Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Dragon In His Mind

A monster is swallowing up my son.

He is twelve years old, and he is generally a happy, cheerful boy who loves animals, babies, and spaghetti with a side of breakfast ham. If we're out and he sees someone with a dog, the first thing he does is walk up to them and ask "Can I pet your dog?" He'll make funny faces for small children in the grocery store. He holds doors for people. He generally enjoys being helpful and kind.

He is also struggling with mental illness. ADHD, depression, and anxiety attacks, to be precise.

Sure, he has his issues ... he's prone to severe anxiety attacks. Without his medication he's completely unable to focus in school. Even with his medication he's sometimes so convinced of his intellectual superiority that he will flatly tell his teachers that doing schoolwork is a waste of time because he already knows everything.

About a month ago he started seeing a new psychiatrist, and one of the concerns we mentioned with that his anxiety seemed to be running away with him ... if the dog got off the leash, for example, he would collapse, sure that she was going to run away and get hit by a car and we would never see her again. So the doctor prescribed buproprion HCl, a generic formulation of Wellbutrin.

Since then, his condition has deteriorated severely. This boy who was usually funny, and witty, and intelligent, and very affectionate, has become a shrieking, screaming, stomping demon. When he's playing on his computer, he yells at the screen and slams the desk if he loses or another player does something he doesn't like. When told to brush his teeth, or that it's time for dinner, or even something as innocuous as "Hey, buddy. How was school today?" the response has become "My GOD! Just leave me alone!" followed by stomping into his room and slamming the door. At times he just lays on his bed and screams at the ceiling, his face turning red, his fingernails digging into the palms of his hands.

Occasionally it becomes even worse ... darker, more dangerous. He yells at the dogs. He pushes them, advances on them threateningly. He has punched his mother in the stomach. He has pulled a nine inch carving knife from the knife block and threatened to stab me. He screams at his sister when she asks him politely to get out of her room.

I don't recognize him any more because the monster has hold of him and refuses to let go. My son is disappearing before my eyes and is being replaced with a snarling, hateful being who poses a threat to everyone in both my house as well as his mother's.

It finally got so bad that I had to take him to a mental hospital where had received inpatient treatment a couple of years ago. At first he was screaming, crying, begging me not to go ... but then, like a switch was flipped, he adopted a tough-guy I-don't-give-a-shit attitude. He maintained this for the entire car ride (about 45 minutes), and when we got there he actually said "It's good to be back." Of course, I wasn't buying it, but it still shook me that he seemed to be willing to go back to a residential program rather than talk to me.

Finally, after waiting for about two hours, he broke down and said he didn't want to be there, that he was scared, that he needed me. He grabbed me and hung on tight, and I could feel the monster losing its grip slightly. All the pain he was feeling, of which I had been aware but hadn't really been able to completely comprehend, washed over me in that instant ... and the only thing I could think of was protecting my son.

Unfortunately for me, I realized that this may very well have meant that I was going to leave him there.

We met with the doctor on call. I explained what had been happening, my son talked a little bit about what he was feeling. The doctor said it was his recommendation that my son go home with me, but that if there was another incident in the next day or so then he was going to have to come back and be admitted.

My son agreed to this. It seemed that he was, for the first time in a long time, thinking for himself and not channeling the monster. He was calm, and serious, and I asked him to repeat it back to me so that I could be sure he understood ... which he did. So we went home. I cried quietly to myself in the car ... fortunately it was dark, and he was exhausted and half-asleep, so I don't think he noticed.

Mental illness is a stealthy, merciless, ravenous, rampaging beast. It can swallow a person whole before anyone else is aware of what's happening. It can turn a sweet, kind, intelligent, funny twelve year old into a hateful, rage-filled psychopath. It can turn a warm, loving home into a terrifying house of horrors.

It is also, in its many forms, eminently treatable.

A monster is swallowing up my son. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for it, he is surrounded by a large family -- and extended family -- who loves him fiercely, and who will not rest until that monster is completely annihilated.

And annihilate it we will. It doesn't matter how many doctors, therapists, psychologists, school guidance counselors, how many late-night trips to the hospital, how many times I have to recognize that this behavior probably is not who he really is ... we will end this thing, and he will emerge from the other end stronger and more confident in his abilities to stand up to adversity than any of his peers who have not had to live through this internal hell.

He's my son.

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