Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Putting the Pieces Together
Tonight he was becoming stressed over homework and in a rare moment, he went for a bike ride to let off his steam so he could remain under control—all his own doing! If you recall weeks ago, I had to lock him outside as he raged after a failed attempt to get him to “go for a walk”. I was so proud of him for using these coping skills.
After the bike ride he was able to go back to his assignment. As the evening progressed, and the homework overwhelmed him, his stress increased. By dinner he was acting strange, refusing to eat (because he hates most foods we prepare), sitting with his shirt pulled over his head and doing repetitive gestures with his hands, my husband described it as stemming. At one point he disappeared under the table and was essentially hiding from us. Which seemed odd for a 13 year old. Soon after, he declared he wasn’t going to eat so he went to bed early.
And just like that, he went to bed, only scolded once for trying to mess with his brothers. There was no rage, no threatening behavior. He was able to maintain control, though acting odd, he had self control. I imagine it’s similar to the behavior the teachers see in class when he tries to “keep it together” when under stress at school. I have to say, I’m impressed—this is huge progress!
What’s interesting is that over the years we’ve implemented big consequences and they weren’t effective. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time where after warnings, I threw out a new birthday gift because he was repetitively messing with his brother’s stuff. I remember it have absolutely no impact on his behavior, all it did was make me feel crummy. When he was younger, I tried spanking. It was an epic fail when he responded by spitting in my face and telling me to “Do it again!”
Raising a child with a mood disorder is like trying to put a puzzle together without having all the pieces. For years I followed the advice of parents in my playgroups or in my church and what seemed to work for them was a joke in our home. Our pieces never seemed to fit together. I’m sure that some people may think... “maybe it’s the parents, they’re not consistent, or they don’t follow through.” Though I can assure you that we aren’t perfect, I can say with confidence that we’ve done a lot of things right. I know we’re good parents and this isn’t our fault.
I can recall a profound moment with one of my son’s therapists, when after a year of trying to coach me on how to manage my son’s violent episodes he admitted, “Your son is not my worst case, but he’s on my top 10 list of most difficult children to help—and I’ve been doing this for over thirty years and I even worked in the hospital.” We soon left this therapist after he told us that he was out of ideas to help us.
So after all this time, why now is my son responding to the threat of losing his bed? I think it’s interesting to note that when we introduced the new plan he specifically pointed out the bed, giving no attention to the electronics at stake. He said, “You found my weak spot! I love my bed and I don’t want to lose it!”
So we hit a nerve with the bed, but I believe it’s more than that. I wish I could prescribe whatever this is to other parents so that they could help their own children. But I think it’s a unique combination of the right medication, the right modification plan and the right consequences with a dash of maturity to top it off. Unfortunately what’s right for one child isn’t for another.
I also realize that we don’t have this figured out just yet. I know from experience that what’s working today, may not work tomorrow. It’s those darn puzzle pieces—so hard to put together.
But with all that in mind. I see some major progress in my son and I know that for the time being, while everything is in sync, he’s learning self control, he’s practicing his coping skills and most importantly, he’s gaining confidence in his own ability to live well with mental illness.
It’s through this realization that I can stop holding my breath and exhale slowly, knowing that we’re going to figure this out. My son can do this. I have faith in him. I have hope for his future.