Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The Original Perfect Post Awards – March ‘07

ripples from a drip

The thing is, I just don't do powerless very well. I've almost always believed that I may not be able to choose what happens to me, but I can always choose how I respond. I may not be a make lemonade person exactly, but after I've grieved and/or wallowed, I might make some fish to go with a slice of one of those lemons I got served. Of course, I've never experienced major misfortune; I've never been homeless, not even for a second; I've never had a serious illness; I've never lost the material things that represent my personal and family history... I could go on and on imagining tragedies that haven't befallen me yet, but it makes me nervous and there isn't isn't enough wood for me to hold onto.

Anyways, I now find myself in a powerless position, and I'm not handling it very well. What do you do when a family member has moved from eccentric and occasionally unpleasant to be around to clearly mentally ill with paranoid delusions? What do you do when any attempt at suggesting any kind of treatment -- physical or psychological -- is met with hostility? What do you do when you're one of only a few people left who haven't been alienated by her actions? What do you do when she goes on an angry rant, yelling and saying mean things about other family members to your baby son who surely understands way more than you give him credit for?

She has suffered significant misfortune. Is suffering. Chances are the mental illness is at the root of her misfortune, or maybe her misfortune is the root of her mental illness. Probably it's both. It doesn't really matter anyways. What matters is that you can't force a person into treatment. You just have to stand by and watch her spiral into madness and try not to get sucked in yourself.* How exactly we're supposed to do that I have no idea.

How do you maintain the contact that may be one of the only grounding forces in her life, yet protect your own child from the outbursts?

I don't think it's an accident that for two nights solid since the outburst, he's been waking every half-hour or so, screaming and inconsolable. He won't let us put him down, opening his eyes wide and screaming as his head touches the pillow, no matter how deeply he appeared to be sleeping mere seconds ago. Maybe it's teeth, maybe it's an oncoming illness, maybe it's the time change. Your guess is as good as mine. But I can't help but think that Sunday's encounter scared him. I know it will stop eventually, I know it's just a phase, it won't be forever. But I'm so tired.

I went for a walk because it seems to be the only way to get Swee'pea to nap well right now. It was sunny and balmy and noisy with the melting. I actually heard an occasional sloosh as small pockets of melting snow collapsed in on themselves. As I locked the door, a man walked by carrying a loaf of bread. I figured it must be several sandwiches and he must be on his way to an afternoon shift. I followed him for a while. He stopped at the river and fed the bread to the ducks and geese. I felt ashamed of my presumption, and admired his ability to just stand there and throw bread, and watch the ducks eat it. Not moving forward, not rushing, just enjoying the sun, the surprisingly warm breeze, and the ducks swimming against the current to get to his treats.

I didn't have any particular destination or objective, so I just walked downtown. Despite the beautiful beautiful weather, I mostly grumped a silent monlogue, frustrated by my lack of time, my lack of sleep, my lack of a solution.

When I got to the square, I sat down by the fountain with the statue of the family of three, the baby held ridiculously aloft (I mean, who does that?!?).

Family with Jet Trail

I tried to watch people, to watch for potential photos but there was nothing, and the monologue in my head got louder. I barely noticed the pleasure of the warm sun on my back, and the air against my bare hands and ears. I watched a woman with a leg brace and a laboured, broken gait make her way across first one side of the intersection then the other, and I felt really sad for her when her walker got stuck on the curb in between. Every step required such effort, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And then I was crying. Crying that we can't do anything for this family member, and we can't just stop seeing her. Crying that my grandma didn't get to meet Swee'pea (not really sure how that got in there). Crying for the woman with the broken gait. Crying about lost sleep and spilled milk and whatever. Not hardcore sobbing just quietly releasing what had been building in me since Sunday while people walked by enjoying the spring day. It didn't last long before Swee'pea screamed himself awake, and I set off home in the hopes that movement would settle him back into slumber.

ripples and footprints

*We have been in touch with various mental health organizations, and as long as she doesn't pose "imminent risk" to herself or others, our hands are tied. But there is a crevasse between not posing imminent risk and recognizing herself that she needs help, and she's falling into it. Has anyone out there dealt with a family member suffering undiagnosed mental illness?


Mouse said...

My mother is most likely suffering from serious depression--and has been for years, sometimes treated, sometimes not. I don't live near her though, so my dealings with her are few. And I purposely don't have her interact with Scooter any more than is necessary. There are no abusive outbursts, though I know someday Scooter will begin to remark on the difference between his grandmothers.

It sounds like you're closer to this family member, both geographically and emotionally--and I suspect the situation is different enough that it doesn't warrant the same reaction as with my mother. Is there any way to limit Swee'pea's time around her? That's really all I can think of, and I know it's not much.

kgirl said...

unfortunately i've been through something similar. you can't save someone. they need to realize that this is not how they want to be, and unless you think they are a danger to themselves, they need to seek help when they're ready. until then, you are not responsible for them. take a step back. you don't have to shut them out, but take a step back. it's the best thing for you and swee'pea.

kgirl said...
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Mad Hatter said...

First off, this post is so exquisitely written and illustrated that I am breathless.

Secondly, my mother was never diagnosed but she did have a history of paranoia and agaraphobia that alarmed all off us. I dealt with it by physically distancing myself--or rather I moved out west for a whole host of other reasons but the upshot was that I ended up coping by being physically apart. I don't think you are in a position to do this.

Have you thought about an occasional counselling session for yourself? Not that you need one but a counsellor might be able offer concrete coping strategies and/or subtle ways to help guide this family member to the help she needs. Caring for this woman is a lot for you to undertake given all the competing demands in your life and given your profound sleep deprivation.

NotSoSage said...

Cin, what Mad said about the post is true. It's touching that the content is clearly referring to chaos, but the tone is so calm.

When you contacted the organisations, did you ask only about admitting someone for inpatient treatment? I know that Joe's mother has contacted people at different organisations who have offered some tips for family members on how to get someone in just for a counselling session or two, I can ask her who they were. My guess is the Canadian Mental Health Association would be the best bet.

I'm sorry to hear about the way your family member and you are struggling. If you're worried about Swee'pea, you could try arranging to meet with her with Swee'pea and Sugar Daddy...I'm sure that's easier said than done, so it's not a judgment, just a suggestion.

Heather said...

My mother-in-law is suffering from depression (as far as we can diganose, of course) and sees nothing wrong with the fact she rarely leaves her bedroom, doesn't eat and doesn't sleep. Actually, it's not that she doesn't see anything wrong with it, it's that she can't seem to connect it to depression, and is wholly offended, angry and hurt if you gently suggest that if she's still feeling awful, worthless, unloved, unappreciated, not needed and lost and all alone that maybe she might want to talk to her doctor about it. (once you suggest anything of the sort she won't speak or leave her room for a week).

Not to sound mean, but every time we call we're met with a pity party and oh we're doing so well and we never call and she doesn't feel needed and no one loves her and she just can't catch a break and makes little shots at what she perceives as our limitless success. So, we've learned to not call which clearly isn't any kind of solution but is the best way of dealing with it that also keeps us sane. I think we're just finding that you can't help people who don't want help.

All that diatribe to say I know it's hard, and I don't have the answer. (wow, aren't I helpful)

Oh, The Joys said...

I don't have advice - or even the right words, but I did want to let you know that I was reading and thinking of you.


Aliki2006 said...

Oh, lots of hugs to you...I've lived with something like that for many many years--my mother has depression and has always refused to acknowledge it. She is often paranoid and I grew up with many over-the-top emotional outbursts that I know had a damaging effect on me--on all of us siblings. She's had a couple in front of my son but I think the words in her rants have been a little too abstract for him--but the emotion has *not* been. I removed him from the room but then had to deal with the fall out of being accused of not "being cold" and not wanting to confront issues through emotions (which I actually don't want to do but for obvious reasons!).

Anyway, I don't want to hijack your comments, but this hit home. I wish I had a solution...I don't know what to do, either...

Aliki2006 said...

sorry--accused of *being* cold, not of *not* being cold!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Hi -- I have been lurking for a little while; I've seen you post at Andrea's and Mad's. This is a strange time to de-lurk, since I don't have anything constructive to add, just -- oh, this sounds so hard. Sometimes recognizing that what you're trying to do is really, really hard gives you the freedom to feel sad & angry & also proud of yourself for not completely going to pieces.

In the photo it looks to me like the parents are catching the child, like he fell from the sky & they're catching him.

jen said...

Yes, Sin. Yes. In fact, I was in a relationship with someone who slowly lost his mind.

You are right about everything you are feeling. If you want to talk, please email me girlplustwo at yahoo dot com and i'll give you my number.

Aside from the above, J does this work full time. Please, if you want a resource, we'd love to talk to you.

Talk about down the rabbit hole...i am thinking of you.

Nancy said...

Oh, I am sorry I have no advice. I've witnessed the pain that a former boyfriend went through when his alcoholic mother went through a bout of serious depression, but he was private enough to keep me from the worst of the outbursts.

I do want you to know that this post was so beautiful and so sad, it touched me deeply. And that I am thinking of you and here for you if there is anything I can do.

cinnamon gurl said...

Wow. Thanks so much for all your kind and honest responses.

Mad and Sage, yes the CMHC offers a free service for family members, which we are in the process of taking advantage of.

And Jen, that is totally sweet.

Jennifer ponderosa, thanks for delurking, and offering another perspective on the statue.

All of you, it is so comforting that we aren't the only people to experience this kind of frustration.

NotSoSage said...

Came back to check out other people's comments and noticed that I said "with" Sugar Daddy...I meant "without", but I'm sure that's obvious.

Mimi said...

Hello -- you can't help people who don't want to be helped, which you probably know, but it's always nice to hear from someone else.

Also, you are handling this with calm and grace and maturity, even if you are crying next to the fountain (I always worried about that family, all winter: aren't they COLD?). You should be proud of being so grounded and so caring at the same time, taking care of you, of yours, and of the extended yours.

Take care of yourself ...

banana said...

You guys are dealing with this really well - I know it is frustrating and what is worse, there will be mo immediate solution, so I can't even offer you a 'Its only for XX more weeks/months'. That kind of un-finality is so frustrating and hard to deal with. I am always here to offer support - give me a call any time to talk, take swee'pea etc. - Love you!

slouching mom said...

This was a beautiful post, and yes, a perfect post. Thanks.

Jenifer said...

Hello. I came by way of Mad's and while I have never commented over here before I have "seen" you all around - we frequent many of the same great blogs.

I am going through a big feeling of helplessness this week too. A family member wants me to talk to another family member about something rather unpleasant. I feel all tied up in the middle so today I am just not talking to anybody and thinking, much like you described.

The statue reminds me of the Lion King, holding up the baby to the sun for the whole world to see.

Best of luck navigating this path.