Norrine and I have often talked about how beneficial it would’ve been to have known other parents with complex ADHDers as we’ve been on this parenting journey. Neither of us had the benefit of heartfelt and telling conversations with other parents who’d traveled before us. There’s much that can be learned from another’s story. At the very least, it can remind us we’re not alone. On some days, that would’ve been more than enough.
Ali’s Story: The Long and Winding Road
Watching the severe struggles of third grade made it easy to give meds another try and despite a handful of typical side effects, the next school year was mostly a wonderful victory. I have tears as I type those words because it was the very last school year of its kind. The last school year I saw my kid be his confident, hilarious, friendly, book-loving, experiment-making, entrepreneurial, adventurous self. But that will be for another post. For now we’ll just focus on the fact that meds stopped working. The very same med that helped in fourth grade set him off the edge at fifth grade’s start.
And that put him on a merry-go-round of med sampling and horrible side effects that led to going completely med free at the doctor’s orders. We were desperate for someone to figure out why meds were giving bizarre and a-typical side effects. So we switched from our pediatrician to a psychiatrist with a specialized pharmacology degree. He was baffled. No answers. Another doctor switch led us to a new diagnosis: anxiety. It took only minutes of him reading over notes I’d kept over the years. ADHD was a secondary diagnosis to anxiety. My son’s life flashed before me and I was connecting dots like crazy. His soaked school shirts and missing buttons throughout the first grade…HE WAS CHEWING HIS SHIRTS! I’d thought it was water fountain mishaps. His inability to sit still and constant walking around the dinner table and classroom – HE WAS PACING! His complete meltdowns and tantrum-like behavior during homework time – he was experiencing a FIGHT OR FLIGHT response. How could I miss all of this? How could I not see what was now so obvious? My own childhood anxiety was now coming into clear view. It was an avalanche of realization.
This was the reason stimulants were setting him into orbit. This explained so many behaviors. This broke my heart because missing this diagnosis early on created such hardships at school. And that fifth grade year when he was med-sampling then med-free was such a disaster. It set a new trajectory for all school years that would follow. I still can’t let go of the guilt on the one.
So here we were with our handful of diagnoses by the end of sixth grade: dysgraphia, ADHD and anxiety. The SPD was dropped during the elementary years and we’d go through several more doctors in our search to get things evened out and figured out. As high school began, depression was added to the list and, though I never knew it was even possible, PTSD was added in junior year. You never expect school to become such a source of trauma that it could cause PTSD.
Actually, I never expected any of this. I always feel like I’m playing catch up – never fully grasping it all – even now as we continue to consider adding labels to new behaviors. It’s been a very, very long and winding road. I’m exhausted, so imagine how my seventeen-year-old feels. What an amazing and resilient kid. He only ever missed ONE day of school while battling severe anxiety/depression/PTSD. His bravery amazes me. He is my hero.
Join us this week on the blog as we continue to unfold our diagnosis stories. There’s power in sharing your story and we invite you to share yours too. If you haven’t already, join our Two Moms and ADHD private page on Facebook today. It’s the perfect place to share and you never know who your words may help or whose words may help you.