With the recent surge in traffic I’ve seen variations of these questions posted as comments as well as asked directly. Some people think that if cannabis works to calm Alex, then we have no good reason to not take Alex home and just dose him ourselves. Back when Alex was first moved from Salem, one woman suggested, directly to my face, that if we cared enough, we wouldn’t keep Alex in a group home, and that we didn’t have any right to complain because we had made our choice.
I should note that some of the confusion may be due to the Treating Yourself article — as in any article trying to get a lot of information across in a concise way, there are a lot of details left out, and some elements are slightly changed to simplify the explanation of the situation. The article is a great way to expose people to the damaging effects of prohibition, but it does gloss over some details that can make our plight seem confusing.
Unfortunately, the story is a lot more complicated than it seems at a glance. I tend to sound like I’m saying, “cannabis is Alex’s miracle drug”, when I really mean that it is his best option, and probably better for his situation than any drug available. Cannabis is an amazing substance. But Alex’s situation is extreme:
- We know cannabis helps, but we couldn’t get consistent results in the past. While we believe 100% that we can help Alex a great deal with cannabis, we do not currently believe that it would manage his rage to the degree necessary for us to care for him full-time.
- We still don’t know the best way to dose, the best strains, etc., and we get a lot of conflicting information when we look things up or people offer advice.
- When Alex’s moods are particularly bad, he doesn’t eat anything. We couldn’t get medibles down him more than a few times (and the brownies we made tasted pretty good to those who sampled them).
- We have a lot better luck with raw hash, but he still gets into moods where he’ll refuse to eat it.
There are logistics problems as well. If we take Alex out of state care, getting him back in, if that proves necessary, will be very difficult. Previously Alex’s condition was absolutely terrible – the videos posted are a very representative sample of how he behaved nearly every day for the two or three months prior to placement. For about two weeks he barely ate, slept perhaps two hours a night, and on three or four occasions needed chemical sedation in the ER (massive Ativan and Haldol doses). Even in this condition, it took the state something like three weeks to find a placement for Alex — and that was “rushing” things. If we took him back home and then six months later said he needed to be back in their care, it’s not likely we’d get him placed in less than a month. During that wait, it’s unlikely that I could work even part-time.
We also have accepted that Alex could not be with us forever. Even during his happy times, he can be very dangerous. He has phases where he’s happy, but wants to watch “interesting” reactions from people. He will get these reactions by scratching or pinching, and sometimes pushing, hitting, or even head-butting. I believe he’s trying to be playful and just doesn’t know his own strength, but the fact is that he’s still going to be dangerous at times.
We have to consider Alex’s brother and sister as well. When Alex was with us, his younger brother was literally neglected at times. He and I rarely spent time together. I was taking care of Alex from the time I got home until the next morning when I went to work. On weekends, if I had free time, it was because my wife was watching Alex for a while so I could get a break. That was hardly “quality time” with my other boy. Respite care went primarily to my wife since she had Alex and his brother alone all day long. Our trip to Disneyland last year was wonderful for Alex’s brother. It was his first vacation that included me. It was the first time we really did something big where he was the center of attention. That trip absolutely could not have happened with Alex in our home unless cannabis were to completely reverse his anxiety and rage 100% of the time.
We have to consider the longer-term implications of every decision we make. I have now got a stable job with union protection at the university. My children can attend college for a fraction of the normal tuition when they’re ready. I have decent health care which gives Alex far better options than if he’s solely on the Oregon Health Plan. I have generous vacation and sick time, which only gets better the longer I stay, allowing me to spend more time with my family. I have a decent pension plan so I don’t have to add “how will I retire?” to my list of stressful concerns.
Stress in general is also an important factor. My wife and I still grieve over the “loss” of Alex. We still have a lot of stress trying to be sure he’s getting the care he needs, and seeing his bad days. But it is nothing like it was during our crisis period. We were nearly incapable of doing anything that wasn’t directly related to Alex’s care. Sleep was uncertain, and probably 3 times a month, he would force an all-nighter out of me, even when he was having good days.
It’s not that we don’t think cannabis will help, it’s that we don’t believe it will help enough. Alex isn’t an autistic child with appetite problems. He isn’t a child with severe seizures but who is otherwise okay. His rage is the main problem, and very few professionals we’ve dealt with have ever seen a child so severe. Cannabis could help him immensely, but we aren’t convinced that it would stop the rage episodes, and our actual experiences using cannabis to treat him make it tough to believe otherwise.
When dosing is just perfect, he will be insanely calm and happy… for a few hours. In the videos of his happy days, we had amazing results, but they didn’t last all day. The mornings were horrific, until the medicine kicked in. After the medicine wore off, he would start in again with rage. If we dosed him again, results were unpredictable. He might calm down and sleep, but sometimes the rage would still break through. When he did calm enough to sleep, it was sometimes too early, so he would wake up at 3am. On waking up, he was in a rage episode again, and if we dosed just perfectly, we still had about an hour of intense rage before he would calm down again.
When asked why we don’t just bring Alex home, I try not to react defensively, but it’s hard. We question our decision all the time. When things are bad, we end up questioning our value, our love for our child, wondering why we can’t be better people, wondering what made us so weak that our love for Alex can’t overcome the challenges of caring for him, wondering how we could be so selfish as to let Alex pay for our shortcomings. There have been times even in the past week that we’ve had to look at the list of “whys” to remind ourselves that we didn’t make a terrible mistake.
Intellectually we know we have made the right decision, but emotionally… it’s a constant battle. When the question comes up, it’s a tough one to answer without wanting to lash out and say, “you try it sometime, and let us know how it goes.”