Monday, April 14, 2014

Return of the Rage

It’s been over 4 months, but last week my oldest son went into a rage again.

As a result, he now faced our new consequence for the first time:
He lost his bed, all forms of electronics and the privilege of riding in the front seat of the car for the entire week.

My son has been doing exceptionally well lately, like REALLY good, so this came as somewhat of a surprise. But over the years I’ve learned that a person is never cured by their medication, there will always be breakthrough symptoms from time-to-time.

This rage came after two days of increasing intensity in him. He explained it like this to me, “For the past two days I have a feeling inside that I want to fight someone. Yesterday I was getting into an argument with my brothers but Dad resolved it, but I still came back at them, just because I wanted to fight someone.”

I noticed that as his behavior escalated, he was doing everything he could to provoke me. For 45 minutes he attempted to escalate the situation, but I ignored his behavior or I tried to redirect him, but it seemed even then that no matter what I did, he was going to go into a rage.

It’s that Dr. Jeykell, Mr. Hyde syndrome. Mr. Hyde was in the house and he was grinning at me as he tipped furniture over, taunted his brothers and threatened to break things. His opposition was at an all time high, but I wasn’t going to bite his bait. Unfortunately that just encouraged him to up the ante.

The tipping point for me was when he grabbed a glass bottle and was threatening to throw it over the balcony onto the tile floor below. The last thing I needed in this situation was broken glass all over, so I grabbed the bottle from him as I wrestled him to the ground.

Then the battle began.

He swung punches at me, bit me, and scratched my arms up pretty bad as I tried to keep him on the ground.

I really wanted to avoid going here, but as my son later explained, “The rage was going to happen and there was nothing you could do to stop it.”

As we wrestled on the ground, my middle son called an adult friend to come to the house as well as my husband (who works 45 minutes away). I knew that I probably only had 10-15 minutes in me to hold him down, he’s taller than me now and much stronger. Plus I was already bleeding a little a few minutes in, so I knew we needed to get this under control quickly.

At one point he dug his fingernails into my forearm and was grinding them deeper into my skin. It felt like an animal had my arm in it’s teeth and was refusing to let go. I started to cry over him, begging him to let go of my arm, explaining that it was hurting me, but he only dug in deeper.

After a few minutes of trying to hold him down, my middle son came into the room, grabbed his brother’s legs and helped hold him down. As he held him he calmly said, “This is not you right now, this is your illness. Please stop hurting mom.”

Thankfully, as predicted, having my husband’s friend stop by de-escalated the situation quickly.

What followed when my husband got home was the removal of my son’s bed from his room to the garage, signally the beginning of his week long of consequences. This is our effort to teach our son that violence is never acceptable and won’t be tolerated. We explained that he’s managed to learn to “keep it together” at school, he’ll have to learn that skill at home too.

As usual, our son seemed renewed after the rage. The chemicals released in his brain during the rage seemed to “reset” his brain. He was handling his consequence well, even made a makeshift bed in his room and borrowed books since he’ll have a lot more free time without electronics.

The true test will be if he remembers this long week of consequences and chooses therapy steps over a rage the next time he feels like he needs to fight someone.

Only time will tell.

* * *

Today marks the end of the week long consequences. The bed has been returned and life is continuing as usual. I thought it was worth sharing that our son never once complained about his consequences. I find this surprising, in fact, I was prepared for a rough week. But instead, he was great. He seemed to accept his consequences and made a good effort to earn it all back. I’m pretty proud of him.


  1. This sounded way too familiar, I could have written it myself. =( Unfortunately, it's a very common occurance with my 6 year old, even with meds. Do you honestly think he can control his rages? (That's a sincere question, not a combative one.) I see my son go through this and although sometimes I do think he has the ability to control it, sometimes I really don't think he can, or will ever be able to. Like your son said, it builds up and it has to come out, there's nothing you can do to stop it. I want to believe that one day they both will be able to control their rages, but I just don't know. I have anxiety and depression and as much as I want to, I can't control it, ya know? Sorry- it's spring break- aka no structure week- aka total melt down week, and I'm exhausted.
    I would love to know what he uses as his therapy steps. My son has doctors, but I haven't been able to find anyone who has been able to really help him with therapy and self control.
    Thanks so much in advance, and once again, thank you so much for your blog. It really helps knowing we aren't alone!

  2. It's a good question you ask. I really do believe that in time he will be able to manage it. I think it takes medication to make it possible, then therapy to give him the tools and in time with maturity, he'll get more self control. We’ve already seen this to some degree. There are plenty of times where he goes for a walk instead of going into a rage. Or he goes to his room to get away from us so that the stress doesn't rise.

    Plus, he has shown us that at school, he is able to control it. he has never raged at school. Sure he has come home to let it out hundreds of times. But the fact that he can hold it in at school shows that he has the ability to a certain degree. At home we try to minimize his stress, and work on de-escalating the situation to help him manage his anger. There are times, just as this post shared, that he couldn’t control it. But I hope that in time, as he gets older, this will also get better.

    The way I look at it is that I have to have hope. if not, he will face serious consequences as he gets older. But looking at where we have come, we have seen such huge improvements. I have to believe that we will get there someday.

  3. I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. I can't image the heartbreak that you felt as you tried to hold your son down. I read somewhere that anger needs to be release one way or another. So I can understand that after his moment of rage it seemed as though his brain reset. Has he ever had a go on that kickboxing bag when he notices his behavior escalating, to release that anger in a more harmless way?

    1. I wish he would go to that kickboxing bag, we suggest it, but he wants nothing to do with it, especially in the moment of anger. I wish he could find a good release of anger there, it sure would help a lot. Right now we are working on his "go to"–the field with nature and open space on his own.

    2. I had a similar thought about the release. I wonder what it is especially that gets engaged during a battle--if it is a mental activity or physical activity release? (It seems if it was physical then he would be drawn to the kickboxing bag, but it may be a need to engage with a "living enemy"?) My son plays a lot of violent video games and these seem to provide a release for him. I wonder if some sort of mechanically activated punching bag (like you see in movies to train knights--do they even make those?, or in Kung Fu Panda--which is animated) would help your son? Something that would respond to him in some way? I think that's part of what my son gets out of the video games is feedback to his aggression.
      He's been doing very well lately, but he did come home the other day with fingernail marks on his wrist where he'd dug into his own arm controlling himself.

    3. I think your theory of engaging with a "living enemy" is valid. My son needs to be in a fight with someone to get the relief. I’m glad your son has been doing well lately, hopefully the fingernails was an isolated event.

  4. Mama Bear--I found your blog! So amazing to hear other stories of children like our daughter. Just went through a three hour meltdown with her (she is 10). My husband and I held her down many times (to protect her from damaging things, hurting herself, and others) and were kicked, punched, etc. Today was the first time I got struck by a sharp piece of wood, whacked with a towel and had my knee injured. My husband sustained several groin kicks. Luckily we caught her and there was only minimal damage to property (she tries to throw rocks through windows, scratch my car, and rip anything apart) What is interesting to me is that when she is in that place of meltdown rage, she doesn't register that she has hurt somebody. It sounds like your son doesn't either. Have you gotten any info on this? Also how do you build your son's self esteem after this? My daughter gets stuck and wants to die out of feelings of embarrassment and guilt. You have other children and I have another daughter who is 6 (I sent her to the neighbor's). How do you talk to your kids about your son's rages and behavior. Thanks!

    1. These are great questions. First, therapy helps a lot with self esteem. A good therapist will recognize this. Our son spent a lot of time with our therapist who spoke of his strengths and gifts and acknowledged that his behavior was caused by his illness. This helped him build back up. But it really took getting him stable on meds where he was finally in a place where he could hear these things and receive positive feedback. Also, the better he got, the better he felt about himself. It is very common to feel bad about oneself after a rage. My son can only think about one thing when he rages, so considering other’s feelings or how he is harming us is impossible. That is where the regret comes in later after he is stable again.

      We also try and remind him that when he is upset that it is his illness and not who he is. He is not his illness. It is his brain making mistakes. I think this has helped him release some of the guilt he feels after a rage. When things are going good we also try and build his self esteem by praising his gifts and abilities along with praising good choices and self control.

      As for the siblings, we are honest. The brothers know that their big brother has a mental illness and it isn't his fault, just something he was born with. They know that his illness can cause him to rage. We allow open discussion. I have alone time with the younger boys and let them vent their anger and frustration over it. I also acknowledge their feelings and let them know that I recognize that this is tough on them and that I am sorry for their struggles in that. I think this helps a lot. I try to have them leave the space when he rages, it isn't always perfect, but I do what I can. I try to check in with them to comfort their own fears and trauma during/after an event. This hasn't always been easy during 3 hour rages, when most of my time was trying to stop the rage, but I am working on this more.

      I think forgiveness goes a long way. For everyone.

      Being open, letting the kids ask questions, there is a great book for siblings called: "Being the other one”. It focuses on the siblings' experiences and helps me see their perspective better, thus letting me help them more.

      I hope some of this helps. Nothing is perfect, but we can do our best and that is good enough.