A Story and a Starfish

Jake just turned 12. He lives with me full time and spends time with his dad on the weekends and most holidays. He was a very happy and easy baby and hit all of his developmental milestones early or on time. During his toddler years, we hit the terrible 2’s and I guess that’s where things started to get noticed. He never grew out of them. After being kicked out of 2-3 day care centers for hurting students/teachers, we finally found one where the Director was able to step up and talk to me one day that my child may have a problem. So we took our first steps down this long road and started looking into having him tested and evaluated. At 4 years old was diagnosed with ADHD and a few other non-specified disorders. He would fit certain criteria for a few different ones but not enough to actually be classified with the diagnosis. Once it was time for school, he was tested and evaluated by the school and was placed in ED classes and an IEP was put in place. He is a very bright student but school has constantly been a struggle for him/us. He was always in trouble, spending time in isolation or being suspended. In second grade he was hospitalized for 10 days and in 3rd grade he was arrested for assaulting a teacher. We were really not seeing any improvement in the behavior and could not keep it under control. Not to mention, always being in trouble or isolated upset him which would also cause more anger problems to surface. He had a hard time making and keeping friends and spends a lot of time playing by himself.

Over the next 4 years, we would switch doctors 3-4 more times, each time they would either change or add to the diagnosis. I felt at times that we were just throwing darts on a dart board and going with whatever diagnosis we landed on for that day. Of course, along with the changes in diagnosis, came the changes in medicines. I can’t even honestly tell you how many we have tried. There are some great ones out there and we have had luck with a few working for a good amount of time. Then he builds up a tolerance for them and they stop working. Or the other med issue we had was that he has spent a lot of time on more than 1 at a time and we came to find out that some of the combo’s were either contradicting each other & not working at all or they were actually making him worse. Not to mention family and friends who don’t really buy into the whole psychology thing with kids and that these kids just act this way from being spoiled or raised incorrectly. We had to deal with that for a long time and had several people who would not accept his diagnosis or be a part of his treatment. Others even blamed me. 

At age 8, he was hospitalized in a psych ward for the first time. After he was released, we had him reevaluated and this time the tests lead us to the Bipolar/ADHD/ODD Diagnosis. New meds, therapy and treatment soon followed. Now we started focusing on social skills, how to control and handle anger and positive ways to express it. He was retaining all of the information from therapy and was able to learn these things, but there was still a problem. In the middle of a rage, he seemed to forget everything he learned. We couldn’t tell what his triggers were, what was setting him off and they always changed.

Since then we have stayed on course with the bipolar treatment and meds and working on the social skills & anger management. We have had good days and bad ones. I can say that a few years ago, we would have episodes that lasted several hours/days and now we can go days without any episodes. When we do have them, they are very short and he is able to come out of them on his own. The one thing however is that he is getting older and stronger. Even though the episodes are short his level of aggression and destruction is very high. He has destroyed property in school and at home. Broken lamps, picture frames, remote controls, radios, clocks, etc. If he can pick it up, he will break it. There have been holes put in walls, blinds ripped out of windows and even a rear view mirror ripped out of a car.

Over a year ago we moved and change schools. We are both very happy with the new house and neighborhood. In the old neighborhood the kids were all older than he was and used his diagnosis against him. They would intentionally anger him to set him off. One of them also broke into our home and stole all of his electronics. The new school is giving him a chance to prove himself and for him to have the chance to make right choices. But the choices are his to make (to a point). His last school basically just kept him locked up all the time in a room with 7 other kids just like him. In my opinion, this was a bad idea because they all fed off each other and did not have a chance to thrive in a normal environment. In his new school he has only been in the ED room for a little while for 1 day so far, the rest of the time he has been in regular classes all day long. I am so proud how hard he really is trying and hope that as he continues to grow and age, that he will be able to either overcome this all together or at least keep it under control. 
As his mother, I have learned more about life then I ever wanted to. I definitely was not prepared to be the mother of a bipolar child, let alone a single one with very little support. Over the years, I found strength and faith. I had to. I had to educate myself on the disorder. I had to be able to speak with the doctors and the schools. I had to understand. For many years, I was very quiet about my son’s bipolar. My friends didn’t know. I was very cryptic about things at work when I would have to leave suddenly to go pick him up from daycare or school. I felt like I was the only person in the state of Indiana with a child like this and had no idea where to turn to for help and support. I finally found some of these things and in all that I found my voice. I realized I had to tell our story and I had to share it with others. I wasn’t the only one out there and I wanted to make sure other people knew they weren’t either. So I started blogging about it. I shared our story. I shared resources and books that I found. I had something to say and then started to see that people were paying attention. There is a story that has stuck with me over the past couple of years and it really hits home for me and all of the things I want for both my son and myself in the future.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man that used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

I may not be able to save the world but I am determined to try, even if it’s one starfish at a time. I love my son and as I watch him grow up and mature, I know that when he looks back someday, he’ll always know that I was always there and that I loved him enough to pick him up, help him and make a difference. (Don’t worry; I won’t throw him in the ocean).

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