Yesterday afternoon, my 7-year-old middle child was diagnosed with ADHD. This diagnosis didn’t come as a shock; their father has it, their grandfather has it, their older sister has it. Honestly, I’m starting to feel like the neurotypical odd-duck in a family stew of spectacular weirdos. Big sister was diagnosed 3 years ago and with that diagnosis came several others that impact her learning. So far, she’s been an academically successful, socially engaged, happy kid with behavioral therapy, OT, and other supports. Middle kiddo, however, has a symptom profile that our doctor believes will be best addressed with stimulant medication.
*deep breaths, Linds.*
I’m a parent of three children, but I don’t see kiddos clinically. I’m a marriage therapist primarily, but also see individual adults. Many of my clients were diagnosed with ADHD as children. The following statement is not official data, only personal observation, but to a person, my clients are displeased with the way their ADHD was addressed when they were young. All of my clients who were medicated as children resent that they were medicated as children and all of my clients who were not medicated as children wish that they had been. And this is not mild displeasure. One woman recently told me that she feels like she could have escaped a 5-year stint of severe substance abuse in her 20’s had she been properly medicated for her ADHD as a kid. A man laments the “decade I spent as a total zombie,” claiming the that he was put on a stimulant because his “parents couldn’t deal.” Big feelings. On opposite ends of the spectrum.
It’s funny, every week I have someone look to me for answers and I normally say something to the effect of “YOU are the expert on yourself and your life.” But are we, really? Experts? I have skills and training that better enable me to help folks walk through big hard in their lives, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’m not walking through my own. Or that I’m an expert in anything. My own life especially, it would appear. Therapists are people too, y’all. This feels like such a huge decision and I’m afraid of making the wrong one. It’s kind of eating my lunch. But this morning I woke up and read a story that helped me out. I’ll paraphrase:
A woman attended a meditation retreat for some rest and spiritual rejuvenation. While on the retreat, she heard people talking about this beautiful, secluded spot in the woods where they felt especially connected to a higher power. She got directions to the spot and set off to find it. While on her walk, she came to a fork in the path. For a few minutes she kind of freaked out about which path to take—she really needed this solitude and connection, y’all—and finally just chose the left fork. Low and behold, the path she chose brought her to the spot, indeed beautiful, and she felt connected to the Universe, not just because she was in the spot, but because she felt like she’d been guided there in her decision to take the correct fork. When she returned from her solo meditation, she reported the story to the people on the retreat, praising the Universe for its infinite miracles. Her fellow retreat goers laughed kindly and said, “the spot is at the center of a loop. Both forks lead to it.”
What I took from this is that there are no “right” or “wrong” decisions. Just decisions. We learn and grow and experience pain and joy along every path we take. And for those of us with a spiritual life, God or Higher Power or The Universe or whatever is right at the center of all of it, no matter what fork we wander down. This comforts me. If we start the meds and they don’t go well, we can stop. If we decide to wait a little longer, they’ll always be there should we change our minds. And what I hope distinguishes me from some of the parents of my clients who feel so upset about the way their ADHD was managed is that I collaborate with my kids. I listen to them. I see them. We’ll continue to make these decisions based not only on what doctors and data tell us but also on the subjective experience of the kid in question. I’m not a perfect parent, but I am proud of that. So, more will be revealed. We’ll make a decision and then we’ll make another decision. I’ll try my best to remember that none of them are permanent or unalterable and that no matter what, we’ll be okay. I’m not an expert on anyone’s life, but I do believe we’re gonna be okay. Therapists are people too, y’all. For real.