August 3rd, 1999 I was a young girl of only 23 years old, I was forced to take a pregnancy test. Somewhere inside I already knew I was pregnant, but I did not want to really acknowledge it at the moment. I was engaged to be married and my wedding was only three weeks away. I wanted to get through the wedding first and then deal with the pregnancy later. There were good intentions behind having me take the test, they thought they were doing the right thing, but really all they did was take a special moment away from me and the father of the baby I knew I was carrying. Whatever the case I found out I was carrying my first child on this very day. I was scared and overjoyed at the same time if that makes any sense. Yes, I was 23 years old, a woman, right? Well yes and no, by the standards of the world I was a woman, but I was still just a child. I always wanted to have children, but I thought I would be married and stabled before expecting. This was not the case, I was engaged and had a crappy job at the time. I had no real idea what I wanted for my future, but you know what God did know. Jerimiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you… plans to give you hope and a future.” At the time I did not have a clue what was in store for me, looking back at it now it is all so clear.
The weeks and months past and I watched my tiny physique change into a full figure woman, my breast swelled, and my once small abdomen grew to occupancy the baby that was growing inside me. I was 95 lbs. when I became pregnant, by the time I was ready to give birth I was 168 lbs. that was a huge change for a person only 4’9 ¾. I had a normal pregnancy, nothing out of the ordinary, the birthing process normal. I actually find myself lucky; I was only in labor for about 12 hours, relative little pain (I had an epidural). At around 5:45 am, March 16, 2000, I became a mother to a little boy. He weighed 6 lbs. 10 oz. and 19” long. He was perfect. His father and I named this little man, Austin Dakota. I was in awe, God gave me a perfect little baby.
Now, what, for nine months I carried him in my womb and I cared for him internally. What do I do now, he is this tiny little human that I have to care for, keep him safe and teach him right from wrong. Wow, how overwhelming. Do you know why most people start with babies and not teenagers, the simple reason is when someone has a baby, they are baby parents; fresh, new to the whole game of parenting. When most people have babies, they grow alongside with the baby. Mistakes will happen. I was a new mom. I relied on help from family and friends that have already gone this what I am going through.
Austin was an easy baby, he actually slept longer than most babies, and he was easy going until about six months old. Something changed, it is hard to explain. He began crawling and when playing with his toys I would notice behavior changes. Most children this age would not bother with a toy if it did not work, they would just crawl away or find something else to play with; right? Not Austin, he would get angry and throw the toy against the wall. Needless to say, the toy would really be broken then. More than likely the toy just had a dead battery or maybe even turned off. This is not the only behavior change I saw, but again he was only 6 months old.
Time past and he grew into a toddler, a rambunctious child. He was a handful, but at the same time, I chalked it up to the terrible two’s. This behavior continued I consulted doctors, all they would say is that it was “kid fashion” and he was a boy and he would grow out of it and eventually calm down. I, a young mother took what they said as truth and learned to cope with the constant chaos. As he aged, three, then four, and then five I saw him grow worse and more outburst were to follow. It was time for his kindergarten physical and I was tired and at my wit’s end. I was upset and finally asked the doctor, “when is he going to grow out of this behavior. He is not getting better, he is progressively getting worse.” I was pretty upset, I really just did not know what to do. On that day I finally had a doctor listen to me and decided to go further and dig deep into these issues I was having with my son. I needed answers, I had two other children that I was concerned about as well. I had a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old as well, and many times I was afraid of them playing together. I feared what Austin would do if he became angry. The doctor took down family history, evaluated him for ADHD, and started him on a very small dose of medication (Hydroxyzine), in hopes to at least calm him down some. As the doctor asked questions, and it became rather clear that there was more going on than just ADHD. At age five years old it was determined that not only did he have ADHD, but he was diagnosed as having pediatric bipolar. What exactly is pediatric bipolar, it is virtually the same as regular bipolar expect with children that have pediatric bipolar disorder are characterized by abrupt mood swings, periods of hyperactivity followed by lethargy, intense temper tantrums, frustration and defiant behavior. I finally had answers to my questions, Was I satisfied, to a point, yes, but then I had more questions that needed answers. How was I supposed to deal with this behavior if I did not know what it really was? At this time, 2005, there was little information about this disorder. I was told by many I was just looking for something wrong with my child. It was even suggested by one doctor that I was suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. What? I was shocked, I did not even know what this was at the time. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is for those that may not know as I did not years ago is a psychological disorder marked by attention-seeking behavior by a caregiver through those who are in their care. I was a mother who was concerned with what could be wrong with my child and I was accused of this psychological disorder. Please do not mistake this as a way of looking down on those that may suffer from this, because it is real and serious disorder, but I did not nor do I have this disorder.
Once we received the diagnosis we began a regime of medications and therapy options. In school, he started receiving an Individualized Education Plan, (IEP) If you are unfamiliar with an IEP I will briefly explain, An Individual Education Plan, commonly referred to as an IEP, is a document that is designed to help a disabled child receive a quality education that he or she would not otherwise receive. I was new at all of this and decided that this would be a good plan to help my son succeed in school. I would not say this was a totally bad idea, but looking back now I feel I could have made the teachers be more strict with him instead of coddling him. I will get back to this later on. I loved my son, and I wanted what I thought was best at the time.
Around this same time I decided I wanted to go back to school and earn a college degree, I had always wanted to go to college, but I never really knew what I wanted to study. With all this happening to my son and me not really understanding I wanted to learn more about this disorder. I chose to study Child and Adolescent psychology. I began to learn a whole lot more than I bargained for, I had no idea that there was so much out there. I had always been fascinated with the brain and chemical makeup of the brain. This just fed me more knowledge and I was loving it.
Time passed and medicine was working and he was able to be a kid, he had his moments, but what kid does not. Like everything else, things change and change quickly. At age 8 I started seeing changes in his behavior again, he was becoming aggressive. He was actively seeing a psychiatrist and medicine was being administered, but it just did not seem like it was working. Was I a mother that wanted a perfect child, no, I just wanted a child that could follow directions, be still when needed and not be violent. Was that too much to ask? Months passed and there was no real change. His doctor decided it would be best to admit him into the hospital for behavioral disorders. What? Did it really get that far? I did not know what to do or how to react. I came home from the appointment and I told my husband what the doctor said, and with a clearer mind, he said to pack his bags.
What an unbelievable pain and uncertainness I had that evening when I filled out the paperwork and had to explain to an 9-year old that he had to stay and not go home with his parents. This would mark his first hospital stay, yes I said first, there will be more to come on this journey. If you have never been where I was that night, you will never truly understand the difficulty it was to leave my little boy and go home. My heart ached and I felt sick, was I doing the right thing? I did not talk much on the way home, nor did my husband. It was rough, and emptiness left lingering without his presence, yet oddly I was relieved at the same time. How horrible was I as a mother to feel relief? We were able to visit him every other day and were allowed to attend one family counseling session. He seemed to be fine and said he was learning a lot of stuff. After about a week he was ready to return home, but was he really ready or was it the fact that insurance would not allow it any longer. He came home with a set of coping skills and new medication. This time the doctor put him on Depakote, Remeron, (for his bipolar) and Vyvanse for his ADHD. What a difference at first, he began to do better in school, in social activities (yet he still did not like crowds), he was interacting with his siblings better and all seemed to be going well. Almost a year to the day of the last visit we would be going there again, he had a breakdown, began swing at me and being very aggressive. What happened? Bipolar happened. This is what this disorder does, one moment you are calm and the next you are manic. We headed back to the hospital again. This time he was 10 years old. This stay was much like the last and after a week he was back home again. Same medicine, different dosage, nothing else.
Frustration, I knew as a mother I needed more for him, but what could I do? I was determined to do better. I continued to study and my plan was to work with children/adolescents and their families to help them with their child’s issues. I was still pretty far away from a degree, but I had an avenue of where I was going.
Austin was 10 years old, 4th grade and growing. I was stressed out, I tried keeping him busy, we were in boy scouts, I was a den leader, we were active in church and school. All three kids were in sports as well. I did whatever I thought would help him socialize. It worked, but again only temporary. In 2012 our whole world changed, when a situation occurred that made a huge impact in all of our lives. If you have read any of my other blogs you will know this is the time I found out my husband was having an affair. This really affected Austin, he was 12 years old and knew what was going on. The instability of what was going to happened did not sit well with this preteen. There was a lot of changes and he could not handle it at all. I was a wreck and was not any good to anyone either. My depression spiked and my anger was released and it just was not a good time to be in my world. Tension arose and tempers were high. Anxiety was off the charts and I was beside myself on what I could do. Everything he knew was falling apart.
This same year I decided that it would be best for the kids and me to move to Illinois. I was from Illinois and I needed a fresh start. It was difficult at first, but I knew in time it would be what was needed. I went to my hometown and set up, waited for the kids to arrive. I was excited about the change and I hoped the kids would like it too. Sometimes change is great sometimes it is just what you need to refresh and gather yourself. The kids arrived and we started our new life, in a comfortable, yet uncomfortable setting. The summer was slow, the kids did not know anyone, but soon school would start and I had high hopes that this would be a good thing for my children.
Wrong, again. Well not totally wrong, but it was not great at first. Austin got picked on as most new students do, but with his issues, this made it worse. He went psycho on many of the other students there. He gained a reputation that followed him the rest of his school days. Seventh grade passed, 8th grade came and went, by this time his father rejoined the family and things calmed down a little. He entered high school, he was getting bigger and stronger and the medicine just was not as effective any longer. All the doctors would do was just add more dosages. This up and down roller coaster really had me maxed out. I was so stressed. My husband was back with the family, but things were still just not right. I did not have anyone to talk to about this, no one that really understood. “Here I am, not trying to have this all on me, my son is struggling and I am whining about my own problems. I do not matter”. This is how I felt so I did not seek help for myself, I just wanted my son to be okay. This put stress on the whole family, and by the time Austin was a sophomore in high school his father left again. Leaving another gaping hole in our lives. Austin began to really act out in class, getting detention, and suspensions. There was total chaos in the house and at school. It was affecting my job and the household. Austin began threatening his brother and even threaten to kill himself in front of his brother and sister. I had to call the cops on him at one point. This was a very dark point in my life. I am his mother, why can I not help him. I was powerless in this situation. By this time I had finished school with not only a BS in Psychology, plus an MA in Human Service Counseling and I could not help my son.
Just before Thanksgiving Austin was admitted to the hospital again, this made three times. This time we had to go 3 hours away for him to find an empty bed. There was no coming back for visit, he was there until they released him. Almost two weeks later he was home, but he was expelled from school and sent to an alternative school to finish out his high school years. Not really how I had planned his life to go.
In 2016 Austin was a junior in high school, he was striving in his new school, he was happy and making friends, his father returned home once again, and things settled down. 2018, he started his Senior year, and this triggered something and he began to slide backward again and deeper than ever before. I am positive that he was scared to grow up and scared of the responsibility that he would soon have to endure. Apparently, during this time he was beginning to see things that were not there and hearing voices. He did not share this information with us right away, he chose to keep this from us. His behavior was really out of control and one week before he turned 18 we once again had to put him in the hospital. This time because he was suicidal and homicidal. He said the voices told him to kill himself, that he would not be missed and that no one liked him anyway. He said that he did not want to kill us himself, but if we should perish he would not care at all. This was very disturbing. My own son was saying these awful things. He stayed in the hospital for the typical week timeframe and was sent home with new medicine and counseling. He was given a different diagnosis, he is now Bipolar II with schizoaffective disorder.
He managed to graduate from high school, but he has changed. In the month since he graduated he has stated vaping and acting out. He is wearing dark eyeliner and dresses in black all the time. I have noticed cut marks on his skin, and he has stated more than once that he does not want to live any longer. He is extremely unhappy and lost.
I am concerned by his behavior, as many know from my other post, I am a Christian and I have raised my children up in church and tried to instill Christian values in their lives. I value my relationship with Jesus and I always wanted my children to have the same kind of relationship that I have, and for a while, I thought that Austin did. He would take his Bible to school, tell others about God, go to church every chance he got, and he even attended a men’s bible study. He showed it all over himself, and now suddenly he graduated from high school and does not want to go to church and quit reading his Bible. I, at first took it as a being an 18-year-old boy trying to assert his independence, many kids do this when they become “adults”. He revealed to me not too long ago that he does not believe any longer and that he blames God for his issues. I try to explain to him that God puts challenges on us and I cannot really explain to him why he was handed down so many obstacles in life. God will ever put more on you than you can handle, but at times it feels impossible to get through. This reminds me of the famous poem, “Footsteps”. Just when you think God has left, he is not only there, but he is carrying you through the rough times.
This is very difficult for me as his mother, mothers are supposed to make their babies feel better, and I cannot do anything to help him. I also feel helpless, I have a master’s degree in psychology and I cannot make my son feel better. I know it is impossible to counsel your own family because you are biased and cannot see the underlining problems, but it still hurts. I get so stressed and worried and that my depression spirals as well. I have nobody I can confide to about what I am feeling. No one I know understands what is truly going on in my life and what I deal with on a daily basis. I am left to deal with all the chaos and unstableness. It is very stressful. I try to keep in mind the things that I told my son, about God not putting more on you than you can handle. I need to practice what I preach and believe that God is there for me too. If God sends me to it, he will see me through it. I know deep down that he is there for me and Austin, but some days are difficult. It does not matter what age your children are, nobody wants to bury them.
Austin has good days and on these days he is silly and fun to be around, but in a moments notice he can spiral and be angry or sad. It is exhausting. My journey is far from over, even though my son is 18 years old. I will always be worried about him and I will always be there too.