My son always had some struggles with peers, the need for constant limit-setting, and an immense amount of energy. Despite doing well in school and no major problems that we were aware of, he would cry for hours at night about not wanting to go to school the next day.
We had tried therapy twice before, with limited success. He knew he had big feelings that he needed help with and eagerly practiced different strategies for calming his body (e.g. weighted blanket, distraction, visualization/meditation, guided imagery), but he could not access these in the moments when he needed them.
Over time, things got worse until nearly every night he had a rage-filled episode. Each one longer than the last. How had my smart, funny child turned into this unrecognizable monster who was tearing my home apart?
I felt so alone in it. I did not want anyone to know this was happening in our home. What would they think of him? And us? The only other adult who knew was my husband, but we disagreed about what he needed. I tended to be overly nurturing while he was a stricter disciplinarian. Neither approach really made any difference.
One day, during an outburst, I grabbed him in the biggest, tightest hug I could muster. He initially resisted, but then he melted into my arms and sobbed. “Why did God make me like this?!? I wish I could just die,” he said.
My 8 year-old.
My 8 year-old said he wished he could die. We cried together. He eventually settled enough to fall asleep, and slept in my arms all night so that I could make sure he was safe.
There was no longer any question we needed help. He was not going to simply outgrow this. Given the severity, we sought a psychiatrist, and after a thorough assessment, he knew exactly what was going on. My son had unaddressed ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) that had begun to negatively impact his self-esteem.
I always thought that if he had ADHD, the school would recognize it, but he did relatively well in the predictability and structure of school. He was bright and found strategies to compensate for his struggles in his classwork, until the work just became too hard. By the time he would get home, he was exhausted from holding it together all day. And the afternoons and evenings would be filled with gentle redirection, but almost constant, as he struggled to transition home. This constant redirection when he was working so hard only served to reinforce for him that he was a “bad” boy incapable of making us happy. This could not have been farther from the truth, but it is now easy to see how his little mind came to that conclusion.
Fast forward 6 months. After some trial and error (and a lot of feelings to work through), we found a low-dose of medication that works really well for him. No more tantrums. No more rage. No more talk of wanting to die. His output at school has not changed much, but the amount of effort it takes is much less draining. His self-esteem is improving every day, and the relationships within our family are repaired.
The decision to use medication in general is a personal one, and especially when children are involved. I did not think this would ever be our reality, but I know we made the right choice for our son and our family.
The medication has not changed him. He is not a new person. But it has helped to bring the sweet, funny boy that was always within to the forefront for the world to see. And most importantly, for him to see.