If I could control your thoughts you wouldn’t be this angry at me
July 16, 2012 4:54 PM Subscribe
My father in law is bipolar and self-medicating with alcohol. He is the sole carer for my house-bound mother in law. They live 5 hours’ drive away and they resist efforts to help them. How do I best cope with him? How do I practically help them both? Long and painful story below the cut.
posted by little-egglplant to human relations (9 answers total)
My husband’s parents live in a city about 5 hours drive away from us (in New South Wales, Australia). For clarity, let’s call them Jane and Mike. They’ve been divorced for over a decade and live separately.
Jane has emphysema and must be on a constant oxygen supply. This means she is generally house bound, and has difficulty moving around – she can still take herself to the toilet and shower, but could not leave the house without help. She mostly just watches TV, as she has no friends or other family. We call her nearly every day to chat and check up on her. She suffers from depression, and has all her life. She is a hoarder, and intensely private – as a result she has no in-home support arrangement apart from family.
Mike is Jane’s carer. He buys takes her out to get groceries, takes her to appointments, picks things up for her, helps around the house, etc. He visits her nigh-daily. He has a couple of friends, but no hobbies. He is retired, and we’re not sure what he does apart from look after Jane. He was diagnosed with bipolar a year ago and sees a therapist about once a month (he says the therapist wants to see him more often but he resists this). He deeply resents having to look after Jane, but also engages with her way too much. We’ve asked him to cut back on the visits or organise other in-home support but he won’t.
We try to visit once a month and stay over at Mike’s apartment on the couch. Jane has a three bedroom house but due to the hoarding there’s no room for us (not even a couch).
Mike has always been difficult, but some visits are worse than others. This weekend was incredibly bad. He was extremely agitated, paranoid, angry and upset. Conversations over the course of the weekend went badly. He says we are terrible people, suspects we are out to get him, thinks we try to control his thoughts and emotions, hates and regrets his life, and wants us to leave him alone (these kind of comments were reactions to pretty innocuous conversions about setting up a budget for Jane, trying to think positively, etc). The things he says are hurtful and I struggle not to get angry and upset at him when he speaks to me and my husband. In the end, he stormed out of his apartment, then texted my husband telling us to get out.
This weekend Mike also admitted he is drinking (about a bottle of wine a day) because he ‘has no other outlet’. Yes, we’ve tried to suggest activities and things for him to do before – these are either shot down, or shown as examples of us trying to control his life/thoughts.
Now that we’re home, I’m starting to fret. I’m fretting that Mike is in serious trouble; he hasn’t threatened self harm but he seems unpredictable and angry – and the new factor of potential alcoholism is terrifying. I’m fretting that if something happens to him, e.g. hospitalisation, Jane will be left without a carer. Needless to say, it would be pretty crap if we had to go up there every week.
We're calling the local mental health unit to ask for advice today (particular for emergency care for Mike, and any carer services for Jane), and I'm trying to find alternative accommodation for when we're in town.
What else can I do? My husband and I are fixers - we want to take action, make life better for them, do whatever we can. Sometimes I wonder if this attitude is making things worse though.
I also need to improve my attitude towards and understanding of mental illness. Can you help me understand what Mike’s going through, how to best interact with him, and stop getting upset when he’s hurtful or angry at us? Sometimes I find myself blaming him, or being angry at him, or resenting him – and I know I shouldn’t.
(The good news: my husband and I are a totally solid unit of support for each other – this whole drama has made me so grateful for him and proud of him. Hooray for having a fantastic partner to lean on!)