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When someone you love suffers from mental illness and they won't get help, it can be frustrating and terrifying. I know I can’t “catch” her mental illness, although for a long time I lived with the paranoia that I could be like her and not realize it. I’ve likely lived with my mom’s mental illness for my whole life and not consciously realized it until the past decade or so. But within the past five years or so, it’s been impossible not to acknowledge that something was very wrong. And even if her odd behavior could be overlooked, the numerous hospital visits over the past few years could not; some were caused by the medications (an overdose, not to mention multiple injuries suffered while she was under the influence) whereas others were related to the mental illness itself when we didn’t know what to do aside from hospitalize her. As it turns out, it’s hard to make someone do something they don’t want to do- in this case get the kind of help and treatment that my mom needed.
But this latest incident that put her out of commission for nearly a month gave us an opening to actually do something. The only problem was that despite the severity of the situation, she still didn’t want our help or involvement. I’ve told my story to so many people during the past weeks, always with the thought that maybe someone will have a nugget that I’ll find helpful.
Is you or someone you love is struggling and you need help knowing what to do or where to get help?
Her extreme moodiness, proclivity to isolate herself, and her downright nastiness were probably all early indicators of an issue, but to me that’s just how she was. In fact, the diagnoses were so plentiful—depression, bipolar, anxiety, sleep issues—that each merited its very own medication, with doctors always seemingly willing to address the newest diagnosis with a pill (or several).

Her most recent “accident” landed her in ICU for two weeks, followed by a few more weeks of psychiatric inpatient treatment. And in her mind she was doing everything she was supposed to: she was under the care of a therapist and a psychiatrist in addition to her family physician. And I have- I have gotten amazing support from so many people, some of whom I barely knew before all of this. I could move into my parents’ house, for instance, and be in charge of dispensing my mom’s medication. One of the things I’m most proud of in my life is the great relationship I have with my own kids. I’m not overly hopeful that we won’t be repeating the cycle we’ve become familiar with at some point in the future, but I’m trying not to let myself go there too much. Her story is full of heartache, hope and the kind of insight and exhausted acceptance that can only be earned through experience.
But there has been less tangible collateral damage, as well: she doesn’t remember her daughter’s wedding, has lost friends and has alienated herself from her grandchildren. I’ve met with a therapist a few times in the hopes that she can help guide me toward a new relationship with my mom. There is no shortage of potential topics to write about for Mental Health Awareness month, yet I think the subject of loving someone with mental illness ranks right up there with one of the most important.
But ironically, rather than close in and take over her care, us kids pulled away, even knowing that she was spinning closer to another crisis. Get information, get organized, make phone calls, band together and be ready for life to be different upon her release!

I worried about what she wasn’t doing and the fact that she doesn’t want to “bother” her kids with her problems.
I could go to court and get medical power of attorney, but I’d almost certainly ruin my relationship with my mom for good.
She could be funny, made a good healthy dinner for her family every night and at times was involved with her kids’ lives. And our way of doing that was to pull away, maintaining only a very superficial relationship. And I don’t want it to throw me off balance to the point where it negatively impacts my relationship with my kids. Because underneath it all, she is still my mom and I still love her and hope for better someday. How tiring to be evaluating how she seemed with every conversation and gathering, the embarrassment of inappropriate comments and behavior and the anxiety of waiting for the next crisis. If that sounds like I’m rationalizing why I’m not really “doing” anything for my mom right now, you’re thinking like I am.

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