Mom and blogger. Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Likes to keep people on their toes with a quirky sense of humor.
Daughter and oldest sibling. Diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder with psychotic features, ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Super artistic anime freak.
Son and oldest twin. Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Masterful musician – plays Alto and Tenor Saxophone.
Son, younger twin and most severe of the family. Diagnosed with Autism. Nonverbal. Loves noise, especially music, and lights. Also, loves to dance.
Our family joke is that nothing we do is “normal.” There always seems to be a special spin on things to add that extra flair. Most of it comes from a combination of things that happen to us and around us. The most obvious being that we not only have one mental illness that affects our family, but we also have several at varying degrees of severity. Let me give you some background.
I have dealt with depression since childhood. I honestly cannot remember a time when the black hole was not there. My teenage years were full of alcohol and any pills I could find that would give me some sort of relief from the draw of that hole. Self-harm even became a silent issue late in my teen years into college. My first major depressive episode came when I was 22. My high school sweetheart – the love of my life – told me that he had never loved me as I had loved him. He was a homosexual. My world literally collapsed. Every truth I had ever believed in was gone – my faith decimated. This news would obviously crush anyone who received it, but to someone who already suffers from Depression, it is totally devastating. I remember very little of the following two to three months. I remained in a fog for 2 years after that. It was during this time that I met and began dating my daughter’s biological father. Within months I became pregnant but refused to marry him because I knew he wasn’t the one for me. The relationship fell apart after Paix was born. He has not been a part of her life since she was just over a year old. She, however, saved my life – having her forced me to take the focus off myself. She needed me. The depression was still heavy, but she was the light that pulled me through some of the darkest days. Just as I was coming back to life, as I like to put it, I met Eric, my future husband. We did not hit it off right away.
Eric and I met while I was dating one of his friends in the military. He was a major jerk as he was nursing his own broken heart after a recent divorce. A year later we fell in love. We married after only a few short months – much to the surprise of both our families. Paix was 3 years old. Eric had been raised by a stepfather and did not have a relationship with his biological father either. He was perfect for Paix – I have always said that God meant for him to be her daddy. Paix was diagnosed with ADHD at age 5 and again Eric was the perfect fit as he had struggled with ADHD his entire life.
Shortly after getting married, I became pregnant again. This time with twin boys. We were excited and mortified at the same time. As the pregnancy went on one twin, Aidan was thriving as the other, Ryland, slowly fell behind. When they were born, there was a full pound difference between them – Aidan at 8lbs and Ry at 7lbs. There was not too much concern at the time because of how big they were. I had a scheduled c-section at 40 weeks. However, Ry continued to fail to thrive and was diagnosed as microcephalic at just 1 month. It was the beginning of a long road of doctors’ appointments, frustration and disappointment. There were genetics appointments, neurology appointments, occupational and physical therapies – this went on for years, but no one could give us a definitive diagnosis. Our world was shattered when one neurologist told us that he would be a vegetable the rest of his life and that we should seriously consider putting him into a home. (We gave absolutely no thought to following his advice!) A geneticist told us that it may be Angelman Syndrome but could not give the official diagnosis because the genetic markers were not present. Autism was mentioned but never really explored as an option. Ry did not sleep (and still doesn’t) in a regular cycle. He would be up for sometimes days on end before taking just a couple of hours nap then back up for another round. To this day the only time he will sleep over six hours is when he is sick. To top it off, Ry ended up being non-verbal and put into early childhood education classes followed by special education classes.
So there we were – a dad who was active duty going to the field every couple of months, a daughter with significant ADHD, a son who was non-verbal with no clear diagnosis, and a sleep-deprived mother who was in constant zombie mode. How could things get worse?! Well – the Iraq War happened. Eric was an infantryman at the time and was sent off on two separate deployments. He returned from the first with PTSD. At the time, neither of us wanted to admit it – especially him. There was a huge stigma related to PTSD back then – it would mean the end of the career he loved. The second deployment only added to the rage that bubbled more and more often. Ry was still the focus of the family through all this. So much so in fact, that we completely missed the signs that Aidan had been exhibiting for Autism. It wasn’t until he was in 3rd grade that a teacher intervened and asked for psychological testing. He was officially diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
Now autism became a focus. I researched all I could to better understand what Aidan was up against – what we all had to look forward to as he grew up. When so much is happening in a family, full concentration could not be aligned to one circumstance. At the same time, some things fall from the table. Once Aidan was diagnosed, all attention given to Ry and his diagnoses fell from view. There was only so much I could do to balance Paix’s incessant movement and school issues, Aidan’s new-found issues especially at school, Ry still not sleeping, Eric’s every growing isolation and anger, and my own black hole that was also steadily growing in size threatening to swallow me whole. Every day was a game of coping skills. During that time, I stayed especially busy with volunteer work (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Church groups, etc.) thinking that if I slowed down even a little, I would crash and never recover. In a way, I was right. I began counseling as life started to unravel.
By the time Paix reached high school Eric’s PTSD had reached a breaking point for all of us. It had progressed slowly but steadily. He had been self-medicating for years and it didn’t seem to be enough anymore. His suicidal thoughts came more frequently usually prefaced by fits of seemingly uncontrollable rage. He was in a downward spiral that was picking up speed quickly. All of this had a profound effect on the family as a whole. Paix started exhibiting signs of depression so we decided to get her into counseling as well. Eric was refusing help even though he was falling apart at the seams. Everything finally came to a head when I couldn’t handle any more and decided to end my life. I had a plan and was starting to execute it when once again, Paix saved my life. She could see that I was not acting right and called my therapist who in turn called Eric. I was admitted into a psychiatric facility and finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. It was this hospitalization that pushed Eric to seek help for himself. At last, it seemed we were all heading toward better days.
Soon life had become manageable again even though Ry was still not sleeping, and I was having to fight to get him into appropriate special education classes. Aidan was now in speech therapy and peer groups along with participating in many school activities one of which was marching band. Paix was in counseling dealing with her issues and doing well in school again. I was making progress with my counseling for depression and Eric was also in counseling for PTSD. We were happy again. Then Paix started college. She soon had to withdraw because of anxiety, mood swings and hallucinations. She was diagnosed as Bipolar with Psychotic Features. Yet another blow to the family. After living on her own for two years she had to move back home as we tried to get her back on a healthcare plan and properly medicated.
After receiving much help from our primary care doctor, Ryland was finally diagnosed with Severe Autism just after the boys’ 18th birthday. The diagnosis opened a world of therapies we had been unable to get for him before or that had become inaccessible since turning 18– speech, physical, occupational, and ABA. We have still encountered several obstacles as he gets older with keeping some of these therapies in place, but, thankfully, so far, we have been able to keep everything going.
Aidan graduated from high school and started going to a university in town to help his transition into college a little smoother. He is now attending a university on the other side of the state and doing very well. Paix is still at home even though her medication has been balanced and she is doing much better. She has stuck around to be a huge help with Ryland.
After Ryland’s diagnosis, Eric came up on orders to be stationed in another state. We agreed that he would move alone for that particular tour of duty since Ryland had just started all these new therapies so that we did not have to go through the whole process of getting him set up again elsewhere. The plan was to rejoin each other after he had finished his duty time at that location – two years or so. About a year in, Eric asked for a divorce. I blame his PTSD mostly. He was no longer receiving counseling. He was alone too often, and his thoughts moved in the wrong direction. He began going to bars to pass the time and drinking more. He became too familiar with being apart and away from the daily stresses of having to deal with mainly Ry and my depression. Honestly, I didn’t see it coming although I probably should have. Far too many marriages with special needs children end in divorce and we were dealing with many more stressors than that.
Life is moving on and we are dealing with everything as it comes. Life is never boring in our home. We have lots of stories, laughs and heartaches to share about how we’ve made it this far. Stick around and you’ll hear all about it. 😊