By Carrie Vittitoe

Carrie Vittitoe had a tough decision to make about her 8-year-old son’s health. 

One of the biggest challenges of being a mom is that you don’t deal with just your problems anymore. Your kids’ problems cause you much more worry than your own challenges.

I’ve written and spoken about my obsessive-compulsive and generalized anxiety disorders for a long time now, but I’ve recently entered all new territory while holding my middle child’s hand. We’re trying to navigate this terrain together.

Graeme is a smart, funny, empathetic 8 year old, but for a couple years, my husband and I have been seeking answers to explain behaviors that we haven’t fully understood and definitely haven’t liked. Toddler-style hitting, kicking, and screaming tantrums were unpleasant when he was a 2, but grew increasingly worrisome as he began elementary school. We couldn’t understand why putting on socks or a winter coat and hat caused so much upheaval.

Most of parenting is throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and hoping some of it sticks, and I think this sums up perfectly what the past two years have been for us. We’ve been trying everything we could think of that might help Graeme (and us) cope better and lessen his tantrums: cognitive behavioral therapy for a time; ongoing occupational therapy; a full psychological and cognitive evaluation to rule out learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD.

I chalked Graeme’s repetitive pre-bedtime ritual to typical childhood bedtime avoidance. It was just one idiosyncrasy. But when he began throwing tantrums whenever I moved accessories in the house or purchased new items, and when he started repeating phrases during the daytime and checking and rechecking, it was no longer an idiosyncrasy. This was becoming a pattern.

As much as I worried about taking antidepressant medication myself in 2004, it was nothing compared to the internal wrangling I’ve done at the thought of putting my child on an antidepressant. I hated the idea of giving Graeme anything that I thought might prevent his brain from developing “normally.” I tolerated four years of his every-night, multiple-times-a-night wakings (from ages 3 to 7) before I finally talked to his pediatrician about trying melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement.

When I consulted with the pediatrician and later the child psychiatrist about Graeme’s obsessive/compulsive behaviors, it occurred to me that his brain wasn’t developing “normally” without psychotropic medication. A child who weeps and screams because I move a flower arrangement from the dining room to the living room is probably not functioning at his best. An 8-year-old boy shouldn’t even notice that I rearranged tchotchkes, and if he does, he shouldn’t care.

In helping Graeme deal with his mental health issues by putting him on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), I’ve had to stay much more on top of my own mental health challenges. Through blogging, I’m keeping my own distorted worries in check and “talking myself down” as warranted. I’m paying greater attention to my physical needs of sleep and exercise. I’m hoping to set a good example for my son that one’s mental health is equally important as one’s physical health. I’m letting Graeme know that his mom understands and has his back.