There have been a number of news stories in recent weeks about the challenges related to climbing Mount Everest. Apparently, many climbers (and media) tend to focus on getting to the summit; in fact, getting down is as hard, if not harder than getting to the top. Aside from the unpredictable weather and generally hazardous conditions, climbers often have to deal with fatigue, delays, altitude sickness and a raft of other factors that can make getting off the mountain treacherous. This year alone, several people reached the summit and later died on the descent.
I was thinking about how reaching a goal can often be half the battle as I sat in the hallway of the school this morning. M was in the staff room with the principal and his Educational Assistant, trying to persuade him to take his medication. At that point, M had been in meltdown mode for over an hour – running away to Mount Everest was looking pretty good (except I’m terrified of heights). We had just come back from 3 days travelling out-of-town to attend to my husband’s grandmother’s funeral. M had done very well in coping with being in the car for hours, sitting through funeral and burial services, being ignored by all the adults around him. He had excessive amounts of time on his iPod and playing on the computer at my in-law’s house, but he was quiet and didn’t make a fuss. He even finished an overdue homework assignment while we were away.
As funerals go, it went well, but we were all exhausted by the time we got home. My husband and I both made sure that we told M how impressed we were with his behaviour over the last few days.
This morning started off well. M even left the house early. For once, I had made my lunch the night before and was ready to go shortly after M left. I did have a moment’s pause when I realized that I had forgotten to make sure M took his meds, but I figured I would drop by the school on my way to work and give them to him. A couple of minutes and I would be on my way to work.
What I didn’t know was that the Grade 6s were taking the last of a series of standardized tests this morning. So the grade 5s, including M, were with another teacher in another room. I asked the school secretary to call M down but she was in the middle of putting out several other fires, so she suggested I go up and find M myself. Since I volunteer in M’s class on a regular basis, I know my way around the school and found M without any difficulty.
Except what I thought was easy – take 3 little pills – was not at all easy for M. He refused to take them and insisted he could get through the day without them. We started stumbling down the mountain. M didn’t want to take the pills where anyone could see him, so I enlisted his EA’s help to try to persuade M. No go. We went downstairs to the EA office to find a more private place so he would feel less self-conscious. M yelled at two different children to “mind their own business,” on the way down the stairs, so I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make it through the day successfully, no matter what he told himself.
When the Spec Ed teacher joined us, I knew we starting to lose our footing. But we didn’t go into free-fall until the principal got involved/ At that point, I was sitting in the hallway with the Spec Ed teacher while the EA and the principal were in another room with M. They weren’t so much concerned about getting M to take his meds, as much as they were trying to keep him from tossing furniture. We were 60 minutes into our (rapid) descent and I emailed my boss to say I was running a bit late.
By the time I went back into the room, M was on the verge of totally losing it. Not only had he moved the furniture around the room, but he had crawled under one of the tables and was refusing to come out. Plus being adamant about not taking his pills.
It took another 30 minutes for the 4 of us to convince M to leave the school. For a few seconds, it looked like he would take the pills, but he was concerned about what the other kids would say about his absence. The only option was taking him home. Not ideal from my perspective, since I had missed a day last week due to a migraine and had been away for the two previous days because of the funeral. But M was beyond being able to discuss anything rationally and was fast moving into the zone where he was a risk to himself or more likely, to others.
Once we left the school, M began to calm down. At home, he was able to eat a small snack, so he wasn’t taking the pills on an empty stomach and finally swallow the medication. Thankfully, my boss was very understanding when I called to say I was taking the day as vacation.
Had it been any other day, M might have been able to adapt and take his meds with a minimum of strum and drang. But his routine had been completely thrown off by our trip out-of-town. Plus, the class schedule was
topsy-turvy this morning. My arrival was the tipping point. We’ve always been pretty open about the fact that M takes medication for both ADHD and anxiety. But M was extremely concerned that if his classmates knew, they would see him differently. I didn’t bother telling him that most of the kids in his class are likely aware that M is a bit “different” – he has trouble getting along with other kids, he crowds their personal space and at least once a week, he refuses to participate in a class activity. I figured this would just add fuel to the fire that was already burning pretty hot.
So after a very successful couple of days, under less than ideal circumstances, we hit a few snags. We’ve taped a note to a cupboard to remind all of us tomorrow morning. And M and I discussed how we would handle things differently, in the event that we forget to make sure he’s taken his pills before he leaves the house: call up to the classroom or ask his EA to give him the pills.
No doubt there will be other mountains. We’ll scale some of them successfully and descend without incident. Others will be more challenging, both up and down. Next time I plan for the descent, everything will go swimmingly. Hopefully, each time, M will get just a little bit better at adapting to the changing conditions.