Many of my facebook friends shared this article the weekend after the school shootings in Newtown. I read it and it all came flooding back.
I used to live this woman's life.
I'm not sure what "caused" my oldest son's issues, but I have lots of ideas, all of them my fault. He was a demanding infant, although my postpartum depression at the time really didn't allow for much perspective.
When he was two-years-old, our daily nap time ritual consisted of him standing on my bed screaming for an hour, a literal 60 minutes, until either the timer went off and he could get up or he finally passed out in exhaustion. I begged God everyday for the latter. As his expressive language grew, he added insults into the screaming. I had read all the books and knew I needed to win the battle of him staying on my bed, but I had to let the verbal abuse go. "Be consistent" is what the experts say, and I was that...for an entire year, every day. It never changed.
As he got older, the fits of rage increased in both intensity and frequency. Every time I instructed him or said no to him, I braced myself for the fall out. I never knew if the response would be from my sweet young son, or the monster that seemed to roam within him. Sometimes, a simple command like, "put your shoes away," would yield a calm, agreeable response, "Okay, mom." But sometimes, it would turn him into a screaming, writhing beast who would throw things and hurl threats and insults to anyone around. His siblings would cower in fear. Sometimes, I would, too.
He was our fourth child. It wasn't like I didn't know how to raise good kids. What was wrong with me? What was wrong with him?
We withdrew from outside life. Without any predictor of mood, I simply could not schedule things for fear of a meltdown before we walked out the door. There were often several meltdowns a day. From explosion to exhaustion lasted anywhere from one to six hours of intense, one-on-one attention to the detriment of the other kids who learned to make themselves scarce lest they become a victim, too.
My first priority was the safety of everyone in the house. I had to lock up all the sharps. I had to tell the other kids to lock themselves in their rooms. I sometimes had to just give him his way to keep some semblance of peace. I prayed and begged God to give me wisdom, to heal his hurt, to bring us peace.
Sometimes, I grieved because I loved him so much and was unable to help him. Sometimes, I grieved out of guilt because I barely even tolerated him. I longed for "normalcy." I felt guilty because of the time and attention he took away from his siblings. I asked my husband to consider residential treatment.
I tried talking to my friends about it. They either murmured sympathetic things while looking at me like I'd grown a second head, or acted like the tantrum their typical child once threw somehow compared and gave me advice accordingly.
I was out of my depth.
We finally called the local outpatient behavioral health clinic for an evaluation. The waiting list was three months long.
It was a long three months.
He was tested to see if he was on the autism spectrum. He wasn't. We did get a diagnosis, though.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, nos.
It failed to give us any real answers as to cause, but at least the foe had a name.
We loved the evaluating psychologist, but all treatments were done by behavioral therapists. Ugh. We had observed one of those while waiting in the waiting room. Not a nice woman. We prayed our son would get someone better.
By God's grace, he actually got a therapist who was also completing her internship to be a psychologist. She was gold! She worked with him on identifying emotions, on stress release tactics, and on sticker reward charts. She worked with us on appropriate discipline and structure.
We used "loving holds" if he wouldn't willingly go in time out, which he wouldn't. The timer didn't start until he complied and would sit alone...and stay. "Loving hold" basically meant that I would sit him on my lap and lock my arms around him while he head-butted me and kicked my shins while screaming threats. It was lovely.
But it worked.
After a few weeks, the "loving hold" was only necessary for a few minutes vs the forty-five it took initially. A few weeks after that, it wasn't even needed.
Soon after, I went to work full-time and Daddy became the stay-at-home-parent.
That's when the real transformation took place.
With Dad's attention and input, he soon became the sweet, confident little boy we seldom saw before. Mr. Hyde was gone for good.
I wish I could say what was the thing that turned him around...what was the key. I have no idea why the prayers I'd prayed for so long were suddenly answered. I am just so grateful that they were. I shudder to think of where we would be if nothing had changed.
Today, he is a happy, well-adjusted seven-year-old boy. This past year, it's like he finally grew into his skin. His tactile defensiveness is gone. No longer the gawky, uncoordinated kid he was, now he does amazing stunts on his skateboard and bike. He's still a bit shy and reserved, but he has quiet confidence to try new things. We prepare him for new situations and sometimes, he will admit that he is unsure but he now has the skills to articulate it. Occasionally, he will erupt and blow something out of proportion, but it's rare and over quickly.
I am grateful. I don't pretend to have any answers. I feel like we have experienced a miracle. The only advice I would give to anyone in similar shoes is to seek help until you get it. Be persistent. Love your child, even if you need some distance from him to do it. And, also: Give yourself a break. Find a way to stay sane. Surround yourself with caring people.
For the rest of you I say this: Have grace for the mom in need. Keep your judgement in check. Offer respite. Take her out for coffee. Listen. Pray for her. Look for, and remind her of, the good in her kid.
You never know when it will be you that needs help.