I’ll Trade You Some Spark for a Zoloft. Whaddya Say?

January 22, 2015

“How is Jax’s anxiety medicine working?”

I nodded over to my son. See for yourself.

The prior sessions with Jax’s trauma counselor involved a lot of attempts to manage my son as he darted, verbally and physically, from topic to topic, corner to corner. He tried to climb onto the back of the overstuffed arm chair so he could touch the tallest branch of the artificial tree, he found hidden toys, tried to remove the batteries from the table clock, examined lamps and plugs and looked under the rug. He was constant motion. He is always constant motion.

Today though, the chair wasn’t being used as a launch pad. Jax was curled up on the cushion, quiet and still, with his head on the pillowed arm rest.

“He’s calm,” she said.
“He’s calm,” I echoed.

She waited for me to add more and I waited for her. She knew my issues with this.

I fought meds. That’s not an easy fight in this day and age, and I stood strong against a lot of judgment and prescription offers and “Well, I can’t help you then” from doctors and therapists. I listened to about a hundred people say, “If he had a heart issue, would you turn down medication?” And a hundred times, I opted not to engage, and usually said something vague and friendly about research, side effects, and trying less invasive options first. And a hundred times, people looked at me like they were sorry for my son for having such an unreasonable mother.

I scoured the internet, met with naturopaths, nutritionists and trauma counselors. And we made progress – some noticeable progress.

What changed my mind was a day at summer camp. Jax’s aide was sick so I went with him. He was happy, he loved it, he had a great time. But he could not sit still for longer than 4 seconds. I know because I timed it, and I’m pretty sure the 4 seconds was just the downtime needed to calculate his next move. The amazing thing is that he heard the directions and was able to process the instructions. It was as if he had to be moving in order to focus. I watched him and imagined his potential if his little body could just settle.

More than anything, I want to help my child. So I said okay, we’ll try the meds.

The first prescription, an SSRI, increased his tics to a point where he could not speak. We switched to a second med, an ADHD stimulant, and the first day was like nothing I’ve ever seen. My son, on speed, could recall every detail of every lesson for the past year. It was awesome and eerie at the same time. The second day he cried for six hours straight and told me he wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.

The third try brings us to his counselor’s office, where he laid down, quietly, in the big, cozy chair. Jax, looking a little distant, excused himself to go the restroom.

The counselor spoke first. “The tension is gone. But so is his spark.”

Exactly.  I told her, “the meds have kicked in, and he’s been like this for about a week.”

She paused and spoke carefully, without any judgment or bias.

“How important is the spark?”

It was a good question. A reasonable question. Even on the lowest dose, Jax was dull. He was like half-Jax, a shadow of my kid, a two-dimensional copy.  But he was calm and more focused. He was easier to manage at school and at home. His frustration had decreased and his attention had increased. The medication did what it was supposed to do.

So really, how important is my son’s spark?

I spent a lot of time on this. I looked at every angle of this question, dissected it out loud with close friends and family, weighed every outcome. I want you to know that this is not a pollyanna, knee-jerk answer I am about to give you.

His spark is everything.

His spark grabbed my heart from a small online orphanage photo and refused to let it go. His spark walked me into my lavender and pink future baby girl’s room, and made me realize “well, duh, this is all wrong.” His spark kept him alive in pretty dire circumstances and pulled me across the world to bring him home. His spark makes him hilarious and sweet, it leads him to work outside the box where he’s at his best, it makes people laugh, gives him compassion and fuels his progress.

His spark is everything.

After four attempts at medication, we are back to nothing but a daily multi-vitamin. I am not saying we will never try it again and I’m not saying medication is evil or never a good solution. All I’m saying is, to date, the trade off has been too big for us.




  1. Dori Zavala

    This was honest and amazing. You know better than anyone what’s best for your own son. And you always do what’s best for your son. His spark shines through in those pictures! 🙂

  2. autisminourhouse

    This was brave and honest. As a parent on the med route, I was SO concerned about the spark. Fortunately, Big’s spark is still intact, but had ot even dimmed, i wouldn’t hesitate to do what you are doing. Keep on keepin’ on, my friend. You rock.

  3. Datamancer

    I am so glad to know you and read your story! I adore you for being brave enough to write this. He is wonderful, and perfect the way he is, you are doing a great job!!

  4. Donna Miglino

    I am with you, 1000%!!! If the calm steals the child, it’s not worth it.

  5. Cindy Strom

    The spark is everything! As a teacher I can tell you medication can work wonders, but not at the expense of watching a burning flame fizzle. Someday maybe you’ll find the happy medium. But for now – burn Jax burn! XO

  6. Unhinged Mummy

    This is the 3rd post of your blog I have got round to reading so far and all three have given me goosebumps. I love reading your blog and am so glad I stumbled across it. Jax is such a lucky boy to have such a wonderful mummy who just ‘gets him’. My son is three and it makes feel guilty to say it, but I am still trying to figure him out.

    • Rebecca Masterson

      Mama, no guilt allowed! It takes a while for all of us – it took me years. Add in special needs and it takes even longer. We’re “supposed” to do a bunch of things we sometimes can’t and it makes us, as mothers, feel guilty. Take that away. You’re doing great.

  7. Deneen Komarek

    I just want to say that I totally understand your misgivings about using meds. My son started on meds in 1st grade and we went through a lot of different combinations to get him to the right place. (Right place meaning slowing him down to learn and to feel better about himself). My son is 17 now and I have to tell you something that I wished someone would have told me when I was feeling so bad about the meds. His need for meds will change..A LOT! There were times that my son was on 4 different types of meds to calm him down so he could function. When your child becomes physicologically more mature his need for the meds will decrease. The only way for some of our kids to learn enough coping skills to get to this point is to be medicated to learn. My son is now down to 2 medications and the spark is back. He actually told his doctor not long ago that he wanted to start feeling again and that he could handle it. He is very funny, very talkative and smart. He’s learning to monitor himself in social situations and it’s awesome. So don’t look at the meds as a lifelong thing…his maturity will change everything. Just give him the best opportunities you can right now and watch him change.


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