Our journey started in early childhood with the misdiagnosis of ADD and multiple delays in development; walking, toilet training, speech and behavioral problems. From age eight to fourteen, our family was preconditioned to our son’s moodiness, isolation, combativeness, tantrums and intense fears as just personality traits.   At age fifteen, he had a nervous breakdown and it became clear to us the underlying issue of mental illness.

There began, the intense self education and awareness of mental illness.  Our family struggled for understanding and acceptance of our son’s condition that could not be cured.  Part of that understanding was acknowledging mental illness in our son’s maternal grandmother and great grandmother both who were Bipolar disorder.  The great grandmother spent years in state mental institutions and incapacitated by illness, placed in a rest home at age 55.  The grandmother remains unmedicated and denies mental illness even after two hospitalizations.

Upon learning that bipolar disorder has a bleak treatment outcome in children; it was paramount to us to consult with the best physicians in child psychiatry for guidance.  After visiting with multiple psychiatrists, it became clear that managing this illness and effective treatments were less than stellar.  If ever there was validation to the phrase, “the cure is worse than the illness” is the medications prescribed for bipolar disorder illness.  Further, these meds left my son overly sedated and did not eliminate his symptoms.

Upon visiting a prominent research hospital in the Southeast, we were directed to Dr. Papolos.  We made a direct stop at the bookstore to buy the book, The Bipolar Child.  After reading the book, we began to hope that Dr. Papolos could help our son.  During consultation, bipolar disorder diagnosis was confirmed, not the cornucopia of catch all co-morbid conditions or schizophrenia that local doctors felt compelled to discuss through the DSM-IV tool.  We learned that bipolar disorder is thought to be genetic (no surprise to us with our family history), and that the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation (www.JBRF.org) is conducting private research to better understand the genetic connection.

Dr. Papolos introduced us to a novel treatment for managing bipolar disorder.  Since Feb. 2012, our son has been using ketamine to control his symptoms.  It has not been an easy transition with ketamine.  Rather, like all the other meds, it has been an educated trial and error process of adjustments.  What is dramatically different with Dr. Papolos’s approach is that my son’s symptoms are tracked on a daily basis with weekly communication to discuss our son’s progress.  No child psychiatrist during our journey has practiced this level of attention to detail and commitment to understanding/managing the symptoms of my son’s illness.

The ketamine did not miraculously heal my son which is an unrealistic expectation.  Ketamine effectively addressed the crippling fear and mood swings, thereby provided him confidence to begin reaching out to others.  Overnight, the ketamine gave our son communication skills he never had.  He reports feeling like the blinders are removed, allowing awareness of everything around him.

Two years have passed since our son’s hospitalization and he is looking forward to college.   He is now shaving, driving, and attending to chores without supervision.  He is getting along with his brother and not trying to physically hurt the family pet.  He administers ketamine by himself with our supervision and remembers to take his meds on his own.  Without ketamine, this was not remotely possible on his medications.  He has a best friend and is talking to girls at school.  Next year will be the prom!

AB, Atlanta