Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Meet Brennan

I know I promised this story a while back, but I've been busy...and putting it off. Lauren's story is easy. I've told it before -- many times -- and I've now got it down. She's also more in the maintenance phase. Yes, everyday is a challenge, but at least we know what to expect in a kind of unexpected way. Brennan's story is much more difficult for a variety of reasons...but, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me introduce you to Brennan:

Brennan is our 7-year-old son; he'll be 8 next month. We found out when he was very young (less than a year old) that he has food allergies. He's allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts. Since Cristi's allergic to milk, this wasn't an overly complicated adjustment for our family, but did require some. The downside is that he can't just go anywhere and have just anything. We eat at home a lot. When we do eat out, we have to stick to chain restaurants that we've been able to get a warm fuzzy from that they have safe foods for him. When he goes to birthday parties, he has to take his own cupcake. The upside is that we've now figured out a way to make almost anything you can dream up. A couple of exceptions are quiche and omelettes, but one you might be surprised at is cheesecake.

Growing up, Brennan has always been goofy. He makes up jokes that don't make sense, but they're so not funny that you have to laugh. We've frequently said we wonder if we're experiencing something similar to what Jim Carrey's mother must have experienced. This kid is G-O-O-F-Y! He's also got a big heart. Whenever he gets something new, he almost always thinks of Addison and that she should get something, too. He had an amazing yet unexplainable bond with Lauren while she was little. He was extremely loving and gentle, and she absolutely adored him.

Unfortunately, all that has changed. You see, Brennan never outgrew the Terrible Twos -- or their sequel, the Therrible Threes. Since Addison was a very strong-willed child when she was 2 and 3, we didn't think much about it. We didn't give it too much thought when he was still throwing horrendous temper tantrums when he was 4. By the time he was 5, we started thinking that we had an extremely strong-willed child and so we brought out our best parenting skills. We didn't let him get away with anything, and we never gave in to his demands...But it continued. By the time he was 6, he was getting stronger and harder to control -- physically. He was starting to throw things and break things and threaten -- but not hurt -- his mother and sisters.

We bit the bullet and asked for help. That was one of the hardest things to do. After all, we must be bad parents. It can't be some form of mental illness. There's this huge stigma with that, people look at you funny, it will affect his future if it's on his record, etc., so we'll just stick our fingers in our ears and go "La la la la la". Fortunately, we had become very close with Lauren's previous pediatrician (also the kids' pediatrician, but they didn't really need doctors), so we kinda talked to her informally. She told us to see the dreaded "P" doctor.

We went to the psychologist and did behavior therapy, but nothing worked. We tried reward charts, we tried time out, we tried it all -- no joy. We finally convinced the psychologist that it must be something beyond behavioral -- something that might require medicine to fix -- so they sent us to a psychiatrist (because they can prescribe medicine). He immediately diagnosed him as "classic bipolar". Skeptical based on the circumstantial evidence (my perception), we merely tolerated the guy, knowing that we had philosophical differences. Things seemed to work okay for a while on medicine, but every time we thought we were getting somewhere, the bad behavior came back (it was beginning to get worse, by the he was physically hurting Cristi and Addison, but threatening Lauren, ultimately breaking that special bond he had with her). He also had many side effects. The psychiatrist kept wanting to treat each side effect with a new medicine to the point that we had a drug coctail that would make any pusher jealous -- and gave Lauren a run for her money -- all to no avail.

In the meantime, we found out Brennan was also having seizures. We took him to a neurologist, who put him on medicine to (hopefully) treat the seizures and the bipolar. Today, that medicine seems to be helping the seizures -- not so much on the bipolar; the behavior's as bad as ever. After the philosophical differences came to a head, accompanied by some unprofessional behavior, we fired the psychiatrist and got a new one. He's young, and concerned, but has not treated Brennan aggressively. He even indicated that there might not be a medicine that will work for Brennan and that we should work on behavior therapy. Compound that with the fact that the neurologist and psychiatrist aren't aggressively collaborating on a solution to two problems that appear to be significantly intertwined. Our pediatrician told us that, sadly, there aren't many doctors anywhere able or willing to work the seams between anatomical systems. We believe it because we've observed it.

I continue to doubt (but accept) the bipolar diagnosis. Something just doesn't seem right, and it just doesn't quite "fit", despite the ready diagnosis of "classic bipolar". Brennan has a measure of control over these rages, although there is some level of uncontrol. Couple that with the fact that the seizures happen in the part of the brain that controls emotion and emotional response. I think there's a significant link there. How to control it and/or rehabilitate it is the tough question.

I earlier alluded to several of our difficulties parenting Brennan. I really think we're good parents. But what we go through is enough to shatter anyone's self-confidence. Cristi gets beat up nearly every day -- many times quite literally. She constantly wonders what she's doing wrong. I'm left at work, totally helpless (he doesn't really do this stuff around me), and wondering what my response should be when I get home. I've tried everything from anger to apathy to sadness/disappointment to eye-for-eye violence. Nothing works. Nothing. It's embarrasing to take him out somewhere when he decides he's going to throw a fit. Can you imagine the looks we get? Not to mention the fact that he's almost too big for Cristi to handle now. This has been a very hard journey for us -- harder even than our journey with Lauren.

God taught us to trust Him with Lauren. We have tried to trust that all will be okay -- and we still do -- but it is a daily struggle not to feel helpless and hopeless. I freely admit to you that we have no answers -- that we pray daily for relief and answers. So far that prayer has not been answered. Yet we still believe. We still trust that God is in control and that good will come out of this situation in some as yet undetermined way. We cling desperately to that hope. We continue to believe God is faithful to those that hold on. We will continue to hold on. For those of you so inclined, we ask for your prayers as well -- prayers for wisdom, endurance, relief, answers -- for us and for Brennan.


  1. Hi Tim, I just read your post about your son. I used to work in the special education setting and have worked with many kids with seizures. Some kids with seizures, instead of being drowsy or confused, become violent after their seizures. It sounds like you've made a connection between the two. Know that my prayers are with you, your wife, and all three of your children.


  2. Tim...remember when you were talking about being fearless every day? I think you've got that one down. What you and Cristi and your whole family has been through would shake the core of just about anyone in the entire world.

    The fact that we see 5 of the most well adjusted people on Sunday mornings is incredible.

    Perhaps you and Cristi should write a book because more often than not I prefer to read books that don't have all the answers, but at the very purpose, say, "hey...I know where you are. I know what you're going through. You're not alone." I'm sure there are other families out there like yours who would find comfort in just simply knowing that.

    P.S. I can testify to the cheesecake! It's phenomenal!

  3. I'm daily praying for you, cristi and your family. I'd love to have just a little of Christi's strength!

    GOD BLESS all of you, I will also put you all on our prayer list in church for the heart transplant if you choose to go that route.