Sometimes I post things out of order of how I write them, and numbering shenanigans happen. This is the missing post #628.
The year after my grandmother died, the following things happened:
- My mom got heavily depressed.
- My dad and I were completely taken by surprise and maybe not reacted quickly enough.
- My mom probably tried to commit suicide then tried to hide it from my dad who in turn kept it from me.
- My dad became more and more unhinged and sometimes violent : shouting, breaking and throwing stuff (not at people).
- With the help of family friends, we decided to check my mom in a mental health hospital. She clearly did not want to go but we pressured her.
- My dad decided to leave my mom.
- My mom came out of the mental health hospital and it didn’t seem to have done any good.
- It was horrible. It’s been three years now but I’m still not completely over it. (I am in therapy.)
My dad is a lot better. He’s moved to another country, gotten a new life. Through all of this he tried to stay supportive of me and my mom. He spent a lot of time in therapy and I can honestly say he’s changed : no more anger problems. Our relationship is honest and fairly good.
My mom, now. My mom is not better. She does not take any meds. She does not go to therapy of any kind. She doesn’t work. She just stays at home all day reading stuff on the internet. She eats badly, always the same things. The house is dirty and she refuses to hire a maid. She doesn’t shower often enough and she smells. She has a few friends who still visit her sometimes but she doesn’t always open the door.
For the last two years, I was away in a college transfer program but I tried to come back once or twice a month. When I came back, I would live in her house and I would cook, clean the house, do grocery shopping so she’d have fruits and vegetables,… (She did not ask me to do all these things.) Now I’m back home for my senior year but it was agreed by my dad and I that I shouldn’t live with her, so I’m renting a student flat.
So, now that I’m back in my mom’s city, I don’t really know what the course of action is. Should I still care for my mom like I did when I lived with her? How often should I go and see her or call her ? (I’ve tried to ask her those questions but she does not answer. She never says what she feels.)
More importantly, is there anything I can do to help her ? Is it still worth something to try and convince her to go to therapy or at least get out of the house ? It kills me to see her suffer like this. It kills me to think that maybe that’s it, and she will never get better for the rest of her life.
Any advice is welcome.
I am glad you are in therapy, and I’m glad you are not living with your mom. Whatever issues your dad has, him telling you to not do that was a solid, good, caring act. I am so sorry you are dealing with all of this and I send you all the Internet Stranger Love in the world.
When you tried to help your mom and took care of her, that was a loving thing to do, and you DID help her, even if she isn’t in a place where she can acknowledge it or participate in it right now. What you did matters. But your mom has an illness that is slowly eating her life. If she does not get better, if she does in fact end her life someday, it will not be your fault. It will not be because of anything you did or didn’t do. You can have all the love in the world and still have limited power to change this for her. The illness is treatable, to an extent, to the extent that the person suffering seeks and engages with treatment, to the extent that the ill person fights for their own life against it. The love of others can be a comfort, but love is not a cure. You can care about your mom, but you can’t do her caring about herself for her, or instead of her. This is a tragic, painful, awful truth, and again, I’m sorry. Knowing it doesn’t mean that you stop feeling guilty and torn and awful.
In trying to think of how to help you, this thought came to me: If you offered your life up to this illness and said “Eat me instead, eat my life, just let her get better, or failing that, let her keep living” the illness would accept your offer but it would not accept your bargain. You could spend every scrap of energy and time that you have on cooking for your mom and looking after her and encouraging her, and the illness would laugh and say “MORE!” and she might still not get better but you might get worse. This illness is a liar. It wouldn’t care what order it ate you in.
I think the best thing you can do for your family’s wellbeing is to fight for yourself. Fight for your own happiness and security and health. Keep going to therapy. Do all the loving things you did for her for yourself (laundry, getting out, exercise, eating vegetables). Finish your education and find work that sustains you and hopefully interests you. Surround yourself with good friends and spend time with people who love you. Get enough sleep.
Here is one tiny tool that might help. It’s something I use for time management when I get stressed or need to figure out a new routine. Print out a couple of copies (or make a version that roughly reflects your waking/active hours using the software or calendar app of your choice) and fill it in. You can plan in weekly increments or two-week increments which sometimes works better, since not everything happens every single week. To use the tool:
- First, add obligations: classes, work, places you have to be. Include the time you spend commuting and studying/preparing.
- Second, add self-care things: Therapy appointments. Workouts. Grocery shopping, food prep, laundry, bill paying, chores. Standing social engagements. My friend B. has something she calls “Wife Night” where she acts like her own (traditional meaning, used ironically) wife – sewing on lost buttons, paying bills, doing the laundry, changing the sheets, all of the routine maintenance stuff of her life. This is the stuff that you have to do to maintain your quality of life.
- Third, add pleasurable/fun things: Your favorite TV show, time with friends, time to read for pleasure, time to go to the movies or a concert, time to play your favorite video game. You can put this stuff second if you want to, it too is important, and it too is self-care.
- Fourth, add future-oriented stuff: You’re a university senior, so set aside one hour/week to work on/think about future stuff. Looking at job listings for things you might want to do. Working on your resume. Picking up an extra skill. Journaling about what you want to be when you grow up. Attending campus events and networking sessions.
- Fifth, mark out a block of time and call it “Family.” That block of time, every week, or every other week, or once a month (whatever you can do sustainably) is when you engage with your mom.
Not everyone’s priorities would or should happen in this order. I hope this is obvious to people reading. But Imploded, I think this is a useful way for you to think about this. You want to be a part of your mom’s life, but she can’t or has chosen not help you decide how much or how that should work. In the absence of a stated preference or expression of need from her, what do you need from your own life in order to be functional and happy? Where can you fit her in, in a way that lets you preserve a relationship with her, without her needs taking over your life? How can you prioritize time with her in a way that is sustainable for you? By giving her a predictable, routine place in your life you can give both of you something to look forward to with far less danger that you will become overwhelmed. One of the good things about therapy for me that when I know there is one 50-minute hour in my week set aside to indulge fully in worrying about my problems, it frees up some mental energy and helps me function better the rest of the time. Call it the placebo effect, perhaps, but being able to redirect my thoughts by saying “that’s a therapy issue, write it down as a reminder and then MOVE ON” has been a huge help at times when I need to focus on other things and get practical things done. Maybe you can do something similar by designating specific Mom Time in your week.
Mom Time could look any way you want it to. For example, it could be:
- A phone call or Skype session.
- Going out to breakfast or lunch.
- Go to the movies (she’s out of the house, you don’t have to talk for long stretches, when you do talk you can talk about the movie).
- Getting together to watch a shared favorite TV show.
- Occasional haircuts, manicures, pedicures, other fancy girly things if that’s how you both roll.
- Asking her to help you with stuff that she’s good at. “Mom, look at my resume?” “Mom, I need help picking out grownup work clothes.” “Mom, can you show me how to cook that awesome family recipe?” Affirming her in that Mom-role could be a very loving thing that you do for her.
Your time together *could* involve going grocery shopping, or cleaning her house, or fixing her meals or whatever, and eventually you may encourage her to go back to treatment, but I think as you set this up you should think about directing this away from the idea of helping her and toward the idea of spending time together and seeking her out for the sake of her company. I think it’s possible and even probable that she feels a lot of guilt and shame for not taking care of herself better and for leaning on you so much in the past. “Duh, you’re my MOM. I want to SEE you” is a harder thing to argue with than “I’m just trying to HELP you.” If she’s reticent to invitations at first, stick with calls, but be consistent about reaching out to her during the time you’ve set aside and keep making the invitation/making the effort even if you don’t get a big response at first. Sustained love and effort is way more important than devising the perfect activity.
Friend-dating your mom isn’t a cure or a fix for her depression. It’s a start in forming a healthy adult relationship with her, though, and it’s worth doing if you can. Go slow, be consistent, and give it time to take shape. It may take her a while to be able to do things out of the house, or to trust that you mean it when you want to spend time with her.
I want you to do something else, schedule-wise, if you decide to try this out. After your weekly Mom Time, I want you to put something in place for yourself as a reward. Call it “Down time.” “Watching favorite show time.” “Roller skating time.” “Coloring pretty pictures time.” “Seeing or calling/texting my funnest and most supportive friend time.” “Feeling my feelings and writing them in a journal time.” “Being nice to myself time.” Something that says “fuck you, illness, you can’t have me” before you go back to your week.