Having a child with ODD is not unlike carting a dark storm cloud with you everywhere you go. Imagine if Eeyore liked to break things and make people cry. I have a son like that. He doesn’t want to be this way. Except when he does. He acts like a child who is tortured by himself. Because he is.
What is ODD? Other than being a painfully ironic acronym, it is a behavioral condition called Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In the past, I would have looked at that diagnosis and with a very self-righteous sneer say that it sounded like a fancy name for a snotty kid whose parents didn’t properly discipline.
But guess what? I read the parenting books (pretty much all of them); I disciplined in love from the beginning and to no avail. So here is my public apology to all of those parents with kids wearing some kind of acronym attached to their identity. ODD, ADD, ADHD, OCD. It’s a whole alphabet of pain and I am so so sorry that I judged good mothers and fathers because their children have legitimate mental health disabilities. Mental health disabilities. That is what they are. This is not a “good kid”/”bad kid” issue. This is a matter of loving the unlovable because they are uniquely challenged by the Creator. It’s a matter of doing hard things.
This is also an apology to all of those who have and do and will judge my parenting based on the external behavior of my unique son. I’m sorry for my anger and embarrassment. It’s really difficult to see a kid act the way mine does and not wonder at the source of that type of behavior. It’s a natural reaction. I get it. When I see a child having an ugly tantrum on the floor of the grocery store, my first instinct is to assess his mom. With cold precision I decide, based on no fact at all, that she is unfit because apparently I can see into her soul.
Now that that is out of the way I will get more clinical. The WebMd definition of ODD is “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.” This condition has, in the past, been linked primarily to poor parenting and/or traumatic childhoods but studies have shown that there are actually biological and hereditary factors that can cause it. Brain development issues and sensory problems are believed to result in ODD and other conditions. I can tell you that my son who suffers from this (and I mean suffers quite literally) was born with his fist to the sky. He screamed endlessly as a baby, was an angry toddler and continues to be a very sullen, angry person. From the beginning, loving family members and friends have gently suggested that he may have mental handicaps. I couldn’t hear of it. I struggled with depression for the majority of my childhood and the thought of my own baby struggling with mental health was more than I wanted to face. My selfish desire to ignore the plain truth that there is something wrong with my boy has led to years of pain.
This is the year we get our heads fully out of the clouds and face the fact that we have not been properly treating this problem like a medical issue that needs attention from medical professionals. I have pursued it lightly in the past only to shrink away in fear after receiving his first diagnosis. But perfect love casts out fear. There isn’t a place for it in our family. We sold our things, quit jobs and in a whirlwind moved from California to Massachusetts in order to get our little Jack the life giving treatments he needed from Boston Children’s Hospital. He is stable now but our son who struggles with mental illness is still struggling. We are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help our boy toward wellness.
I will be documenting our journey toward getting help for our son in the hopes that others with similar situations may be encouraged. I also want to dispel myths about the condition. Primarily the myth that they are bad kids who are products of bad parenting. Here is the thing: he was born this way. I am standing on my soap box right up on my tippy toes with bleary eyes and a loud voice saying with certainty that he was absolutely born this way. He has been my tormented child from the beginning and no one on this planet is more intimate with his struggles than I am. He is a daddy’s boy through and through but it has been me who has helped him fight himself day in and day out. It was me who held him while he screamed till vomiting because of wild night terrors year after year. Me, who cradled him as he told me of the bad man who lived in his bedroom walls and wanted to hurt him. I was the one who had to apologize to countless parents because he bit and hurt their children. I am the one who has had to protect my other children from his fits of blind rage. I know my son. He needs help and this is the year that he gets it. No more fear.
What about you, dear friend? Do you or your loved one struggle with mental illness? I hope you can join me in making 2018 the year that we seek to bring to light the darkness that clouds our minds.
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