My experience with deciding to medicate my child for anxiety.
Most of us will experience anxiety at sometime or another generally because you find yourself in a situation out of your comfort zone. It may be a nervous flutter, a bead of sweat on your upper lip or brow, your limbs may become heavy or you run away screaming. Reactions to anxiety differ greatly. In my unqualified opinion it’s when anxiety changes us, inhibits function that the need may arise to medicate.
Function in this sense means eating , drinking, sleeping, toileting and things essential for daily life.
My child has high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome depending on your understanding, sensory processing and executive functioning difficulties. Intelligent child, really thinks outside of the box, not so good in a social setting, they want to be but it’s really hard for them. Because my child seemingly adapted so well they were good at flying below the radar meaning they were late to be diagnosed.
When I think about the journey to medication it was a hard decision and I was confused. It is difficult to differentiate ASD behaviours from anxiety behaviours especially when you don’t understand what they look like. The stimming, the ‘I can’t touch that’, ‘I can’t eat that’,’I can’t sleep’, ‘I can’t go in there’ or the ‘I have to do this’ (I could go on all day but hopefully you get the gist) had always been a part of everyday life. It was frustrating but to me it was just the way they were. It wasn’t until I was exhausted beyond belief that I started really asking them why? Not just the one-off why, the delving why, the what will happen if you do X?
Once I got my answer I knew something else was up. The answer was ‘because if I do or don’t X then Y will happen.’
I said, to myself, crap.
The world, teachers, doctors, family, friends said it was just a phase, they’re just superstitious. I stupidly believed them.
Meltdowns became more frequent, windows were smashed, things were broken. I was living on tender hooks.
A meltdown is not a tantrum and believe me there are plenty of people and old school professionals, GPs ,Teachers, and people in general that will tell you they are. I believed them and thought I sucked as a parent.
What I know now, in my unqualified mind, is that during a tantrum they are still aware of safety, the can communicate what they want or whats wrong and they will calm down once the situation is resolved, what ever the resolution.
A meltdown means exactly that, nuclear meltdown. It has to blow to resolve and there is fallout. They are out of control, unable to communicate their needs and they can’t calm down. It looks like blind fury. My child’s aggressive meltdowns were followed by complete emotional meltdown or fallout. They were completely exhausted afterwards they would see the physical result of what they had done and a level of remorse would set in.
What I also have observed is that a succession of tantrums will also lead to meltdown. That’s when as a parent things get really messed up. How are you supposed to respond to a meltdown/tantrum? I have no easy answer for that.
I tried a psychologist for me and my child who said ‘hmm be consistent’ then later said ‘maybe look at medicating but… because they settled a little when their father is home maybe not.’ Great help a polished, single, childless professional was in my case. (That was sarcasm by they way.) At this point medication scared me because mental illness scared me. My husband (their father) and I agreed medication was a last resort especially in a child whose brain is still growing and making connections. When I think on my reluctance I feel I was caught up in the stigma around mental illness. I had barely come to terms with my child now being classed as ‘disabled’. I’m not one to give into public opinion but I was admittedly still thrown.
I tried ‘Triple P’ and soon their father being home became a trigger. My child would turn into Mr Hyde on a daily, even multiple times daily basis but after all was done, when Dr Jekyll returned, they were in incredible emotional pain.
It was heartbreaking.
School didn’t see this, friends didn’t see this, family didn’t see this, their father didn’t see a lot of this, I did because I am their safe place.( I found this out through research and talking to people in a similar situation.) I grew some balls when I finally understood. I no longer thought their behaviour was because I was a rotten parent I knew it was because I was a bloody good one.
I was their rock and I had to get them help.
I found a mental health nurse practitioner who had kids, who understood. She listened and then told me the benefits of medicating before even meeting my child. She showed me that my child was in a constant heightened state and no amount of CBT, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, would bring them back to a place were it could be used preemptively and successfully, their mind was not in a place that was receptive enough to fully utilise the concept. She would give them strategies and listen which would release the pressure but she explained to me that they were constantly on high alert, they were in always in a state of pre-evacuation for nuclear meltdown.
I knew it was time to medicate.
Next I needed to convince my husband. He saw the mental health nurse and he began to come around but was still not convinced. I took him to his long time GP, one who thinks the world has gone soft. The GP listened and then said to my husband ‘why wouldn’t you try to make their life better?’ I think my jaw hit the floor. That was so true why hadn’t I thought of medication like that? We asked about side effects he said ‘everything has side effects, you can always stop taking medication.’
The final obstacle was getting my child to take the medication. This was trial and error. Facts worked here and giving them the choice.
We are about seven months on and my child can now go to sleep easily, go into the toilet, flush the toilet , wash their hands, eat food. We’ve had about a handful of meltdowns. They are gaining more independence daily. We can go to a shop and leave happy. They still have anxiety, the edge and control anxiety had has been lessened. We are now better equipped to deal with the ASD behaviours. It seems to me that if lessen the anxiety you free the child.
The journey has not been easy but the end result is worthwhile.
I hate the fact that social attitudes rubbed off on me. I have encountered many opinionated people especially on parenting and some even think that I have given up with my decision to medicate. I know this is not true and I am now full of choice words to say to those people. What I want to say to you is that if you are trying to decide make an educated decision, talk to people, get a second professional opinion, research but most importantly put yourself in your childs shoes.