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“Where Did Our Sweet Boy Learn to Hate Himself?”

My son was a preschool student — not yet five years old — the first time I glimpsed the pain he kept hidden. He thought he was defective. Or broken. He didn’t have the words and we didn’t yet have an ADHD diagnosis, but I could see the strain in his face and in his heart — and I knew we needed to get him help.

“Mommy, I hate myself.”

Our ADHD story doesn’t technically start with these words, but in my heart it does.

You know those moments where all the noise around you stops, but also grows louder at the same time? Where you think your heart has halted, but you also don’t know if you can possibly contain the pounding in your chest? Where your body does both fight and flight in unison, and you can’t find yourself in your body’s response? That was this moment for me.

My son was four. He was about 40 inches tall and weighed less than 35 pounds, but his words that day were bigger and heavier than any weight I ever knew I could carry in my momma heart.

“Mommy, I hate myself.”

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Typing it again now makes me freeze under the weight of the memory. We were spending our day at an amusement park, a place where most kids would have been smiling, whining, and/or begging for ice cream. But my preschooler had already established a deep-rooted self-hate, and he wanted me to know in that very moment. Instead of whining about treats and planning his next ride, he somberly stated, “Mommy, I hate myself.”

It would twist through my ears and actually tear up my heart. It would bruise my soul, but in that moment, I knew his was already bruised much deeper.  My sweet boy was miserable, and I was completely lost in what to do. We stood there in line for a roller coaster together, just me and my boy, and I held him and hugged and told him how incredible he is. I tried to convince him with my words, but I knew it would never be enough to undo whatever damage had been done. The weight he carried was too heavy for his little frame.

That night, when our son was sleeping soundly in his bed, I debriefed my husband. We discussed many ideas to help him. We were both so lost that it felt like our first day of parenting. Should we switch his preschool? Should we put him in therapy? Should we take him out of preschool altogether? Do we ask his pediatrician for suggestions? Did he even know the gravity of his own words? I went back into the room where I had put my little guy to sleep just hours before and crawled into bed with him. He was tiny to me, but his hurt was already so big. It was almost too big for me to carry, but I needed to hold it for him, so I started by just putting my arms around him.

This was the beginning of our journey of discovering our son truly is supremely incredible… and neurologically atypical. He would eventually be diagnosed with ADHD. That diagnosis brought him so much freedom to accept what made him unique, and it gave us a plan to parent our perfect boy.

If given the chance to erase that moment from our family history, would I do it? Maybe not. Maybe we needed that awakening to see the gravity of ADHD in our son’s life. Maybe we needed to hurt right alongside him. And then stand up as a family and move forward with unified purpose and resolve.

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