Sunday, February 28, 2016

Taking Charge/Letting Go

Several years ago, an assistant principal who has since retired from the school where I teach had a plaque on his office wall that read, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” He probably intended that message to the students who landed in his office for not following the rules as a lesson on responsibility. However, some of the staff also suspected that he intended that as a message for the teachers to handle our own students with discipline problems so that he wouldn’t have to deal with them himself. Nonetheless, the message resonated within me as I convinced myself that I was solely responsible for Alex getting better. I believed that if I worked and researched hard enough, I could find the best methods to help him overcome the struggles of autism. Four years ago when his anxiety and behavior began spiraling out of control, I was not only overwhelmed by the crisis our family was facing but also by the feelings of failure that somehow I was to blame for this.

What began with a detachment in which Alex began rarely speaking to us and lacked interest in doing anything except for lying on the couch or sleeping in his bed escalated to full-blown anxiety attacks in which he would angrily and falsely accuse us of misdeeds and physically attack us. Somewhere along the line, we had lost our sweet and docile boy and were living with a fully grown angry young man who was a stranger to us. Despite our best efforts to keep him engaged in activities and calm and happy, to not awaken the beast, Alex was dealing problems we couldn’t identify or solve for him.

During these excruciating months, I read and researched harder than I had ever done in my life, desperately trying to find the key to the place where Alex had locked himself inside. His family doctor had retired because she was very ill, and the doctor we were seeing was willing to try various medications but didn’t seem to have much experience with autism. We also took him to another doctor who was compassionate and holistic in his approach, but Alex seemed only marginally better with the treatments he recommended. Frantically, I kept looking for methods and supplements to ease anxiety and aggression in autism, yet none of the things we tried seemed to have much impact. In addition, I met with a therapist and a psychiatrist myself because Alex would not leave the house, and I tried to explain the desperate nature of our situation: we were losing our son to some sort of madness, and we had to get him back. While both of them were sympathetic, they didn’t have any real answers or anything new that we hadn’t already tried. Even though I had been willing to allow professionals to know the upsetting details of our private life, they were unable to help, which made me return to the plaque on the wall: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

However, I was wrong. This battle was not mine to fight. Even though I had prayed throughout the struggles, I kept praying for God to show me the answers, for God to help me help Alex. Instead, if Alex was to get better, I needed to surrender to God’s will and to surrender Alex to others’ care. Admitting that I was not up to the task that I had devoted myself to for Alex’s entire life was harder than I imagined, but I had to do it for his sake. Clearly, he was not getting better at home, and nothing I did was helping him get better. Ed and I came to the hardest decision we would ever have to make; we knew that we would have to hospitalize Alex in a psychiatric ward. That hardest decision was ultimately the best decision we ever made.

During the weeks that Alex spent in the hospital, he finally received the treatment that he needed from knowledgeable and caring professionals, and he was put on medications that eased his anxiety and the subsequent aggression, so that he could enjoy life once again. Moreover, they explained to us that his behavior did have a reason. The Prozac that he had been taking for his OCD had suddenly stopped working, which meant that he was overwhelmed and unable to cope without an SSRI to help calm him. In addition, he was going through his final growth spurt, which brought hormonal changes, especially increased testosterone, that made him anxious and aggressive. Finally, we not only had answers to our questions, but we also had solutions to our problems. It was not up to me; it was up to God to lead us to the right people who could help Alex.

While Alex’s hospitalization was a heart-wrenching time, those weeks were necessary to help him get better, something that was not happening while he was at home with us prior to putting him in intensive treatment. Another unexpected blessing that came from this dark time was that his social worker during the inpatient stay provided invaluable assistance in getting legal paperwork in place (along with our kind-hearted lawyer neighbor who drew up documents on a Sunday afternoon and came to our home to go over them with us) to name Ed and me as Alex’s legal health care representatives so that we can make medical decisions regarding his care. His social worker also helped us navigate the complicated process of getting state support services for Alex by making countless phone calls to plead Alex’s case, making appointments with a doctor and a psychologist to assess Alex in the hospital for the state-required paperwork, and answering any questions we had about the process.

Although we had carefully followed all of the steps the state requires to get support services for a disabled adult, we knew that the waiting list to qualify was ridiculously long. Typically at that time, parents waited at least ten years for their children to qualify. Knowing this was in God’s hands and not mine, I prayed for patience. This was not up to me; it was up to a bureaucracy, and truthfully, I didn’t have a lot of faith in them. However, God moved mountains, and in less than three months after all of our stacks of paperwork were filed, we received a call that the state granted our request for an autism waiver, which meant that Alex could receive a variety of supports that he needed. Within a few weeks, we had a case manager to oversee his budget and services and a therapist to help us with his behavior. Moreover, he qualified for Medicaid retroactively six months, which meant that they helped cover hospitalization costs that our private insurance did not. The speed of this notoriously slow process is nothing short of miraculous; we cannot explain why things fell into place other than to give the glory to God.

This morning, I was reading Psalm 102 for the first time, something I should have been reading four years ago. This Psalm is described as “A prayer of one overwhelmed with trouble, pouring out problems before the LORD.” Remembering the desperation I felt during those dark times, I empathize with that Psalmist, who pleads, “Hear my prayer, LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.” Four years later, I can proclaim that God did answer our prayers and provided even more than we asked. Not only did He provide the help Alex needed to get better, but He also returned our sweet son to us, and He made certain that we had a support team in place so that Alex could continue to make progress. What seemed to be a hopeless setback was, in fact, the appointed time for God to set in place His plans that were better than ours, to propel us forward faster than we imagined. Perhaps the true lesson should be, “If it to be, it is up to Thee.”

“You will arise and have compassion…the appointed time has come.” Psalm 102:13

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