The Decision to Medicate

The Decision to Medicate

The fourth pharmacy I tried finally took the prescription from my hands. “Yes, we have this,” the pharmacist replied. “But just so you know, it is a controlled substance. You will need to have a new prescription handwritten from your doctor every month to obtain refills.”

I nodded my head and looked away quickly, trying to hold it together. She filled the bottle with thirty innocuous-looking capsules and sent it to me through a chute in a bag filled with paperwork. “Do you have any questions?”

Yes. Yes, I have a million questions. “No, thank you,” I said, and I rolled up my car window and drove away, the tears already down my cheeks as I made the turn out of the pharmacy parking lot.

When I was pregnant with my son, I followed every rule. I took all my prenatal vitamins. I didn’t drink artificial sweeteners, didn’t eat deli meat, didn’t let a drop of alcohol pass my lips. I craved Thai food and wasabi, but I wouldn’t eat it with raw sushi, only cooked. I wouldn’t let my bathwater get too hot and I didn’t take so much as a Tylenol. I was the kind of pregnant woman who found reassurance and security in the “rules;” I didn’t mind playing it safe for nine months. It made me feel better, like I was guaranteeing something with my puritanical abstinence. I was relieved when he was born hale and hearty.

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Ten years later, in the worn passenger seat of my beleaguered minivan, I had a bottle of amphetamines with that baby’s name on it. I held the bottle in my hand as I read through the literature in the parking lot of Starbucks, unable to take it home quite yet. Among the potential side effects: increased blood pressure and heart rate, psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, addiction, sudden death. I placed my head on the steering wheel and opened the floodgates.

We are the family that never has Motrin handy when someone has a headache or a fever. We don’t even take vitamins. We’re not opposed to medication, but we take it so rarely that we’re always throwing out expired bottles. I try to find the “safest” sunscreen, I give my boys the kind of deodorant that doesn’t have aluminum or parabens in it, and I buy organic produce and milk. In general, I am risk-averse. The thought of putting my child on what is essentially speed is, frankly, horrifying to me.

This is a child I exclusively breastfed for over a year just to avoid changing the “flora and fauna of his gut” by introducing formula into his diet. That notion seems so ridiculous and naive to me now, as I  change his brain chemistry with drugs. On purpose. 

Years of questions came before that moment I placed my head on my steering wheel. Is this normal? Why isn’t he happy? Why does he hate school? Why is he angry all the time? Can we help him? How do we help him? Will he always be like this? There were so many nights I cried myself to sleep, so many times I begged for an answer. I read books and websites. We saw doctors, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists. We tried cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing exercises, and coping strategies. As it turns out, the human brain is is not simple. There are no easy, sure answers.

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I read articles that terrified me, others that shamed me. I considered alternative schools or homeschooling, but that is not what my son wanted, and his issues were not confined, or even really centered around, school. He wanted stability and to stay with his friends, the people who make him happiest; I couldn’t take him away from them. I worked with his teachers, all of whom loved him, worked with him and me, emailed and called me regularly. After three years of trying everything else, we exhausted all our other possibilities. It was time to try medication.

So we did, but not without great reluctance and hesitation. Not without hearts so heavy that I had moments when I seriously considered the thought that I just couldn’t do it. How do you give your child a controlled substance, addictive drugs, and act like it’s a normal thing to do? No mother ever starts a journey with a child thinking that she will end up medicating her baby. But on the other hand, how do you not try everything in your power to help your child who struggles every day of his life with demons you cannot beat down through sheer force of will and all the therapy money can buy? I said I would do anything to make the world easier for my little boy, who loves so fiercely and works so hard and yet still struggles. I had to try.

Parenting, from start to finish, is one big leap of faith. All we do – from the moment someone places a baby in our eager arms to the moment we watch our grown children walk away from us under their own power – is gather the information we have at any given moment and make the best decision we can with that information. There are always a million unknowns, a million what-ifs, a million possibilities at play, but in the end, we have to trust ourselves and make a decision. It’s the most frightening part of parenting: at some point, we are forced to understand that no matter how many rules we follow and no matter how much research we do, we can never know or control everything. There are no guarantees. We might make the wrong decision. We might make the right one. We can’t see that far ahead, but we have to move forward anyway.

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So we hold our children’s hands, and we jump.

I can’t say yet if medication is the answer, or if it will change my son’s life our our family’s. I can’t say if it will finally lift the burden of whatever weighs down his shoulders and his heart and allow him to smile more often at home and maybe even enjoy school, where he has always received mostly As and he is well loved, but he has been miserable. I can say that I have seen flashes of light, glimpses of smiles I would not have seen before, and a calm in our house that we have never known in the past few weeks.

And for the first time in a long time, I have hope.

About the writer

The author of this piece has chosen to write anonymously solely to protect her child’s privacy. It is her hope to reach other mothers in similar positions and make them feel less alone in this isolating moment in parenting.


Ruth 3 months ago

He’s suffering, because of the way his brain chemistry functions, you are making a choice to try a tested, proved way to help him, not for your convenience or ease, or his teachers but for his well being. To not try to ameliorate the situation would be akin to saying to a diabetic who produces no insulin, just eat lettuce and run 15 miles every morning, or a person with depression, if you just try harder to be happy you brain will produce more serotonin, BS, these are situation where we can be happy that there are “modern” medical options. My daughter takes and ADHD drug, it made the difference between being so overwhelmed with stimuli that she was really not present and engaged at school and coming home full of everything that happened each day. She still takes it and does not feel comfortable in her own skin if she forgets her medication. You do what is best for your child, no one else can judge you for making the best, most informed decision you can. Also, there are several medications for ADHD, one common one is a combination of various types of amphetamine with different half lifes, to give long 8-10 hours of effect, another is long acting Ritalin. Our daughter had undesirable side effects with the combination amphetamine medication but thrives on the long acting Ritalin, everyone’s chemistry varies.

Teresa 3 months ago

This couldnt seriously be any closer to my exact life and story except my son is only 6!!
You feel horrible for feeling like nothing else has worked and this is the last resort of medications that seem scary knowing to some degree your give your child a form the of meth.
I totally feel your pain to the fullest!! Your story is my story!!
From one mother in the same boat as another!!!

Michele 3 months ago

I was once the step-parent to a beautiful and intelligent little girl whose brain chemistry prevented her from functioning well. Medicating is a difficult decision, but DON’T EVER let anyone tear you down or berate you for doing it. It made the world of difference for this little girl…her life became easier. We had exhausted all non-medication possibilities before relenting, but her brain chemistry needed to be balanced out. That beautiful little girl is now in college with a triple major and flourishing. There are parents out there (and non-parents who have balls the size of Texas) who will tell you they’d never medicate their child(ren), but they’ve never walked a mile in your, or your child’s shoes. Parents everywhere, do what you have to do to help your children and know there’s NOTHING embarrassing or shameful in seeing to it that your child has the proper medical care. If your child had diabetes, you’d give them insulin…this is the same thing. Mental health needs to be looked at in the same light as physical health, you find out where the problem lies and you address it no matter if it’s the heart, pancreas, lungs or brain!!

Jamie 3 months ago

Oh man…I felt/feel every word and syllable of your post, from the tears in the car to the looks at the 1500 pharmacies I drove around too the first day. So candidly honest and frightfully true. Thank you ! We are right there with you…I think, for me especially, that the guilt of waiting so long to give them medication is outweighing the fear of agreeing to give it in the first place.

Someone 3 months ago

I used to have a hard time paying attention to things and would panic a lot. I was diagnosed with ADD. The amphetamines made want to jump off a roof. When I told the therapist, she didn’t believe me and told me I had the wrong attitude towards the medication. I went to an ADD specialist that tested me using a computer test and video. He said the results indicated that I was not in the least ADD but had PTSD or complex PTSD and I later went on Clonazapam which made all of the panic and flashbacks virtually go away. Therapists have tried to diagnose me with Borderline PD, Schizophrenia, and Bipolar. None of these diagnoses were correct. Be careful with the mental health field. It’s not very scientific. Believe your child if he says he feels worse. Check his thyroid and other medical possibilities for his behavior as well. My thyroid doesn’t work which make me seem depressed when I don’t take my thyroid hormone, but I’m not.

Kelly 3 months ago

Right there with you. Be strong!

Just me 3 months ago

Someday, I hope that the mental health of our children can be discussed without coming from such a deeply defensive stance. I see myself in you. I often wonder why I have to carefully construct an almost litigious, itemized defense before I tell my peers or parents that we’re considering medication to allow our son to thrive. I’d love to be able to casually mention that he ‘has ADHD and is being treated for it’ without the kneejerk presumption that I’m in some way medicating for my own convenience. Or that I’m being bullied into it by his incredible team of teachers and school administrators. Maybe, just maybe, we could lead with the presumption that he is uncomfortable in his own skin, at *best* unhappy with his social acceptance by his peers, and has a plummeting self-esteem as he gains awareness of how unable he is to function in otherwise normal situations. Whether or not I took my prenatal vitamins or regularly choose to give Motrin for headaches or not feels like completely irrelevant information in this case. And yet we persist. You’re not alone. This is the single most difficult persisting situation we’ve been in. The road has been long. My heart goes out to you.

anon 3 months ago

God Bless You. My daughter has anger issues. I don’t think she needs meds, but I would try if I felt like it was at that point. It’s so hard to help them. The worst is feeling like, “I’m trying everything, I love you, I just want you to feel good, be calm and be happy.” It’s hard. You’re doing a great job.

Stephanie 6 months ago

Good luck to you with it. We are on the same path with many of the same concerns. But the one thing that we do know is that our son is not supposed to be so miserable so much and that despite all of our efforts, therapies, interventions, and resources, we need help. And so far, it has helped. Is it the end all and be all? No. But if it gives us another day where he doesn’t feel like a complete failure and isn’t full of despair and self loathing, I will take it. It gives us a place from which to build him back up. One day at a time.

Eskymama 6 months ago

Have raised 2 boys with ADD/ADHD … the older one was way too smart. It took until 8th grade for his charm and talking his way out of things to falter. He was always moving, but could keep up scholastically most of the time. The younger was in kindergarten at the time and we medicated him for 6 years. We always took summer breaks from the meds … and when we moved in his 7th grade year … we didn’t start up the medication that year as he always lost appetite and stopped growing on medication. He is now doing well in his 10th grade year … he misses who he was sometimes on medication. The sense of self does change with/without medication. That is why the 8th grader(now 24yr) never felt like himself on meds. And now in college he continues to struggle and has been burned by impulsive decisions. It is a tightrope walk and each child path is different. Be sensitive and loving, you will help him find his way.

WE DID IT 6 months ago

The confidence my son gained by being able to complete his work after we started medication showed me we made the right decision.

Mom and grandma 6 months ago

If he had diabetes, you would not hesitate. Brain chemistry meds are far from being as clear- cut an issue, but you must not beat yourself up about it. There will undoubtedly be times of trial and error, dosage questions and, as he grows, medication changes due to changes in his own chemistry. You have done all you could without meds, now stay informed and stay involved be sure you have a doctor who is clear with you about what course is being followed. Keep notes. Keep a journal. My decision to medicate my son was not difficult because our Kaiser doctor took 18 months in the diagnostic process and titrated his dosage. She kept me educated and in the loop. We were both so thrilled on the first day he could think without chaos. My older daughter had to send her son into residential care for nearly a year, he is home and being a normal 12-year-old. The decisions are tough, the out- comes are worth it.

another mother 6 months ago

I wanted to add that I hope it helps your son. Good luck with everything!

another mother 6 months ago

Thank you for writing this. My son was diagnosed with adhd last year, and I go back and forth on putting him on medication. He is only in first grade, so we’re trying everything we can try before we try the pharmaceutical route. I think most parents do not take this decision lightly. People sometimes portray parents as putting their children on medication at the drop of a hat, but most people I know weigh their decisions very, very carefully.

sunnydaysahead 6 months ago

Could have written this verbatim about our daughter. She has hyperactive ADHD which made forming friends and social situations so difficult. In addition she is intellectually very gifted (99% in testing) which made this all very hard. In retrospect she has been like this since she was in utero and moving all the time.

3 years of counseling and 1.5 years of medication and we have a happy well-adjusted thriving high school freshman! 3 honors classes, drama, band, ski team and 15 close friends !!! Truly a miracle….lots of prayers too.

For us medication was such a huge leap of faith but the right decision. She now has enough insight to understand when it’s wearing off, if she wants to take it or not on a lazy saturday, and knows that her first class of the day will always be a little more challenging as she tries to focus and bring things under control

Hang in there!!! Have been there is spades and you have done the right things. Give him the tools that he needs to succeed in life :) medication is only one leg of the 3 legged stool. Needs unconditional love, behavioral counseling and medication. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In a very similar boat 6 months ago

We went through a very similar journey with our son, we even tried holding him back a grade and alternative schools which didn’t work. Medication has helped so much and it was one of the hardest decisions we’ve made. I hope your son and your family find some peace and a sense of well being.

Juniper 6 months ago

I could have written this word for word just 7 years ago. Taking that step was so terrifying. For our family, it was the right choice. I hope it is for yours too. 7 years ago, our son was struggling, he didn’t like himself, and wanted so desperately to be normal. He was in special-ed classes at school, teachers didn’t want to take the extra time he needed. I am happy to say now, he excelled in school, graduating a year early, with honors classes, one enrolled in college at the age of 16. He still takes his medication. We’ve adjusted the doses a few times over the years, but he’s happy with who he is and can tell when his mind won’t stop arguing with him that it’s time to adjust the dose. I hope you have a good experience too!

Mrs.C 6 months ago

You are so brave to speak out – even anonymously. This culture is a horrid place to take a stand on or for anything, but you, Mama, you have done and tried everything you or anyone else can think of to help your son. You have gone to lengths most of us cannot fathom and you are alive – you are sane – you are doing the best things you can for your whole family – you are facing down the demons of mental and emotional illness in your baby and you – if only by your defiance of being labeled by a disease or a medication – are winning.

No one knows how this will play out. No two lives, no two brains are identical. Maybe he’ll use these meds to learn the coping mechanisms he couldn’t master without them. Maybe he’ll get to step down and walk away from controlled substances. Maybe he’ll learn how to avoid the depression that comes to so many who’ve been shamed for doing what it takes to keep themselves going. Maybe he’ll defeat these demons through perseverance and determination, maybe he’ll defeat them through medication. As long as you and he keep fighting for personal peace and health and safety, who cares which path is required? Walk that path. Fight that battle. Win that war.


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