Caleb is a sweet 16 year old boy who plays lacrosse and the drums in the Palmetto Ridge High School marching band. He has a great sense of humor and is extremely bright, polite and articulate. This is a good day – a good hour – because he is using all the tools his therapist taught him. On his bad days, he is suicidal, mad, aggressive, unable to sleep and engages in self-harm. These good days are what keep him and his family afloat in an ocean of daily ups and downs and mood swings.
Caleb’s mother Mellisa describes him as a happy, rambunctious, energetic child who struggled to make friends. She adds, “In third grade we knew something wasn’t right. He would have huge, explosive blow-ups at school and have no remorse.” At just 10 years old, he told Mellisa, whose brother committed suicide, that he wanted to die and she quickly sprang into action.
He began seeing a psychiatrist in Tampa who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. The outlook was gloomy and he shared that Caleb had “sociopathic, criminal potential” if untreated.
Medications helped in the beginning, but then they moved to Naples and once puberty hit, everything started to unravel. The social pressures and ridicule from other children in middle school exacerbated his condition. He felt like a “loser” and had so much anger and pain that thoughts of suicide entered his mind every day and self-harm was his only outlet.
Caleb shared, “I was just trying to get through every day.” Mellisa was beside herself over fears that she would lose him. She adds, “I felt so alone. Most days were so dark that it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Luckily for both of them, they got involved in the NCEF funded Health Under Guided Systems (HUGS) program through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The program helps families navigate and access the mental health resources available in the community. NAMI immediately referred them to the David Lawrence Centers . Over the next five years, Mellisa and his treatment team remained vigilant in determining the best methods, tools and support needed to ensure Caleb has many more good days then bad ones.
To date, Caleb has been Baker Acted to the Crisis Stabilization Unit 14 times. When things were at their worst, he was admitted every other week. During his outbursts he has destroyed the house, been arrested for battery and gotten in trouble at school.
While not an easy journey, and through his family’s complete devotion and determination and with Caleb’s own willpower and bravery, he has been making great strides since his psychiatrist recently also diagnosed him with high functioning Asperger’s. This opened up an entirely new perspective on his treatment modality.
Through carefully coordinated and collaborated adjustments, things began to improve. His psychiatrist changed his medicine to help him sleep better which vastly diminished his agitation throughout the day. His case manager helped get him an individualized education program (IEP) in the schools. He was assigned a specially trained therapist who works with the family in the home twice a week and has been instrumental in helping communicate back to the psychiatrist about Caleb’s behaviors. Together they work on his social skills and communication through role playing. They also keep a log of his behaviors so they can learn what triggers his anger and how to prevent it from escalating. He joined the LX4Autism lacrosse team to help with socialization. When things get tough, they work with law enforcement to calm him down and avoid a Crisis Unit admission. The results have been nothing short of amazing.
Caleb recently opened up about his latest diagnosis in a YouTube video entitled “Everyone Matters” so that he could raise awareness about Autism. His underlying message was to help people understand what it feels like to have a disability that no one can see and encourage them to be a friend to someone with a disability.
Caleb also used the video as a platform to raise money for a once in a lifetime trip to New York City to play the drums with his marching band in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The community, his band mates and the school overwhelmed them with their generosity and Caleb, armed with a plethora of tools to help make the trip as smooth as possible, set off for the big apple.
He used earphones to dull the overwhelming sensory overload of the bustling city, held tightly to his drum sticks to help with his tactile sensitivity, and played his heart out with a grin from ear to ear as Mellisa looked on proudly. When things became overwhelming a few times, they found a quiet a place and were prepared with medication.
Mellisa is forever grateful for all the people who have come into their lives and can see the good in Caleb. She adds, “All the resources came at all the right times.” For the first time in his life, Caleb feels understood. Lacrosse and the band have given him purpose, a sense of accomplishment and an instant group of friends. As a result, he finally feels like he belongs to a community of people who care about his wellbeing.
Anxious to fulfill his personal potential, Caleb aspires to be a mechanical engineer and, just like any other teen, looks forward to taking driver’s ed.