While we were in and out of the hospital with our young daughter this past year, our 10-year-old son was changing, and not in a good way.
What first tipped us off to something being wrong was school. While our son, Ryan, was still getting good grades, he had slowly but surely lost interest in anything but computer games. Maybe this doesn’t sound that unusual today, but for him it was. He has always had a zest for life, unquenchable curiosity and a deep-seeded need to explore. And he has always been very social and loved playing with friends. But he rarely did anymore.
Ryan was also showing signs of anxiety, which, under the circumstances was perfectly understandable. He was unhappy and fighting with us a lot, and was generally feeling low. The smallest thing could upset him for hours, sometimes days, and instead of his upset diminishing over time, would often increase. Yet a half hour later he might be happy and a half hour later angry again. His moods were very unpredictable. My husband and I joked about the roller coaster ride of being Ryan’s parents, but we often felt afraid and frustrated and did not know what to do. We were overwhelmed by what we were dealing with with our daughter and felt totally unequipped to deal with Ryan’s challenges.
Eventually I remembered a friend telling us her son had been in therapy and got the name of his therapist. That was in March and within a couple of weeks of seeing the therapist the Ryan we knew began to re-emerge! He was obviously feeling less anxious, wasn’t fighting with us as much, and was happy more often. He wanted to spend time with friends again. But the anger and fixation on negative things had not improved and he still had periods of depression for no apparent reason and unpredictable mood swings.
In June his therapist suggested he probably has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I’m not sure why, but this was a huge shock. I mean, he has always talked a lot, had a hard time sitting still and often doesn’t appear to listen. Since he was a toddler my sister has said he’s like a cartoon character. We even put him in a private school kindergarten through 2nd grade because he had “a lot of energy” and we felt the setup of the private school would be better suited to his need to move. We had grown used to and adapted to those traits. So why was I shocked? Perhaps learning that anger, irritability, depression and negative fixations are also common characteristics of people with ADD/ADHD and not knowing how we could help Ryan. The therapist’s suggestion?… Continued therapy as needed and… Medication.
We swore we would NEVER medicate our kids. Normally we would take a more holistic or natural route, but that kind of treatment takes time. We needed help for Ryan now. For weeks after his diagnosis, and even after getting an affirmative second opinion, we debated on giving Ryan medication. I had even filled the prescription but reading the possible side effects – nervousness, excitability, dizziness, headache, anxiety, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, etc. – just made our decision more difficult. Part of me was terrified he’d drop dead as soon as he took it. Another part thought, “What if….he was happy again?”
Ultimately, hope tipped the scales. If our son could be happy it would be worth trying.
The first day on medication we watched Ryan anxiously, only to be surprised when it worked immediately! Here was our happy, affectionate son again! No mood swings. No angry outbursts. It was a miracle! For many days we continued to watch him with trepidation, and for the most part we were, and have been, thrilled with the results. It’s been over 3 months now and other than several weeks initially of adjusting medication and dose, it’s going really, really well! He has even recently “graduated” from therapy.
I do harbor some fear about long-term side effects even though the doctor assures us the medication wears off within 24 hours. But Ryan’s therapist believes over time he may grow out of some of the issues he’s having as a result of ADD/ADHD, or as he matures be able to exercise more self-control, and won’t need medication anymore, or will need less. I am just grateful there was a solution. Sometimes I worry or feel guilty for not trying the route of natural treatment, but seeing Ryan happy again, interested in friends and life again, having peace and harmony in our family again, makes it all worth it.
This past year has challenged us as parents on every level. As our friend Jody says, “Parenting is not for wimps.” There are plenty of days I feel like we are wimpy parents, but overall I know we are doing the best we can, we love our kids so much, and that is all that matters.