Changes at home – Attention Deficit Disorder and school problems

Changes at home – Attention Deficit Disorder and school problems

There is a big difference between experiencing events on the surface and really living through them, good or bad, with all the emotions and feelings. This is what I had to learn after my emergency operation when I took stock of my life, particularly my relationship with my son, to find out the underlying reasons for my NDE.

My youngest son had always been different, not at all like my other 2 children. As a child, he was introverted, would often have big and long tantrums and was not interested in playing with toys like other children normally do. We could not trigger much interest in him for playing with cars, Lego blocks or other toys nor was he interested in group sports, like soccer.

Later on, he could not bring himself to enjoy school and was unable to focus and concentrate on anything for a longer period.

His passion

The only true interest was his skateboard which he was given at about the age of 6. Skateboarding became his one true passion and it still is.

When we moved to Switzerland, where he entered 2nd grade, the more rigid school system was particularly hard on him. The requirements regarding homework and conduct in class were very strict. Homework needed to done every day and delivered in a well-structured format. The lessons were also quite rigid and my son refused to become part of the required routine. He developed signs of depression and was mostly unmotivated and listless. He got sick a lot and developed severe headaches.

He had no motivation with the one exception – his skateboarding.

The only time I saw him truly happy was when practicing with his skateboard. He knew exactly what size his board needed to be, which the best shoes to wear were and at what angle he needed to start certain jumps, including the position of his feet and how to scrape the rim of the board with his shoe to make it turn. On that topic, he could speak endlessly, even to me. So, I would learn about backflips, heel flips, different angles and how to do a jump from a height.

For years, almost every weekend, I would take him, and sometimes a friend, to the parks and spots around the area. I would sit in the sun, read a book or, in cold weather, would sit in a close-by café. I would occasionally also take videos of him doing the tricks and they were often quite daring and well executed. He had developed a very good body coordination and was secure and self-confident when on his board.  At home, he would watch all the videos of his favourite skateboarding stars to later practice their jumps.

Apart from this passion, at home and at school, the situation got worse. I was often at my wits end and over the years we had consulted several psychologists to help find out why he had this lack of concentration at school, his moodiness and physical symptoms. Although he was willing to see the therapists, they were not able to help him.

What is wrong with him?

By the time he had finished 5th grade, at age 12, his school grades had deteriorated and he did not receive a recommendation for secondary school in the Swiss school system. This was a hard blow for me as I had always seen his potential and did not want to accept this. I put my savings together and signed him up at a private school to help him prepare for secondary school and to give him the chance for a proper school education.

During that year, in the small classroom and with the special attention, he was able to achieve much more. He even developed a liking for maths and became quite good at it. He easily understood the principles. During this extra year, he made it to secondary school level. After one year, however, I could not afford for him to continue at that school and switched him back to a regular state school, hoping he had gained stability and enough self-confidence to succeed in this system.

Very soon, he was starting to have grave problems again. His concentration dropped, he eventually lost all motivation and had headaches almost every day.

We were both desperate and I was close to breaking point without any solution in sight. I urgently needed support for both of us and the right help for my son. 

Finding out

At that point I made an appointment with our local GP, not really expecting any real help any longer. He listened to me describing all of my son´s symptoms and after briefly looking at him, he asked whether we had ever done an intelligence test with him. He said that it might well be that a test would reveal him to be of well above average intelligence in combination with an Attention Deficit Disorder. That possibility came completely unexpected and was very surprising.  All of my son´s school teachers from the state schools had been doubtful that he would be able to even cope with the basic school requirements and follow lessons successfully.

However, the tests were done and they proved to be astounding. His intelligence seemed to be very high, much above average, and the Attention Deficit Disorder, later also diagnosed, explained his unmotivated behaviour and concentration difficulties.

Now, we had something to go by and there were possibilities to help him.

I was extremely grateful to my GP because this was a new approach and at least we had finally been shown a different perspective. He recommended a particular child psychologist and got us an appointment on short notice. I was so relieved and extremely happy and hoped that once treated properly all of our problems would go away. That did not happen but at least I had hope for a while.

The psychologist´s tests proved our family doctor right and she found out in addition that my son was hypersensitive. He would notice things that other people successfully block out, like behaviour patterns of his teachers and class mates which then distracted him constantly. Rather than concentrating on the lesson, he was distracted by smells, small ticks of his teachers, class mates moving round and outside noises. Even the scraping of a pen on paper would make him lose his attention. He was simply unable to turn off any of the distractions in his head. With the proper treatment and help from the psychologist, my son was eventually able to finish his schooling.

He continued to be an unhappy and unmotivated teenager though, but at least we both had found a bit of support from the psychologist. My son went regularly and I consulted her when I needed to.

Being the doormat

As he grew older however, he became extremely aggressive toward me and I was only too ready to always find excuses for his verbal abuse and disrespect for me. As I had learned a long time ago, during my difficult childhood, I made myself overlook his regular aggressive outbursts toward me. He would have a way to always blame somebody else for his shortcomings or other things that happened to him. I was, of course, mostly the centre of his blame and his rage and because I was already feeling guilty about many things to do with this his upbringing, I would not respond with clear boundaries and rules but rather let these instances slide. I ignored completely the fact that I let him hurt me very deeply emotionally. I was not able to acknowledge this and rather closed my feelings off continuously.

Obviously, this did not help our relationship at all and by the time he was 19, I physically felt his own hate for himself and others but was unable to reach him and talk to him any longer.

My pattern when feeling hurt was that I would close off these feelings quickly and at home with my son, we had plenty of situations, almost every day, when I needed to do that. This happened automatically and I would immediately find an excuse for his inexcusable rudeness and disrespect.

I knew, I should be stricter and not allow him to treat me that way but my guilt feelings would get in the way of rational thinking time and again. I could not stand up to him when he was disrespectful, mean and spiteful toward me. His behaviour hurt me deeply but I was not able to acknowledge this to myself and even less was I able to change anything. All I did was put the hurt and guilt away somewhere in my body and thus avoided the feelings.

I did not even know why exactly, but inside, I always had this rather unpleasant underlying nagging that it was all my fault. That I alone was to blame for our family situation. However, the facts are that his father and I both had problems and that his father had eventually chosen to leave us, not the other way round.

My emergency operation

My son had just turned 19 when I had the acute ascending aorta dissection and the emergency operation.

During rehab, I was forced to look at all aspects of my life because I was extremely afraid that what had happened to me that day in the office, the aorta dissection near my heart, which I nearly died from, could happen again at any moment. To avoid this, I needed to be prepared to look at my life and to make the appropriate changes.

My body had clearly shown me already, that it could give up on me very quickly if I did not change my life situation drastically and quickly and with it the way I dealt with upcoming emotions and stress. Just blocking these off and storing them in my body was not going to work for me any longer.  I was certain, that the required changes would not only save my life but would also lead to me becoming healthy and fit again. I desired nothing more.

I was starting to go on an internal discovery tour, remembering past events and finally experiencing them also emotionally, involving a lot of crying at that time. It was as if the blinders were suddenly gone from my eyes and I was able to take an honest and realistic look at my relationship with my son. I had to admit that both of us had suffered by my behaviour and that this situation had been going on for too long in an unhealthy and stressful way. He had needed rules and boundaries which I had not been able to provide. I simply had not had the strength and had made excuses for not doing anything. Now, after this life-threatening event, I was finally prepared to change things.

I admitted to myself that the situation at home with my son had long ago become unbearable for me as well as for him. There had been his aggression toward me for years and my constant excuses for this behaviour. I had explained this away with his lack of a male role module at a time when he most needed it. Me, as well as the therapists we had previously consulted were helpless and did not see it coming when already by the age of 13, he had tried drugs, was caught, had been persuaded by “friends” to steal and had been caught and been convicted to do social work at an old people´s home for a couple of weekends.

The situation had clearly gotten out of hand and had put us both under continuous, terrible stress at home. As he would not talk to me, would not even have meals with me but mostly stay in his room by himself, I was under constant strain and fear of what he would be up to next. He was rarely communicating with me at all and I had no clue of his feelings or anything else about him.

By the time, his intelligence was tested and the Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosed, he had already, for the most part, stopped talking to me and the situation was so difficult that there was very little hope for a normal mother-son relationship any more.

We continued to live side by side in the apartment but hardly saw each other. While he seemingly hated everything I did and any of my attempts to talk with him remained unsuccessful, I was still able to help him find an apprenticeship after he completed his schooling. He had decided to do a training as an assistant pharmacist, which takes 3 years.

Big change

I had my aortic dissection when he was already in his 3rd year of training and when I thought about possible changes for our situation during rehab, the only solution I could think of was that he needed to move out in order to separate from me and become more independent.

I was fearful to tell him about my decision and I was still in rehab and not really strong enough to be able to cope with resistance or arguments had he refused.

However, he understood and even seemed relieved. Not only had I personally gone through a deep and difficult experience. He had as well. I had always been there for him and, despite his behaviour, I had tried to support him, no matter how much he had resented me.

My emergency had made him realise how quickly any situation could change. He had never thought that anything would actually happen to me from one moment to the next. Now, he had seen me in the hospital bed with all the tubes attached at a time when the doctors where not yet certain that I would pull through and it seemed to have softened him.

I think, when I proposed to him that we should find him a room and have him move out, he also seemed to understand that a change was for the better for both of us and that it was not about abandoning him or blaming him for anything. I told him that I sincerely hoped that this would be a new start for us and that it might help improve our mother-son relationship in the long run.

As soon as I was released from rehab, and came back home, we looked at rooms and only a month later, he was already moving out.

Communication with him remained difficult and it proved to be a big learning process for me to let him go and not tell him about things he needed to do, like payments, doing his taxes, etc. It would upset me very much every time when I found out that he had not paid some bill, would receive a reminder or when he just did not care about things and missed important deadlines.

I still feel responsible for him sometimes but it is lessening and sometimes I am even able to let go of my concern for him enough to let him make his own mistakes. That is the hardest for me by far. However, for my own health, I need to let him grow up and take responsibility for his own life.

With this changed awareness also comes my emotionality. I feel emotional pain and I cry, particularly when I must realise that he has done something stupid again, hurting himself simply by not adhering to the rules or forgetting to do something important until it is too late.

And this is continuing.

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