Part I:
To Test or Not to Test

Over the years, so many moms have approached me with the same question, “My kid is doing this or not doing that. How did you know Alex had ADHD/Autism? How did you know Adam was bipolar?”

Deep down I know these sweet moms are secretly hoping my answer doesn’t match what’s going on with their son or daughter at home because, if the symptoms aren’t the same as Adam or Alex’s, their child must not have a Mental Health Disorder, right?

Unfortunately, I wish diagnosis was that easy but it’s not. It’s just not. I too used to go on the Internet and play Mental Health Mom MD and try and match the symptoms I would read about on various Websites to what was going on at home. Sure some were the same, but others were not. Often where I sought clarity, I found confusion instead.

I simply did not know then what I know now. No two kiddos with Mental Health Disorders present exactly the same. If you are reading this and are not a Mental Health Mom, that may sound crazy. I assure you I haven’t fallen off my rocker just yet. It’s true!

If two people break their leg , they pretty much present the same to the doctor. If two people go to the dentist with a cavity, they pretty much present the same to the dentist.

Two kids with Mental Health Disorders? NOT. THE. SAME.

As a result, now my answer to the question, “How did you know?” is always the same. Sure there were signs along the way (hindsight is 20/20 after all). However, the reality is, we didn’t know anything for sure until we put the boys through psychological testing.

Testing. A seven-letter word that evokes so much fear in our Mama Bear selves.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Why does the thought of having our kids tested for a Mental Health Disorder terrify us so badly? There is typically little to no pain involved and the outcome can ensure we are able to PROACTIVELY HELP our children LIVE A BETTER LIFE.

In my opinion, the real reason we are hesitant is deep down (and I mean deep down in those dark places we don’t like to acknowledge much less talk about), we are afraid to test because we are afraid of how the results will change our normal.

We think to ourselves, “Why yes, my little Johnny isn’t talking as much as other children his age” or “Sure my little Katie is overly sensitive to loud noises but I’m their mom and I’ve got everything under control. I will deal with it at home, in my comfort zone, where no one else can see (AKA judge).” I will keep my normal (to the outside world) the same.

It’s a shame the negative social stigma light that shines on kids with Mental Health Disorders prevents us from taking such an important step in our children’s lives, the testing step. Often moms suffer at home, in silence, shielding their precious little ones from the light. That is our job, to protect our children right?

Wrong. Let me tell you why this is a VERY bad idea.

Our boys are adopted and have a long history of Mental Health Disorders in their bloodline. Unlike many biological parents, we had a heads-up. We knew there was a better chance our boys would have a Mental Health Disorder than not have one. And still, yes still, it was difficult to make the decision to test. To this day, I regret that decision and what it cost my son Adam.

There really is no way to sugar coat it, Adam’s first grade year in school was a living hell. He was constantly acting out and disruptive in the classroom. He was a Platinum Member of the ‘Time Out with the Assistant Principal’ Frequent Flyer Program.

If it weren’t for his teacher and staff at his school loving him, and going above-and-beyond everyday to help him, I’m not sure what course his life would have taken.

At home, he started physically abusing me. Yes, you read that correctly. I was getting things thrown at me, hit, kicked, and punched on a regular basis.

One time I lost my footing and rolled my knee. That resulted in knee surgery.

One time I buckled him in his booster seat but, by the time I walked back to the driver’s seat, he got out. When I walked back around and opened the door to buckle him back in, he slammed me in the face with his booster seat.

One time, while I was driving down a two lane road, he was hitting me so hard in the back of the head I swerved into the parking lot of a fire station and begged the fireman (while sobbing uncontrollably) to explain to my son the dangers of distracting someone while they’re driving.

Each and every time Adam acted out, I could see a switch go off in his eyes. I knew he wasn’t in control of his actions. I felt totally worthless and completely incapable of helping my own son. There is no worse feeling.

I sensed all along Adam was probably bipolar. We knew there were very few psychologists in our city who are willing to run a full neuropsychological exam on a child. The youngest they will typically test is 7-years old. With everything going on, do you think I ran out and had Adam tested on his 7th birthday?

No. I did not. Even though I had the advantage. Even though I knew his biological mother was bipolar. Even though I knew in the back of my mind he probably was too, it was difficult to take the leap and have him tested. It wasn’t really a consious decision my husband and I sat around and talked about but it just didn’t happen. Deep down, I think we were afraid of the how it would change our normal and define his.

After trying some counseling in an attempt to ‘talk his biploar away’ I guess, we finally had him tested and the disorder was confirmed. He was put on medication and, LITERALLY the day after his first pill, he was a whole new kid. The physical rage stopped and we have been able to manage his behavior ever since. I’m not saying it has all been sunshine and roses, I said it has been manageable.

My fear to have Adam’s Mental Health Disorder diagnosed cost him a year of happiness. A year of feeling in control. A year of peace.

It cost me a year of suffering in silence.

We are no longer trying to fit him into a normal mode we defined. We help Adam by embracing his normal.

Oh boy, did we learned our lesson with his younger brother Alex. For years after being diagnosed with ADHD, we always felt we were missing a piece of the puzzle. I would use those exact words with every doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc. we met with…my mommy gut just kept telling me we were missing a piece of his diagnosis.

The school tested him for Autism when he was in Kindergarten but he tested right outside the spectrum. Four years later, after continuing to insist on testing until we had all the answers, he tested on the spectrum and his suspected Autism diagnosis was confirmed.

The wealth of information we have learned about how Alex thinks has improved our relationship with him 1000%. We are no longer trying to fit him into a normal mode we defined. We help Alex by embracing his normal.

The fear of finding out your child has a Mental Health Disorder can be paralyzing.

The fear of wondering whether or not you can handle the diagnosis can be petrifying.

The fear of trying to figure out whether or not you are strong enough to be a Mental Health Mom day-in and day-out is terrifying.

The fear of wondering how others will treat your child will keep you up at night.

But Mama Bears, we must rise up and overcome those fears!

Whether you have a child who needs to be tested, or know someone who has a child that needs to be tested, or know someone who you think may know someone who has a child that needs to be tested, be the positive words of encouragement that help them take the first step.

Help them to embrace their new normal. Encourage yourself and others to seek answers and not rest until they have them. Comfort them, hug them, be there for them, reassure them you will love and support them on every step of their journey.

Shout from the rooftops that, if their child is diagnosed with a Mental Health Disorder, it is going to be okay! It may redefine their son or daughter’s normal but it will not change who they are at the core. They will be the same loving kid but, as parents, they will be able to PROACTIVELY HELP their child LIVE A BETTER LIFE.

No matter how much we wish our normal was static, it simply is not. Normal is ever-evolving and redefined every day for moms. Going to that dark place and overcoming the fear of a new normal will free you like you have never been freed before. Embrace your normal. Help support a friend embrace their normal.

To test or not to test, that is the question. Testing is the answer.

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