Psychiatric Pawn

“This is going to be the last day of freedom for the rest of our lives.”

I remember telling my husband those exact words back on Aug. 10, 1996. We had already passed the expected due date of our baby’s birth by two weeks and were scheduled for a labor induction the next day. On August 11, 1996 a healthy 8 lb. 11 oz. baby boy was born.

Ray was what you would call our project baby. We were two young parents, aged nineteen and twenty.  He was our first born, the oldest of four children,  and we hadn’t a single clue as to how we should take care of him. With time, everything began to feel natural. A lot of the ideals instilled by our own parents influenced the way we raised our other children,  but Ray was different. His motor skills phenomenally exceeded his ability to speak. He was producing 3-D objects out of his legos at the age of a year and a half. It was amazing now that I think about it. I didn’t quite grasp the fact that it was a little bit odd that my child was able to imitate animate objects simply by using big legos. He would make people, dogs, cars, houses, etc. I thought it was quite normal until my mother pointed out a sequentially patterned staircase of red, yellow and blue developed by my  two year old child. His strategies became more complex. At the age of three,  he was able to build out of legos, a 3-D sword which replicated the same protrusions from his toy sword’s hilt and blade.

Ray’s memory was remarkable. He  was able to take anything apart and put it back together. Among the many incidents that I recall, was a  time I made pancakes and the next day,  found a bowl sitting on the kitchen counter whose contents included milk, two eggs, pancake mix and oil. He mimicked everything that I did.

Beside a couple of words, Ray didn’t vocalize at all. “You have to speak to your child, how else is he going to learn to talk?” my mother would say. I didn’t think he understood speech. He usually pointed at what he wanted and whimper, “eh, eh,” until I gave it to him. At the age of three he was enrolled into speech therapy through the recommendation of his pediatrician. The once a week visits didn’t help much.  It wasn’t  until we moved to California and  the influence of his cousins he started talking. He was four. It was a huge breakthrough for us. It was as if it happened overnight and brought tears to everyone’s eyes.

By the time he was five we had already moved back to Ohio and enrolled him into a small religious private school for kindergarten. The conservative teachers were quick to compare the habits of my child to the other students, although major complaints didn’t start until the first grade. He was prone to outbursts when he found things to be unfair and maintained a lack of ability to concentrate. Ray would also go into explicit piece by piece details of explaining things and telling stories. Other allegations included his inability to sit still, pricking and prodding of others students and super talkative tendencies. I didn’t take his teachers seriously when they requested that we have him evaluated for behavior modification. I felt that the teachers were being too judgmental about the way we raised our child and they didn’t want to deal with him. My younger daughter’s well-behaved and academically advanced features, however, redeemed our dignity as good parents. It took two years of pleas and demands for us to seek medical analysis for our child. When the school finally notified us they needed documentation of a therapeutic consultation or they would report me to Child Services, we complied.

By the third grade Ray was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall for treatment. I believed ADHD was a drug industry conspiracy. We were against the idea of our son taking a psychotropic medication. His grades had taken a downfall and I was convinced that it was from the stressful atmosphere created around him at school. After much debate my husband and I decided to proceed with the administration of medicine for our child. Within four weeks of taking the medication my sons grades had improved. The teacher found him to be academically focused and was pleased. I on the other hand, was torn with guilt. It was as if his entire persona had changed. The once vibrant, full of life child had regressed to a lifeless dullard. My son had lost a substantial amount of weight; he couldn’t sleep and seemed to spew outbursts of anger. Ray suddenly had the urge to violently rebel against his teacher and even threatened to throw a chair at her. After a serious reinforcement talk and loss of privilege punishment tactic, he admitted to having suicidal thoughts. My own nine-year old son considered throwing himself in front of a school bus. These are not the characteristics of the “normal” son that we knew. Something wasn’t right.

His psychiatrist advised that we give him a dose of Benadryl every night to tame his insomnia. Call me insane, but another med to remedy the side-effects of the first one? I would only give him the Adderall on school days to encourage eating on the weekends. I did that for two years; until we ultimately decided to discontinue the usage of the medicine altogether. Although the makers of Adderall claimed that continued usage of their product does not cause a dependency, I noticed that Ray would excuse his misconduct for not taking the drug.

He pretty much milked the system. I found him giving his teachers stories about his inability to control himself without the medicine. I substituted multivitamins as a placebo; they worked for a little while. There was definitely an underlying problem. I searched for alternative methods.  I discovered “Learning RX”;  a cognitive enhancement program that claimed to alternate the way a person focuses. Although it sounded very enticing we passed on the $1800 fee for a two week seminar. Instead I researched and learned everything I  possibly could about the program through online forums and sites. We purchased a series of cognitive books that related to Learning Rx’s technique and proceeded to self-help our child. I noticed that my son had the incredible ability to configure patterns and decipher codes; he pretty much enjoyed the exercises. I couldn’t tell whether it helped improve his academic focus or not. But he was paying attention.

During his fifth grade year, teachers once again noticed a regression in Ray’s concentration. We had him evaluated by a behavioral therapist and he concluded that my son was showing signs of bipolar depression and that he “may” have been misdiagnosed with ADHD. Once again a medicinal remedy (Depakote) was ordained. The only thing that I could think of was how this chemical therapy could negatively affect my child’s developing brain. We requested interpersonal therapy and refused administering another drug. Skeptics criticized my decision. I ignored them due to their inconclusive series of misdiagnosis. I continued the self-help that I could offer my child. Prejudgment of Ray’s history and word of mouth gave him a disadvantage with his fifth grade teacher. She basically showed no intention of helping the child “whose own parents refused to acknowledge a psychotropic solution.” Ray was nothing but a mere ornament to his classroom. Any and all school rules and discipline that were ever enforced were lost. This teacher let him get away with everything. His grades declined, yet surprisingly he managed to just barely graduate from the fifth grade.

Ray started the sixth grade in a new public middle school. Teachers immediately noticed a much untamed child. They arranged several meetings within the first two months and discussed all sorts of tactics. I have never seen such a caring and motivated group of individuals so determined to help my son. Ray was quickly put on a success plan, appointed a guidance counselor and entered into a behavioral specific class. In order to complete the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) it was necessary that my son be evaluated by a psychiatrist. I hesitated at first, but after consulting my husband we agreed to find a new therapist. Through the recommendation of his pediatrician, we were referred to Dr. G. This woman was  clearly agitated by my decision in discontinuing my son’s use of Adderall for a year. I told her  the world has been able to carry on for thousands of years without mind altering medication; that the last century alone has changed perspective and ever so wrongly initiated dispensing of chemicals to children. She immediately judged my views on administering psychoactive medication for youngsters.

“You have the mind frame of someone from the 1800’s. Would you deny someone with asthma Albuterol or a diabetic his insulin?”

“No, I would not deny patients that have actual diseases their medication, ADHD has yet to be proven.”

Once again my son was diagnosed with ADHD, and prescribed Focalin. We decided that it was in my son’s best interest to excel in school and progressed with the medicine. Ray experienced a severe case of nausea with the use of Focalin so I had the physician change the prescription to Vyvanse. Other than the same symptoms that Adderall subjected my son to, he complained of stomach pain and headaches. As a mother, I couldn’t help but feel with my son. I decided to experience the ailments first hand  that my son was suffering from in order to understand them. Vyvanse gives one a profound level of concentration which lasts  about 4-5 hours,  followed by shaky nervousness, aggression and headache. I took the medicine for a week and was disgusted with the outcome. Each day I found myself more and more sleep deprived, a continuous loss of appetite and anger. I made a log of all the symptoms  I had encountered for the next visit.

My son was beginning to show signs of hostility and defiance at school. Another series of questionnaires were compiled by counselors for his psychiatrist. A follow-up consultation with his physician resulted in another diagnosis; it was believed that Ray also had an anxiety disorder. It was apparent that my son was suffering from paranoia and fear. She advised that he get started on Prozac immediately. Yet again, I revolted. “I am sorry, but I do not find the consummation of two drugs at once soluble.” The only thing on my mind at that point was more symptoms and negative side-effects.

“Like I told you before, this is a disease and it must be supplemented.”

“Well, I wanted to know what my son meant by the headaches and stomach pain. I tried Vyvanse for one week.”

“You did what? What right do you have to take medicine that was not prescribed for you? You cannot compare your experience to his, your body composition differs from your son’s and overall you may react to the medication adversely.”

“Do you have any children? Any mother would understand my reasoning for experiencing exactly what Ray has been encountering. It was important for me to understand his complaints in order for me to feel with him.”

Not to be biased or anything, but this woman who I was supposed to rely on to find a proper analysis for my child lacks in proper hygiene. Any psychiatrist should be knowledgable enough to realize that appearance plays a major role in perception and reliance in a person. How was I supposed to put faith in someone that had dirty nails, unkempt hair, and odor problems? This may be shallow judgment on my part, but doesn’t every medical facility in America enforce a sterile surrounding? Before you criticize, let me get to my point, should I rely on someone that does not care about her own well being to tell me what should be deemed proper for my child? I think not.

I refused the psychotropic remedy for anxiety and requested an alternative hands-on solution. She referred me to a behavioral psychologist. Our initial appointment with the therapist was quaint;  he was very respectful. Mr. B treated our situation with sensitivity.  He asked many questions and went as far back as Ray’s lego legacy when he was a toddler. Mr. B diagnosed my son with mild autism and requested that he be seen once every two weeks for therapy. After a follow-up visit and further inquisitions about my son’s past, Ray was yet again diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mr. B was able to concur this after he observed Ray’s need to explicitly describe characters and stories in detail.

Ray is currently in the 7th grade and exhibiting rants of anger and violence towards his fellow students. He is still taking the Vyvanse remedy for his lack of concentration in school. Ray is also continuing the behavioral therapy without the aid of any other drug implementation. I have yet to believe ADHD exists.

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