From misdiagnosis to stability: A story of struggle, of hope
My story is really about one of my daughters. To protect her privacy as I tell her story, I’ll call her Elizabeth. Elizabeth has had suicidal ideations from since she was about 12 to about 17. At 4 years old, she was misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her ADHD medications never helped, and for years, made her behavior even more erratic. As Elizabeth hit puberty, her moods worsened, and she became violent and suicidal, unable to think of consequences or risks.
Our lives turned upside down when Elizabeth hit her teens. At 14, she ran away for the first time in the middle of winter. It was then that she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Bipolar I. For the next two and a half years, we battled medication issues, 10 hospitalizations and multiple suicide attempts.
Many times, she ran away from home and wasn’t meek about doing so. One time, she hopped on a freight train and traveled through mountains, tunnels and bridges more than 120 miles away. Another time, she ran away from home during an extreme cold spell, sleeping outside with temperatures in the negatives, all because she was unable to assess consequences or risk.
Trying to keep her alive has not been an easy task by any means. It was heartbreaking wondering whether she was alive or dead when missing, but equally heartbreaking when she was home and suffering.
I had to use up all my Family Medical Leave Act time year after year to keep Elizabeth alive. I had to fight to get her on appropriate medications, fight for medical and psychiatric services to help her, fight the school system to try to get her the educational services she needed and to provide her an alternative when school was her worst problem. Trying to keep her alive has not been an easy task by any means. It was heartbreaking wondering whether she was alive or dead when missing, but equally heartbreaking when she was home and suffering. I wasn’t the only one affected, of course. Her youngest sister witnessed Elizabeth with blood running down her arms from a suicide attempt at the age of 14. Her sister was only 4.
Fortunately, Elizabeth’s story is working towards an ending that is more optimistic than its beginning. This past year, she has been better able to understand what she needs to do to keep herself stable; she lets me know when the depression and suicidal thoughts get out of control. She is probably more stable now than ever in her lifetime. While she is ok now, I know Elizabeth’s disease will result in a life-long struggle, a struggle that can be so hard to anticipate as the signs are not always textbook and upfront. As the saying goes, it’s one day at a time.