I still remember the first weeks after starting Lithium when my son said, “I feel born again”, to describe how much better he felt. I remember the drastic change in him. Looking back he was clearly suffering from depression among other mood symptoms and once he started Lithium, he blossomed out of his shell and started calling kids for play dates, something that was unheard of in the months prior.
I’m smiling now as I recall how he became a happier person right before my eyes as he would follow me around the house, excited to share details about his day. He sounded bubbly and was smiling constantly. For the first time in a long time he started to engage with his family at the dinner table. Those around him could visibly see that a weight had been lifted off him and he seemed more relaxed in his own skin.
I went from recording bad episodes, symptoms or rages in our behavior charts constantly to making a note every few months. Those written logs were a part of our everyday life and now they sit buried under piles of other papers since I no longer need to report in them regularly.
It’s interesting when I think about how frightened I was about starting Lithium. I have a clear vision of me sitting in the pharmacy praying about this next step. I was worried about horrible blood draws, fears about toxic reactions, weight gain and questions as to whether we were doing the right thing or if we were taking unnecessary extremes for our son. But a year later, I can say it’s been the single most important step we’ve taken in his success.
Lithium has helped our son become stable, thus allowing therapy to be effective for the first time. We still face challenges, but it’s now manageable and the good days far out weigh the bad.
I’ve also come to the realization of how sick my son was prior to Lithium. Over the years we became accustomed to the rages, mood swings and anxiety. The violence was no longer shocking and if anything became predictable. After years of trying to help our son, we grew to accept that this was our new normal and that this was as good as it was going to get. But we were wrong. We were far from stability, yet couldn’t see it from our side of the fence. It took a serious medication to have a serious impact on our son. The results have been remarkable.
Now I don’t write this post to encourage every parent to put their child on Lithium, absolutely not. I respect the seriousness of this step and also believe that what works for one kid may not work for another. But what I do hope to encourage in other parents is to not be so afraid. Had I let my fear stand in our way, I would have denied my son this amazing year and all the joys that have come with it. I would have also denied him the precious year of developing a sense of self worth, something that was unachievable in the years prior.
In his yearbook this year when he was asked to write one wish he wrote, “To live.” This to me is evidence of the hope he now has.
As for all the fears I had, well the blood tests have been amazing easy, he has another one next week and has no problem going (recall the previous years of abusing his dad in the car on the way to a blood draw), he also has had no weight gain and no bad side effects. His kidneys are monitored on a regular basis due to a birth defect and his nephrologist is very comfortable in continuing Lithium. I know that there is still potential for side effects and we’ll face them if and when they come. But I feel these risks are worth it for the gains that can be made.
As one of our psychiatrists told me, it was imperative that he became stable during these developing years in order for him to develop a healthy sense of self worth that is critical for his development and future life. In addition, we could not allow his violence to continue, if it did, he would only grow stronger and more dangerous and would potentially face life changing ramifications. The risks without medication were too great for him and those around him.
My only regret was not taking this step sooner, we could have avoided so much pain for our son and for our entire family and the damage we’re left to repair would have been minimized. But as many of you may know, without tests, we’re often left to take these big steps once things become unbearable.
I can only stand as one parent sharing that for us, Lithium has been a huge success and one that I pray can continue for years to come, or if necessary, for the rest of his life.