A bit of wisdom from the web comic Cyanide and Happiness.
I probably come over as an awful person but believe it or not, my frustrations over caregiving for mentally ill family is — I hope– very compartmentalized. That being said, my rants here are rooted in frustration. However frustrated I or you become, it is my belief that we’re ethically obligated to be civil to our mentally ill relatives or simply walk out.
Two years ago I struck up a friendship with an American who came to Canada working for a continental environmental group. I explained early on that Global Warming can be difficult to sell to Canadians as a problem.
Our first cold snap of 2014 shows why.
Several things happen during the post New Year’s deep freezes. Everything requires more energy, cars don’t start and require boosts from tow trucks that are so busy their drivers stop answering the telephone, pipes burst, you’re never quite warm enough — even in the shower, skin dries out, et cetera.
The worst of it is over by St Valentine’s day but yeah, we’re in the thick of it at the moment. But we’re supposed to be the mentally fit ones. We’re supposed to be the ones who are capable of self reliance. We’re supposed to be functional.
Therefore there was no excuse what so ever for this copper who lashed out at this mentally ill homeless man as happened here last night. I am sympathetic to his frustrations but we must be better than that.
I am faced with the most damnable inconvenience. My mother fell in her old folk’s home last week. She’s okay but it’s probably a combination of sleep apnea and a slowing metabolic rate that means her medication should be adjusted. However, for reasons known only to ambulance dispatch, she was driven to a hospital way off on the arse end of Creation. It’s an hour and a quarter drive in each direction thanks to this week-long storm.
The thing is, my aunt and her sister is apparently coming to town and Wodehouse jokes aside, since my dad died that’s it, the manufactured landscape can be avoided. When ever I was distant from home on Christmas, or nothing much was doing, bacon and eggs was a find Nativity dinner for me. Or, I’d do a ‘Jubilation’ dinner and be at a Chinese dinner with the Jewish families.*
The Pavlovian distaste I have for Christmas is probably deeply set. Of course, each culture has its gift-giving season and I’m sure that people all around the world have similar reasons for being less than thrilled with their celebrations.
It’s not that I was deprived. On the contrary, I had a great suburban childhood and a closet full of toys but looking back, I seem to recall that my dear mother was hospitalized in ’83 which means she’d been going off the rails for at least ten years before that but like the boiling frog, I took it for normal.
Christmas is a button that can be pushed on her.
That’s fair because each of us has one or two psychological points of heavier than normal gravity. But in her case, this translates into ‘The World Owes Me a Blank Cheque At Christmas.’ Basically, she mewls and protests endlessly a Christmas that [INSERT PERSON] has ruined Christmas by [INSERT OFFENSE]. Coupled with her tendency to spend all day bellowing orders at people like Cleopatra herself, well, I happily stayed in the kitchen and pretended to be a butler during all of the Christmas gatherings.
Well, since her husband (and my dad) died in 2010, I’ve stopped pretending. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Dad loved the groaning board full of food but I’m not much for the feast and since my mother is in a retirement home where meals are prepared, I wash my hands of it.
Now to my dilemma.
With my aunt coming into town, bloody drives out to a suburban hospital to spend time with someone whose idea of a greeting is a howl of indignation and threat to take you out of the will, will probably be on order for days on end. And my aunt will probably want to have dinner.
Perhaps I could tell her my vehicle was stolen. And that I’ve gone to work on the boats or rigs.
Just let me be the grouch that I am. And you should too. Look if all you have in common with your family is a bloody last name, for Chrissakes don’t go to the Christmas feast if you don’t want to. You are under no obligations here except the ones you choose. Really.
I wish you a very merry Bah Humbug.
* One Christmas I was at a Chinese restaurant and reading the New York Review of Books. I recall because a Jewish politician was on the cover, probably Perez just before his body finally had enough of him and decided upon a stroke. Some jews who seemed to have New York accents were being hosted by some people who were local.
We struck up a conversation and their questions seemed to take an uncomfortably acute interest in my biography. I realized that my bearded chin, the newspaper cover and the date conspired to give an impression. I somehow worked in into the conversation that I was not Jewish. At which point I was berated by a few of them for not being at home with my family!
My mother’s annual winter falls come twice per winter. These seem to coincide with cold-snaps.My suspicion is that she’s tripping over a bathrobe, long flannel trousers and slippers despite the walker.
Well, it’s eighteen below right now and windy. Time to go to the hospital to check on her.
A long while ago, things got hot for Henry Frobisher and so he decided to give piracy a rest and become an explorer. Well, he ended up freezing his arse off in Northern Canada and promised his crew that if they got out of this mess, they’d have a big feast of thanksgiving.
And, with respect to our American cousins who’ve a pathological need to be first in everything*, every year since them, in an unbroken line, there have been thanksgiving autumnal dinners in the new world.
I generally hated the holidays and even now their appearance on the calendar generates a pavlovian response to flee. As we were let out from school, there was always a sense of dread. My bipolar parent would generally make life intolerable to everyone because being a pest at the holidays was a wonderful way of drawing attention to herself.
Well, here’s a real lesson in thanksgiving from photographer Jessica Hilltout. Take a good look at these snaps the next time you are lamenting that you don’t have a bigger house, or the latest gizmo.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few weeks ago I noticed a woman who was clearly having trouble walking a dog. I offered to help. Basically, the demented Dalmatian was walking her.
She was talking care of a neighbour’s fido and, well, wasn’t used to being around canines.
‘He’s not doing it to be bad, he’s an animal. He doesn’t know any better so he’ll just naturally push any limit’ I explained and gave her some tips on how to be the pooch’s alpha.
The same can be said of our bipolar relations. i was thinking about this when reading about advocates for the rights of caregivers. I’m slightly ambivalent about this sort of thing outside of a professional context. Unlike an employment contract, we’re binding ourselves to our mentally ill parents out of a sense of duty. Having set this expectation for ourselves, we are obligated to be civil.
No matter what repetitive stupidities come out of your bi-polar parent’s mouth, keep quiet. Having set yourself up as care giver, and you’re supposed to know better. Just don’t say anything. While I have been sorrily tempted to make a rude gesture behind my bi-polar parent’s back, or when reaching into a string bag, I have never done so. I have told her to fuck off and occasionally laughed in her face, but those were immediate reactions and hopefully few and far between.
You don’t owe your bi-polar parent anything, but having put yourself in the situation, I think you’re obligated to be civil, at least when within ear shot. After all, we’re supposed to know better.
A week ago, before my bi-polar parent’s pneumonia, I posted an entry exhorting the caregivers to go out an enjoy life. The missive was occasioned by a look at the park in front of my flat. Here’s that view.
For now, enjoy the now. Yes, your bi-polar parent can be damnation but you can enjoy life or be ruled by one fact of your life. You call.
Last year I was training through the pain until finally I couldn’t ignore my knee.
My left leg had no strength, and no matter how hard I trained, or rested, or iced, my pain-free distances got shorter and shorter. My left knee was a hinge with no power to it. Finally, I paid for an MRI and a visit to the doctor who was convinced I’d a torn meniscus.
‘Your knee is fine. No pathologies,’ the doctor said.
‘Well, that narrows it down,’ says I. ‘Send me to psych!’
‘Not so fast,’ my quack fired back, and ordered me to go see a physio therapist. I presented to the next doctor in my trainers and running kit. I explained the injury, lied about my mileage, and then underwent the physical exam. I was asked to stand, lean and pose like a model. Then I went on the bed and was put in yoga poses while being told to resist or push. When on my right side, with my left leg behind me, I was asked to raise my leg and resist as the doctor pushed my left ankle downwards with two fingers.
My leg collapsed.
The physician offered a witticism and we tried it again with the same result. I could resist very comfortably with my other leg probably because it is my dominant side.
I shall let you look up Iliotibial Band Syndrome on your own, but basically, my stride is not perfect. My instincts are to use momentum rather than muscle to swing my legs forward. This resulted in a atrophied gluteus medius, or lower arse muscle. The result was that the fibrous band keeping the leg apparatus in good order got too tight. It pulled my kneecap from its grove as my leg muscles got bigger. The treatment is trivial: I do leg lifts of various sorts to build up and recruit the unused gluteus muscles. This evens my stride and I am now pain free.
The lesson here is that working harder and longer can cause atrophy in some areas despite overall strength. I am proud of my knowledge gained through various caregiving experiences. I like to think that despite my impatience, it’s an ethical thing to do and hopefully it makes me a good person. Besides, the are worse things to be than useful.
But, doing the same things harder all the time may cause other parts of my life to atrophy and that must be guarded against.
Last week my bi-polar mother was taken to the hospital after taking ill with pneumonia. She was out of it for the first day, and spent the night in the critical ward. The next day she started to be well enough to eat but was so weak that the food was at greater risk of ending on her Johnny Gown, so I picked the bowl and fed her the pea soup.
I felt an internal fog horn go off, the grim klaxon of duty. ‘Let’s just get this over with’ I thought, and began feeding her. At the second spoonful she remarked ‘You should try to do more for me.’
A few years ago, when my Dad was on his last legs, I groomed him and fed him all the while cheerleading him into the grave as the pancreatic blastoma ate his guts. I had a 359-degree blind spot about what was happening. However, this time, with my bi-polar mother sapped by the lung infection, understandably, not her fault but the thought that went through my head was that she’s already used up more compassion than four people get in a lifetime. That aside, at the moment she flat out couldn’t eat and despite the years of acting like a manure spreader at garden party, that couldn’t be held against her at that moment. It would have been unethical.
The focus of these rants is to help me think aloud and I have been reading a lot about caregivers rights when tending to the mentally ill, but we cannot have any cogent discussion about rights without obligations. She needed to eat, and not assisting would have been cruel. Despite my occasional tendency to laugh in her face and tell her to ‘Fuck off’ you can’t sit on the fence out of exhaustion. If you’re exhausted, get help but the withholding of critical care — food in this instance — even though I’d be dancing if the Old Man’s Friend had come with a tighter embrace — would be unethical.
It was overwith in a few minutes. Sure an orderly would have done it eventually she needed the nutrition. And given her tendency to only want to eat sugary fruits, a bit of pea soup wouldn’t have killed her.
Of course, her remark that I should try to do more for her was childish. But, it was a reaction of helplessness. I remember once when my grandmother fell and in the immediate agony of the fall, manufactured a reason to blame the only other person in the house for the event. People do strange things when they’re prone with pane. Don’t hold it against them.
Time is unkind to us all. Who is to say what names will survive into remote posterity? There are plenty of Booker Prize winners that are not read and plenty of rubbish literature that does.
I hope that the works of the short story writer Ray Bradbury survives and are enjoyed by many more generations. He died June 5 and if you’ve never spent time with his work, I suggest you do so. He’s well known for his few longer works like Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles. Of course, both of these are threatened by the march of history. I remember spending two DAYS downloading the works of Blake for a friend’s birthday present over a 1,200 baud GVC modem. Now, it’s on one’s phone in nearly an instant.
Perhaps book burning will seem as out of date a problem as not enough horses. Maybe Fahrenheit 451 will survive as allegory.
The Martian Chronicles is being surpassed by events. NASA now has heroic little waldoes chugging over the terrain there, beaming colour photos to us. Every spring, the newspapers cheer as the wee robots chug to life well beyond their operational life expectancies. It’s a grand time to be alive and seeing this new information come in. In my boyhood, black and white film canisters needed to be transported to Barsoom and back! Mars was still relatively unknown then and so the story of Martian colonization could still be told.
I met with my mother today and, yes, the world is shit to her. She wants to good relations with everyone but reserve the rights to complain about everything,wallow in self pity and treat people as extensions of her ego.
I guess she never read Bradbury.
The Martian Chronicles isn’t a novel as such. It’s a collection of stories written over two decades. Some of the stories take place on Mars, some on Earth.
Here’s a video clip from a television adaptation of The Martian Chronicles. (It was scripted by the generally good Richard Matheson but Bradbury found the adaptation pedestrian and I tend to agree.) In it, an honest to goodness Martian who — well, I shan’t give it away — observes that the secret to life is take joy simply in the fact of being. I’m 44. My mother’s mother, while senile, is alive at 96. That means my 71-year-old bi-polar mother could also be alive when I’m hitting retirement age. I refuse to have the next thirty years of life dominated by the fact of someone else’s mental illness. Neither should you.
There’s a park next to my flat. Two weeks ago I was walking over the median in the road. The canopy of the trees was green and the sky was orange and shot through with gold. There will be perhaps a half dozen more days like that this summer. So, I have maybe fifty of those before someone puts me in a box.
Go enjoy life.
A week after my birthday two of my neighbours invited me to a restaurant school. The meals we, I was told, inexpensive because it was prepared by culinary students, but very good. I came home from work and drove them to the school, out on the arse end of Creation.
Lo and behold, about 20 of my friends were there yelling ‘Surprise!’
In conversation over the evening and between courses (oh, may I recommend the cornish hen), I observed that basically my life is excellent. I have a university education, I work in a highly-skilled sector, live in a G7 democracy, am fit, and to top it off, am white and male. Basically, I’ve won the lottery of life. If anyone hears me complain, anyone within earshot should fee free to slap me. No, really. My life is overall, very good.
At this moment someone is deciding, somewhere, to spend the family money on food or mosquito netting. I have never been on the spot that way.
That my life is blighted by the manure spreader that is a mentally ill parent, needs to be kept in perspective.
My life is, yep, pretty good. Here’s a picture of a bunny.
My birthday was Thursday.
Earlier this year, my bi-polar mother withdrew the power of attorney from me two weeks after I took two days off work to help her with it, and her will. Why? Because she was furious with me for daring to be incredulous when she said she was going to cancel her will and let it sit for several years until she was ready to do it. Of course, I found out that I had no power of attorney when I was doing her real estate transaction for her, with her consent and the buyer was there with the cheque. I didn’t get arrested for real estate fraud but as you can imagine, a two page defamatory letter coming from the fax machine claiming that I was a violent, and financially coercive criminal did very little for my mood.
You see, she’s accomplished nothing with her life so any power she has — be it a bank or tax form signature — she uses to deny.
She’s been driven to the bank to sign a paper for her mother and then begun throwing tantrums in other to make us play fetch for some unrelated matter ‘just because.’ According to the people at SHAEF, a submarine is essentially a weapon of denial. It denies you access to the ocean and fast transit. I think of her that way: the power to deny is her only power so she uses it wildly and inappropriately. My mother is a fantasist. If you relate a story, she will then begin telling the story as though a) she already knows about it and b) was there. I’m serious. Overhearing a story about my workplace manages to get told as though she was there and somehow involved. Pressing her on the point invokes her one of her limited arsenal of typical behaviours.
After her house was sold and her money was deposited in her account, I told her she was on her last bit of credit with me. I’m the last family member who has anything to do with her and she cannot expect that after four decades years, my patience is inexhaustible. Well, a few weeks ago she did something else and I nearly blew my stack. The best thing to do is separate and so I told her I’d see her after Labour Day but that’s difficult since she actually needs things like pin money and toiletries.
I told her I wanted no birthday present from her, not even a card so don’t waste the postage. She sent one anyway and I returned it to her when picking up this month’s bills. Needless to say, she had a meltdown because she wants to be good, blah, blah, blah. So I opened the envelope and fussed over the card, pretending to like it but refused the gift. I don’t know why it matters, but I really feel as though accepting that cheque — not a huge amount by any real standards — seems so symbolic at this of all stages.
I shall fulfill my duties. She’ll be well-cared for, her finances well managed for her exclusive interest, et cetera but that’s all.
Her cheque is in front of me I write. And now I’ve torn it.
Typically useless advice in ‘advice’ articles for compassion fatigue includes: ‘Some beneficial coping mechanisms include telling a friend how you are feeling; exercising; taking up a hobby; going for long drives; joining a support group; volunteering with a mental health organization. And, always remember to leave room for communication.’
This was taken from the coping with caregiver burn out section of a mental illness for family members.This is typical of the one-size-fits all advice you’ll get. There is nothing specific here that is of any practical use to the burned out caregiver. (Go for a long drive? Um, okay, with the practical effect of…? Moan again to my friends who are already sick of hearing about it?) Actually, I take that back. Those last two deserve special mention. Volunteering to work with a mental health group is a howler. The empty-headedness of that last one beggers the imagination. Why anyone who is already frustrated with one mental illness suffer would seek an even higher dose of the same is obscure at best. It might work for masochists, mind.
I also disagree with the last sentence about leaving room for communication. Communication with the mentally ill is effectively a one way enterprise. Do as you will but my strong recommendation is to elimnate any unneeded communication, and keep interactions task focused.
The audience for this blog is not the new family caregiver to the mentally ill, but the ones who’ve been at it for decades. Again, the reason why the advice one finds on caregiver web sites is generic is there’s basically nothing to do but grit your teeth and wait it out. Grow a thick hide and go for the ladders while avoiding the snakes.
A friend was born diabetic. Why?
No reason. She just is.
Why were you and I saddled with a bipolar relation?
Just wait it out.
My dog is more human than you.
ding! ding! ding!
Thanks for posting this complete piece of crap blog entry. Your shit efforts to spread misinformation demonizing ill people will undoubtedly be rewarded. Perhaps the most severe bipolar cases present similar problems, but their presentation in a geriatric setting makes it almost impossible to ascribe exclusively to bipolar disorder. Read up about bipolar disorder. You will discover at millions of people live and function well with the illness as long as they receive proper medical treatment and their families are loving and affectionate and their husbands, wives and children are made better by having a bipolar person in their lives. You will also discover that, even when it is not treated properly, many people do not have the type of bolar disorder that causes them to act batshiat crazy. But bipolar disorder has become a popular derogatory label to slap on anyone with mental problems, and once that label is applied it is a signal to too many that the person so tagged is free target for derision and mockery.
You don’t know anything about bipolar disorder. You are a discriminator who lumps all problem under the label bipolar without any proper knowledge of what it means or any experience of any kind. But just label the host of geriatric difficulties “bipolar” and you’re free to proclaim that it’s perfectly fine to throw the sufferer away as a nuisance who doesn’t need to be tolerated. How do YOU know your parent is bipolar? Prove it. Yet, if that same elderly person was described as having dementia, the author would be tarred and feathered for advancing this hateful bullshiat.
The asshole shite fucker who wrote this don’t have a clue about bipolar disorder. More importantly, the article encourages people to write off elderly people who are suffering from geriatric mental illnesses that manifest themselves in a ton of ways that may resemble UNMEDICATED bipolar disorder but are actually caused by other problems, like dementia. But just LABEL the host of geriatric difficulties “bipolar” and you’re free to proclaim that it’s perfectly fine to throw the sufferer away as a nuisance who doesn’t need to be tolerated. Yet, if that same elderly person was described as having dementia, the author would be tarred and feathered for advancing this hateful bullshit. Fact: you don’t respect bipolar like a lot of people who are uncaring and, let’s call a spade a spade, and selfish and horrible. This articles sucks, you should be ashamed.. it leaves the taste of blood in my mouth and not a lot of things get me and being mean to people who have legit mental issues is one of them. go sit in a corner. This fucker blog is completely irresponsible both in what he writes about bipolar disorder and what he writes about someone with geriatric illness. You have to understand the reality of bipolar and you clearly don’t have even the slightest experience with anyone who has bipolar. You are shit. You are shit. You probably just heard the word on the radio and use it without bothering to find out its medical, emotional, psychological and spiritual definitions Bipolar disorder covers a HUGE spectrum of behavior and, if treated properly, can be well-managed. But it is a popular buzz word disorder that people generally don’t understand very well. You don’t even consider what happens on the romantic side–I have had relationships end because of my symptoms. I understand.
So many people think someone with bipolar disorder is batshait crazy. So many people think someone who is crazy must be bipolar. The misinformation and disinformation about the illness is massive. Mistaken bipolar diagnoses are very common. Even if they are, so what? Bipolar people are creative and that’s a scientific fact PROVEN. What makes you an expert about bipolar disorder when you clearly and provenly have zero knowledge about it or experience of anyone who has it. Anyone can see that. What the blog author wrote is disgusting. A geriatric suffering from mental illness is usually very vulnerable and in need of protection and care and as a family member you are OBLIGATED to provide it, no matter what, ALWAYS. The issues complained of in the blog–constant phone calls, inability to manage affairs, inability to follow doctor’s orders–are not hallmarks of all or even most bipolar disorders. Nor are they are common attributes of dementia or anything. Your mom calls you. So what. Evne if it’s 1000 times a day you should answer always. You make things up. Stephen Fry is bipolar do you hate Stephen Fry? Would you say that to his face?
I find the articles spot-on, at least as far as my wife’s grandmother is concerned. I don’t know if she’s bi-polar or just crazy, but all the symptoms and behavior in the article are exactly what my wife and her parents deal with as a result of her grandmother’s behaviour. So maybe take out the “bi-polar” and just say “old and crazy”.
I am bipolar and my family loves me very much and they have been enriched by my experiences. I showed my husband your blog and he laughed. Maybe you should just collect articles and links and keep your advice to yourself. ManicDepression is a challenge but it provides me a gift of unique insight. It is simply a health issue and really there is noone who is manic depressive who wants to do harm so there’s no harm done. All that is needed is love and compassion. I want to be at peace with my family.
If you are ever in Adelaide, I will buy you a beer. Thanks for writing this. Maybe a links section would be good.
You are a horrible fuckshitman.
I am a social worker for youth protection services and read your recent blog text. [LINK] As you may imagine, my feelings were mixed. Social workers are under a lot of pressure from our teams, administration, officials, professional standards, our clients and the public. As a sole caregiver, you have my sympathies and I am certain that your experiences with social agencies are true from your perspective. Reading your entries, I see you’ve been struggling with caregiving for some time. You are clearly angry and trying to remain productive and useful to your family and parents, whom I have no doubt you love very much. This has made you stronger as a person, despite the travails and tears.Please review my comments on your various texts in the attached PDF.
A tool for your caregiving toolbox should be spirituality. You may be surprised at how helpful faith is in carrying our heavy loads. Make time to pray, meditate or practice spiritual practices to nurture yourself. Reconnect or establish a connection with a religious community or group. Even when you have lost faith, this can turn out to be a great comfort. We are all born with faith and know instinctively its comforts. Have a blessed day.
My bi-polar mother fell again last night.
I found out after supper when the evening receptionist at her residence rung. She exited her flat without using her walker, and, raising her hand to wave to the receptionist, fell to the deck, rump first.
Apparently her arm was against the wall on the guard rail because as my mother fell, her arm stayed on the rail; thus her arm was wrenched backwards and upwards. This resulted in a sprain. Fortunately, she didn’t bang her noodle. The receptionist actually saw the fall so she gave the ambulance officers the exact chain of events. So, the ambulance came to take her to the hospital to get her wing under the radiograph. By the time showed up made my way to emerge, she’d been admitted. I and stayed until quarter past midnight and was reminded of something that I’d meant to put in a blog entry.
The Four Ds.
My mother explained what happened in such a way as to make it seem as though her tumble was my doing.
I was 20 kilometres away at the time, and the receptionist had witness the event, but my mother, related the facts to imply I was blameworthy for her fall. Note that I don’t refer to it as an accident. I’ve bought her two walkers: one with wheels and a seat and another for good weather and each time she’s fallen, it’s because she’s gotten away from her walker. If she chooses not to use the tools provided, then it is not, according to my reasoning, an accident. Similarly, when I was a reporter, I never described a drunk driving crash as an ‘accident.’
Basically, as she reported how her fall happened, she kept mentioning me as a causative factor in each fact and point of timing. Every fact, point of timing and detail somehow mentioned me as the causative factor. She left her apartment because of me, because the digital photo frame I’d given her needed adjustment, but somehow it was implied I prevented her from using her walker and given the emergency (?), in a tangle of extraneous detail, the result was a strongly implied hint that I prevented her from reaching for the guard rail that acts as a bumper in every corridor of her residence.
I figured more in her long and winding narrative than she!
This happened as she was in the hospital bed as we tried figuring out how her arm got behind her. The pop-up rail of the gurney she was on was a bad prop because the angle was wrong so I offered to pantomime the way had her hand had been on the railing as she went down and didn’t let go, ergo, that’s how her shoulder got yanked. She used my efforts to recreate the movement for the doctor’s benefit as a means making it seem as though I was the cause of her fall by shifting tenses and mashing details. And, like a defrocked bishop in the dock before the prosecutor, followed up by pretending she wasn’t doing it.
The attending physician was well-practiced and managed to pick his way through the facts while I glowered and composed this blog entry in my cerebellum.
She’s done this before and she’ll do it again.
Deny, Defer, Demand and Deflect. These are her four tactics. She is never responsible for anything.
This is not the first time she’s defamed me. She’s done it in writing and of course denies it. I can do without the stress of having to wonder if someone’s going to call the coppers on me for elder abuse, so I told her today that I’m not communicating with her until Labour Day. I have made sure she’s enough cash on hand in her bank account to pay the rent between now and then.
Her reply? ‘But I neeeeeeeeeeed you.’ Never I’m sorry. A few weeks ago she smeared her cosmetics on my car’s upholstery. When I explained that I’d need to clean it off, she changed the subject. Then ignored me. Finally, after much prompting, she said ‘Well, I’m stunned.’ When I pointed out to her that what I wanted was an apology. She repeated that she was stunned, adding that she couldn’t believe that she’d so such a thing. Finally, she said that she was sorry. Yes, four requests to get an apology.
This article attempts to deal with caregiver issues. The article itself is useless as it has the typical ‘learn constructive responses to her behavior and how you can cope more effectively with the stress of caregiving’ which may be great advice for someone starting out, but is zero use to people on a hair trigger because they’ve been at it too long.
Why am I linking to it?
The comments section is worth going through as many of the experiences and reports there may mirror your own.There are lots of really hard-working people trying to care for their mentally ill parents, like you. And like you, they find it difficult.
I found this obituary recently and I’ll draw your attention to one line.
She was a difficult mother and a horrendous mother-in-law. She will STILL be missed.
I’m not saying that the person whose life is memorialized in the obit — the word mercurial isn’t used — was an undiagnosed bipolar person, but it’s possibility. The bipolar are not bad people, they are exhausting however. In some ways, they are so far in the grip of their emotions that they are underdeveloped as adults. Occasionally one is reminded of this and it helps the caregiver stay focused.
It’s possible the person in the obit was mentally ill but it’s not fair or proper to provide a diagnosis after the fact; nor am I in any way competent to do so. I think the bit quoted above helps capture the complexity of the situation. The severely mentally ill can be endearing. I mean, my own mentally ill parent is so very easy to make happy. No, truly she is.
I gave her a gift certificate for her birthday to go her favourite store and she was over the moon with joy. She’s going to get a red purse, this or that top and trousers. Great. This will be followed by howling accusations sometime in the near future but for now, she was happy.
Unneasy lies the head that wears a throne
— 1066 and All That
If you’re considering taking up running, there are worse books to have on the shelf than Tim Noake’s The Lore of Running. Somewhere in this monster of a physiology book, are some interviews with top marathoners opining that even the best of the best have, perhaps eight or fewer races at the peak of abilities.
Something gives out after that. They may be fine human specimens but, their conditioning can only generate so many high speed performances for 42 kilometres. There’s a reason why things are compared to marathons, but marathons aren’t compared to anything else. Soldiers sometimes say that every major engagement takes a few months off their old ages. And, each time a prime minister or president is elected, newspapers ask their artists to age the politicians to see what they’ll look like in a few years. (I’ve tried to find a Canadian news article covering the same material but none was to be found. I guess our dickhead politicians don’t go grey because pubic hair keeps its colour for longer.)
Ever notice how athletes often have grey hair? Research indicates adrenaline may be the culprit.
Hollywood tough guy Lee Marvin was mangled in a battle in WW 2. I wonder whether it was that which gave the craggy-faced actor his trademark prematurely white hair.
You may run into the term adrenal fatigue on various web sites but I’d advise a bit of caution because the term is not accepted yet. My advice is to avoid anything you don’t see on PubMed, or wasn’t published by a university in a G7 country. Lots of well-meaning people publish a lot of junk and call it science. The last thing you need, as the care giver of a bipolar adult, is to waste your time on placebos. The plural of anecdote is not data, but overdoing the adrenaline may be connected to intestinal complaints. As for myself, I’ve been responsible for the unadulterated full firehose of my mother’s mental illness since my dad died three years ago and, yep, I’ve been thinking about how long I can keep it up thanks to my marathon training books.
You will have back off at some point. The purpose of this blog is two-fold:
Remember the marathoner — six to eight world-class races — and that’s it. If they can only run so many marathons in peak condition, there’s no shame in you not being able to keep up a high speed pace permanently either.
The American actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman made the following observation:
To have that concentration to act well is like lugging things up staircases in your brain. I think that’s a thing people don’t understand. It is that exhausting. If you’re doing it well, if you’re concentrating the way you need to, if your will and your concentration and emotional and imagination and emotional life are all in tune, concentrated and working together in that role, that is just like lugging weights upstairs with your head..And I don’t think that should get any easier.
The gentleman was talking about acting but I’ve thought of his remarks when trying to describe what it’s like to be the caregiver for a bipolar person.
Now, the conditions of one family with a bipolar person is going to be different from another. In my case, there’s the lurking fear that my estranged stripper sister will emerge from infernal dis and clean my mother out; this adds to the weights in my head.
So, yes, being the caregiver of a bipolar parent is like lugging weights upstairs in your head.
I think the most frustrating thing is the sheer unpredictability of it all. From sentence to sentence you don’t know if they’re going to be reasonable, or find out that the tax papers have been thrown out and you need to take another half day off work to get copies. Again.
People who’ve no experience with the severely mentally ill find it difficult to conceptualize. Imagine Woody from cheers having control over your finances. Now, imagine the agony of that going on for years. It’s never good, there is always just the pauses between the next crisis.
I once read an interview with the actor I’d seen in a light comedy. He was now in a made for television movie based upon a news event about a mountie who murdered his wife. Playing a hero is easy, he observed, because you take the best parts of yourself and inflate them. However, when you play a murderer, he observed, you have to look inside your personality for the not so nice bits in order to give a convincing performance.
My mother was looked after hand and foot, by my father who was effectively her butler. When he died in 2008, I was left to absorb the full brunt of my mother’s bipolar disorder. I had some stuff in the basement since i was between apartments at the time (long story) and, for the first time in about living memory, she decided to clean. This is a woman who didn’t know how to cook, or work the washing machine since her husband had done it all. She went through my belongings, took what she wanted and threw the rest out.
When she told me, I was two metres away. I asked why and her response was, and I quote ‘Look,’ she pointed like a judge at a trial, with a tone of anger and disappointment, ‘you have to get me club soda.’
I am loathe to admit it, but had I been a metre closer, her dentist would be a rich man and I’d be in prison, married to the man with the most cigarettes.
Fortunately, I did not knock her teeth out, but for the first time in my life, I could see how people can be driven to violence. Now, remember, this is after four decades of putting up with her. This is not the first datum on a chart; instead, that was merely the latest event on non-Euclidean plane. The attempt to pick a topic at random to reframe a conversation is her stock tactic. For example, if she does something unwise, and you point it out to her or ask for an explanation, she will, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics:
What I find difficult to express to people who have no long term exposure to the bipolar, is how decades of this behaviour wear one down. Unlike a work situation where, even if terribly inconvenient, you can actually quit; being a bipolar caregiver holds you captive. Yes, yes, I know that social workers and shrinks would disagree, but unlike them, bipolar caregivers cannot turn off their computers at the end of the day and walk away from their caseloads until 8:3o to-morrow.
I’m not much for Dr. Freud’s ‘talking cure’ but, since there’s no-one else with whom I can talk, I’ve decided to tap away.
I’m the caregiver of a bipolar parent who has also been blessed with a tremulous disorder, and kidney disease. And, frankly, I’m at my wit’s end.
Several months ago, I had to have to get my phone company to block her calls to be because she was calling several hundred times per week. With the exception of her cousin who comes by once in a while to take her to on a shopping expedition, and once or twice-yearly visits from her sister 750km away, I’m it. I’ve an estranged sibling in town who I fear will clean my mother out if she could, but that’s a side issue.
My ability to cope with this constellation of issues, is increasingly limited.
Permit me to use an analogy.
Imagine a lake. Typically these are fed from inland weather systems that start on top of mountains and gradually accumulate in lakes and rivers before eventually making their way to the Earth’s great oceans. With the seasons, and with hot weather, the lakes dry and re-fill. Smaller bodies of water have a slightly precarious position. These often have marshlands around to act as sponges to help prevent evaporation during the dry periods.
If you repeated drain the lakes, the marshlands can help the lake recover, but the marshes need time to restore themselves. If you drain the lake again, before the ecosystem around replenishes itself, the lake will come back , but smaller. If the lake is repeatedly deprived this way, you eventually dry out the lake. It becomes, at best a river. It is no longer a reservoir that can replenish many, instead it becomes merely a conduit through which things pass.
This, I believe, is what happens to caregivers who become exhausted by their relations.
Dealing with geriatric bipolar patients with parkinson’s is, in my limited experience, agony.
I attended a group in my region, for caregivers of the mentally ill. After attending several meetings, there was a meeting where no-one else showed up, thanks to inclement weather. So, I had a one-on one meeting with the nurse who was our moderator.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Fire away. I’ve attended several meetings. You’ve heard me speak. Any advice?’
She skated around the matter for a but and then replied: ‘You need more compassion.’
I know I’ve no compassion left for my parent. This person has sucked all of that out of me over the last four decades. I was hoping for something I didn’t already know, but what do you want for free?
She seemed a nice person but full of generic advice of no use to anyone such as ‘take a walk’ or ‘try to do fun things.’ No wonder they have all of those ‘no violence in our workplace’ signs up in hospitals. I am not saying, however tempting, that the severely mentally ill should placed against walls and shot, never fear. But, I am saying that people who are forced into the role of psychiatric nurse will reach their limits. This explains why the severely mentally ill have lonely senior years.
Life is too short, after all and people start abandoning them.
So, this is a place where I will vent, rather than destroy another expensive phone. Don’t mistake me, I will be scrupulously fair and speedy in my duties to my mentally ill parent, but not at the cost of adrenal fatigue.