I am a mom. I’ve wanted to be one since I was a very small girl, someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was always something like this: “I’m going to be a mommy, and then maybe a lawyer or something.” Cute, at 4 years old…
There are lots of things that the parenting and pregnancy books leave out, and you can read all of them and still run into situations where you don’t know what to do for your child. I had no idea when I had my daughter, not one clue, that I would wear SO many hats. I’m Mom, teacher, friend, Dr. Mom, nurse, psychic (otherwise known as Mother’s intuition), counselor, warden, maid, cook, chauffeur… all of those you kind of expect, the one that threw me for a loop was the “Slayer of the Invisible Dragons” hat.
No one tells you that it’s a possibility when they hand you your wonderful little bundle of joy. The nurse doesn’t look at you and say “Hey, BTW Momma, you are going to want to shine up your armor and beef up your shield and sword because in 6 short years, that’s when things are going to change and you are going to need the armor.” No one thinks that this will happen to their precious child, this happens to other people’s kids, right? Well, sometimes, you turn out to be the “other people,” it often seems to come out of nowhere because the change was so slow that it just sneaks up on you one day and you look at your child and wonder how in the world your family got HERE.
We are the Other People. We are a military family, so change is normal for us. The past two years proved to be too much change for our eldest child, our sweet princess. Our Ju has struggled for the past three years with ADHD and various behavior problems. We moved for my husband’s job in August of this year and the changes started happening quite rapidly, it proved to be too much for Ju, she started shutting down more and more. She had become physically aggressive with me while her Daddy was away at training over the summer, happening a couple of times a week… after the move, it became a daily occurrence, to the point that I had visible bruising, from very small hands. We struggled to get her into a doctor and finally found one in our new “home state.”
In the previous two years I had taken our daughter to countless specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and medical doctors. Half of the time they would talk with her and then with me, within two visits we would get a response of “I think she’s alright, let’s go down to monthly sessions for maintenance.” I don’t know how many times I looked at a health professional as though they themselves had suffered a psychotic break from reality. Did they not just HEAR my child say that she likes fire & tries to play with it as often as she can? Maybe I’VE had a break with reality, clearly, we were getting nowhere. After we moved, found a new doctor and spent hours filling out surveys with our daughter, we walked into the Doc’s office and within 30 minutes, he said that it would take a while to be able to prove the diagnosis, but that he could tell us right then with 80% accuracy, what was going on with our child. FINALLY, light in a dark room! We would have an answer and the “dragon” would have a name!
Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder, ODD, ADHD & PTSD.
My first response was probably not that of most parents, neither was my husband’s… to a lot of parents that would have felt that this was horrible news but to be honest, we felt like we had won the lottery! Please don’t misunderstand, we are not happy about Jug’s struggles and we wish that we could change them every single day, but we had an answer. It was a place to start!!!
Unfortunately, the good news took a pause for a while. Within a month after getting the initial diagnosis, our Ju attacked her father in the middle of a pharmacy with several witnesses around, we took her in through the closest ER and she was admitted to her first round of acute treatment in an adolescent mental health facility. Within 5.5 weeks, she would be released twice and admitted two more times, the first two to one hospital and the third to another hospital much farther from our home. This last hospitalization, the 3rd one inside of 45 days, took place 24 hours after her second discharge from the first hospital. There are many outside factors involved here but the bottom line is this: our eight-year-old tried to commit suicide.
Since the first hospitalization, we have learned that on top of all of the other emotional factors, our daughter has been hearing voices for “a long time.” She hallucinates, seeing and hearing things that I and her father cannot. They tell her to hurt herself, that she is worthless and ugly. They tell her to kill us in our sleep. How is she supposed to know how to fight that “dragon” if WE don’t even know how to fight it as her parents? Our “dragon” has a new name, or perhaps a plus one of its own; COBPD with Chronic Psychosis. The word schizophrenia has been mentioned a few times, but as of yet, there is not a definitive diagnosis one way or the other where this is concerned. So for now, we hold on to what we know.
This third hospitalization has resulted in a long term stay in a residential unit at the new hospital. While I never want her away from us and we both miss her terribly, I can’t lie and say that on some level, I was not relieved. She is finally getting some help, we are finally getting some help. A veritable army of doctors, nurses, therapists and support staff. This is hard. I want her home but at the same time, being able to talk to her on the phone this week, well, those have been some of the very best conversations that we have had in a LONG time! She is lucid and attentive to the conversation, she sounds more like herself, our sweet Ju, who loves art and animals!
Her Daddy and I are in hopes that this means that someone has FINALLY found Jug’s med cocktail! This seems like a silly thing to be excited about, but I really am as her mom! Having her meds stabilized means that she can actually focus enough to work on the issues that she needs to deal with while in long-term treatment! There is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel and while we are nowhere near the end and as she grows we will need to make sure that we stay on top of her treatment and health, we can see the glimmer!
My husband and I started a Facebook page of our own for Ju because where we are, there is virtually no support for families that are raising a child or children with mental illnesses like she is facing. We are frank and forthright in our posts, we don’t hide her illness or our struggles and triumphs as a family, in her treatment. When I started researching, I found very little about her disorders and how they affect children. This is no longer acceptable. We SHOULD be talking about mental illness, it should not be viewed as a weakness, nor should it make people afraid. We chose to look at it this way; in this fallen world, there are “normal” people who chose to do bad, evil things to others… Yes, there are some people with mental illness who do the same things that those “normal” people do, but if you fight it, educate and do what needs to be done medically and behaviorally, then there is nothing to be afraid of anymore. Just because someone is different than you are doesn’t make them bad or evil, it just means that they aren’t like you… quite frankly, I’m pretty happy about that, how boring would it be if we were all the same?