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Laura Walthers

from Flint, MI

Our story is more like a journey with twists and turns, peaks and valleys, triumphs and defeats along the way.  Our son, now 12, was first diagnosed at age five as having oppositional defiant disorder.  We sought help after several discussions with the kindergarten teacher that revolved around his inappropriate responses to requests. The day that he destroyed all the cute little crayon caddies that the teacher had personally spent the summer creating, we pulled him out and enrolled him in a private school.  Already, we knew school was not going to be a friendly place for him.

By third grade, after pursuing the medical professionals, he was given a diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and prescribed Ritalin. As his mother, I knew that we were dealing with more than ADHD. Getting up and out the door for school typically involved screaming, throwing shoes, refusals to eat breakfast, and refusals to get dressed.  Sometimes he had to be carried out and physically placed in the car.  One day, he attempted to jump out of the moving vehicle.  Another day, we were trying a new behavioral technique: if he wasn't ready for school, I would simply begin to leave without him.  The experts were sure that this would convince him that his mom meant business and the morning issues would be solved.  That day resulted with his fist going through the kitchen window as he was attempting to get me to stop the car.  It wasn't that we weren't willing to try anything that worked, it just seemed that nothing did work.

Finally, a friend of mine suggested we try another new doctor, and the diagnosis of bipolar-NOS was given. I read every piece of information I could find, which wasn't much at that time. What I discovered was that it all “fit.”  I could finally believe and trust what my heart had been telling me all along; my son was sick and not bad, not stupid, not strong willed, not delinquent. He was a child in need of help. 

Our journey continued with various medication trials.  We had as close to a perfect school year in sixth grade as could ever be expected, partly, we think, because his meds were on track. He was in sync with his psychiatrist and we had learned how to manage the highs and lows a little better within our home.  The greatest gift we were given that year was a very special teacher, who just loved my son for who he was.  He gave unselfishly of his time and made a difference for our family.  We had a year in which we could just breathe.  We may never have that opportunity again.

We are currently home schooling as seventh grade turned out to be far more traumatic than we could have planned for.  Our son spent much of October in a treatment program and then in the hospital. 

Currently, we coast along.  Some days are better than others.  Always, we see an underlying current of agitation, frustration, and irritability.  It seems almost like the sea.  When viewed from the shore on a beautiful day, you experience a sense of serenity, peacefulness and awe at the wonder that nature has created. However, when the weather shifts and the waves begin to crash on that same shore, the experience is frightening, and the results have the potential to be devastating.  

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

We have been continually searching for the best medical advice since the original diagnosis, almost five years ago.  It is refreshing and encouraging to now begin to see the interest in awareness of the illness.  I believe that as society is enlightened regarding the daily lives of families living with bipolar, the research will follow.  With much needed research, it is my hope that the medical, mental health and educational communities will unite to develop better programs for our bipolar kids.

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