Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mental Illness Weighs Heavy in my Thoughts

The subject of mental illness has been heavy in my thoughts recently.

And this is one of those posts that I've started and restarted several times.

The Swan Thieves: A NovelIt's an inspired post for the From Left to Write book club for The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. In this book club we don't review the books, but instead we write a post that is inspired by the book.

As with many of the books we read for From Left to Write, there are many directions I could go with my "inspiration." But as I read the first few chapters of The Swan Thieves I knew what I needed to write about.

Integral to the story is Robert, a renowned artist, who attacks a painting in a gallery. As the story evolves we follow Roberts psychiatrist as he attempts to find out why Robert did what he did, it moves from past to present, giving glimpses into who Robert is, and his obsession with a woman from the past. It's a deeply involved story with many layers.

Early on I guessed that Robert was bipolar, with his episodes of mania and depression. And I knew that I needed to write about Noah, and our recent acceptance that he too is bipolar, although it is still more loosely defined as a "mood disorder" because of his age.

The incident in early December that I wrote about in this post took away all doubt in our minds that not only does Noah have Reactive Attachment Disorder, but as is often the case with RAD children, he has a chemical imbalance in his brain; a mental illness.

Sometimes I feel like Noah is an onion. We keep peeling away layers to try and find out just what is going on inside his brain. So much of it is trial and error. Speculation. Specialists seeing what they specialize in.

So as his parents we take in what the experts tell us, and then as the two people that know Noah the best, we consider, and ponder, and hope we are making the best choices and listening to the right people.

With each diagnosis, as we consider it, and whether we ultimately accept it or not, I grieve for him, for his future, and for our family. Because each diagnosis defines another layer of difficulty he is facing, and will likely continue to face, possibly for his entire life.

To hear your 7 year old child say he does not want to live is almost beyond description. Knowing adults with bipolar disorder and hearing their stories makes me fear even more.

Until now we have worried about Noah's future. Worried about his impulsiveness, his learning difficulties, his difficulties socially. But we never worried for his life. That is a door that has now been opened.

You bring a child into your life, whether by birth or adoption, and you dream about their future. You wish for them a good life, a happy life, a stable life. A life where when they are an adult, with a family of their own, you are there for them, but more as an equal, a friend, than as a caregiver.

When you have a child with a mental illness it is hard not to worry about that future. Will he be more susceptible to drug or alcohol abuse. Will he be able to hold a job. Will he continue to take his medication, and recognize when he needs help.

And what if he doesn't?

You hear of families that have given up on their children for far less. Personally, I can't imagine ever giving up on Noah. But I'll be honest, a life with a child, or even an adult child, with a mental illness like bipolar disorder was not in that fairy tale I created in my mind when we became a family.

I suppose to some it sounds dramatic, but I fear for his life now. 

As a pharmacist I have always been especially interested in psychiatry. I grew up with a mother that suffered with depression and anxiety since my early teen years. Depression runs strong in that side of my family, and it didn't pass me by.

But the intensity in Noah's emotions is far scarier than anything I have dealt with myself.

I'm not giving up hope. We will continue to provide Noah with every intervention and therapy possible. And I will continue to hope that his psychiatrist is correct when he tells us that by regulating Noah's brain chemistry now there is a chance he won't need medication as an adult.

And I will continue to worry. Because I am his mother, and I love him beyond description.

This is an inspired post written for the "From Left to Write" Book Club. A copy of The Swan Thieves was provided to me by the publishers. I am not being compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.


Monday, January 10, 2011

New Rule - No cutting off of fingers

I find having good, solid rules in our house work best. 

Rules like:

  • No TV or computer before homework is completed.
  • If you don't pick up your Lego's before I vacuum I will suck them up.
  • Love your brother, he's the only one you have.
  • Don't ride the cat like a horse.
And now - No cutting off of fingers.

Last week Noah tried to cut off Kiel's thumb with a cigar cutter.

Visol "Slash" Plastic Cigar CutterKind of like this one. Guillotine style. 

It took me a while to figure out what exactly had happened. Once I dealt with the blood and determined that although Kiel's thumb nail was cut through, he was not in fact going to lose any digits, Noah did answer my questions.  
It still wasn't making sense to me so I told Noah to go and get whatever it was that made Kiel bleed.

And then I realized. Chop. Off with his thumb.

Noah thought it would be interesting to see what would happen. And Kiel, who idolizes Noah, did exactly what Noah asked him to do. 

Noah has shown a lot of remorse over the incident, although I still don't think he understands how serious it could have been.

I guess I should be thankful it wasn't some other appendage he was told to put in there.

So yes, we have a new rule - No cutting off of fingers.