Bumps in the Road
01.08.2011 - 11.08.2011
On a stunningly beautiful holiday Monday morning we boarded a ferry en route to Salt Spring Island. We had been off the road for a week and were all excited to be on the move again and travelling to a brand new destination. As we settled into our lengthy ferry crossing there were many things of which we were certain; we knew that we were going to see Simon’s nephew who lives on Salt Spring, we knew that we were going to camp for the night at Ruckle Provincial Park, we knew that we were going to see some stunningly beautiful scenery on our way and we hoped we might see some whales or dolphins as we chugged our way through the beautiful waters between Vancouver and Victoria.
What we did not know was that Michael’s body was perilously close to a breaking point and that we were swiftly approaching a very challenging and treacherous phase in our family trip. The past ten days has been a heartbreaking and hellish return to the challenges and frustrations of living with ADHD. My beloved little Michael has been suffering the effects of a brutal combination of way too much and far too little.
When I look back at the past five weeks on the road I am struck with the wonder of our travels; new sights, novel experiences, stunning scenery, wonderful camping, great friends, reuniting with beloved family members and tons of fun! What I also see as I look in between the lines of our delightful exploration is a little boy who has not been getting what he needs. Michael thrives on predictable structure, a daily regimen of vitamins and supplements, a healthy diet, a consistent sleep pattern and rigorous daily exercise. He can tolerate neither sugar nor food colouring (particularly red food dye) and does not metabolize processed food well. He thrives on quiet time in the morning before the day gets going and frequent breaks from our collective family energy (particularly that of his brothers).
Unfortunately, as delightful as the past weeks have been, Michael has lost almost every element that helps him to keep ADHD safely at bay. I am devastated to report that our laissez faire attitude on late nights, frequent treats and no hint of predictability or structure have taken a dramatic toll on Michael.
As our ferry gently pushed its way through the Salish Sea en route to Victoria last Monday, something in Michael’s body reached a critical breaking point. Was it the Skittles I bought each of the boys from the gift shop? Was it the late night and early morning to catch our ferry? Was it the constant presence of his brothers? Was it the massive and oftentimes overwhelming energy of our family collective? I do not have the answer to what happened on that ferry ride but I do know that by the time we arrived on Salt Spring Island, Michael was a mass of frenetic energy, violent hands and frequent unexplained tears. Simon and I were so unprepared for Michael’s sharp plunge it took us a few hours to really tune in to what was going on. Unfortunately, by the time we did, Michael was well and truly gone.
After a very challenging night spent on Salt Spring Island (in one of the most beautiful campsites we have ever seen) we made our way up to Quadra Island where Simon and I have been gently prying Michael from the tight clutches of ADHD ever since. The quiet little house we are renting on Quadra is surrounded by beautiful trees and is both peaceful and utterly relaxing. We are a short ferry ride away from civilization in Campbell River and life on Quadra is blissfully slow and restorative. Simon’s 16-year-old nephew lives across the street and the kids have been basking in the glow of his calm, loving, fun and utterly grounded energy. A beautiful beach with wonderful tidal pools is a short walk away and time has slowed way down for the first time this summer.
When I look back on the past ten days it is almost as if Michael has been very ill and we have been slowly and lovingly nursing him back to health. Michael has been in bed at the same time each night, has had heaps of rigorous exercise and has been eating lots of protein, no sugar and absolutely no food colouring. Michael and I have had some quiet and magical mornings before the rest of the family have rolled from their beds and he has basked in the glow of time alone with me. We have also spent two days apart from the rest of the family and Michael’s body has had a chance to energetically catch its breath.
As the days have slowly slipped by, I have been quietly nursing the fear that we might not have enough time to restore Michael to health before hitting the road again tomorrow morning. Fortunately, he is gradually showing signs of returning to himself and I think we can safely move ahead with our plans to return to Vancouver for the weekend before heading to Seattle on Monday.
The reality of living with ADHD is that when Michael’s body is ‘normal’ it looks heartbreakingly hard to live inside. I cannot even imagine what Michael has been going through these past weeks as he has been slowly declining. My heart breaks as I recall the number of times I have raised my voice in anger and frustration at his increasingly challenging behaviour. I regret every grain of sugar and trace of food colouring I have carelessly allowed to pass his lips. I am devastated to think how confused, alone and frustrated he must have been feeling as his body has been getting more and more out of control. And I am sorrier than I can express that I have not been nurturing the early morning bond between us so that he felt connected enough with me to let me know.
I am well aware that wallowing in guilt and regret does not serve me and it certainly does not serve Michael. I simply cannot afford to waste precious emotional energy beating myself up for letting down my vigilant guard. Ten days ago as Michael was crashing, all I could think was; this trip was a mistake, we should not have dragged Michael across the country so carelessly, we cannot travel like this with a child who has severe ADHD, we simply cannot do this again. However, after mindfully restoring the components that foster success for Michael, what I know now is that we absolutely can travel with Michael and still honour his unique needs. We can travel, explore, go off the routine and stray from predictability. What we cannot do is lose the sleep, exercise and healthy diet at the same time.
We have had a difficult and stark reminder of the constant presence of ADHD in our family. We have also been given a gift. Michael, as always, is the barometer of the health of our family system. He has reminded us that the aspects that foster success for him are also of great benefit to the rest of us; we all need restorative sleep, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a period of quiet time to start the day.
We have two weeks remaining in our trip. We have many more exciting, beautiful, novel and fun times ahead of us as we wend our way back east to our full and wonderful life in Hamilton. As this stage of our travels is drawing to a close I am aware that we are making space in our luggage for something extra. What we are packing with us as we prepare to leave this heavenly island in the Strait of Georgia is a renewed awareness of the gift of our health; body, mind and spirit. And so now, thanks to Michael, the back end of our epic family travels will enable us to return home with the glow of both exciting adventure and abundant health!