Discussing mood disorders in children is an awkward and scary topic, believe me, but it is something that should be talked about. When my son was first diagnosed at age eleven, I felt embarrassed. I felt like it was my fault. I was constantly wondering what I could have done wrong.
Replaying my pregnancy in my mind… What did I eat? Drink? Thinking back through his early childhood… That time he fell and hit his head, was it more serious than I thought? Did I damage him for life when I left him crying that first day of preschool? And of course the present… Was he being bullied? Was he molested? What happened?
I had a million questions, but I wasn’t getting any answers.
The sudden change
My sweet, happy, brave, confident boy had changed… Literally, overnight. One day he was fine, the next he was scared to be alone. He refused to sleep in his room. He was too scared to go to school. He no longer wanted to go outside with friends.
So that you really understand the change he went through, this was a kid who begged to stay out 10 (or 30) minutes later every night. He loved playing outdoors. Always active. He loved school because he loved recess… and his friends. He raced BMX and was in good physical health. He was an outgoing and social kid. This was a drastic change.
Your own fears
We first thought he was just acting out. Looking for attention, not that he didn’t get enough. I wanted to punish him for his behavior, but inside I felt that was the wrong way to handle it. Then I thought, maybe it was hormones. This was my first child. I didn’t know what to expect! But it kept escalating. We realized he was genuinely terrified and this behavior was beyond his control. That’s when fear hit me.
I was scared because I didn’t understand what was going on. I was sad because my child was suffering and I didn’t know how to help.
Who can you reach out to?
These overwhelming emotions and thoughts made it hard for me to reach out to others. I had the support of close family members and a few friends, and they were all just as confused as me, but I felt as though I was dealing with it alone. Okay… My husband was right there with me! But I still felt alone.
Everyone had questions that I was sick of being asked, because I had no answers. The teachers and school administrators were also pretty clueless about how to handle the situation. It was elementary school. They had never seen a child like this.
Mood disorders affect everyone differently. And my son was out of control. I felt lost and alone and I had no idea what to do, yet, I wasn’t even the one suffering.
The one suffering was very manic and very afraid. My poor boy. The school administrators decided that home-school would be best. I’m still not exactly sure how that all happened. In some ways I was glad I could keep him home safe with me. But at the same time, I didn’t know how to help him.
Was a ghost causing my son’s mood swings?
After trying to take care of things on our own and getting nowhere, we finally took a trip to the pediatricians office. A doctor should know how to help, right?
There, he denied being bullied or molested…Phew! Nothing traumatic had happened. But for the first time, he admitted to hearing a ‘ghost’. He talked calmly to the doctor and explained that a male ‘ghost’ spoke to him and was very mean. That’s what he was afraid of. That’s why he didn’t want to be left alone.
It (sorta) made sense now. I was no longer mad at him for tantrums, or sleeping in my room. There was definitely something wrong. And even though I didn’t exactly know what, or understand, I knew he was suffering. I knew I had to help him. But how?
Nothing prepares you for this. It wasn’t in any of the books I read. No one ever mentioned to me that my kid might completely flip out one day. And I honestly wondered if he was really hearing voices in his head, or if my house was haunted!
He was referred to a psychiatrist, who prescribed him medication. The thought of medication scared me, but I didn’t know what else to do. It had been months since this started, I didn’t think I could keep going.
This was taking a toll on our whole family. Our 6th grader was suffering and was being home -schooled. But we had a 4th grader too. He didn’t understand what his big brother was going through. He was suffering too. We were all tired, confused, and wanted our life back.
So we said yes to the medication. And figuring that out was a long and scary process. But eventually, they got it right. And… After therapy, changing home routines, and learning to accept that that our son had a disease, things slowly got better. Of course, we still had a lot to learn, there were side effects from the medication (like weight gain), and he was embarrassed to face the kids at school. But those were all simple problems that we could deal with, and we did.
This happened five years ago. Today, life is great! But it wasn’t easy and there will always be things we need to watch out for. Our psychiatrist never officially diagnosed him because she didn’t believe in labeling children. I am grateful for that. She helped us get through the problems we were having as we had them, and assured me this was not my fault. There was hope that this would go away, or at least get better. And if you met my son today you would never know he had had a problem.
From parent to parent
My advice to any parents going through a similar situation… Reach out and talk. Accept that there is a problem. Don’t try to deny it or blame it on something or someone else. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame your child. And don’t handle this alone.
It may seem like the world is ending, but it’s not. It takes a lot of patience and understanding, but like everything else, you learn to adjust. Focus on the positive, this is just a bump in the road. Life is great, Live it, love it!