs, but years.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
I always hesitate to write lengthy stories because for 1 - this isn't a book and 2- I don't always read lengthy blog posts. I can't be the only one, can I? Unfortunately, this isn't a 1 or 2 paragraph post but I tried to sum in up as best I could.
So the story goes...
When my oldest boy, now 10, was around 2 years old, I noticed that he had longer than normal, or what I thought were normal, tantrums and would get easily irritated. I was told this was just a boy being a boy and that after having two nearly perfectly behaved girls, I was due a little chaos in my life. I accepted that and went on.
By the time he was four, he still hadn't outgrown tantrums. They were worse, actually. More intense, with raging, not the normal crying and screaming. I took him back to the Dr. and said that there was no way this was normal, citing specifics that made the Dr. cringe, and that one of us was going to have to be medicated. While I didn't want to put a child on unnecessary medication, I knew at this point that something was necessary.
After a full evaluation, I had the diagnosis: Pediatric bi-polar disorder. Strangely enough, I wasn't sad, just glad it had a name and knew we'd deal with it however we could. Some may call it a stiff upper lip but to me that conjures up feelings of masking pain. There was nothing to mask or ignore. I looked at this as more of a firm resolve to meet this head on. I credit my mom for that. It's definitely a Hernandez trait. She always said there are just two choices in anything troubling us: you move on or your don't, you fix it or you don't, you get the idea. There's no use worrying or whining; just go and do, she would say.
So with that we went on with some sort of thankfulness. Thankfulness, that by nature, Jon and I are pretty even-keeled. Because, we have found out that the stress of this is heavy. I have found over the years since the diagnosis that one could get to the point of being abusive. I can completely see why people turn to alcohol and drugs to numb themselves; to escape from stress in whatever situation causes it. I have compassion for them. In our situation we just have to step away and let him be. It's hard to be rational in the moment so taking a step back is all we can do. I mean, the problem will still exist when we get back. But with more of a clear head, we are better able to deal with it. Patching a few holes in the wall is nothing. Patching a soul, well that is a whole new ball-game.
I can't fully describe the rages that we witness and a young boy who has no idea how to control them; the uncontrollable sobbing and lying in a heap in the middle of a room destroyed and big, beautiful eyes full of tears asking why he can't be at peace. I can't explain how a small disappointment, something almost not even worth mentioning, in a daily routine of ours can be an insurmountable problem to him. Talk about perception. While the rest of us so easily think, "This is no big deal," his mind sometimes seems to not be able to process such simplicity. I could never fully explain the depth to which my heart has sank when he has wished to die so he doesn't have to live this way. I can't describe the feelings and how it's changed us in ways or all the traits associated with Bi-polar disorder. They are vast. It would take too long and would be inadequate. But through it all, I have learned so much about it and still, there are many reasons for me to be optimistic.
When his mind is more at rest, it is easy to see his wonderful traits. He can be very loving and tender. He is kind to animals which I can't even tell you how much that means to me. He is smart and remembers a lot of information and has a great creative streak. He is witty and has a lot of friends. That is one thing the Dr. was concerned about. Bi-polars tend to attract the "wrong" crowd but so far he is well-liked by his peers and has some good friends. His Dr. was really happy about that.
He has learned to better control his outbursts, usually reserving the blow-ups for me and his dad. Here, with us, he feels safe and can quickly cycle through his frustration and that is ok with us. Sometimes it's an easy fix and sometimes it's not; leaving us emotionally wiped out. But, you go on and each time learning how to better prepare for the next episode. The last 5 months have been the most peaceful in 6 years and we are so grateful! We are told that as he grows his chemical imbalances may change so we are honestly praying for that. No one knows about that for sure since childhood mental illness has not been studied in depth in the medical community. His disorder is similar to juvenile diabetes in that it is usually more serious than adult onset. So with maturity, he should be able to better handle it. I am confident he will.
There have been days that I wished he could just have a "normal" problem that's easily explainable and that people wouldn't think he was just an unruly child. I have wished that people could see mental illness as something they could talk about and not shy away from and have a little more compassion for, just as they would any other illness. But that's where I come in! And I guess that's why I am putting it on here. I have been meaning to talk about it for a long time but could never find the right words and it has just become so commonplace for us to live with this, that it doesn't seem to be a big deal anymore. It's just our way of life now. I also didn't want people to think he's dangerous or use it against him in any way.
But then, something comes up and compels me. For example, last week the nurse at school called and was concerned that Reese hadn't eaten that day. He has gone from a great eater to a picky one. As I talked with her, the thought came to me that this was something of a control issue and a potential problem was on the horizon. But it was a remark she made about him not being on his medication very long that caught my attention a little more. By her notes she said he had only been diagnosed this past February. I corrected her and said that we have been dealing with this for 6 years. 6 years! And I still can't get people to see its seriousness. She was so surprised by that. I wanted to bang my head against the wall. These types of stories are commonplace for anyone dealing with any types of these disorders.
At his parent-teacher conference, which by the way, was great! I was so happy. It took all I had to not start crying. He did get an inconsistant for behavior, which I could have predicted, but he had improved in other conduct and the school work was so much better than last year. Last year was one of the toughest on record for him and me. I can't even begin to explain. Just trust that this conference made his day, week, maybe even year. Mine too.
His counselor was present at his conference and had all the paperwork ready for an IEP plan. All I did was sign and she sent it off. That way all teachers and faculty would know about his disorder and are bound by law to acknowledge it and work together instead of having a different set of rules in every classroom.
His teachers have all been great. I don't want to give the impression that they haven't. Since Kindergarten we have had the best of the best but they have to deal with so many other students and keeping track of each and their specific needs can be difficult. This plan puts it all out there and each teacher will see the same file instead of different notes and no one really understanding the situation. When I met his homeroom teacher at the beginning of the year, he told me the notes from last year's teacher said, "Prone to crying." That was it. Again, I had to explain the why of it all so I decided we had to get this plan in place. I feel like this could be a new beginning for him. I know his teachers want to see him succeed and that gives me great hope.
ANYWAY, as you can see, this is a long conversation. My apologies! I can't do it justice on a little blog. Just know that this exists and this is our story.