The cat is licking a hammer.
I was composing the opening line for this post as I walked toward the back door to let the dogs out into the backyard and I happened to glance at the cat. He’s sitting on the ledge next to our basement steps (where things that are supposed to go downstairs are put), licking a hammer that’s been sitting there for oh, a good few weeks now.
If this isn’t a perfect snapshot of what my life is like, I don’t know what is.
Roughly a year ago, we had reached our limit with Jillian and her relationship with the school. We’d been told by two doctors and three therapists that “she’s fine! She’s very smart, she’s bored in school, can you work with the teacher to get her more challenging things to do?” So we’d talked to the teacher, who agreed that Jillian is very smart, but that the challenging bit was to get her to sit down and shut up and stop singing and/or bursting into tears over every little thing.
“But it’s not ADHD, we don’t think.” Oh, okay. I do not have a medical degree, therefore I trusted the second opinion, the third opinion, all the way up to the fifth opinion I got when discussing Jillian’s struggles. Yet, nothing we did for her was effective. Not a damn thing, from rewards/sanctions to behavior mods. Nothing had any effect on her behavior whatsoever.
She was starting to suffer, and worse – she was starting to notice. She had become That Kid, and was being left out of things like playground cliques and birthday parties and other social gatherings that all of her classmates were invited to. The gossip grapevine in this town is VERY strong, and even though I’m not an active participant (I have my three friends and that’s enough for me), I could see that things were happening around her that she wasn’t being invited to.
I snapped. I finally lost it. I had A Talk with the pediatrician, who tried to assure me YET AGAIN that “she’s fine, she doesn’t have ADHD.” Screen her, I said. We have, they replied. Oh, you mean a bullshit 10-second interview about how she likes school? Isn’t there something, oh I don’t know, FORMAL we could try? “We just don’t think her behavior is severe enough to warrant something like that. And your insurance likely won’t cover it.”
Well, thanks, Doc. I appreciate you trying to save me some cash, but my child is having a really hard time and if my instincts are correct (THEY ALWAYS ARE), then perhaps we can get ahead of this thing and HELP HER.
We got a recommendation from a therapist we know and trust and took Jillian to YET ANOTHER DOCTOR to have her checked out. I cannot say enough good things about this experience. From top to bottom, working with this office and this medical team has been a parent’s dream. They were absolutely interested in hearing about our experiences and our struggles and they listened to what we had to say. Bottom line, THEY TOOK THE TIME. The regular pediatrician is more of a meat-grinder operation: get as many people through those doors as possible. This, not so much. They took the time.
A full physical checkup for Jillian was first. Then they gave her a battery of tests, from IQ to whatever else, maybe the SAT and the ASVAB, too. I don’t know, but it was a lot. The doctor observed her while she hammered out the tests, and after that they sent her to the play area to hang out (and be observed) while they scored the tests and talked with us.
I cried twice. I had been so frustrated and upset for so long, it was so amazing to hear someone say “yes, we think you’re right about that.” I’m her mother. I know her inside and out, of course I’m right. After a bit, the tests were scored and all three of us met with the doctor to discuss the results.
One feature of my own personal medical life is that any doctor who has a look at me goes “…wow.” Yes, I know. My body subscribes to the “go big or go home” philosophy (in more ways that one, hahahaha), and when something on me requires a doctor’s attention, it REALLY does. Jillian seems to follow this line as well.
The result: off the charts. IQ? Off the charts (we’re terrified of this). ADHD? OFF THE DAMN CHARTS.
I knew it. I KNEW IT! I FUCKING KNEW IT. Back when she was in kindergarten, I knew it.
And so, a diagnosis was reached. While medication was definitely offered as a solution, I wanted to hold off on that until we’d exhausted every other option available including school intervention, etc. We met with the school’s IEP team and had a nice chat with them and it was determined that she didn’t qualify for an IEP or other “offical” accommodations as defined by law but that they’d do whatever we all thought was necessary to help her out anyway.
A couple of months of that, and things improved a little, but she was still struggling and every day was a battle for her. That’s when we decided to look at medication. There is A LOT of bullshit out there about how kids are “overmedicated” and there is a lot of vitriol directed at parents who apparently jump to give their kids meds because that’s the “easy way” of controlling this kind of behavior. While I don’t doubt that there are parents out there who do this, my guess is that the overwhelming majority of people who decide to medicate their kids do so with a lot of fear and trepidation and regret. It’s not an easy decision to make and it’s definitely not something I talk a lot about because the first person who gets in my face and tells me I’m a bad mother for giving my kid meds, well, I’m going to eviscerate that person and then set them on fire and then drive my car over their ashes before I let my dogs poop on them.
The medication has made all the difference. I used to flinch when an email from Jillian’s teacher would pop up in my inbox because it was NEVER good news. NEVER. Not once. They’d been coming weekly, and it was never good. Now? I haven’t heard from Jillian’s teacher unless I contact her first and the news is almost always overwhelmingly positive. She’s a good student and a good kid and is able to control herself so much more now. You can’t argue with results.
Sure, she’s still a little bit loud and kind of a maniac and she’s got an uphill battle, socially. I know she will eventually find her tribe, but I hope she’s not scarred for life before that happens. But the difference between this 4th grade year and the years before it are like night and day. Whenever I doubt my decision to put her on medication, I remember that.
So here we are, a year later. Some days are better than others – mornings will never not be a struggle because that pill doesn’t kick in for about a half-hour. So every day is still exactly the same. “Get up. No, get up NOW. GET UP. Eat. Please eat. Please stop talking and eat. Are you supposed to be doing that while you eat? GO EAT. Where are you going? Why didn’t you pee when you got up? Get dressed. NOW. It will be cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. GET. DRESSED. It’s PE today, so where are your sneakers? Why aren’t you wearing pants? Where is your backpack? Are you making your lunch or buying it? Do you have your snack? You have to leave in 10 minutes, GO GET DRESSED. Brush your hair. Fine, I’ll do it, come here. GET DRESSED. No, you don’t need an umbrella. Do you have your house key? Fine, see you later.”
Every. Day. Every day is brand new for her, and it will likely never be an automatic process. She’ll never just… get up and go to school, fully dressed, with everything she needs tucked safely in her backpack. If I don’t steer her, she’ll get up and eat breakfast (maybe) then have a dance party in her room for 45 minutes. She’ll watch the cat watching birds out the window. She’ll get lost in a book and forget what time it is.
All of these are lovely things, but not on school days. Weekends are better, usually.
What I found interesting was that her ADHD diagnosis led to my own ADHD diagnosis. After reading through her test results and having all the bells in my head ringing like a royal wedding, I went to my own therapist and said “let’s see where I land.” Well, well, well. WELLITY WELLITY WELLITY. ADHD all up and down the joint. My therapist said it’s very likely that I’ve always had it and that is probably the culprit for a lot (a very lot) of the various issues I faced in my late teens/early 20’s (also known as The Disaster Years). ADHD is probably the reason for all of it.
WHAT A BREAKTHROUGH. There’s a good reason why I haven’t been writing much on thishere blog, you know. I tend to write when I’m upset or anxious or frustrated or angry, and I haven’t been those things very often since I figured it out. I stopped a lot of self-blame and let go of a LOT of guilt and shame about the fact that I’m almost 41 and I’d be the World’s Greatest Slacker if I could just get around to submitting the forms.
It’s not that I don’t want to or that I forgot to do things – it’s that I just literally CANNOT. It’s not a personality flaw, after all! Oh, trust me – I still have myriad personality flaws, but my historical flakiness isn’t actually one of them. WOO HOO! Or something. It was amazing to me to realize that my inability to follow through on so many things isn’t because I personally suck at life – I have/had this invisible barrier in front of me all this time!
That knowledge has transformed my life over this past year. The anxiety/depression cycle I used to churn around in has abated somewhat. I am almost completely off the anxiety/depression meds I’d been on for years and years, and I feel amazing. I feel things, period. That’s new.
Now that I know the WHY of things, I am better at getting around it. I know that I have a limited amount of fucks to give every day. And once those are given out, there are no more, so I have to apportion them appropriately. It’s getting better. I’m considering medication, but as an adult with ADHD, getting meds is really fucking hard because most of the ones used to treat ADHD are also taken recreationally. That’s a problem, but not one I need to solve at the moment.
As for Jillian, she is improving as well. If you consider every day a race, most people line up at the starting line and go when the gun goes off. Jillian’s normal starting point is about 200 yards back, which means she has to go that much farther every day just to get started. Having the medication available to her put her maybe not ON the starting line, but a hell of a lot closer than 200 yards. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.