You’re starting your morning out by feeding your children when you realize that you’re all out of bagels. Now most parents would just roll their eyes, add bagels to the grocery list, then search for another food to serve for breakfast. But for a parent with a mood disorder child, your reaction is much more intense. You start to feel panic and your heart races a little (as mine is now as I recall this common event), then you jump into deep waters as you tell your son that “sorry we’re all out of bagels”. Then you switch over to your defensive mode as you prepare for his response.
Now on some days, you’re elated to see that it’s no problem and that oatmeal will be just as good, then other times you watch with fear as your son starts to rev up. His tone becomes louder and he throws his dish across the counter as he knocks his chair over yelling “FINE, THEN I’ll GO HUNGRY SINCE THERE’S NOTHING TO EAT!!!” Then the behavior intensifies as he runs upstairs. As you follow, to get him back downstairs, he starts to throw stuff at you, then purposely knocks over furniture and begins throwing things at his brothers. In hopes to stop his progression, I use 1,2,3 Magic (a timeout method taught by our doctor). Once he gets to “3”, I tell him he has to go into a timeout. That’s usually where things become more severe. Within moments he’s punched or kicked one of his innocent brothers or myself. As you try and physically stop his punches by placing him into a hold, he turns into a wild animal. He begins to scream uncontrollably, he even begins to growl at you, while his head thrashes around, trying to “head-butt” you or he stretches to bite you, which he has many times. He uses his feet to stomp on your own feet and kicks at anything he can. With all the adrenalin that’s pumping through his body, he becomes much stronger than he normally is. The entire time you’re trying your best to remain calm (because if you escalate, he’ll follow). Having been there before, you know that things can get worse. You become afraid of your own child, yet are desperate to protect your other kids, taking all the abuse you can.
Being a petite woman, my son is fast approaching my height and it’s physically challenging to maintain control. I’ve been trained by our therapist to become a wrestler, to maneuver my body around my son’s so I can safely hold my son in a position while he fights against me, as we wait for his body to calm back down. This sounds so much easier than it is, I’ve found that I’m not very good at wrestling. In fact, recently I received a “head-butt” to my face that caused me to bite my tongue and bleed. I should’ve kept my head to the right of his, but when you’re in the moment, it’s so difficult to remember those small, yet important details.
Last summer, we were taught to put our son into his room and keep the door closed so he could let his rage out in a confined space away from other people, keeping us all safe. In our early attempts to do this, my son slammed a chair through his door, yep, I had chair legs pointing at me through a gaping hole he put in his door. After that, during timeouts, he’d use this hole to stab his play swords at me through the hole as I held the door. But quickly our therapist advised us to put particle board on the entire inside of his door so he could beat up the door without coming through it and to use a lock on the door to avoid the constant struggle of holding him in. The less interaction he had, the quicker he’d calm back down.
My son’s rages can be felt in advance with subtle signs such as irritability, rudeness or negativity, but unfortunately, you can’t tell the moment that will cause the explosion. Will it be the word “no” when he’s told he can’t have more cookies, will it be losing a game with his brothers, will it be over feelings of frustration over his homework or will it be the fact that I don’t have anymore bagels? Without knowing, we’re all learning to walk on eggshells.
But one thing is for certain, after a rage our son will return to his sweet, respectful and considerate self. If you asked him why he was attacking his mom, he’d say “I don’t know why.”
As I type this blog, it’s ironic that I was just interrupted by my son going into a rage. At this moment I’m still recovering. Thankfully, my husband just came home and took over. I’m sweating, my heart is pounding, my stomach is sick from the stress of the situation. My hand is swelled in pain from trying to hold the door closed after my son broke the lock on his bedroom door after I put him into his timeout. I was bit, hit, kicked. Shoes were thrown at my head and a toy with a sharp tip was held up like he was going to stab me with it. I was able to take it away. I know that downstairs, where the rage began, our house has been messed up with things thrown about. Emotionally I feel abused, I’m trying not to cry, I feel very sad for my other children who heard me screaming in pain. I’m still upset with my son right now, but in about 30 minutes, I’ll be able to let it go and once again remember that this is his illness, not my son that just attacked me when I tried to send him into a timeout for being mean to his little brother.