As some of you who know me well have probably ascertained, I am and will continue to be in the thrall of everyone’s favorite boogeyman lobbying group, big PHARMA. Yup, they make more money by perpetuating the absolutely miserable state of American health. But you know what? I take pills, and they keep me from killing myself. My father takes pills, luuuuudicrously expensive pills, and they DISSOLVE METASTATIC TUMORS. And my daughter, my beautiful little daughter, takes a pill. A pill that when the doctor first suggested it, my body tensed up in reflexive disbelief, and I barked out, without even thinking for one second, “There is no way my husband and I are medicating this child.” And then we did. And our lives, her life, changed in a way that’s been so dramatic over the last year, it’s hard to remember what she was like before. Because before, she could recite entire books and entire movies, but she couldn’t have anything resembling a conversation. Before, she had close to zero functional play — you would hand her two toys and she would simply bang them together in an effort to discover how much noise they could possibly make. Before, I had no hope that she would ever learn to write because she perseverated so intensely on writing implements that it was impossible to teach her how to use them: “I will just hold the pen. I can have that pen. I just need the pen. I can just hold that pen. Wanna hold the pen. Me to hold the pen. I need to just have the pen,” clutched in a death grip in her fists, one in each hand, a vitally necessary symmetry.
Before, she spent three years locked inside a brain that never ever ever stopped spinning, whizzing, whirring, screaming for a single second. The doctor who prescribed the medication looked at me, and then looked at D, who was, entirely literally, bouncing off the walls. Bouncing. Off. The walls. And she said, “Obviously this is making you miserable. But imagine how miserable it must be for her.”
There’s a great book called, “We’ve Got Issues,” by Judith Warner, who used to write the parenting blog on the New York Times website. She got a book deal with a proposal about how America is overmedicating its children. This was not a particularly startling thesis. It’s practically a media meme at this point. OBVIOUSLY we’re giving kids too many psychiatric drugs. DUH. No one even questions it. Warner must have thought the book would write itself. And then she went off to do her research and started meeting parents, these horrible parents who just want to drug their kids to shut them up…and she was shocked by what she found. Because none of the parents she met, NONE of them, want to be medicating their kids. These aren’t people who went diagnosis shopping, or are too lazy to bother parenting their spoiled brats. These are parents who are beside themselves with grief, children who are in pain, families who are doing whatever they can to cope with the unexpected hand they’re been dealt while simultaneously being ashamed of themselves for doing what all of society accepts, as a given, is the worst thing you can do as a parent. Drug your kid?! Who on earth would do such a thing?!
Two days before my daughter’s third (3) birthday, I stuffed a tiny tablet of Ritalin into a juice box straw and watched her suck it down. And it was easily the hardest decision I’ve had to make as a parent, and just as easily the one I regret the least. Because the D that exists today is not the D that would have existed without that medication, and I firmly, fiercely believe that. You can throw all the behavioral therapy in the world at a child, but what good could it possibly do if she can’t hear you over the constant din inside her skull?
The first antidepressant I ever took was the wrong one. In retrospect I can now see that it triggered me into hypomania, and no one pinpointed that at the time because the psychiatrist I was seeing didn’t believe that teenagers could be bipolar. So, that put a bit of a hiccup into the first few years of my treatment. But the second drug I tried worked. It didn’t work immediately. But I remember very clearly, I was lying in a bathtub, a few weeks after I’d started the med, and I suddenly noticed that the fog that had utterly encased me for as long as I could remember had finally lifted. And I jumped out of the tub and ran down the hall to tell my mom that for the first time in a very very very long time, I wasn’t sad. I know the difference it makes when a medication can lift the fog, or stop the din.
So now I’m looking for a miracle pill that makes me not hurt. But given that the story of my psychopharmacological misadventures doesn’t end with me dripping wet and jubilant in my childhood kitchen, I know it’s never that easy. And it won’t be for D, either. We’re both in for long bumpy roads of throwing meds at the wall until we see what sticks. It’s not a road I would have chosen for my child, obviously. But it’s one that I knew was a possibility, to one extent or another, when I chose to become pregnant. And I have always felt that at least I am prepared as a parent could possibly be to help shepherd their child through this particular type of minefield. I just hope that…I don’t know what I hope. I hope she ends up happy. I hope I end up not hurting. Simple goals, but somehow also lofty ones. My hand hurts too much now to write anymore, so clearly we have a ways to go.