When The Meds Wear Off

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If you have a child that takes medication for mental health issues, you may dread those hours without medication.  The time in the morning before they kick in and the evening hours when they wear off. I mean no disrespect to those children and adults that take the medication.  I’m just writing about my experience as a mother.  I know those that take meds also struggle when their meds wear off and I know they are remorseful for any problems that arise at that time.  I am not here to condemn them at all.  Those of us living in a house with someone that requires these medications struggle to adjust to the person that needs the meds when the meds aren’t working.

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My son wakes up in the morning ready to go! When he was 5 I remember that he would wake up at 6 am ON THE DOT, jump out of bed, brush his teeth and be dressed and downstairs by 6:05 ready to play and jump and sing and dance and ask a million questions,  and I was still trying to wake up.  This never really got easier.  I don’t usually have problems waking up, but please do not expect me to talk for at least 30 min. (just ask my husband, he figured this out very early on in our marriage and lets me start any morning conversations, he’s awesome like that.)  My younger son is also not ready to handle the ball of energy that is his brother.  He needs quiet time to wake up.  We just don’t often get it in our house.  This is a challenge.  I always think about his future roommates and wife, they MUST be able to handle a loud energetic morning person, otherwise, those relationships are DOOMED!! MAYBE by then he will be able to at least stay quiet in the mornings, it is very difficult for him to do on his own, but if I stay stuck to him like glue, reminding him to whisper, he can, but I can see the effort in his face and body to be quiet and not bother those around him. Once his medication has kicked in, he’s like a typical kid, he’s in control, he has the ability to regulate his voice and actions so much better than without them.

The evenings for us are pretty similar.  You can tell within a few minutes of when the meds wear off.  He suddenly starts getting louder and bouncier.  The singing starts up and the volume increases.  It’s not as bad as in the morning because we are all awake now, but depending on what we need to do or if my son has homework, it can again be quite a challenge.  Even though I completely understand why suddenly my son struggles more, it doesn’t really make it that much easier to deal with.  I know that sounds bad, that I have to “deal with” my son, but I just mean that my parenting tactics have to change from one way when the meds are working to another way when they wear off.  Things that work with him when the medication is in his system just do not have any effect when the meds wear off.  I am not good with changes so this is especially difficult for me.  I need to remember to lower my expectations and provide more support for my son.  I have to be much more specific in my requests and I may have to get very close, hands on his shoulders, get eye to eye and explain is short phrases what I need to communicate.  I cannot give too many instructions, they will be lost after the first step or so. There was a time that we woke him up early, just enough to take his medication and let him go back to sleep so that the mornings would go smoothly enough that we could get to school and work without meltdowns and bad feelings.  We have solved many of the morning issues, so we don’t do that anymore, but he’s also not waking up at 6 am, so that helps a lot.

I know that if it is difficult for me to adjust, it is even more difficult for my younger son to understand.  We try to explain to him brain differences but he struggles with understanding how his brother cannot control his impulses.  He is still very young and understanding brain functions is not something I would typically expect from a child his age.  We try to keep is simple, but he can be so frustrated with his brother that sometimes he doesn’t want to hear it. We try to teach them problem-solving skills so that they can get along with each other with little drama, but they, like most siblings, go from playing and hugging to arguing and fighting in a matter of seconds!  They do get along most of the time, especially when they are engaged in an activity. I know we have it relatively easy with our son, not everyone can say the same when their child’s medication wears off.

For some kids without their medication, they become violent and their meltdowns are much more extreme, sometimes the medication only works a little and they still struggle with emotions and impulses.  Sometimes the violence is directed at objects, sometimes at family members, sometimes at themselves.  Some kids cannot sleep or get any tasks done successfully without a lot of help. Sometimes their emotions are so strong that they themselves feel so helpless.  They often won’t admit it out loud, but they blame themselves so much! Often it’s because they have heard people say that they just need to try harder, but no amount of willpower or effort with suddenly force their brains to function differently.

I know there are times, (sometimes just days, sometimes years,) that parents and family member do not like being around their children without medication.  You are not alone.  It can be so incredibly exhausting, mentally and physically, to help a child with mental health issues.  We do not love them any less, but just wish to have easy interactions without the drama or heartache.  Sometimes it’s just so difficult seeing their child struggle so much, other times, it’s because the child takes out their struggles and frustrations on those that they love the most. Usually, it’s because the closest family members are also the safest for them. No one enjoys being mistreated no matter how young the child or how much we understand the biological reasons behind it.  With appropriate medication, they can just be themselves without having to put so much effort into doing what others expect of them when they do not have those abilities or skills.  It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggle so much with things that other kids their age do with ease.  Most of us would do anything to keep them from that struggle and for many of us medication is the best way to help them until they develop those skills, or they may need them forever.  Either way, we also struggle when the meds wear off.

If you or someone you love have untreated mental health concerns, please find help and get treatment. That does not always include medication, but there should be no shame in getting the best treatment for you or your loved ones.

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