Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Michael and Zachary share a room in our new house and the customary bedtime ritual is to lie on Michael’s bottom bunk bed and read bedtime stories to both boys. When I am the parent on bedtime duty I am frequently required to read the Dr. Seuss book entitled, Oh the Places You’ll Go. The reason it is so frequently pulled off the book shelf is twofold; firstly, the boys know it is my all-time favourite and, secondly, they love the way the end of the book always chokes me up. They call it ‘the crying book’ and gleefully anticipate reaching the end of the book at which time I am so overcome with emotion that I am barely able to choke out the words. They like to tease me about my sentimentality and always get a good giggle while wiping away my tears and snuggling in to comfort me. It is a very cute ritual that has been going on for a few years and I never seem to disappoint.

Since Michael’s ADHD diagnosis the book has taken on new meaning for me. Now when I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I see Michael as the brave little boy who soldiers on regardless of the innumerable challenges that face him. When we reach the page upon which the little boy is valiantly pulling the giant mountain, all I can see is Michael bravely hauling his mountainous ADHD diagnosis along with him. So now when the boys choose ‘the crying book’ at bedtime they sometimes end up getting more than they bargained for; instead of mildly choked-up, I often end up with tears streaming down my cheeks. I hit an all-time high the other night when I hadn’t even reached the end of the book and I was weeping inconsolably. I was so undone Michael had to take over the reading and get us to the end of the book.

After reaching the end of the story Michael said to me; “mommy, I know why you are crying so hard. It’s because the little boy in the book is me and the giant mountain he is pulling is ADHD; right?” I hadn’t even told Simon about how the book was recently affecting me so I was astounded at Michael’s startling intuition. Once again, Michael had reached inside my mind and my heart with his usual magic and I was emotionally laid bare. A painful sob escaped my body and I went from quietly weeping to sobbing inconsolably. It had been a long time since I had last surrendered to the grief of Michael’s challenges and the well was surprisingly deep. It quickly became apparent that Michael also needed to purge some grief as he quietly tucked himself into my body and joined me in surrendering to the tears. I have no idea how long we lay and cried together but it was quite a few minutes. I was so grateful to Zachary on my other side who somehow had the wisdom to know that something important was happening and that his role was to silently hold space. As Michael and I wept bitterly, Zachary lay quietly beside me and tenderly rubbed my arm. He didn’t try to interrupt or turn attention away from the intense emotion between Michael and me which allowed it to gently unfold.   

As I held Michael in my arms and let the tears flow I didn’t feel the need to quiet him or demand explanation for his breakdown. Instead, I simply waited to see what would happen next. It wasn’t long before Michael started to talk and his muffled voice came from under my arm with a declaration so shocking it knocked me completely off balance. I lay still and just let Michael’s words pour out; “I will miss you so much when you die mommy. I will always remember you and how you helped me with my ADHD. No one else would have done what you did. I will remember how you found out what I was allergic to, how you found the doctor I needed, how you gave me my needles, how you found all the food I could eat and always gave me my vitamins even when I didn’t want them and you knew I could get better. I will always remember you mommy. What if I am not better when you die? Who will help me?” I somehow found my voice and talked through my tears assuring Michael that I am very healthy and take good care of myself. I told him that I planned on being around for a very long time but that if something ever did happen to me that Daddy, Max and Zachary would be there for him. We also talked about all the extended family who love him so dearly; his much beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.

Michael seemed to be calming but took me by surprise yet again when he told me how guilty he feels. I gently asked him what he was feeling guilty about and he started to cry again. He told me he feels guilty for thinking I was “wacko”. I gently prompted him to explain; “when you asked me if I wanted to cut all those foods out of my diet and I said ‘yes’, I thought you were wacko. But mommy you were right and now I feel so much better and I feel so guilty that I thought you were crazy. You knew how to make me better and I am so sorry.” I found my first smile in long moments when I assured Michael that when we started this whole treatment journey I thought I was wacko as well. I told him that when we started with the naturopath and started cutting food from his diet I thought it was completely nuts! I went on to tell him that it wasn’t until he went back on dairy for that awfully challenging week that I realized we were not ‘wacko’. Michael asked me to explain why dairy makes him feel so awful and he listened carefully to my detailed explanation.

The last surprise came when Michael apologized for having ADHD and told me that it is his fault. My instinct was to deny his declaration but I knew he needed to unburden his load so, fortunately, I was able to catch myself and bite my tongue. He told me that all those years he didn’t sleep were why he has ADHD. He apologized for making me so tired and stressed with his sleepless nights and the ADHD that has resulted. Having just described what dairy does to his body gave me the platform to assure Michael that the sleepless nights were not his fault. I told him that in those days he was drinking milk morning, noon and night and that that was a large part of the reason he was not sleeping. I think Michael heard me but I also think that he truly believes that his ADHD is his fault. This is not the first time he has declared that our challenges are “all my fault”.

Simon and I have both been very concerned about Michael’s self-esteem for quite some time and not just since the physical assault by his teacher back in February which left such a devastating wake behind it. We are well aware that Michael is a startlingly complex and gifted young man and that the workings of his complex emotions are mostly out of our reach. However, the scene on Michael’s bed the other night, as surprising as it was, was very comforting. Michael is starting to find his voice and work through the difficult emotions of his current reality. He is turning to me and opening the dark parts of his psyche for help. Having said that, though, I know that we have just barely glimpsed into the multifarious workings of Michael’s consciousness and I hope there is much more to come.

I often wonder whether we need to find Michael a child psychologist to help us steer him through these complex waters. It would certainly need to be someone very special who would align with our emotional, spiritual and physical approach to treating Michael’s ADHD. I sometimes worry whether we are in over our heads and if we do not seek help for Michael we will have regrets later. However, I also believe that the deep spiritual and loving connection between Michael and me was what allowed him to safely pour his heart out to me. Would he find that with someone else? I do not know and I will keep wondering and watching for signs that we need professional help. In the meantime the fact that Michael is talking makes us feel very encouraged.

 After drying the tears, calling in all the necessary angels, rubbing backs and singing ‘Sweet Baby James’ my cherubs were finally settling in for the night. Michael’s final comment as I was leaving the room was; “mommy, maybe I have ADHD so that I can teach other kids about it someday.” Needless to say, I was completely floored! My seven-year-old was tapping into his potential life purpose and spinning a very altruistic and optimistic reality all by himself. Just when I think I have begun to truly grasp the depths of my magic child he shows me an even deeper and more complex layer of his inner workings.

I felt emotionally exhausted as I made my way downstairs to my laptop. My fingers were itching to capture everything that had transpired that evening so that I could always keep it close to my heart. As I wrote furiously it occurred to me that Michael had given me a priceless gift. I often fantasize that in twenty years Michael will come to me and acknowledge how much my efforts meant to him. I picture reaching up to hug him and telling him that it was truly an honour to be a part of his incredible journey and how deeply I love him. Never did it occur to me that the seven-year-old version of Michael could truly grasp and be so thankful for my efforts on his behalf. It’s as if the future version and the present version of Michael came together for one brief and shining moment to encourage me and remind me that I have what it takes to walk this difficult path beside my glorious magic child.

As I went to bed that night I took Dr. Suess’ words with me and let them gently soothe my soul. It’s the simple wisdom I need right now and as I flipped through the much-loved pages of ’the crying book’ I quietly wept with equal parts of joy and sorrow.

But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

 (Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go)

Posted in ADHD, Family, Mothering | 7 Comments

Down the Rabbit Hole

We have been on holiday for the past two wonderful weeks. The first week of the holiday was at my family cottage in Georgian Bay where we swam, played, fished, laughed, frog hunted, ate sumptuous meals and felt the stress of the past months melt away. It was one of those weeks that I didn’t want to see come to an end because it was so deliciously easy, fun and restorative. This past week has been a relaxing holiday at home. We have spent time at the beach, the library, the community pool and the park where the kids have played happily in the unstructured bliss of a summer afternoon. We have been to a movie, a baseball game and we had a fabulous day together yesterday at Canada’s Wonderland where we threw ourselves completely into the sheer joy of spinning, tumbling, turning and eating seriously yummy junk food. I am still high after riding The Behemoth at 125 kilometres per hour down a 75 degree drop…talk about letting go of control!

We have truly been on holiday this past two weeks and I feel like a kid again. This is summer the way I remember it; fun, happy and carefree. Michael has had the same kind of break except that his has been even more of a holiday; Michael has had time off from ADHD. His body and his energy these past weeks has felt more grounded, calm and centred than I have ever felt him. All through our wonderful vacation I have had a curious question looping through my head; ‘does Michael really have ADHD’?

I have asked this question in a previous blog posting and I am asking it again; does ADHD come and go depending on environment? I know that ADHD is a life-altering diagnosis, I know it is real, I know that I am over-simplifying, but the evidence is there; Michael has not had ADHD these past two weeks. The symptoms have been there but we have been so focussed on fun that we have been able to help Michael re-direct his energy into fun physical activity like swimming, frog hunting, playing in the park or kicking a ball around. He never had to get to the point of losing impulse control because we have been there to anticipate and help steer him around those energetic blocks in the road. 

My three boys are sun-baked and happy, happier than I have seen them in a long time. They are having a wonderful summer and as we drove home from Wonderland late last night with happy and sleepy kids in the back seat I was marvelling at how relaxed I feel and wishing it could always be like this. Maybe we could always be this content and peaceful, maybe we could truly enjoy each other’s company like we have in the past weeks and maybe Michael could always have time off from ADHD. Perhaps it would even go away permanently if Michael could be in an environment where fun was always on the menu.

When I allow myself to look ahead to school starting in September I feel all the energy and happiness drain from my body. Emotionally, I feel like I have come crashing headlong into a brick wall. How can I take this beautiful, happy and relaxed child out of summer and subject him to another ten months of the physical and emotional torture of school? How can I assure him that there is no other option but the torment of four walls, a hard desk and fluorescent lighting? How can I send him off to an environment day after day that I know is not healthy for him? It feels so wrong and yet I don’t know of any other solution; I must make a living and Michael must be schooled so, regrettably, in five short weeks, back to school it will be.

One of my favourite coaching questions is; ‘if money were no object, what would you do?’ Such a deliciously dreamy query! The physical sensation of that question is like slipping into a steaming, hot bath on a cold winter’s night. When I allow myself to really luxuriate in the alternate reality in which anything is possible and there are no limitations, Michael does not have ADHD. It’s not that the diagnosis goes away or his brain chemistry suddenly alters, it’s that the structure of his life allows him the freedom to really listen to his body and to move it at any time and in any way he chooses. I am discovering this summer that, for Michael, ADHD fades into the background when he is in an environment that supports gross movement, fun and choice; the cottage, the park, the swimming pool and the beach, to name a few. If finances were not an obstacle, perhaps we could dream up and start our own school for exquisite children like Michael.  

And so I allow myself to slip even further down the rabbit hole and imagine the perfect ‘school’ for my beautiful boy…

 It would be situated on a property which would allow Michael unlimited access to the ultimate freedom of nature. He would be able to immerse himself in the wonders and nuances of each of the four seasons our climate so generously offers. Michael’s classroom would have trees instead of desks and the sky instead of fluorescent lighting. Each day would begin with a vigorous outdoor activity followed by dancing to fabulous music; Michael would have the opportunity to stretch, move, express freely and get his blood moving. The school would have a giant trampoline, a swimming pool and a gym with every type of ball ever invented. There would be a squash court, a tennis court and a fabulous playground. Tobogganing in winter would be a daily activity and fun would be the primary focus.

Most of Michael’s learning would take place outside where he would have room to move and fresh air to breathe. When he was in a classroom, the environment would be calming and beautiful. It would have huge windows overlooking a natural setting and there would be neither traditional desks nor fluorescent lighting. Michael would be provided the opportunity to use whatever means he needed to express his ideas; singing, dancing, drawing, painting, technology or traditional pen and paper. Tae Kwon Do would be taught and practiced each day and deep meditation would be an integral part of life at school.  

Michael would learn leadership, problem solving, relationship skills, and life skills that would prepare him for ‘real life’. He would never know when it was ‘math time’ or ‘science time’ because the learning would be so seamlessly incorporated into the play. Michael would eat the best and most nutritious food that he had a hand in planting, tending, harvesting and preparing. Michael would learn about the importance of nutritious food, exercise and the impact of a healthy lifestyle on his body. Michael would learn how to play an instrument, how to stand in front of a crowd and perform and how to improv in a group. His learning environment would be all about fun, safety, freedom of expression and deep democracy in which every voice had value and contributed to the whole. Michael’s classmates would be of all ages and backgrounds and mentoring would be seamlessly interwoven throughout his days. The school would be completely ‘off the grid’ and the children would strive for a low impact footprint. They would learn about the importance of green living and their own impact on the environment.

 Going to school would be joyfully anticipated and Michael would shine in the unique environment. His report cards would be glowing accounts of his exuberance, his deep connection to nature, his intelligence, his creativity, his ability to express to any kind of music and his love of fun! Michael would be an honours student and would eat up the delicious curriculum of his school days. He would leave the school after grade twelve with life skills that would enable him to mature into a stunningly gifted man.  

Imagine if it were possible…

And now, the bathwater is slowly going cold and I must reluctantly step back into current reality. School will be starting sooner than any of us would like and the delicious dream of summer will come to an end. How are we going to get through another year of school? How can we subject Michael to that level of unhappiness and frustration day after day for ten months? How can I send him off to school with a heavy heart knowing that it is sucking the life from his soul?

How can I make my dream a reality?

I do not know the answer to that question but I send it out to the Universe with hope in my heart that someday an education like that will be possible for all children, not just for Michael. In the meantime, it is only the 2nd day of August and there is lots of time to savour the freedom and the fun that I know lies ahead. I will stand in the centre of Now and feel the magic of being a child and a mother at the same time by savouring the freedom and joy that is so present. I will look to my three wizards to remind me how to keep in touch with the magic of childhood. I will spin and dance and laugh. I will feel the delicious cool grass between my toes and the pure joy of cool water on a hot day.

And as I stand in the Now with my beloved sons I will hold this dream close to my heart and continue to wonder how to make it come true up out of the rabbit hole.

Posted in ADHD, ADHD and School, Family, Living in the Moment | 2 Comments

The Power to Heal

I have always seen food as a necessity of life but never something upon which I spent a lot of time or precious energy. I have had a basic awareness of healthy eating but I would not have considered myself a ‘Health Nut’ by any stretch of the imagination. I have never been a salad eater and could honestly say that green vegetables were something I ate because I knew I had to, not because I truly enjoyed them. I am a parent who started out making homemade, organic baby food and then reluctantly slipped into a world of fast food, convenience items and a diet low in anything truly healthy; chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pizza, burgers and Kraft Dinner.

I am a pretty good cook and when I put my mind to it I can put a nice meal on the table. However, I have been worn down by three picky eaters with different likes and dislikes but who can agree on a passion for chicken nuggets. As I have slipped further and further off the home made organic food bandwagon, there has been a little voice in the very back of my head asking; ‘is this the best for your kids, Katie?’ I knew it was not the best for my kids but I didn’t know any other way and by the end of the day I was tired and dinner was just an inconvenience I wanted out of the way. I had become a belly-filler rather than a body-nurturer.

Little did I know that when Michael was diagnosed with ADHD all that would change radically. I knew that the junk food was unhealthy but what I didn’t know was that the supposed healthy, nutritious food could be just as damaging. That is, until I watched Michael’s body react violently to a ‘healthy’ food he has been eating all his life.

After our highly successful trip to Whole Foods to find all the dairy alternatives, Michael was adapting like a little trooper and seemed to be enjoying all his alternatives. I wasn’t really aware of any difference in Michael’s behaviour and, to be honest, I kind of wondered whether the whole naturopathic approach was just a bunch of ‘hocus pocus’. I was so determined to try everything before we went to pharmaceutical medication I wondered whether I was just burying my head in the sand before the inevitable filling of the prescription. However, I also had to remind myself that the biomedical approach was going to be slow and I needed to be patient.

Ten days after removing dairy from Michael’s diet, I went back to see Sonya (our new naturopath) for the 90 minute intake appointment. It was the most fascinating and relaxed medical appointment I had ever experienced. I have become accustomed to talking as fast as I possibly can at appointments with my family doctor because my appointed time slot seems to be over before it has even begun. However, at the naturopath it is an entirely different story; it felt like Sonya had all the time in the world to begin unravelling the complexities of Michael’s physiology. Sonya took a family history so complete that she started to draw connections and see patterns through both sides of Michael’s lineage that would indicate potential issues in his complex physiological puzzle.

Sonya seemed particularly interested in my medical history and general health. As I spoke at length about my overall health (particularly feeling sick after almost every meal, a sensitive gastro intestinal system, nightly sleep disturbance, mild to moderate anxiety and very bad eczema), Sonya mentioned that Michael’s dairy intolerance probably came from me. She also suggested that I was most likely gluten intolerant and vitamin B12 deficient. Suddenly, it wasn’t just Michael’s life that was shifting so radically, it was mine as well. By the time I left the intake appointment (which ended up being 2 hours) I was off dairy, gluten and processed sugar and was on vitamin B12 injections every three days. I am thrilled to report that seven weeks into my new diet, my eczema is completely gone, my mild anxiety is better than it has been for years and I have already forgotten what it feels like to be sick after meals. Yay!

Just before the intake appointment was ending Sonya mentioned that it would be a good idea to test Michael for food allergies and intolerances. She felt that we would have a much clearer picture once we knew exactly what foods were affecting Michael’s delicate system. She told me that Michael would have to go back on dairy for a week leading up to the appointment so that he had enough of it in his system to get an accurate baseline. I booked the appointment for a week and bounced out of the clinic feeling excited to tell Michael that he could go back on all his favourite foods for seven whole days; it would be like his dairy swan song!

To celebrate the new (however short lived) freedom to eat, I decided to take the kids out for pizza and ice cream after school. As predicted, Michael was over the moon as he sat in Pizza Pizza and indulged in three pieces of his all-time favourite food. The look on his face was absolutely adorable as he talked excitedly about all the treats he was going to have in the coming week.  We decided that pizza for breakfast was going to be a little over the top but that he could indulge within reason. We tripped happily home from Pizza Pizza and spent a leisurely time in the local ice cream parlour before going home. Michael was thoroughly sated and dreamily happy as I tucked him affectionately into bed that Friday night. Even as he was drifting off he was telling me all the things he wanted to eat that weekend.

Michael and I are the early risers in my family and I was already up and enjoying the quiet the next morning by the time Michael appeared to join me on our lovely front porch. We sat and chatted and I noticed that he seemed a little more fidgety than usual for so early in the morning. Michael’s frenetic energy usually takes about 90 minutes to kick in after he awakens, but that morning he was already bouncing out of his chair and energetically frenzied from the get-go. I thought nothing of it as he went off in search of his Nintendo DS to pass the time while he waited for Zachary to awaken.

By about 9:30 that morning Simon and I were already at our wits end with Michael. He was fighting with his brothers (even more so than usual), he wouldn’t leave the cats alone and he was bouncing through the house like a manic ping pong ball. It was behaviour to which we had grown accustomed over the years but it was even more extreme than usual; Michael’s energy was so intense it felt like we were being assaulted. At one point Simon looked at me over Michael’s head and mouthed a desperate question; “what is wrong with him?” It was at that moment I realized that Michael’s body was reacting badly to the huge hit of dairy he had consumed the previous night. Saturday went from bad to worse and we wondered how we were going to get through the week. Michael had three grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch that day and real(!!!) ice cream again for dessert that night. Simon and I were absolutely exhausted by the time we got the kids settled into bed and wondered how we were going to make it through the following day.

I get up at 4:30 on weekday mornings so I have time to meditate, write and exercise. I usually give myself a break on weekends and sleep until 6:30 when Michael gets up. However, as I was falling into bed Saturday night I decided to set my alarm so that I was sure to have time to myself before Michael’s energy landed for another day from hell. It was a beautiful, sunny May morning and I was sitting on the front porch writing when Michael appeared. His energy felt even more frenetic than the previous day and it wasn’t long before he told me how awful he was feeling. I asked him to explain and he told me he felt like he had an animal inside his body. I kept quiet as Michael talked and let him draw his own conclusions; the dairy in his system was making him feel wretchedly awful. We talked at length about how Simon and I could help him through the days leading up to the allergy testing while he was still going to be feeling awful. Although they were very tough days for Michael I think it helped him to know we were on his side and supporting him.

After the seven grueling days were up, I took Michael back to the naturopath for the allergy testing appointment. Michael had dark circles under his eyes, his complexion was pale and sickly looking and he couldn’t stop yawning and stretching. When we sat down with Sonya she asked Michael how he was feeling and his candid response was heartbreaking; ‘tired, angry and sad.’ Sonya asked him what he thought was making him feel all those things and he told her it was the dairy he had been eating. Sonya’s response was fantastic; instead of commiserating with Michael she clapped her hands and celebrated the fact that we now had the first piece of Michael’s puzzle. Sonya assured Michael that as soon as he removed dairy again he would start to feel better. She also recommended taking Michael off gluten, processed sugar, food colouring and chemical additives. My chest tightened painfully as I wondered how I was going to make dinner that night; no pizza, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pancakes or even spaghetti.

What was I going to make for dinner that night?

I am starting to come to grips with the fact that treating ADHD biomedically is a gradual process of healing the body. Therefore, there is rarely a glaringly obvious change in behaviour or symptoms. If I hadn’t experienced Michael’s violent reaction to going back on dairy I might not be feeling as committed to biomedical treatment as I am today. I know that chicken nuggets and fish sticks are not good food choices but it never occurred to me that I was poisoning Michael with something that I always thought was the most wholesome, healthy food available; milk. Over the years, Michael has probably consumed upwards of a litre of milk per day; a litre of milk on a system that is so intolerant it goes haywire after a few slices of pizza and an ice cream cone!

Who knew that a yummy comfort food had the power to harm so drastically?

As we were driving home I had a staggering epiphany; if food has the power to harm then it must also have the power to heal. It was the first time I had ever made the connection between food and healing. It was the first time I ever realized just how important each and every bite of food truly is. I could feel panic settling into my chest as I clutched the steering wheel. How am I going to feed my family? I didn’t know any way other than convenience and fast foods with the odd home cooked meal thrown in for good measure. I was deeply ashamed as the next staggering realization struck me in the chest; I don’t know how to feed my family! I knew that 90% of the food in my kitchen was heading for the garbage dump but what was that going to leave me?

As I related my epiphany and the ensuing anxiety to Simon that night he reminded me about his friend Barb, the raw food chef, and her offer of help. After I bundled the kids off to school the following day I took Barb up on her offer and shyly dialled the phone. In retrospect I realize how much courage it took to contact a virtual stranger and a die-hard foodie and admit that I am a chicken nugget mother who is suddenly way out of her depth. Fortunately, Barb is not only a passionate foodie but also a gentle and loving woman who simply wants to share her passion for great eating, optimal health and food as the ultimate healer. In a very short time Barb has become a dear friend and invaluable mentor as I navigate my way through the challenging, intriguing, and sometimes intimidating process of learning to nurture and heal our bodies with food.

As usual, I must tip my hat and offer sincere gratitude to the Universe. After my post-allergy-testing epiphany I could feel my ship threatening to go down. Life felt dreadfully scary and uncertain as I drove home that day with no idea how to make dinner for my family that night. I could feel that all-too-familiar sensation of drowning as the fear and uncertainty of my situation sunk in. However, instead of letting my ship go down even for a moment, the Universe had already lined up another angel to step in, throw me a rope and remind me that I am a powerful earth mother who already has the power to heal her family…and boy does that angel ever know how to eat!

But that is a story for another day.

Posted in ADHD, ADHD and Food, Family, Mothering | 1 Comment

Fine Lines

As the parent of a beautiful, curly-haired son with ADHD I feel I am constantly walking fine lines. These lines are perilous and often harrowing to navigate smoothly; sometimes they trip me up because I didn’t know they were going to be there and at other times I anticipate them and they are no big deal. The lines to which I am referring are the delicate boundaries of parenting a child whose needs are exceptional. I strive to allow Michael to feel as ‘normal’ (whatever that means!) as possible in every situation while supporting his unique needs to the best of my ability.

I found myself faced with a very tricky fine line this past Monday morning as I dropped Michael off for his favourite summer activity; Sports Camp at our local university campus. This particular camp is quite possibly the only place where Michael has ever known what it feels like to be wildly successful, a super star and the kid everyone likes. Michael is the poster child for the camp because he is energetic, sporty, keen to try anything that comes along and never needs encouragement to keep moving. This sports camp is not for the delicate flower or the bookworm; it is a camp only for the uber-sporty child.

Last summer I learned just how sporty the camp really was while participating in Family Fun Morning. This particular camp event gives parents the opportunity to experience a typical morning at camp from either the sidelines or right in the fray…as the mother of three boys it would not be hard to guess which version I chose. After a fun and vigorous 15 minute morning workout to blaring music we went to the first morning sport. Michael’s sport that morning happened to be Track and Field; we ran the track, threw javelins and hurled discus in the blazing hot sun for 75 minutes. After that we all bundled off to the Olympic-sized swimming pool where my sons encouraged me to fling myself off the high diving board (which, of course, I did!) After a 60 minute swim we changed back into our clothes and the thought running through my head was; ‘thank goodness, now we are going to get to sit down for a break.’

No way!

As we entered the huge gym the counsellors were yelling over the loud music (to which Michael was hilariously dancing) to remind the kids to apply lots of sunscreen. Sunscreen?! All I could think was; ‘why do we need sunscreen to sit down and eat lunch?’ Before I knew it I was being whisked off for a cross-country trail run through the woods. As I sweated through the woods my last coherent thought was; ‘do these kids ever sit down?’ I am a relatively fit person who runs every other morning but that short sojourn at camp almost did me in!

This is Michael’s third summer at Sports Camp and the first two have been a roaring success and completely without incident; no phone calls, no behaviour reports at the end of the day (except that Michael is an “awesome kid”) and no stomach ache all through the day wondering when the phone is going to ring. At the end of the two week session the kids get report cards from all the coaches they have come in contact with over the session. Michael’s report cards are so glowingly fabulous he is like an honours camper. His reports say things like; “a natural leader, enthusiastic, warm, funny, delightful, great sense of humour, excellent coordination and exemplary skills.” Michael is so proud to bring these reports home I always cry with pride and delight at his radiant demeanour as we pore over and savour each and every word. Ironically, these are the reports that truly reflect who Michael is as a person; it always amazes me how a group of young, fit and fun university students can truly see Michael after a short two-week session but a seasoned teacher with years of experience doesn’t come close to the true essence of my ‘Magic Child’ after ten months in the same classroom (although I think that’s a topic for another blog).

If you were to ask Michael to describe Sports Camp he would use adjectives like; awesome, fun, cool and “the place where I don’t have ADHD.” The first time I heard him say that about camp a few weeks ago I was shocked and surprised at how accurate the description was; no one would ever know that Michael has ADHD at that camp. It begs the question; is ADHD a diagnosis that can come and go depending on environment? An overly simplified question, I know, but one worth some consideration. I imagine what school would be like if it were called ‘camp’ and provided Michael with all the fun, movement and action of the summer months. Michael’s description over dinner tonight as to how to “take someone down safely”  in wrestling sounded pretty close to solving ‘Pi’ to my ears; just as detailed and involving just as many steps. It reminded me that when Michael is moving, he is like a sponge for information which he can regurgitate with startling accuracy and considerable detail. Maybe someday we, as a society, can figure out a way to make school as fun as camp.

I have certainly digressed from the point of my narrative and gone off on an interesting tangent I would like to pursue some day (perhaps that’s yet another blog topic!) However, this particular story is about fine lines…

As I was driving to the first day of camp the other morning with all three kids in their matching athletic grey t-shirts I caught a glimpse in the rear-view mirror and my heart swelled painfully with love so fierce I found myself momentarily incapacitated. They all looked so cute with their curly hair, cheeks flushed with excitement and their big, blue eyes dancing with anticipation. My eyes flickered to Michael who looked particularly elated and I wondered whether I should inform his counsellors of his recent ADHD diagnosis. I wondered whether I was doing them or Michael a disservice not to inform them. What if there was behaviour they would more easily understand if they knew? What if it would make things easier for Michael if they knew?  Was I legally obligated to disclose his ADHD? What if my telling them turns him into ‘that kid with ADHD’ rather than ‘Magical Michael’ with the 100-watt grin? What if telling them robs him of the spectacular camp experience? How could I possibly risk jeopardizing that for Michael?

I am struggling with my own prejudices against the stigma of ADHD; how could I possibly expect a couple of twenty-year-olds to hold it any differently? It’s one of the most perilous lines I have had to face to date and I felt a surge of panic at what was at stake either way.

After painful deliberation I decided to go to a member of the senior staff. I had a great chat with one of the seconds-in-command and we decided that there was no need to talk to the counsellors. He told me that any difficulties with camper behaviour would come to him and that he would inform the counsellors if the need ever arose. We both felt we did not wish to stigmatize Michael at camp and the fact that he has never had a moment’s difficulty in the past two summers weighed heavily in his favour to keep quiet.

I don’t ever want to be cavalier about the fine lines I continue to encounter. Every line has the potential to significantly alter Michael’s life and the way he is perceived. Therefore, I do my utmost best to treat these fine and delicate lines with the deepest respect. At times it is very difficult to know who needs to know what, how much they need to know and when I should tell them. I look forward to a time when it is Michael’s decision when and how he crosses his own fine lines. In the meantime, I have to hope that every line I cross has been painstakingly considered and always with my feet firmly and respectfully planted in Michael’s shoes.

Posted in ADHD, Mothering | 2 Comments

Magic in the Middle

We went out to celebrate the end of the school year this past Tuesday night by going to see Toy Story 3 in 3D. The first two Toy Story movies are much-loved family favourites and the third instalment of Woody and Buzz Lightyear has been greatly anticipated by the whole clan.

We wanted to mark the end of the school year because it has been such a difficult one for a variety of reasons; the stress of our house being on the market both in the fall and winter, the physical assault on Michael by his teacher and the ensuing Children’s Aid Society investigation, moving to our new house in March, settling into a new life in April and then coming to grips with Michael’s ADHD diagnosis and treatment regimen over the past eight weeks. Simon and I felt that we wanted to do something special for the kids to celebrate and acknowledge the fact that we had all made it through in one piece and were a stronger family for having survived such a tough year. In addition, Max had graduated from Grade 5 and Zachary from Senior Kindergarten the previous day and we wanted to commemorate those two significant milestones.

The movie was delightful and we all had a great evening. When we got home it was way past bedtime and the kids were extremely tired. Unbeknownst to me, Michael had decided to tidy up the toys in the Family Room as a surprise for me while I was in the bathroom brushing Zachary’s teeth. I burst into the Family Room before Michael had finished and unintentionally ruined his surprise. He was so disappointed and upset he stormed from the room in tears yelling; “nothing ever works out for me, my life sucks…thanks a lot Mommy”. I followed him upstairs and found him draped across his bed weeping inconsolably.

Michael’s emotional volatility is akin to a simmering volcano. Once he erupts there is no stemming the flow of dangerously hot lava. Shortly following an eruption the only thing we can do is damage control; try to minimize the explosion and get people out of his way quickly while trying not to get sucked into his path. It can be a tricky and dangerous business to navigate around Michael during meltdown. To the untrained eye it would be easy to see Michael’s eruptions as self-indulgent tantrums, but I believe they are actually caused by frustration, sadness and despair. I have to coach myself relentlessly during one of Michael’s tirades not to get pulled into an anger response as it just sends him further ‘down the tube’. Sometimes I simply cannot control my own reaction and lose patience in the first few seconds which, needless to say, is disastrous for us both. On this particular occasion I kept my wits about me and was able to deal with Michael’s explosion patiently and lovingly. As I gently approached him on the bed he angrily pushed me away and continued to sob as if his heart was breaking.

I still vividly remember the years when I could not touch Michael. Snuggling before bedtime meant lying beside him in his bed but never touching. If ever I gently laid my hand on his back his little hand would gently but firmly lift it off. Even though he now loves to be touched there are still vestiges of his earlier aversion to physical contact when he is upset. As Michael lay on his bed the other night and wept bitterly I knew intuitively that if I tried to touch him I would push him further into his misery. I just lay beside him on the bed and allowed him to settle into my calm vibration. Michael is so energetically sensitive that he will be drawn to the dominant energy in a room; if it is frenetic he will respond accordingly and spin higher out of control, if it is calm and centred he will eventually regain his emotional balance. As his parent, the trick is to be patient and give him all the time and space he needs while he is coming down. Unfortunately, sometimes that is more easily said than done (hot magma is an unpredictable and tricky substance after all).

Michael did eventually begin to calm and as he did an anguished tirade poured forth from his mouth; “Max is the one who can do anything he wants and is good at everything. Zach is the baby and is so cute and little that everyone loves him. I can’t do anything right and no one wants me around. When Max plays with his friends they think Zach is so cute that he is allowed to play with them but I am not cute and too tall and I get left out. I can’t get anything right and no one likes me best. I am just the kid stuck in the stupid middle of the family. I hate my life!

Michael’s outpouring of despair went on and on and with every word I had to resist the urge to deny his truth. I wanted to assure him that he is absolutely adorable and one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever known. I wanted to tell him that he has an endearingly infectious laugh and the most delightful grin that lights up everything around him. I wanted to tell him that he is a stunningly gifted dancer and that to watch him feel music deep in his body is one of the most charming things I have ever witnessed. I wanted to remind him that he tells jokes like a stand-up comedian and that he has the most wonderfully puckish sense of humour.

I wanted to sell Michael all his best qualities and force him to buy into my version of the truth while adamantly denying his.

It took everything I had to lie beside Michael and listen to his painful outpouring. As I lay there and quietly listened, I coached myself on my role in Michael’s life. I reminded myself that my role is not to shift Michael’s perspective as much as I truly wanted to; rather, it is to hold his perspective and allow him to be where he is at any given time. I knew that my reflex to give him a lengthy list of all his remarkable gifts and to remind him that he is our ‘Magic Child’ would only drive him further away and make him feel more alone.

We call Michael our ‘Magic Child’ because he has gifts and abilities that I have never seen before in a child. Michael can read the energy in a room faster and more accurately than anyone I have ever known. If he is on the third floor and I happen to be crying in the kitchen he will suddenly materialise at my side wishing to know what has upset me. He can also reach inside my mind and accurately read my thoughts. Even though it has been happening for years it still shocks me when he will question me about something inside my head; he will say; “why are you talking about…” because he has no idea that I am not talking about it but actually thinking about it. He can also read physical pain and I have felt him moving energy in my body with his hands; if I have a headache he will put his hand on my head and alter the intensity like an intuitive healer.

Michael’s most remarkable ability is that he tunes into all the ‘channels’ around him. Michael’s ability to tune-in this way is both an asset and a liability and perhaps more the latter as he goes through childhood (especially in the classroom). In the classroom Michael will tune into the teacher’s voice, her mood, her thoughts, the voices of every child in the room, the energy of every child in the room, the hum of the fluorescent lights, the activity and emotional timbre out in the hall, the sound of the wind in the trees outside the window and anything going on out in the street. Once Michael learns to control this ability he will grow into a remarkably intuitive and gifted man. In the meantime we must help him navigate his way through childhood while being constantly flooded with multi-sensory information twenty-four hours a day.

As a parent it is physically painful to see Michael through his own eyes. I wonder at what point his version and my version will begin to come together. I worry every day that maybe there will be too much damage to his delicate self-image by the time he is able to perceive how truly gifted he is.

How do I stand by and watch him suffer his insecurities, frustration and self-loathing without trying to sell him another bill of goods? How do I allow him to see a version of himself that is simply not true? The answer is painfully simple but some days hard to live by; it is not my job to change anything about Michael. My job is not to force him into my way of seeing the world and himself. My job is not to shelter him from pain or sadness as much as I want to. My job is to walk beside him and hold his hand when he reaches out for me and needs a little help. My job is to hold him when he cries and dry the tears that will fall. My job is to stay out of his way and allow the process to unfold as it will.

At times I find it almost impossible to trust that Michael does not need me to shelter him from the big, wide world. Most days I want to wrap him in a tight and protective cocoon that would allow him to rest quietly away from all the noise and strife of the busy world. But I know that being wrapped up and protected would not serve him. On my worst days when I start to falter, my guardian angels stand by me and remind me that Michael is not broken and doesn’t need fixing. They lovingly inform me that my role is to continue to hold space for Michael to grow and mature into a ‘Magic Man’. They gently remind me to trust that when the time is exactly right he will emerge from his chrysalis and soar with divine grace and stunning beauty. The butterfly doesn’t need help with her miracle of transformation and neither does Michael.

In the meantime I stand by with an ache in my heart and my fingers crossed that there is enough magic around us to get through the days that are the hardest.

Posted in ADHD, Family, Mothering | 4 Comments

Light of Connemara

My friend, Dan, is the most extraordinarily talented musician with whom I have ever had the privilege to be acquainted. His melodies are soaring, his lyrics are evocative and his voice is as rich and smooth as the finest wine. I love his music with such a passion that if there were a Dan Medakovic Fan Club I would be the self-appointed president. I met Dan twenty-one years ago when we were working together at the same summer camp. His cabin was next to mine and his guitar playing lured me like a sailor to the siren song. I would sit at his feet in wonder and just feel myself being transported by the exquisite resonance; his music took me to a place that felt like coming home. I would watch utterly transfixed as his fingers coaxed sound from his guitar that I had never before experienced. It was as if Dan’s music filled an empty space inside me and coaxed my soul to soar. After that summer I was completely hooked by Dan’s music and to this day I cannot go long between sessions before I need a ‘Dan fix’.

I am thrilled to report that twenty-one years later our lives are delightfully intertwined; our spouses are best friends and business partners, our kids are best buddies and until very recently we lived across the street from one another. This intertwining has meant that for two decades Dan’s music has been like the soundtrack to my life. Every song he plays has a special meaning to a particular phase of my life; camp, university, meeting and falling in love with Simon, marriage, kids, holidays and everything in between.

Michael is a passionate music lover and is also a huge Dan fan. He has had the great fortune of being exposed to Dan’s music his entire life (even in utero). His favourite Dan song is called ‘Light of Connemara’ which is a stunningly beautiful song written shortly after Dan and his family returned from a trip to Ireland during the summer of 2004. This particular favourite of Michael’s evokes a very painful era in our lives and I can never hear it without a painful lump forming in my throat.

That was the summer when life was making a terrifyingly fast downward spiral and we could not figure out why.

Michael was almost seventeen months old in April of 2004 when our youngest son, Zachary, came into our lives. When I look back on Michael before Zachary was born I can recall a delightfully happy and busy baby who met all the milestones, ate well and slept easily through the night. However, all that changed the night we brought Zachary home from the hospital. Michael began a pattern of sleeplessness that night which would continue for three straight years and is still not completely resolved even now. I look back on that era of my life and call it ‘hell’; a colicky newborn, a raging and exhausted toddler, a needy 5-year-old and complete and utter sleep deprived exhaustion. I had a phrase that would run constantly through my head at that time; ‘it’s not supposed to be this hard.’  But it was hard day after tortuous day and there seemed to be no light at the end of the pitch black tunnel.

We could never determine a pattern to Michael’s sleeplessness; some nights he would be awake every 30 minutes through the night and some nights he would be awake for four straight hours. His awakenings were full of the frustration and fury of a thoroughly enraged toddler. He would stand in his crib and roar, he would point at the cupboard and scream and he would throw everything out of his crib only to shriek in frustration because he wanted it all back again. This went on night after painful and agonizing night and we had no idea what to do. In the beginning I tended to be the one to awaken with Michael because Simon had to get up and go to work the following day. I was breastfeeding a colicky newborn, dealing with Michael’s midnight rages, praying that Max would not be awakened, and slowly coming apart at the seams.

Sleep deprivation is the most exquisite torture imaginable. It is a slow descent into hell and the fatigue is so unbearable it is like living a slow death.  And it wasn’t just the sleep deprivation that was so difficult; it was Michael’s daytime rages and tantrums that were equally as disturbing and anxiety-provoking. I walked on egg shells trying to anticipate anything that would upset Michael. Transition times were the worst and I dreaded them like a bad root canal surgery. I thought that if we could get Michael some sleep then perhaps the daytime behaviour would improve. However, we had tried everything to get Michael sleeping through the night and nothing was working. I got to the point that I was so exhausted I could no longer cope.

Eventually Simon took over the night watch with Michael (and, even to this day, it is Simon that Michael needs every night when he awakens). Simon would spend hours in Michael’s room patiently and lovingly rubbing his back and singing to him. The only song that would truly settle him was ‘Light of Connemara’ so it became Michael’s lullaby. If Michael were ever to hear Dan play the song he would go completely still and seem to drift away somewhere we could not follow. Michael’s body never had the chance to be still so to watch him while Dan gently strummed his guitar and sang was both miraculous and heartbreaking; ‘Light of Connemara’ seemed to have mysterious and magical qualities attached.

Zachary celebrated his sixth birthday this past April. This birthday also marks the anniversary of Michael being pulled down into a mysterious and bewildering realm. I don’t know what chain of events were set into motion that caused Michael to sink into sleeplessness, rage, tantrums, arm flapping, not wanting to be touched by anyone but Simon, violent impulsiveness and constant torment. That question is a difficult puzzle that has many pieces which, at some point, I will attempt to put together. I still remember the Michael we had before that descent and that is the child we are so desperately trying to recover.

Not long after the journey into ADHD began last month, Simon and I indulged ourselves in a night out to go and see Dan perform in a local bar. There is nothing I love more than to go to see Dan on stage and I am always absolutely riveted by his music. I never talk to the person sitting next to me and I always apologize for my anti-social behaviour before the show begins. I am so captivated by Dan’s live performance it’s as if I inhabit a sacred healing space all my own even though I am in the centre of a noisy bar. That night Dan was being accompanied by a brilliant violinist who complimented Dan’s music exquisitely and made it even more captivating. Time always goes by too fast when Dan is performing and that night was no different. I knew the show was starting to wind down and I could already feel my body mourning the loss of such heavenly sound. I had allowed myself to be carried out of the pain and heartache of my present circumstances and did not want to return.

My emotional state at that time was so delicate I had to be very careful not to cry. I was terrified that if I allowed myself to cry I would never be able to stop. I managed to keep it together through Dan’s show but when ‘Light of Connemara’ started to play I could feel the dam beginning to break. As I sat riveted by Dan’s voice, the familiar mournful Celtic melody and the swelling violin I could feel years of grief beginning to unravel and the delicate process of grieving setting in. As I sat in the middle of the bar I could see pictures of Michael through the years running before my eyes like an old home movie. I could see him as the adorable baby with the beautiful curly hair, the smile that lit up his whole face and the unique magic that is Michael. I could also see the years of Michael trapped inside a body whose skin seems to be three sizes too small for his body. I could see the violence, the frustration, the hurt and the utter bewilderment with which Michael has lived his life. I sat quietly at my table with tears streaming down my cheeks and felt overcome with grief.

I needed to get to the bathroom quickly so I could fall apart in privacy. As I made my way through the crowded tables Simon reached out for me to reacquaint me with the friends with whom he was sitting. “I’m crying”, was all I managed to croak out as I fled the music, the memories and the profound grief.

What I didn’t know at the time was that while I was weeping in the bathroom the next step in my journey was miraculously taking shape.

While I was enjoying Dan’s show at one table, Simon was sitting at another visiting with some good friends. He was describing the challenges with Michael and the path that we had just started to delicately navigate. One of the friends with whom Simon was sitting is a raw food chef named Barbara Maccaroni. Barb is not only a raw food chef but also an instructor in the preparation of raw food and a raw food caterer. As I hurried by their table with tears streaming down my cheeks Barb looked at Simon and said; “I can help her. Tell Katie to give me a call anytime and I can help her”.

As Simon and I drove home a short time later he told me about Barb and her company called ‘B Love’. I was still feeling so bruised and tender from my breakdown in the bathroom all I could think was; ‘what does raw food have to do with me? And what is raw food anyway other than carrots and celery?’

Again, there was a Divine force at work that night. Safely in the arms of Dan’s music I stared a process of grieving that was going to allow me to delicately move forward. What’s more, a teacher had shown up in my life just before I was going to desperately need her; Barb was going to be waiting with a delicious new safety net called ‘Raw Food’ the moment I began my next fall.

I am so astonished and humbled by the complex and miraculous orchestrations going on behind the scenes of my life right now. I feel as if I am being held and guided by a force that is both powerful and miraculous and I have never felt less alone. When I finally let down my solitary burden and asked for help eight short weeks ago I had no idea just how much help was going to be provided me. And I had no idea how much of that help was going to be from a realm that I could not even see. Call it God, call it angels, or call it the Divine; I have no idea and I do not need to know. All I know is that there are forces at work which are all conspiring to heal my adorable little boy.

Posted in ADHD, Family, Mothering | 1 Comment

Pizza, Ice Cream and Angels

I find myself completely in awe and utterly dazzled when I meet an angel. Each time I have an unexpected and miraculous encounter with an angelic presence I feel as if I have been gently reminded of a basic truth; that even though we don’t see angels often, they are always there. I find it extraordinarily reassuring to know that angels of all shapes and sizes are walking amongst us and that we are all entitled to their rare and breathtaking visits. I have come to realize that when I really need one, an angel will show up in my life and seldom will it come in the ‘package’ that I expect.

During the initial meeting with our new naturopath, Sonya, it was strongly recommended that I get Michael started on phase one of his ADHD treatment program; removing dairy from his diet. She explained that most children with ADHD cannot digest the protein in dairy and the maldigested partial-proteins can cause significant neurological and gastrointestinal problems. I was so excited to have an action item that I readily agreed to this initial course of treatment without a second thought. Sonya also gave me the name of a book which she referred to as her bible; Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies by Kenneth Bock. Following the meeting I headed straight to the nearest bookstore only to find that they had just sold their last copy. My disappointment was considerable as I was eager to delve headlong into this new biomedical modality and become as informed as possible.

The Universe in its infinite wisdom, however, had other plans for me and I was to find the book the following day when I was shopping with Michael.    

I arrived home shortly after the naturopathic appointment brimming with enthusiasm. I swept Michael up into a big hug and told him that I had found a great doctor who was going to help us heal his body. At that point Michael knew there were things going on in his body which were making impulse control very difficult for him. What he did not know, however, was that ADHD was the cause. We were trying to find the best way to both inform him and reassure him that he has a disorder but that he is not sick. I went on to tell Michael that the doctor was quite certain that he is allergic to dairy and that she had recommended removing it from his diet so that he could start to feel better. Michael’s response was; “cool, I’ll do anything as long as I can still have pizza”.

Oh dear!

I gently told him that he would not be able to eat pizza anymore because of the cheese. Michael put his foot down and informed me that there was no way he would ever give up pizza. After discovering that pizza was on the chopping block, he quickly ran through the list of all his favourite foods only to discover that they would also become off-limits should he agree to the proposed course of action. I knew that vanilla ice cream was going to be the next sticky point as it runs a very close second to pizza and Michael eats it almost every night after dinner. Even as I proposed the removal of dairy I silently wondered what Michael was going to be left with as his diet at the time consisted mainly of items from that particular food group. Ever since toddlerhood, Michael’s dietary staples have been; chocolate milk, vanilla ice cream, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, pancakes and cereal with milk every morning for breakfast. As he ran through his favourites and I continued to shake my head I could feel his heels dig in a little deeper each time another one was added to the burgeoning list.     

It was at that point it occurred to me that the theory of the treatment and the practice of the treatment had the potential to be thoroughly disparate.   

I had returned from the naturopath feeling a small glimmer of hope and was so excited to get started that it hadn’t occurred to me to anticipate anything but an easy uphill climb. However, I hadn’t factored in a tenacious, pizza and ice cream-loving seven-year-old boy. It was only day one of the biomedical regime and I was already feeling discouraged. My hope was quickly turning into panic as I flirted briefly with our new existence; fights, resistance, hunger and frustration on both sides. I knew that Michael had to make the dairy decision for himself and that there was no way I could (or would) force him to give up his favourite foods. Thinking quickly, I told him that he could miss school the next morning to go on a field trip to Whole Foods in Oakville to find some dairy alternatives. Fortunately, the lure of a morning off school was enough that Michael was easily hooked.

After his bi-weekly appointment with our chiropractor the next morning we headed off on our ‘Dairy Discovery’. The traffic on the highway was moving at a snail’s pace so I opted for an alternate route. As luck would have it, my new route was moving nicely and had a conveniently located Chapter’s bookstore. I was still itching to get the book Sonya had recommended the night before so I told Michael about it and he consented to a brief stop. As we walked hand-in-hand into Chapters Michael asked me what the book was called. After giving him the title of the book he got quiet for a moment and said to me; “you are buying that book because I have ADHD, right?”


I was not prepared to have this delicate conversation in the middle of a crowded bookstore and my reflex was to casually deflect his question. However, Michael is a very bright and intuitive child who knows things that I simply cannot explain. I felt that to deny the truth he so obviously knew could set him up to be ashamed or afraid of his attention deficit. I didn’t ever want Michael to feel either of these things so I faced his question head-on and confirmed his suspicion. I asked him what he knew of ADHD and his description was surprisingly accurate; “ADHD means you can’t control your body and you get in trouble all the time but it’s not really your fault”.

I don’t know what I was expecting when Michael was told about his ADHD but the sky did not fall and he did not crumple into an emotional heap. Instead, he became extraordinarily curious and started asking so many questions I could barely keep up. When I look back on that car trip to Oakville I can recall a feeling from Michael that was an intriguing mix of both relief and excitement. It was almost as if he was relieved to know that someone was finally going to understand that he cannot control his body and excited that he was going to get some help. Michael continued to pepper me with questions and seemed even more excited about our field trip to Whole Foods than he had been before (and it was no longer just about ditching school). It was as if now he finally had something in which to sink his teeth; there was a reason for all his struggles, there was a treatment, there was hope for healing and there was method to our madness. 

As we walked into Whole Foods I was hit by a wave of panic. Suddenly the size of the store, the glare of the lights and all the people milling around made me feel overwhelmed and exhausted. The excitement drained from my body like water going down a fast drain and I was left utterly empty. The only thing left inside my body was an uneasy feeling of trepidation. The stakes suddenly felt too high and failure was not an option; I badly needed Michael’s buy-in and cooperation to make the biomedical treatment work. The familiar feeling of drowning hit my chest and I was finding it hard to breathe.

To make matters worse I had painful questions bombarding me from all sides; ‘How am I going to find my way through this puzzling maze of hundreds of brands? How am I ever going to figure out what to feed Michael on this new diet? Am I going to have to cook separate meals for Michael? Do I have the energy to face this? What if we don’t find anything here for Michael to eat? What if he won’t cooperate? What if he doesn’t buy-in and he never heals? What if this is a waste of time and he could already be feeling better on prescription medication? Am I a bad mother for asking him to sacrifice his favourite foods for some wacky treatment? What if I am only in denial and he truly needs to be on medication?’

My last thought in the downward emotional spiral was; ‘this will never work and we should just get to the doctor and get a prescription. This was a bad idea!’

Looking back I can see that those first few seconds in Whole Foods was an all-out anxiety attack. My heart was pounding, my hands were sweaty and I was having trouble breathing. Fortunately, at that very moment I was provided with an angel who had been sent to hold me up, calm my racing heart and help guide me along this next step. His name was Alex and as he approached I thought; ‘this guy isn’t going to be any help, he looks about 12 years old. I’m drowning and they send me a 12-year-old!’ However, he was very good looking and confident so I decided to give him a chance while I looked for someone a little older and with more experience. I briefly explained that Michael had been advised to give up dairy and that he is having a hard time with everything he will lose. Alex looked directly at Michael and said; “no problem buddy, there are tons of things you can eat, where do you want to start?” “Ice cream”, was Michael’s unequivocal and enthusiastic response. They tripped off happily through the store with me bringing up the rear slightly dazed and still trying to catch my breath.

The next 25 minutes was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I went from the depths of despair back up to the heights of hope in a matter of moments. And Michael went from a definite “no” to an excited “yes” with Alex enthusiastically leading the way. It turned out that Alex was one of the most knowledgeable salespeople I had ever encountered and touring from alternative to alternative was great fun, not just for Michael but for me as well. As our shopping basket was filled with new and appealing foods, I could feel Michael starting to shift his perspective. Alex told Michael that his girlfriend can’t eat dairy either and that she got much better after she stopped eating the things that were making her sick. I was amazed when Michael piped up and told Alex that he is not sick but he has ADHD; Alex took this disclosure in stride and we happily moved onto the next food.

We came away from that trip with vanilla bean coconut milk ice cream (sweetened with agave nectar), organic rice milk, rice cheese, coconut butter and some delicious fruit-based creamsicle-style popsicles. We bid goodbye to Alex with a big high five from Michael and a sincere thank you from me. Alex told Michael to come back sometime and tell him what he thinks of all his special new foods and Michael beamed in delighted response.

Behind the wheel of my car and still basking in the glow of my Whole Foods angel I sent a message of thanks out to the Universe. With the miraculous appearance of Alex it only took 25 minutes to shift Michael easily into a dairy-free diet. As I drove, Michael chattered away happily in the back seat about all his new foods and how much he was looking forward to dessert that night. As Michael spoke I felt a wave wash over me. However, it was not the violent one to which I had become so accustomed over the preceding seven days; this one was a gentle wave of gratitude.

As I let the feeling softly wash over me I silently thanked the people who had miraculously come into my life in the seven days since my tsunami had struck and who were helping me keep my head above water. I went on to reflect on the fact that the ground was shifting under my feet and current reality was moving at warp speed but that I was not being asked to go it alone. I took time to notice that the quantum shift and speed of change was simultaneously terrifying and downright liberating. My final thought as I dropped Michael off at school for the afternoon was that we were bravely facing reality, we were not alone and Michael was finally going to have the chance to be just a regular kid.

Watching Michael’s face that night as he happily dove into his second bowl of the new vanilla ice cream was like winning the lottery and my stomach was alive with butterflies. His pure enjoyment was all the encouragement I needed to keep looking forward with the confidence that everything was going to be alright. And if an angel can show up unexpectedly in the aisles of Whole Foods to make the way easier then I will gladly accept that as a powerful sign that we must be on the right track.  

And as for the pizza? We’re still working on that one.

Posted in ADHD, ADHD and Food, Biomedical Treatment of ADHD, Mothering | Leave a comment

A Single Step


“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.

Posted in ADHD, Biomedical Treatment of ADHD, Family, Mothering | Leave a comment

Leaning In

I have resolved to place my ego off to the side as much as I am able and truly ‘lean in’ to the Open Secret. To accomplish this I must trust that my reader will do the same (especially as I relate the most recent example of my fallible humanity). I used to worry about being harshly judged for the moments that would not win me the Mother of the Year award. However, it seems that the more I share these vignettes with my fellow moms, the less alone and judged I feel. It feels as if Open Secret is allowing me the opportunity to come together with other parents (especially moms) in a way that is more authentic and liberating than anything I have ever felt before.

It is in this spirit that I cannot resist the urge to share my bumpy homecoming after our idyllic weekend away.

My last blog posting was certainly reflective of how centred and peaceful I was feeling while sitting in a lovely cafe in Quebec City. Twenty four hours later, however, was an entirely different story! As I sat on the plane home I could feel my tension mounting and a feeling of dread settling into my stomach. I just wasn’t ready to face the chaos, uncertainty and stress of my normal life. I was so relaxed after the time away that I was worried I would not be able to gear myself up to ‘face the music’ again. After claiming our bags we set off to find the car and I was so loath to leave the airport I felt like I had lead weights attached to my feet. It occurred to me that perhaps I could just live at the airport indefinitely and I was so desperate to stay away that it actually felt like a viable option. As we were driving to meet my parents to ‘make the switch’ I was considering my odds for survival if I were to do a dramatic drop and roll out of the car.   

It seemed that Simon was somewhat attuned to my malaise and asked if I was okay. I responded with a quick sound which I hoped would telegraph an affirmative without actually having to talk. How could I possibly communicate to the father of my children that I was NOT looking forward to seeing them after three days away? He was busting to see the kids and I was doing my best to fake the same enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Simon did not buy my response to his simple question and reiterated his initial query, at which point I burst into tears. I told him that I didn’t want to be back and I didn’t want to gear up into my regular life. I wasn’t ready for conflict, stress, worry, fear, laundry, shopping, cooking and a 20 minute vitamin regimen every morning with Michael. I hadn’t yelled in three whole days and my throat was enjoying the rest.

Simon has this amazing ability to hold just about anything that comes out of my mouth without judgement. He was not shocked at my admission and just held the space for me to mourn the end of the weekend. I, on the other hand, had all kinds of things to say about my attitude; what kind of mother doesn’t want to see her kids after 72 hours? What kind of mother fantasizes about living in the airport? What kind of mother admits this out loud? You certainly aren’t in the Now right now, are you? Brutal parenting Katie! After a good tongue-lashing from all the gremlins in my head I felt like I had been unanimously nominated for the Worst Mother of the Year.

I felt a distinct shift as soon as I saw the three smiling faces that were so full of delight to have me back. Three big hugs and three deliciously sloppy kisses later and my melancholy took a back seat to genuine delight. What didn’t fade quite so fast were the echoes of the gremlins who still wanted to remind me that I am a terrible mother for not wanting to come home to such adorable children.

The uncomfortable echoes were still with me the next morning in the schoolyard as I regaled one of my mom-buddies with our idyllic weekend away. I decided to be really brave and admit that I cried most of the way from the airport to pick up the kids. I think I expected the sky to come crashing down around my ears as I admitted my shameful secret. To my surprise, not only did the sky stay where it belongs but also equally shockingly she admitted that she also feels the same melancholy after time away from her children. So instead of deep shame and self loathing we shared understanding and laughter at the surprisingly common ground. I did the same thing with another mom at the end of the day and she told me how refreshing it was to hear someone tell the truth and admit that kind of secret. Suddenly I felt part of a group of profoundly devoted and more than slightly overwhelmed moms rather than a pariah among the June Cleavers in the schoolyard.  

Open Secret is becoming so much more than simply a blog about ADHD; it is becoming a way of life. Open Secret is about dropping all the pretence of perfection that is quite simply exhausting and soul-sucking. It is about vulnerability and honesty and building a community which resonates with real life rather than the fairy tale into which I have bought. The more vulnerable and honest we can be with one another the more we can be in authentic community. It is this kind of community which will heal us and sustain us as we make our way through the challenges and joys of raising our children.  

Imagine what it would be like if it were like this all the time?

Posted in ADHD, Family, Mothering | 1 Comment


It is Saturday morning at 10:00 and I find myself as far away from my real life as I could possibly imagine. I am sitting quietly in a quaint cafe overlooking a cobblestone square in Quebec City enjoying a breakfast that someone else has prepared for me. The square is quietly coming to life around me as I enjoy the stillness of my being. My usual Saturday morning at 10:00 is a frenetic mix of referee, entertainer, laundress, sunscreen applier, dresser, vitamin provider, receptionist and chief cook & bottle washer. As I tap into that Saturday morning I can feel my stomach tighten with a feeling of anxiety and fatigue.

To my complete surprise there is also a small piece of me that longs for that exuberant aliveness, vibrancy and sense of purpose.

When I am at home with my children en masse it is all about living in the Now moment. If I slip into the past or the future I am in danger of being swallowed up by the intensity of the action by which I am surrounded. I am like a conductor who knows every single part of the score and yet cannot afford the indulgence of getting sucked into any one part for fear of losing the flow of the whole. And like the conductor I am completely absorbed by and focused on my children and the running of the household when we are home together (which of the two gets more focus and attention is a topic for another blog!).

When I am away from my children it is an entirely different story and I tend to spend most of my time in either the past or the future. I fret over decisions made or action taken in the past and worry over possible circumstances in the future. With everything going on with Michael right now I am spending an inordinate amount of time in the future. I expend copious amounts of energy on possible scenarios that are each more exhausting and anxiety-provoking than the last. I feel as if I scurry back and forth between past and future like an anxious chipmunk leaping from tree to tree and never standing still. This level of frenetic activity in my mind means that the Now does not even exist for me. I am quite simply too busy and too stressed to notice.

The irony of ignoring the Now is that it is the only reality that actually exists. From that standpoint it seems that I am choosing to allow life to pass me by without actually living it.

Being away from the kids for more than a few hours has allowed me to remember an exercise that my dear friend Megan taught me which I used to practice quite regularly. I imagine that I am standing in the centre of a large circle. The centre of the circle is Now and around the outside of the circle are four words; past, future, you and me. The goal is to stay in the centre of the circle and notice how easy it is to be pulled out into any of the four parts hungrily awaiting my attendance. Being pulled out of the centre is not a failure but simply another opportunity to notice that I am no longer in the Now. Every time I notice is yet another opportunity to return. With all the stress and worry of the past months I have completely forgotten how powerful this practice can be.  

I awakened this morning after the best sleep I have had in months and felt my stomach tighten with anxiety. I felt like our time away was passing too quickly and I was dreading having to return home tomorrow to all the chaos and uncertainty of my life. As the panic washed over me I could feel a familiar and gentle pull. I suddenly found myself in the centre of the circle that I have not visited in months and I felt like the Prodigal Son returning home. It was so peaceful within the circle and I was so welcome there I wondered why I had stayed away for so long. As I lingered there in complete awe, a question quietly entered the space; what is available in the Now? Such a simple and yet provocative question and with absolutely no judgement or expectation attached.

What is available in the Now?

The answer is stunningly simple and resonant; peacefulness, calm, quiet and a sense of being fully at choice. I have just remembered that I have the freedom to stay in the centre of the circle and let Now centre me and guide me. I also remember that when I was practicing this technique regularly I was much more able to handle the events that would normally knock me off balance. Has there ever been a time in my life when I needed this practice more?  

So here I am back where I started in the peaceful cobblestone square with my beloved husband sitting across from me reading the paper. I have no idea what we are doing next and it doesn’t matter because that is a whole bunch of Now moments away and I will know when I get there.

The gift of this long weekend is that I have been reminded about how joyful and peaceful it can be to live in the Now. Can I take it home in my suitcase? Will it withstand the bumpy flight home? Will it shy away from the chaos and madness of my real life? I simply do not have the answers to those questions but they lie in the future so I will now drift easily back into the centre of the circle and just be.

Posted in ADHD, Living in the Moment, Mothering | Leave a comment