Monday, February 22, 2010

When We Began to Worry

After several years of reading multiple strong-willed books, learning tons of parenting techniques, there came a point when I realized that this was more than just a strong-willed child.

At about the age of 7, I started seeing new behaviors that didn’t seem ordinary. My son started attending birthday parties and unlike all the other little boys running around having the time of their life, my son was miserable. He was overwhelmed by all the chaos and had anxiety about playing the party games because “I’m just going to lose the game”. He would stand back from the crowd of kids with a look of pain on his face.

In kindergarten, while children were taking on homework assignments for the first time, my son started showing great resistance and his behavior began to escalate. I was already having talks with the teacher about how to get him to complete the assignments. So the teacher’s solution was to avoid doing homework so that he wouldn’t have a negative view of learning. The behavior stopped until first grade when homework was required. That’s when I began to experience full on rages that would last up to 3 hours. These rages would lead him to tearing up all assignments, knocking over furniture, kicking, biting, spitting and acting like a wild person on top of my counter tops. The more I pushed, the more he pushed back.

I also noticed in kindergarten that my son had a lot of anxiety being in front of others, he would become frozen during school performances, refusing to participate. This anxiety has grown so much that he now refuses to go on any stage with his class. Last year, I worked out a solution with the teacher by giving our son a “back stage” responsibility, this allowed participation without performing in front of a crowd.

Another constant is my son’s life is his sensitivity to foods. He’s very picky to both taste and texture. On the other end of this he’s drawn to sweets. I know most kids are, but it seems much more intense with my son. He’s been caught stealing candy from his brothers numerous times, it’s so bad that we now keep any candy locked in a box. But that hasn’t deterred him, he’s been caught drinking snow cone syrup (which we no longer buy) and at restaurants, I’ve caught him eating sugar packets under the table.

Then his environment became an issue, we couldn’t eat in restaurants that were too loud, especially Chipotle, all that metal inside made for poor acoustics, he’d literally break down in tears because of all the people talking. This also happened with crowds, on several occasions in large crowds, our son started to have meltdowns, yelling to “get me out of here”. Even the buildings in our city’s downtown area give him a “headache”. Then his clothing became an issue, all tags had to be cut off and tighter clothing was hard for him to wear. Today he only wears sweatpants.

In the classroom my son always kept it together, it wasn’t until he was home that he’d explode. This is common behavior for children suffering from mood disorders. In the case of these kids, their peer anxiety would help them “keep it together” at school so their friends wouldn’t see this side of them, but once home, they’re emotionally worn out and had to let it all out. This is how it was for my son, as he said in his own words “I used all my good up at school and I have no more left”. Another reason kids let it out at home instead of the outside world is that they know that no matter what, they’re loved by their family, so it’s a safe place to let all their emotions out.

While keeping all that emotion inside, my son would try to close off his environment in school. He became known as the “hood boy” since he’d wear his sweatshirt hood over his head all day. During circle time, he’d disengage from the class and curl up in a ball with his hood on. He also began complaining of being tired all the time and would often lay his head on his desk.

When shopping, our son would experience great anxiety. The process of choosing something to purchase with his own money would always turn into a long, stressed out, overwhelming experience. Once I had to hold him in a timeout as he went into a rage at the entrance of our Target, right in front of their security camera, which displayed the entire event on their large security tv. Not a fun moment.

On several occasions my son talked about hearing voices, smelling things that weren’t there and even feeling a dog licking his foot, when we don’t have an animal in the house. This really scared him.

Then he started having nightmares, very bad ones. There’s always someone trying to kill him in his dreams, or as he mentioned yesterday, his head being torn off, or animals biting him. Sometimes he would scream out in terror, other times he would sleep walk and even become violent in this state. One time he yelled at me to die as he came at me while sleepwalking.

We’re blessed to have such an articulate son, he’s used this blessing to give us insight as to what he’s experiencing inside. He’d describe his brain turning off on one side and the bad side taking over. He sometimes describes his brain as having two brains, a good side and a bad side. Other times he spoke about him having two bodies or he would say that it wasn’t him that was in the rage, but his “other him”. When our son would go into a rage, we tried giving him outlets to exert his anger, like punching a beanbag, but our son sadly said that I can’t do that since I need to destroy something to feel better inside. Once he mentioned after a rage that he didn’t know why he was like this he “just needed to act crazy and hurt people”. He’s highly aware of the need to explode and once he’d explode, it was like getting our son back. He’d once again become loving, considerate, respectful. It’s like a soda can all shook up inside, once opened it needs to explode to calm back down.

When he became more depressed, he’d only have negative comments to make and his view of the world was so negative. Then he’d have thoughts of killing himself. Once, after a rage, he mentioned wanting to stab himself in the stomach. Then one day, after running out of the house when he was in a rage, I found him sitting in the middle of the street. When I asked what he was doing, my 8 year old son said “I’m waiting for a car to run me over so I can die”. As I brought my son in that day, I held him in my arms as he calmly cried out to me, saying that he didn’t feel right inside and that something was wrong with him and that he needed the doctor to fix him.


  1. I am reading this, Mama Bear, and realizing that I am not alone. I also have a child with mood disorder. My mother was also bipolar. It is so scary and frustrating. My son is 12 and I also have a daughter who is 8 who is now showing signs of anxiety. It is so hard to juggle both kids. I spend so much of my energy on my son that I feel I am neglecting my daughter. As a child, my sister had a heart condition, and I know how it feels when a parent can't give as much attention to one child. Also, my son does not display as much of the behavior at school as he does at home. We have had a horrible time trying to get them to see that he needs help. He will be going into middle school next year and I fear for him as well as for our family. He has been on lithium for a few months and it seems to be working well, but this is going to be a big change. Thank you for telling your story.

  2. My son was 4 years old when he first told me he wanted to kill himself. His plan was run through the sliding glass door. He begged me to take him to the hospital that something was wrong and he needed help! This was the first day that my heart was broken.

  3. Anonymous- What a frightening story, I'm sorry your heart was broken. It just makes my heart ache when I hear of such small children struggling with this illness. I hope things get better through your doctors.

  4. I am sitting here reading this crying because this is my story, but I can't tell anyone! I have tried two seperate therapists who say they don't see anything. I have tried to explain his outbursts and how abnormal they are but he's the sweetest child most of the time (especially for his sessions). His father left us and they think that's the problem and he will "get over it with time". I know there is something wrong. He says the exact same thing about there being something inside his head making him do the things he does. He will often out of the blue come in my room and say "something is not right and I don't feel like I belong here". I assure him that he does and my heart goes out to him. I am physically and emotionally exhausted. Thank you so much for sharing and allowing us to vent.

  5. Anonymous- Bless your heart, I’m so sorry, I just got your message you left this post. I know it's so frustrating to not feel like doctors believe you. I think we’ve all been there. I totally get that you feel this in your gut. I know exactly what you mean. I have felt it too. You have to trust your instincts, it may take time, but they will believe you.

    This kind of thing doesn’t go away on it’s own, so either they}ll see a pattern, or things will escalate and they will have to believe you. Start charting his behaviors, this has been a valuable tool in showing what’s really going on. Email me if you need help on how to do this. You may have to keep changing doctors until you find one that understands. We’ve changed doctors 3xs now.

    Also, if you have a phone with a camera on it, during an unusual behavior, pretend to call someone while you video tape your child's behavior, then show this to the doctors. But don’t be surprised if you have to fight for your child.

    Just so you know, my son has always appeared normal during therapy sessions and usually in school, most of his behaviors happen at home. Only once did he have an episode, but it happen in the parking lot after we left the therapist.

    I believe you, I believe your son, these kids don't make this up, they’re really hurting inside. So keep fighting the fight and feel free to vent here anytime!


    -Mama Bear

  6. Oh My, you are writing about my son, yet he is doing way better than my daughter :( ! There is no doubt in my mind, when I read personal experience stories like this, that my children BOTH have Bipolar disorder. On the other hand, I feel so much doubt, insecurity, and shame that somehow I could be wrong; and how could I think such a devastating thing of my precious children?! My heart breaks every day when I have to dispense their medicine or record their behaviors, moods, and diet. I am torn with conviction a thousand times a day though, with each time out, consequence, and battle that rages under this roof. The words that come from their mouths and the behaviors they engage in frequently shock me with disbelief. I find I feel afraid I can never anticipate everything in order to prevent the inevitable eruptions and I am frequently caught off guard, floundering to effectively help them in the midst of a crisis.

    Thank you so much for being there Mama Bear and for all your hard work!

  7. Mel- Boy do I get the insecurities we feel about our children’s disorders. I think it stems from a medical field that doesn't have all the answers. Whether or not my son has bipolar disorder as an adult doesn't change the fact that he has symptoms of it today as a child. So the whole, lets see what he grows into is such bull. I hope this gets better for parents in the future, that they will have labels that make sense and affirmation that the treatment is the right plan for their child. In the meantime, there’s a lot of weight left on our shoulders.

  8. You have summed up my 5 year old to a "T" - he was diagnosed with a Mood Disorder at 3. I knew from birth that something was different (I also have an 8 year old). As an infant he was always crying - seemed miserable all the time - but they ruled out colic after GI testing that I insisted on. I finally moved him to Neocate formula after breastfeeding for 5 months and this showed about a 5% improvement in behavior - which I was so thankful of!

    I had him in a daycare from 4 months (my husband and I work fulltime) and would always get notes home on his behavior - whether it was his unconsolable screaming, or as he became older and mobile, his unecessary "meanness" to the other children. Right before he was asked to leave the daycare (at 18 months) he was sent home with a clump of hair in a ziploc bag with a note that said "He walked up to a 12 month old in an excersaucer and ripped out her hair for no reason, then starting laughing". He has been kicked out of 2 other daycares since then, and I have gone through 3 different Nanny's.

    This was when I noticed the "mean" behavior coming out. He would see someone fall down and start laughing at them - if someone was crying he would laugh. He seemed to get pleasure out of other people's pain and suffering.

    He's overly sensitive to smells - and when he was younger, all tags from clothing had to be removed because "it was scratchy". He only eats about 4 things - mostly carbs and some fruit - but will always beg for anything sweet. He won't touch meat and refuses to sit with us whenever we have "stinky food" for dinner - he will go somewhere else in the house. He will not try any new foods - just sticks with the same grilled cheese, PB sandwichs, macaroni and cheese, and apples and PB - that's it. Before he eats anything, he HAS to smell it.

    Sounds sometimes bother him, but other times he doesn't mind. He will say "I want to buy a toy" for no reason and if I say no, all hell breaks loose. The whining and crying with him flailing on the floor could last for an hour. Then come the "I hate you. I wish you were dead".

    He's screamed so loud and for so long on two occasions that he's gone into a vomitting fit that we rushed him to the ER for (we didn't know you could scream enough to induce vomitting).

    For almost a year, he's had a psychiatrist and a behavioral therapist. He's currently on Depakote sprinkles and Risperdol. He's still hateful and lashes out with his words, but overall the therapy has been working and he's 80% better than he used to be.

    I know we have a long road ahead of us (my FIL and SIL are both bipolar) and it's scary to think of, but I can only take one day at a time and try to give both my boys a loving environment, and along the way try to teach them right from wrong, and the power of faith.

    Thank you for your blog so that us Mom's of these young children know we are not alone (I too belong to the and find it helpful).

    1. Hi Christie, thanks for checking out my blog. It sounds like our kids have a lot in common. You mention things have gotten better, can you share what has made the difference?

      Also when it comes to your child taking pleasure out of being mean to others, have you been able to change this? As our son has gotten older we have seen this even more. I think a lot has to do with not having any power over his illness and feeling inadequate around his peers, so when he gets home he finds pleasure in the power he can take over us with his mean behavior. I feel like the cycle is ingrained and it will take a lot of therapy to change.

  9. Hello. Oh, my, how many of us are there? This is my daughter, who is now 10. We started meds right after her 7th birthday, but should have done it before. She had been such a loving, sweet baby, so attached to mama, that I couldn't believe this was the same child. She started with major clothing sensitivities and OCD, and when she became aggressive, I had to take her to a psychiatrist for meds. I've hoped for so long that things would get better...some things have made it better for a while, but then we eventually spiral back down into hateful, ugly talk, aggression, threats of running away, wanting to hurt herself, etc. Never thought my young child would be on lithium. I have a blog that tells our's a sorely neglected blog since there is little time.

    1. Sorry to hear that you too have been on this journey. I would love to check out your blog and share it with others, but it doesn’t show up when I use the above URL. Is there a possible typo? Please share!