It began in 1999.We had gone down this road since he was four. The doctor’s visits, the hospital stays, the misdiagnosis. Each doctor wanted to hang the label of ADHD on my son, even though I knew that was wrong. I had done my own research, and I knew his symptoms did not match ADHD at all.
The Bipolar Child by Demitri F. Papolos, lovingly handed to me by my Aunt, had taught me that he came a lot closer to being bipolar than anything else; but that wasn’t even a true fit. I did know that all of the ADHD medications they wanted me to force him to take did nothing other than make him more hyper. This was the opposite effect they were to have on a child that was truly ADHD. No one listened. I was told I did not give it enough time. In 1999, no psychiatrist would diagnose a child his age as being bipolar in rural North Carolina, no matter how many times I came into their office in tears, begging them to help him, to help me.
I had to hospitalize my then six-year-old son due to violent outbursts. I was given a choice, hospitalize him on my own, or the state would step in and make the choice. His violent outbursts at school had become too prevalent for them to ignore. The hope was, if they could observe him, maybe they would see what I had been trying to tell them for two years.
Unfortunately, to be hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for children means much the same as it does for adults. Over-medicate when outbursts occur and attempt to create a cocktail of drugs to turn them into a zombie in order to send them home. For the first couple of weeks, he was a different child. Of course he was, he was so doped up on medication, he barely functioned. Once he saw his regular psychiatrist and therapist, they reduced his medication to a more manageable level. The cycle began again, and he started causing trouble at school and home again. I found him trying to cause harm to his little brother, woke up to him holding a butcher knife over my head; the little things that make you break. Yes, those are the little things. To this day, I can not think of the bigger things that happened, they are too painful.
We were back down the same road again, a new placement, new doctors, new medications. And finally, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He was ten years old at this point, and I finally thought we were getting somewhere. Unfortunately, all this did was send him spiraling down the rabbit hole of different medications, gaining weight, poor self-esteem, more anger, more placements, and hospitalization.
My son’s childhood was spent in group homes and hospitals. And I was there. Every weekend, every holiday to bring him home, every single chance he was given. And according to him, it was never enough. According to him, I had abandoned him. According to my entire family, I am a horrible parent.
Finally, when he was 17, he was given a new diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Anxiety. This was the best fit he had ever had. The medication worked. The problem was, it worked too well, and he thought he was cured. He went out into the world, stopped taking it, and turned to heroin.
He abandoned his family. He found new friends and family, those who accepted him as he was, an addict. He chose to steal from his family, from me, his mother. He would do anything to get his next fix. And trust me, he did.
He was arrested multiple times for crimes related to his drug use, theft, identity theft, credit card theft, and shoplifting. Then began the cycle of incarceration, released on probation or parole, violated, and sent right back. Heroin became his only friend, the only thing he thought he could count on to get him through everything, even though it is literally ruining his life.
I read Danielle Steel’s book about her son, His Bright Light, many years before, and all I could think about is how he took himself off his medication because he thought he was cured, and how in the end, he took his life. This is my biggest fear, my ultimate nightmare come to pass. I lost my own father this way, I don’t want to lose my son this way as well.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a parent is cut my son off. When I realized that no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to help him, nothing I did was going to change a thing as long as that needle was in his life. He was a master manipulator due to his mental illness, and would use the love I have for him in order to find his way back into my life, just to steal from me, or to use my home as a place to shoot dope. After multiple times of falling for this, I finally had to stop it, before it hurt me and my youngest son. I could not allow him to drag the rest of us down with him.
But most of all, I could no longer enable him in his quest to ultimately end his life.
I went over a year without hearing from or seeing my son. I did not know if he was alive or dead. This was his choice, because he chose drugs over his family. I had no way to get in touch with him and he was told if he came to my home any way other than completely clean, I would call law enforcement. I also lost most of my biological family for making this choice. They were never there to see any of this, his childhood, the drugs, prison, any of it, firsthand. They made the choice to believe him and think I was being a horrible parent, rather than giving him tough love. I have to live with the choices that I have made, and I have finally come to understand that I made the right ones.
In October of 2016, my son violated his probation for the last time and was sent to prison for seven months. His girlfriend informed me, so I finally knew that he was still alive. He started writing letters to me while he was incarcerated and I wrote back. A lot of it was the same song and dance of before, promises of changing his life when he got out, how his new girlfriend was good for him, she doesn’t do drugs, she was waiting for him. All I could tell him is that we would wait and see. He ended up spending a little over a year in prison due to infractions he received while inside, so when he was finally released, his parole was over and he was truly a free man.
It has been five months. So far, so good. He is back in therapy, something he has not willingly taken part in for years. He has a job, a good woman, a stable place to live, and friends who are not heroin addicts. I’m proud of him for the first time in a very long time.
For most of his life, he has blamed me for everything that has gone wrong, which I know is part of his illness, but still hurts nonetheless. However, on Christmas Day 2017, he sent me these words:
“When I was younger, I didn’t understand a lot of stuff that was going on. It was hard when you and my father split up. Things sucked then. I felt like being home with you, I was always happy. I didn’t like a lot of stuff that went on, like moving and you being with anyone other than my father. But now that I’m older and I’ve had to do things in order to be able to survive, I don’t get upset at you anymore about it. I used to try to blame you for all of my problems but in reality you were the best mom I could have asked for. I think you’re an awesome mom because I realize now that you made a lot of sacrifices to make sure that my brother and I could have a good life.”
And that’s how I know, no matter how many times I cried alone in the bathroom, trying to hide my sobs from my children, no matter how many times I questioned every decision, no matter how hard it was to do all of this alone, twenty-three years later, I have my answer, my validation, from the source. I did something right.