We met at a blogging conference. I was explaining that I wanted to write full time. It had never been an option before due to my seven-year-old son’s special needs. I thought it may become possible soon because he had recently started medication which seemed to be helping. I was really excited.
I’m sure you had good intentions when you responded so abruptly. Maybe you are a kind and thoughtful person. That was the impression that led me to open up to you in the first place. But in that moment, a moment you probably haven’t thought about since, you were not kind. You were not thoughtful.
“Don’t do that!” you told me. Don’t put my child on medication. Don’t let my child be altered by a system of over-diagnosing physicians who throw pills at every problem.
“Have you tried just celebrating who he is?”
You have a friend who has a son with autism. And, according to you, the drugs she gave him turned him into a zombified version of himself. Surely it would be better for my child if I just grew a little more patient and accepting.
I should’ve walked away from you. Or stayed and put your ignorant opinion in its place. I think back on our conversation now and fantasize about what would’ve happened if I had just decked you. But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I just let you drone on as I considered never telling my story to anyone again.
Eventually, I nodded my head and said it was something to think about. You seemed appeased by that; like maybe you had convinced me. Did you think I would reverse my decision and call that pill-happy doctor to give her the what for?
What you didn’t know was that the idea of medicating my seven-year-old for a mood disorder was the most painstaking decision in my life. You didn’t know that he had been seen by several different kinds of professionals who unanimously agreed it was best. You didn’t understand what I meant when I said my son was physically aggressive toward others. You didn’t know he was abusive to himself. You just assumed I was tired and looking for an easy out.
You were so sure of yourself; so quick to attack without asking questions. Convinced I was either uninformed or selfish. In saying I was wrong, did you think you had just helped a poor, drugged-up kid whose differences would now be celebrated? Did you imagine his life was changed by your ability to decide, sight unseen, what was best for him? I wish I could tell you now that you did make a difference in someone’s life: Mine.
Your words put another brick in the wall I’m building. It is one of many. Your brick lies beside those given to me by the neuropsychologist who promised she was going to help my son no matter what and then told me it was too hard to deal with his behaviors. Your brick sits upon the one from the behaviorist who said, after only two sessions, that I may need to consider institutionalizing my six-year-old.
There is a brick from the father who admitted he taught his son to hit my little boy when his attempt at play was a nuisance. Another brick came from the friend who told us we were no longer welcome at her house. There is a brick from the special needs support group that asked us to leave when he was just two-years-old and was already too rowdy, and another brick from the principal who kicked him out of kindergarten. There were several brick layers added to my wall on each of the days I was called to school to find my baby being held down in a padded corner because they couldn’t control his rage.
But you didn’t know that, did you?
This wall, that your snappy judgment helped build, is getting pretty tall. With each contribution, the more closed off I become. It now protects me from everyone who has given up on my son and it blocks out people like you who don’t even know us, yet are somehow convinced they know what’s best.
Which is it today? Am I too tough on him, or not tough enough?
For the record, yes, I do celebrate my son. Despite his struggles, I know my son is amazing. He is fun and sweet and I celebrate him every single day of his life. I celebrate with exuberance the unconditional love of our bond, the joy of watching him grow and learn, and each new milestone he achieves. I play and laugh with my son. I do my best to help him be positive despite the fact that, when all he wants is a friend, he has none.
I work diligently to teach my boy right from wrong. I help him as he struggles to control his aggressive impulses. I tirelessly forgive each transgression and do my best to let go of the hours of violence that consume my home so that when he is calm he can still experience a somewhat normal childhood. When that isn’t enough, I spare no expense taking him to doctors, teachers, therapists, and social groups. Despite so many who have been unwilling or unable to help him, I never stop fighting.
I have spent my son’s entire life working to not leave one ounce of doubt in his mind that I love him and accept him. Yet you sat there with the audacity to assume that his needing medication meant I hadn’t been celebrating my son. You did not ask about the countless nights his father and I lost sleep worrying and weighing our options before we decided to give our son medication. And I did not tell you what I should have: that while I am celebrating who my son is, I also celebrate the medication that is helping him be a happier little boy.
I celebrate that medicine now allows my son to interact with other people without hurting them or himself.
I celebrate that he is now willing to dress independently, though I still need to help him in the bathroom.
I celebrate every time he eats something new without vomiting. I celebrate when he eats something new and vomits because, hey, he tried.
I celebrate that we can now drive in a car without him pulling my hair, kicking my head, or trying to jump out onto the freeway.
I celebrate that we can go to the store without having to leave our cart full of groceries behind so he can have a meltdown in the parking lot while strangers accuse me of being abusive.
I celebrate that my son is now able to do schoolwork for more than thirty minutes at a time and that he narrowly escaped having to go to a school where first graders are frisked before being allowed in the building.
I celebrate that no one has had a bloody nose, black eye, or broken bone at my son’s hand in months.
I celebrate that his brother was able to play in the same room as him today without being attacked.
I celebrate that he almost never tries, or even talks about, killing himself or anyone else anymore.
I celebrate the idea that one day I may not need to hide all my scissors and knives.
I celebrate that when I say I love you, he now responds, “I love you more.”
Yes, I celebrate my son, and you bet your ass I celebrate those pills.
Despite what you’ve heard, there are times when the diagnosis and treatment of kids is necessary. There are children, whether you want to believe it or not, who need medication and mental health care. I did not put my kid on meds simply because I didn’t want to deal with tantrums. I followed the advice of trained medical professionals. I give my son medication to help him. What made you think otherwise?
You probably haven’t thought about me since we met, but I’ve thought of you. I’ve thought about how I wish I could go back and tell you how much you don’t know. That you have no idea what parents like me go through in making these decisions. We have plenty of gut wrenching self-doubt without your help.
I cannot redo our conversation so you will never know that my son is a wonderful boy and that this medication is helping him. If I could go back, I’d tell you that this wall being built around parents of children with mental illness is heavy and hurtful. It fuels an unwillingness to share our struggles for fear of more criticism. It stops us from educating others and it forces us to go through it alone. I wish I could tell you that you had a chance to help take down the wall and you blew it.
I wish I had told you that I celebrate my son.