Sandi s Story
El Cajon, CA USA
"We began our son's journey 6 years ago. He began hearing voices at age 8. By age 9, it was snowballing - the rages, the meltdowns, throwing things at us, the remorse. Wishing he was dead, wishing we were dead, and not treating pets very well. He experienced psychosis and started taking medicines, after being diagnosed with Early Onset Bipolar Disorder.
The rages actually began around age 3. A three-hour tantrum was not unusual. My older son is on the spectrum, so my 'Polar Bear' attended preschool under an 'at risk' classification. He began elementary school with a 504*, but by middle school we were all in agreement that an IEP* would better suit his needs. Academically he was placed in honors classes, which were a good fit for him, but unfortunately one teacher refused to accept his diagnosis. She made comments stating that he just needed to 'try harder'. She and I had a rough year with each other, after she refused to speak to me when calling her out on that comment...
My son really struggled even after the medicines and diagnosis because he really needed therapy. We live in Southern California, San Diego County, which is not the middle of nowhere by any means. But in 5 years, he went through 5 different therapists unsuccessfully. We were at a loss.
I was desperate. I continued educating myself and reached out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), taking their Family-to-Family course. I did this alone because my husband was very slow at accepting our son's diagnosis. Through NAMI, I was given the name of a new program called 'Kickstart'. They specialize in treating children age 10 through young adults age 24, who are experiencing or have recently experienced psychosis.
I am not exaggerating when I say they saved our family: they saved our son.
He completed their 18 month program, graduated with family, coaches, principal, teachers, and his best friends present. He now has an amazing therapist as well, who was a major part of his success. He is doing fantastic at age 14. He was just promoted to high school, is on track to attend a 4-year college, still has his IEP, and will be playing football, soccer and running track while participating in the Jr. ROTC program.
He has been blessed with amazing friends who have been there for him through all the nightmare years and the best of times. He is not ashamed of his diagnosis - he owns it. He accepts who he is, that he'll be on meds as long as his Doctor says, that he must eat healthy and remain physically active to be at his best. Always. Not just as he is maturing- this must become his lifestyle.
He understands that he'll have to advocate for himself, as well, as not allow himself the regular experimenting with alcohol that teenagers can fall into, because he understands he is taking a strong anti-psychotic 2x a day. He even knows he can't take certain over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, because of drug interaction. He was first diagnosed with ADHD the year prior to his bipolar diagnosis and he takes medicine for that as well.
Our story could easily have not turned out as well as it has. And we are fairly certain there will be bumps and detours throughout this adventure of his. But, we are prepared. We have the tools and resources on hand- the most important being hope."
* 504 - a plan developed to ensure that a child, who has a disability identified under the law and who is attending an elementary / secondary educational institution, receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment (washington.edu)
* IEP (individualized education plan) - a program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and who is attending an elementary / secondary educational institution, receives specialized instruction and related services (washington.edu)