People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Under Siege

My head hurts.

Actually, I have pain from my forehead, up and around the back of my head, down into my neck, and spreading across my shoulders and down to my back.

Why? Because I don’t like my kid much these days, and that’s a shitty way to be feeling.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve wished that, if my kid had to have a disability, he could have gotten one that didn’t make him so damn unlikeable, I’d be able to buy myself a new car.

That right there is a shitload of nickels, my friends. Too bad my personal nickel dispenser has fallen asleep at the switch.

We wake up in the morning and he immediately starts acting like an asshole. There’s a fight over whether or not he will take his medicine; over how long it takes to properly brush one’s teeth (I am annoyingly devoted to the notion that 8.2 seconds is not long enough to keep his teeth in his head.), and over whether or not he can wear this or that favorite shirt for the fourth day in a row.

Most days he asks me, “Can I have cookies for breakfast?” Or he asks for ice cream, or pretzels, or something we don’t have. It’s like a dance and as much as I want to sit out, I’m pulled to my feet to take the all-to-familiar steps.


“Fine, I won’t eat anything.”

“Your choice, but if your medicine makes you barf, you’re not staying home from school.” One of the medicines he takes causes Carter to throw up if he swallows it on an empty stomach. He managed to stay home several times before I figured out that he was playing me by pretending to eat breakfast.

“FINE! I’ll drink some stupid fucking milk. Can I take cookies for lunch?”

“You can take two.”

“That’s stupid. I’m taking the whole bag and you can’t stop me!”

“Two or none, you choose.”

“FINE! You’re a stupid fucking bitch asshole!”

“Go to your room until you’re ready to use your skills.” Use your skills is code for get your shit together. No, in fact, it’s code for a set of things he’s learned to do to regulate his emotions; sometimes he’s pretty good at using his skills, and sometimes he’s absolutely unwilling.

These days, he’s almost always unwilling.

On his way out of the living room and toward the stairs, he may or may not try to hit me. If he does try, I may or may not lose my as-yet-inadequately-caffeinated patience and yell at him. As he stomps up the stairs, he shouts one word per step: I. HATE. YOU. I. HATE. YOU. As he stomps, I may or may not think about my first marriage, and how this all feels awfully familiar in some ways.

From my perch on the couch, I can hear him upstairs chanting to himself, “My mom is a stupid fucking asshole asshole asshole. No cookies for me because Mom is an asshole.” Stomp stomp stomp. I sip my coffee and hope that I remembered to lock my bedroom and office doors, in case he starts feeling more destructive than usual.

I just want to make the boy some breakfast and drink my coffee while he eats. The dogs stare at me longingly from the other side of the sun room doors but I won’t let them in until after Carter has gone to school.

Eventually, he comes downstairs and apologizes for the way he was talking. He hugs me. I ask, “Do you know what you need to do next?”

“I have to eat something and take my stupid asshole medicine.”

“Yes, you need some breakfast. Do you want cereal or a smoothie?”

He may or may not start in about the cookies again. I may or may not lose my still-inadequately-caffeinated patience and yell at him. We may or may not also have noise and drama over shoes or other articles of clothing; lunch (into which Iย never manage to put quite the right things); face and hand washing; putting breakfast dishes away; and missing items like his agenda or water bottle.

By the time we’re ready to walk out the door and get into the car at 8:05 am, I’m having an existential crisis.

Every. fucking. day.

And this? This is, relatively speaking, pretty good. Or not good, but a long way from what we know as bad. He’s not suicidal; he’s functioning well at school. He has only the mildest of psychotic symptoms.

I can’t believe that what I’m living right now is what passes for “pretty good.” I can’t believe this is my life.

After I pick Carter up from school, we do battle about a different set of issues. He’s a little less angry in the afternoons, but a whole lot more hyper. He often has appointments after school, and he gets angry that we can’t go straight home. That wouldn’t be so bad except that, if we do go straight home, he’s still not happy.

I try to force some kind of positive interaction – anything to alter the mood, or at least remind us both for a moment that we love each other. Sometimes I am successful; often he is so determinedly miserable that I am unable to breach his emotional hull.

My head still hurts, and I don’t have a way to end this post. There is no tidy closing, no hopeful Scarlett here to say, “…after all, tomorrow is another day!”

Tomorrow is another day. Another day to fight and struggle. Another day to read articles written by people with way too much influence who say that pediatric mental illness is not real. Another day to call Carter’s psychiatrist in hopes that we can make a tiny chemical adjustment and improve things. Another day to see Carter’s psychologist and try to learn something new that will make life a little more bearable. Another day to try to do all my living during the hours when Carter is at school and after he goes to sleep, because when he is home and awake, I am under siege.

Another day to drink too much coffee and swallow too much aspirin and try try try to control my feelings because Carter is incapable of controlling his.

Another day.

I want my nickels, dammit.

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37 comments to Under Siege

  • Erin

    I don’t have kids. But I was romantically involved for 4 years with a man who was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He was diagnosed late in the relationship, and it explained a lot. The relationship had to end when it was deemed no longer safe by his psychiatrists. All of that is to say that I don’t know what it is to go through this with a child who has some form of mental illness, but I do know what it is to have these kinds of battles. Over and over.

    Now I have lots of positive energy to spare, and I am sending it all to you. I hope it helps in some way to carry you through tomorrow.

    • Thanks, Erin. Yeah, it’s like living Groundhog Day because you can’t learn to not be ill (not entirely true in some senses, but I think you know what I mean), so discipline goes nowhere.

  • “I love you Mommy.”

    “I hate you Mommy.”

    “You’re the best Mommy ever”

    “You’re Stupid!”

    “I love you more than the whole everything!”

    “I wish you were dead!”

    Rinse, wash, repeat.

    I am in the trenches with you. If I share my rations with you will you share your bottle of whiskey?

  • From the linked article: “If Michael Phelps actually had a real disease for which he needed drug treatment, how could he have succeeded without his meds?” As someone who manages her bipolar disorder without meds, the defining disease by means of drugs sends me into something of a rage. There was a time we didn’t understand the biology of diabetes, either (and we don’t understand bipolar in adults any better than in kids — but then, there are many who like to say I’m lying and lazy, so…), but we could smell sweet piss…

    Argh! Anyway. Twas a side rant you don’t really need.

    My sympathies, for your siege. I am grateful that in my family we tend to have signs in childhood but the mood disorder doesn’t fully manifest until adolescence and even then not usually so severely (of the five known family members on the bipolar spectrum, only one’s been hospitalized for psychosis, and two of us have needed meds only intermittently). I pray every day that the same holds true for my kids, should their brains take after mine in this aspect.

    • Oh, I know! I always want to ask people if they remember that anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all. And that diabetes, cancer, etc., did, in fact, exist before the lab tests that enabled us to see them existed.

      I hope your kids, should they become ill, get it mild and late, too. Very mild and very late!

  • I was just thinking about how hard it would be, nay impossible, to separate the normal behaviours and disagreements from the behaviours that stem from a disease. And I guess the only reason why I am writing this is to say, wow, that’s f’d up … NOT to advise you to separate the two or consider something, for sure not that.

    (I am really really HATING how much people who have no idea of my situation with my mom hand out the flipping advice when all I want is a wow, that’s f’d up comment these days so …)

    My girls are 6 1/2 and almost 8 (grades 1 and 2) and their attitudes, anger and refusal to get ready for #$&*(& school is seriously testing my status as a reasonable individual. Mix that with the more extreme stuff that’s stemming from Carter’s disorder and !!!!!!!!

    So … in conclusion … I just want to say, wow, Adrienne, I want you to get yer nickels too. That’s messed up.

    (((((hugs))))) and really hoping that what I type undoes even just one centimeter of the knots that your neck and head and everything is tied up in. (You know, instead of making things worse!)

    • Thank you, Karen. Really, really thank you. Yes, the advice? Very frustrating.

      And you’re so right; knowing what is illness and what is just shitty behavior that he could control with the right skills and support is extremely difficult. I have often gotten it very, very wrong, but I *think* I get it right more often than I did when he was younger, so that has to be a good thing.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Arwyn, Adrienne Jones. Adrienne Jones said: I'm not in love with being a whipping post for my own child. READ: Under Siege […]

  • Ah, Adrienne, this all just blows. And most people walking around have no idea of the cumulative stress this put on a person, on a marriage, on siblings, on a family. Right now my “typical” kid (the one without autism) is showing signs of some deep troubles. In a few weeks he’s going to have a psycho-ed eval so we can see if we’re talking ADD, anxiety disorder, mood disorder, ODD, OCD or some delightful co-morbid combination of the above. He just has constant explosions and is getting worse. When he’s not angry he’s the sweetest kid in the world. When he is, he talks about hurting himself and others, is completely out of control. CRAP. Just can’t catch a break, can we?

    • Yes, that’s it exactly, but of course I knew you would understand. It’s not the behavior in the moment; all kids have their major asshole moments. It’s the relentlessness of it all.

      Ugh, I can’t believe you have to get back on the diagnosis merry-go-round. That is just miserable. You email me any time, OK? We have to stick close to each other.

  • nina

    I hope today isn’t another day where you would earn another nickel. I hope you have more than just a moment of your sweet boy’s love for you shining through.

    Your post helped me stop feeling sorry for myself. Yesterday, I called my son’s psychiatrist and had his morning meds increased.

    Hopefully it will make a difference in his mood. For two weeks straight, he has been raging every 2-3 days and cussing at us, punching, hitting, kicking, and spitting at us. He gave his brother a black eye.

    You are not alone, I too am a stupid fucking asshole asshole asshole. Oh, and I’m a bitch too.

    • Thank you, Nina. Gah. I love that I am not alone in this, but I HATE that I am not alone, too. I hate that so many people understand how awful this feels.

      Here’s to better. Any kind or amount, just better for both of us!

  • Wow that article was horrific… I “love” how people still use one example to prove their point and then take it as proof for their whole argument. Everyone loves a hero story. Basically they’re saying ‘if you believe in ADHD you prevent all kids from reaching their full potential and becoming Olympic Athletes OMG!’ I also find it cringeworthy that Michael’s decision to stop with the medication is equeted with a wrongful diagnosis. It is impossible to tell, as I’m not his doctor nor was I when he was a little guy. What I do know is that many peoiple with ADHD find strength and power in focusing on doing something they love and will often excell at it (my husband’s passions is WWII and all war materials/model building/etc that goes with it. He knows SO much and yet no, he can’t study to save his life).

    And I also find it typical that they did not include Carter’s illness – it’s hard to argue with his symptoms, right?

    Aaaanyway, I’m sorry these days are rough. I hope you get a break soon – just a littlwe something to make you feel like you’re heading towards something positive.

    • Damn, I know. Anecdotal evidence is not really evidence at all, but maybe they missed that tiny tidbit when they were supposed to be learning critical thinking skills?

      People DO argue with Carter’s symptoms, but it looks a little different. Mostly, they decide that he’s only ill because of the medicines we give him. Never mind that the symptoms came before the meds. Some people are very determined to believe that kids can’t have mental health issues and it’s impossible to convince them otherwise.

      And things are a little better today. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I’m glad things are a little better today! Sometimes the smallest thing can help – like the sun coming out, seeing a rainbow, winning the lottery (j/k).

        I was wondering, you have a sociological background right? The article you liked to sparked an idea for a post: how Bourdieu’s ideas were translated by other theorists (at least one in the Netherlands that I know of) into proof that mental illnesses are societal productions, which is then translated into popular media/theory/opinion/psychology as “mental illness does not exist”. But maybe that’s been done before… I just thought it might be a useful, informative response to such bad rhetoric as the article from PT.

        Then again, I could just write a bad little essay that ends with “OMG Michael Phelps”. Might be more their level ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Adrienne

    I wish I could come running over with a wheel barrow full of nickels.

    I remember these morning struggles with my daughter. My son, on his worst day, could not even come close to my daughter on a good day.

    To this day, I am the one she uses to dump on. As an adult to adult relationship? I can choose to hang up the phone or walk away.

    When it is a child, it is SO SO SO much like being held captive and abused.

    I used to feel so guilty about the relief I felt once I got to work and AWAY from her.

    One thing that helped me? To remember that as terrible as it was to dislike her so much and feel drained and sick of her crap?

    She was feeling worthless and out of control and afraid even more.

    I ended up interacting with her in a purposeful monotone voice. This kept me from displaying the actual frustration and anger I felt.

    It was no solution, but it made me feel a teeny tiny bit more in control.

    No solutions here, sadly. Just saying I feel you. I hear you. And in a little tiny way, I used to be you.

    that is all

    • Like your monotone, I play a game I call broken record. I just keep repeating myself – same tone, same words, etc. No matter how wild he gets, I keep repeating myself. It at least keeps me from getting quite so worked up.

      And you’re right; when I can feel compassion for him, everything works better. Yes, I’m having a very hard time, but he NEVER gets a break from this. He has to go everywhere with his illness.

  • That is awful. Just awful. I’m so sorry and I hope writing it down helps and I hope your neck untenses and I just hope hope hope for you.

  • I want you to hear one thing: it is OKAY TO FEEL RELIEVED.

    I don’t have anything else brilliant to offer. IT IS OKAY.

    That’s all I got. Parents of typical children feel relieved when they get quiet once the kids are at schools. Why aren’t you entitled to the same thing???

    You are. Don’t make me yell. You know I will.

  • Liz

    You’re a good person, Adrienne.

    You’re a good person, and I can’t fathom what it is like to face your challenges each and every day.

    That’s all I can say. I wish there were more.

  • Wow, that sounds so, so hard. I’m more impressed with you than ever.

  • I just wish I could relieve you. I wish that you could take a break…get away. I wish so much for you friend.

    I promise…PROMISE to come visit you some day if that helps. I promise to show up on your doorstep and not judge or be swayed if Carter is Carter. Because that is who he is.

    And I promise to hug you…even though I don’t usually hug.

    I promise.

  • I am so so so sorry! This post makes me want to cry! There are times when I get so frustrated with the little annoyances in my life and there you are … climbing mountains of frustration and pain! You,dear girl, deserve every single nickel in circulation! I wish I could arrange their delivery!

  • Ruby McGill

    My heart goes out to you. Why, oh Why can’t someone listen, hear the pain, the confusion, the absolute frustration, of both Carter and yourself, and HELP. There MUST be something out there that will help Carter to have some self control; Does he exhibit the same behaviour at school? Or is it saved for you. Sending positive thoughts your way.

    • Thank you, Ruby. He saves all the worst behavior for me, but he’s far from “normal” at school, either. He needs a med adjustment; hopefully we can get at least a little relief soon!

  • Can relate to this today, Iโ€™m hiding at my computer to stay away from my son who is home for the day and isnโ€™t in such a good mood. All my efforts are going to keeping his siblings away and safe. It does get very tiring…

    • Yeah, the grinding down effect that happens across time…that’s the worst part, I think. The crises are hard, but the relentlessness of this illness in between the crises – gah!

  • I’m so glad I found your blog.
    I know it totally sucks.
    What you’re going through.
    But just the fact that you haven’t walked out on your child speaks volumes to him.
    And you writing about it helps us.

  • If I had a nickel, it’d be yours. But instead can I just say, that is totally sucky. And I completely agree with what was said up-thread re being difficult to separate “regular”, if infuriating, difficult behaviour, from that caused by Carter’s illness. I have an almost 8 year old who is (I am fairly sure) neurotypical, although she tends to be quite anxious, and I have to tell you that a slightly watered-down version of your scene above plays out in my house at least twice a week. (Minus the swearing, but not minus the stomping, the sobbing, the “You don’t love me! You don’t care if I STARVE!” etc etc etc).

    In the same house, with the same parents and the same family, I have a 5-year-old who can be incredibly mischievous but is also absurdly easy-going, and a 2 year old who has the most exotically overblown tantrums that last 27 seconds, and is otherwise a peach. What’s different for the eldest? Stuffed if I know.

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