Collapsing into Paid Employment
By Randall Horton
I awoke each morning dreading when I would have to see my own children. My wife’s presence often filled me with anxiety and even outright fear.
I felt simultaneously that my family could not possibly function without me and that I was single handedly destroying my family. Each evening I considered the day a success only by virtue of the fact that we had all survived.
This is not the life I had envisioned six years earlier. I had naively conceived of myself as being competent, rational, nurturing and full of love for my family.
I left my job with fantasies of devotedly holding, feeding and loving my children. I would share all the things in life that I love. I would teach my children at home, giving them the opportunity to learn and grow in their unique ways.
I would make my wife feel like the queen of the castle. I even believed I could better organize the house and budget.
While some of my goals were unrealistic, most were attained in one form or another. My children were clean, fed and clothed at all times. The boys, Desmond and Evan, loved learning and explored the world with enthusiasm.
My wife, Lorena, enjoyed having me home, and we managed to stay within our limited, single-income budget. It wasn’t paradise, but we were happy.
I’ve learned, though, how circumstances can steer us in directions we never imagine.
The first major strain came on Mother’s Day in 1992 when we received a phone call from Galveston, Texas.
We learned that my niece and nephew had been in a swimming accident. A riptide had pulled them under, and they drowned. The grief and anxiety this loss created for our family was almost too much to bear. Desmond was 4 years old at the time, and he knew his cousins and understood their deaths.
Each person in our small family tended to rely on the others for support. Unfortunately, we all found that our support systems had broken down.
As we groped to recover from this tragedy, we faced another period of increased stress. In the fall of the same year a series of tornadoes ripped through our neighborhood, destroying about 750 homes and damaging as many more.
We were lucky to be in the latter category, but this was when we started seeing anxiety problems in Desmond. Like most of the children in the neighborhood, he developed an intense fear of storm. I must admit that I also now view a thunderstorm with more trepidation.
In addition to the storms, Desmond also became afraid of closed spaces. He would panic in public restrooms and elevators. While shopping or at a restaurant, he would often refuse to use the restroom unless I stayed at the door and held it ajar.
With time, he was able to function and use restrooms and elevators, but he still avoided them as much as possible.
With all this, I still felt we were doing well as a family. I found it extremely stressful, however, to deal with the behavior problems of my children, the challenges of having the house repaired, and the lingering effects of grief and trauma.
In August of 1994 we faced a new challenge. Lorena called me from work and asked me to pick her up because she wasn’t feeling well. As I drove up to the community college where she worked (only about 10 minutes from the house), I saw an ambulance parked outside.
Lorena was so dizzy that she could not open her eyes, stand up or even sit without help. Even the slightest movement would cause vomiting. The possible causes were frightening, and I couldn’t stop thinking about strokes and brain tumors.
About five years prior to this attack she had been continuously distressed by tinnitus in her right ear. There had been nights when she would become agitated, clawing at her ear and saying she wished she could just cut it out of her head.
She had seen a neurologist who diagnosed nerve damage with some hearing loss.
Around that time we read an article by a doctor who speculated that 19th century artist Vincent Van Gogh, who also was the victim of a disorder that made him want to tear off an ear, suffered from Meniere’s Disease.
The doctors in the hospital did not diagnose Meniere’s Disease for my wife, after running some tests, they called it labrynthitis and sent her home. Based on our own research, however, my wife sought out a Meniere’s specialist.
After more tests, the diagnosis was confirmed. Unfortunately, a cure for Meniere’s does not exist and the cause of it is unknown.
After Lorena suffered the attack at work, I experienced more difficulty than ever in keeping up with housework, home education and personal relationships. Many thoughts were going through my head.
Many Meniere’s patients eventually must stop working, but they apparently do not qualify for supplemental income from Social Security or other government agencies because they are not considered disabled.
The possibility that I could soon become the sole breadwinner for the family was daunting. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make sufficient income to support us.
Even with the income from Lorena’s job, medical expenses were mounting. Yes, we had, and have, insurance, but 10 percent of medical bills can be a hefty sum.
I also considered the possibility that we would need to hire someone to help with house cleaning and cooking. Lorena was struggling through work. Each day she would come home, often early, and collapse.
I tried my best to keep the house quiet for her benefit. I felt, more and more, that I had no freedom to get sick, relax or escape for a few minutes of solitude.
As Lorena’s ability to help me decreased, Desmond became a greater challenge. If something did not go his way, he would pass through periods of behavioral change that still are incomprehensible to me. I now know that a variety of factors may have contributed: He is highly allergic to most common allergens, he is extremely sensitive to environmental changes and he suffers from anxiety.
Still, I have no idea why these conditions must be expressed through defiance, teasing and hostility.
It was as if I lived with two Desmonds. One was among the sweetest and most caring and moral children I had ever met. He would cry when he saw hungry children on television and start gathering food to send them.
He was concerned with fairness, his family and the welfare of animals. He was bright, loved to learn and was a fun person to be around. At other times, I felt as if his evil doppelganger had taken over. He would tease adults, children and animals until they either lost control and attacked him or ran away from him.
He seemed to love any negative reaction and would laugh uncontrollably when anyone reproached him. He would defy any request made of him.
He would endure any consequence and give up any privilege to maintain his defiance. If not for his calm, rational periods, I would have given up all hope for him.
At one particularly poignant moment, I was screaming at him, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting the people who love you? Why do you enjoy making everyone angry at you?” After much laughing, ignoring and general obnoxious behavior, he finally said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
I was furious, exhausted and heartbroken.
Shortly before we became parents, we decided that we would never use physical punishment against our children. But whenever I sought advice from other people about my son, the most common comment I received was, “You are too nice to him.” I’ll admit that I sometimes thought things would have been better if I had hit him.
I even tried spanking him once. I was beginning to question my own judgment and feel incompetent as a parent.
Actually, I had made many unpopular parenting decisions. We did not spank, we home-schooled and we allowed our children to sleep in our room at night. Add to this the fact that our boys were home all day with Dad instead of Mom.
All of these went against the conventional wisdom, and all were suggested as sources of our problems. I kept thinking, “Well, maybe they are right.”
In desperation, we finally sought out a therapist through Lorena’s employee assistance program. When we called, the therapist insisted that we meet him at 5:15 p.m. We asked for a later time so we could get a babysitter for Evan, but he insisted that 5:15 was the only time he could meet with us.
My mother took off work to watch Evan so we could make it on time. The therapist showed up at 5:40 and never mentioned his tardiness.
All of our fears were realized during that intake session.
He attacked our parenting style, home schooling and our son. His basic message was, “You’ve got serious problems. Your kid’s bad and it’s all your fault.” I was in such a weakened state that I just listened in horror and blamed myself. My wife, on the other hand, challenged him.
She asked if he knew of any research to show that our parenting style was harmful or whether he was merely expressing prejudice. He admitted he was only expressing his opinion. He said that Desmond was not internalizing moral values and showed no remorse for his behavior.
This in spite of the fact that Desmond’s voice cracked as he told the therapist, “I don’t know why I’m like this.” It frightens me now to think I might have turned my son over to the care of this man. Thank goodness Lorena was clear-sighted. She found a new therapist the next day.
The new therapist was not judgmental. Her first impression was that Desmond was depressed. This seemed reasonable, but we really needed concrete advice on how to deal with his behavior.
She talked to Desmond alone, to us alone and to the whole family together, only to tell us that she had no further suggestions. She felt that our discipline methods were sound and that we were good parents.
She did suggest, however, that children who suffer from depression and impulsive behavior often do much better with a highly structured schedule and environment, and school provides just such an environment.
I didn’t act on this suggestion right away. After a few more torturous days, though, I finally asked Desmond what he thought about going to school. He understood the problem and why I was considering school. After some thought, he said he believed school might be a good idea.
The violence of my reaction shocked me. Years of pent-up anxiety, fear and doubt gushed out in a torrent of tears. I had not cried this way in years. I could not stop for even a second. For the next week the tears started again anytime I tried to talk.
I can’t begin to explain all I was feeling: relief, despair, depression, loneliness. Mostly, though, I felt guilt and inadequacy. I felt I had failed. I felt I had let my children down.
I felt I had let my wife down. I felt I had let myself down.Never before had I felt like a complete failure. I ceased to function. Loren would call friends and ask them to stop by the house during the day when she couldn’t be there.
The next week we reported back to the therapist. Desmond was excited to tell her he was going to school. He also told her I had been crying all week, explaining that I would miss him and Evan terribly (a true, if incomplete, statement).
She was supportive of the decision and tried to help us work through it as well as possible. She asked me if I wanted to go back to work. Before I could answer, Loren said, Loren had no desire to become the primary caregiver again, and I can certainly understand that.
Still, when I answered, I said emphatically, “Yes.” On the next visit the therapist had one more surprise for us. She told us that she had conferred with her colleagues and felt that she had no more to offer us. She could suggest nothing more than referring us to a psychiatrist.
She also warned that we should not take Desmond to a psychiatrist except as a last resort. She suggested Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) as a possible diagnosis for Desmond. In the view of most clinicians, this is not a good diagnosis. As she explained, marry clinical psychologists view ODD children as pre-sociopaths.
If I had been depressed before, this pushed me over the edge. I read the clinical description of ODD, and it seemed to describe Desmond.
Fortunately, a co-worker, who happens to be a family therapist, helped me calm down a bit. I started doing research on ODD and found that marry clinicians believe ODD leads to conduct disorder and eventual sociopathic behavior.
I also found that researchers could discover no statistical correlation between ODD and such serious problems later in life. Furthermore, most people who researched treatments for ODD claimed that the symptoms were gone within a year.
I developed a personal theory based purely on speculation: Children like Desmond manifest symptoms when they are 8 years old and work through it by the time they are 9. This could be complete hogwash, but it kept me going.
The first weeks of school for Desmond were torture for me. I lived in terror of my telephone and my pager. Sure enough, we had several calls from the school. Desmond was having a hard time adjusting. To my relief, he was not misbehaving; he was just sad and frightened.
Luckily, his teacher was sympathetic and did her best to ease his transition. Within weeks, he was adjusting to school, making friends and performing well academically. For the first time in years I had
a true feeling of relief.
After six years of part-time work, I had dread the prospect of seeking full-time employment. Luckily, I was able to obtain a full-time position in the office where I had been working part-time.
We still face marry challenges, but I now feel I can survive them. I do not regret staying home with my children for six years. I feel that I have had experiences as a father that few men can match.
I know and understand my children in ways that I have never known or understood anyone else.
I will never loose that.
During an attack, Meniere’s Disease causes extreme vertigo, nausea, vomiting, pressure In the ear, acute tinnitus and hearing loss.
In the aftermath of an attack, the patient suffers from extreme fatigue, dizziness, recruitment (sensitivity to sound) and tinnitus. The hearing loss fluctuates, but at least some loss from each attack Is permanent.
The Disease can be mild to dbillfating. It can affect one or both ears. Symptoms can disappear for years and then recur with even greater vengeance. This unpredictable remission of symptoms makes It difficult to test the effectiveness of treatments.
Any scientific study has to take into account not only the placebo effect but spontaneous remission.
Various treatments include a low-sodium diet, sedatives (to control anxiety), antihistamines, diuretics, vasodilators, streptomycin therapy and surgery to drain fluid or cut nerves In the inner ear.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
ODD Is described as persistent patterns of negative, disobedient and defiant behaviour. The age of onset Is usually 8 years or slightly earlier. The ODD child will tease mercilessly, refuse even simple requests, become easily annoyed and deliberately annoy others.
Often, ODD children are impulsive and may suffer from high anxiety and low opinions of themselves. Often, ODD children show no symptoms at school. When teachers and parents describe the behavior of the child, It may seem they are describing two different people altogether.
There are various treatments, but the goal is to establish self-control, ODD children seem to do better with a consistent daily schedule containing consistent rules and routines. ODD children must Identify what Increases their anxiety and find ways to reduce it.
They must learn calming techniques, social rules and the ability to discuss their feelings.
Next: Dads Down Under