“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. (Lao-tzu)
Our journey into the mysteries and complexities of ADHD began six short weeks ago (although it feels more like six months). Six weeks ago I felt completely overwhelmed by not knowing how to take the first step or even where I would find the path on which to take it. The only thing I knew at the time was that we did not want Michael on pharmaceutical medication until we had looked at every other treatment option first. All it took to begin finding my way was one magnificent mother who reached out to me with her own experience. One call changed the trajectory of my life and before I knew it my feet had found the path upon which to begin our epic journey.
My first step was to contact the mother of a child with autism who also works with autistic children and their families (what I did not know then is that ADHD is now believed to be simply a milder form of autism). She was the first stranger to whom I poured out my heart and my deep despair with my family and my life. She listened lovingly and patiently as if we were old friends. As our call progressed I began to feel as if I had suddenly been granted membership into a special club whose members consisted of strong and powerful mothers whose challenges, struggles and joys were uncannily similar to mine. Ironically, the only initiation into the club was finally allowing the reality of ADHD into my life. I realized that by holding ADHD at arm’s length I was also holding off all the love and support that was so readily available and that I so desperately needed. To be able to tell a perfect stranger that I feel like I’m slipping off the end of my rope and have her say, “yep, I’ve been there and some days I am still there”, was like seeing the sun rise after too many nights of terrifying gloom. At the end of our conversation she gently guided me toward the next step of the journey; naturopathic medicine.
I came away from our call with the name of a naturopathic DAN doctor by the name of Dr. Sonya Doherty. Sonya specializes in working with children who have Autism and ADHD. I had no idea what a DAN doctor was at that time but have come to know the acronym to mean Defeat Autism Now. A DAN doctor is someone who has been trained to treat the Autism Spectrum Disorders (of which ADHD is one) using the biomedical approach. This approach looks at what is happening in the whole body system and treats from the inside out. Discovering that there was a naturopath out there just for Michael was the glimmer of hope I so badly needed; it enabled me to dial the phone, make an appointment, put one foot in front of the other and remember to keep breathing.
The first time I met Sonya was six days after the tsunami hit and I was still frantically gasping for breath. Sitting in her office and hearing her speak about the causes (and biomedical treatment) of ADHD was like finding a cruise ship rather than just a life boat to save Michael and me from drowning. Before meeting Sonya I was under the false impression that if you have an ADHD diagnosis, you have it for life. The dispelling of this myth felt like a bright light of hope way down deep in all the muck. Sonya introduced me to a whole new way of looking at ADHD and it was an ADHD that I could ‘be with’ because, in her version, there was immediate action I could take and there was hope.
Sonya gave me a crash course in ADHD by educating me on the contributing factors; food sensitivities and allergies that harm brain chemistry, inflammation of the brain, impaired neurotransmitter function (especially serotonin and dopamine), gastro intestinal issues and the body’s inability to detoxify (particularly heavy metals). She described the treatment protocol as a combination of removing foods (like wheat and dairy) from the diet, healing the ‘gut’, reducing inflammation and detoxifying the system. She went on to tell me that once the system is healed it is possible for the ADHD to be either resolved completely or the symptoms significantly minimized. She also told me that in some cases pharmaceutical medications are still necessary even when the systems of the body have been restored to balance and health. Even so, it would generally be a much milder dose than the typical allopathic standard.
As Sonya spoke I could see a path appearing in front of me and it was a path that resonated with our wishes, our values and our belief in working with the innate wisdom of Michael’s body. There were so many pieces that made sense to me as I heard Sonya speak that I knew we had found the right person to walk beside us on our journey of a thousand miles.
We are still in the early days of our journey but when I look back I can see that we have covered a lot of ground in a very short time. When we opted for the biomedical route I was cautioned that this approach is sometimes difficult and slow. There are some dramatic changes possible but mostly it is the gradual healing process of a little body that has been under attack for a long time; the damage was a gradual process and so too is the healing. At times I see changes in Michael that make me feel optimistic and euphoric and at those times I am certain we have chosen the right path. At other times I slip into depressing pessimism and feel like it is just too much effort and we are not seeing enough progress. It is during my moments of doubt that I still want ‘the magic pill’ and think that that is where we will likely end up anyway.
I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that we have taken on. I look down the path and want to be further along and moving faster; I want the instant gratification to which my generation has become so accustomed. Fortunately, Lao-tzu’s quote is never far away from my mind and there are times when it is so loud and clear that I would swear that someone has whispered it into my ear. Lao-tzu’s words remind me that all we can do (and need to do) is to take one small step at a time along our journey of a thousand miles. It always amazes me how things unfold at exactly the right time and in the precise order they should. Even looking back six weeks I can see how I have been gently moved in the right direction with each and every single step I have taken.
With the centuries-old wisdom of an ancient Chinese philosopher behind me it is certainly easier to trust that it will be every small, seemingly insignificant step that will unquestionably add up to a thousand miles one day.