When Emma was three and a half she witnessed her father (my husband) collapse on the kitchen floor and die. Needless to say, that was an extremely traumatic experience for all of us. It happened suddenly, and none of us were prepared for it. My children least of all ...
After it happened my daughters and I attended many hospice and bereavement groups. We went to four different eight-week sessions and she was very good and very expressive during those sessions, but I could tell there was a change in her.
Emma was always a tough kid–extremely intelligent and very precocious. But I could see that my husband's passing touched her deeply and changed something in her. Just how much she changed remained to be seen.
"Over the next couple years, Emma started acting out in violent fits of rage."
Listen to Emma's mother describe how they attributed all of Emma's behaviors to the death of her father.
She kicked and punched my other daughter, constantly. Understand that this wasn't just two sisters fighting. Emma would kick her sister in the stomach as hard as she could and have no remorse about it whatsoever.
When I punished her for it and consigned her to her room she would completely freak out and refuse to go. I had to physically carry her to her room while she was digging her nails into me.
To put it simply, every day was a constant struggle, and I had no idea what she was going to do next. I had to keep my ears and eyes peeled at all times to make sure she didn't go off on her sister. I couldn't even sit down and listen to the radio or watch TV, because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to hear what was going on in the house and something terrible would happen.
At school Emma was able to keep it together a little bit better. Part of that was because she was smart enough to cover her bases when she did something she knew was wrong. There were a couple of instances where she hit kids at school, but when she did, she would go to the teacher and say things like "That boy thinks I punched him, but I don't think I did," before the boy told on her. This was when she was in kindergarten!
Though she protected herself from getting caught by her teachers, it goes without saying that these behaviors made it very difficult for her to socialize or make friends at school. As a result she was eventually placed in an inclusion class, but even there she had a hard time with the other kids.
Ironically, many of the teachers thought she was relatively well behaved. She covered her bases so well they just had no idea what Emma was actually doing. So when I related stories about what happened at home, they would look at me like I was crazy. They really thought I was nuts.
I attributed a lot of these behaviors to my husband's passing and continued to try and find someone who could help her cope with those issues. One of the bereavement counselors we saw had a private practice, so I started taking her there. She did play therapy with Emma for about a year, but that didn't really have much impact. Eventually the social worker told me she thought I should take Emma to see someone else–that she had done all she could with her.
At that stage I sought the help of a child psychologist. I found an older man, a grandfatherly figure who had a good reputation in our area. He played dinosaurs with her and all kinds of things like that, which was wonderful, but I wanted him to try and address Emma's violent behaviors–to talk with her about the way she kicked and punched people.
Every time I raised these concerns with him, he told me that this kind of therapy took a long time and that I should be patient. I understood what he was saying, but it was really frustrating for me because we were having a hard time operating as a family on a daily basis. I was looking for answers we could use now.
"When I discussed what was going on with the psychologist at Emma's school, she said Emma had ADHD and needed medication."
Though I knew Emma had problems that we needed to take care of as soon as possible, I really didn't want to put my daughter on medication. I've always been against that sort of thing, and I've talked with other parents whose kids are on medication, and none of them seem particularly satisfied with the results. So I didn't want to go that route. I wanted to find a more natural way to help Emma.
It was about that time that my aunt told us about Dr. Mark Hyman's work. Once I learned a little bit about his program, I decided it was definitely worth a shot.
What I learned was a breakthrough.
Psychological disorders, mental illness, and neurological problems find their root in the body. By healing imbalanced systems in the body, you heal the mind. While it seemed like a fairly radical departure from other things we tried, it made a lot of sense.
I followed Dr. Hyman's recommendations, eliminated gluten and dairy from Emma's diet, and took her off all processed foods. It was difficult to do, because gluten and dairy are everywhere and some of Emma's favorite foods were filled with the stuff.
You can't exactly explain biochemistry to a five-year-old, so for Emma it just seemed like I was depriving her of all the things she loved to eat the most. She would open her lunch box at school and cry, because she didn't want to eat what was in there.
I felt so bad that I made little concessions and negotiated with her throughout the process. For example, Emma loves pasta. So I would make deals with her that if she ate the foods in her lunch box at school, I would buy special gluten-free pasta for her. Now this pasta costs $8 a pound and you have to special-order it from Italy, so you can see how serious I was about following this program!
I also put Emma on a full regimen of supplements like Dr. Hyman recommends. At her age that wasn't exactly easy either, because it was really hard for her to swallow pills or capsules. I experimented with all kinds of ways to make it easier for her to take her supplements and finally figured out that if I ground them up into a shake (a dairy-free shake, mind you) she would take them.
This may seem like a lot of trouble when "simpler" solutions like medication are available, but let me tell you the results were nothing short of miraculous.
"As soon as I took Emma off gluten, she was a completely different child."
Hear what happened when Emma went on Gluten and Dairy.
I would never have believed this could happen if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Just getting her off gluten changed her from a little girl who was violent and filled with rage to one who was totally calm and peaceful. She stopped hitting her sister. She was much more responsive to me. It was unbelievable.
Her socialization skills at school improved tremendously as well. The next year she was in a class with the same teachers she had the year before, and they couldn't stop telling me how different she was. She was helpful in class, extremely popular, and was doing really well on her assignments.
Today I find that as long as Emma stays on her supplements and we monitor her diet, her behavior is stable. If we slip, I can always tell the difference. When Emma eats anything with artificial colors or I let her eat too many junk foods she goes right back to the way she was before–she bouncing off the walls, acting out in rage, and all the rest.
Emma's changed so much it's hard to describe, and a lot of that change is a direct result of Dr. Hyman's program. As long as I monitor her foods and keep her on her supplements, Emma is a sweet, loving little girl. The difference is truly day and night.
I know a lot of people are skeptical that this kind of program can work. It's easier to believe that medications will work (even though they often don't). I was skeptical too. I would never have believed that making a few dietary changes and giving Emma some supplements would be the solution to our problems. But let me tell you, it was. Dr. Hyman gave me my daughter back, and I am grateful for it.