Help me help Mom.
October 11, 2012 3:50 PM   Subscribe

Mom is depressed. She has always been depressed. Is there anything I can do to help? If not, how do I cope?

I'm going to speak in generalities because I would hate for this to get back to her, but as far back as I can remember, my mother has been seriously unhappy. Now that she's retired, she spends most of her day in bed. Dad tries to help, but he's out of his league. Mom goes to a psychiatrist and is on anti-depressants. She tried talk therapy but did not like it. She never knows what she wants, only what she doesn't want. She's got crippling social anxiety. She doesn't have friends or hobbies. To me, it seems like a big part of the problem is that she never really figured out who she is (but I'm not a psychologist, just her child).

The thought she may spend the rest of her life like this is terrifying. If you've been through a similar situation, how did things improve? And if things didn't get better, how did you manage?

Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Albert Einstein said "If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal. Not to people or things."
My current goal is to be around to see what happens in Dec. 2012, whether it be a apocalypse or next stage of evolution. I've been living with a chronic illness and it's one of the things that get me to the next day.
posted by udon at 4:03 PM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Please do NOT beat yourself up for this. It's not your fault, of course, but it's also not your responsibility to get her out of this. All you need to do is be there for her as in : listen to her when she's upset, help her out as much as PRACTICALLY possible, and make sure she knows you love her.

I don't know any solutions for her depression. But you are not going to be able to provide this, either. It's hard to tell the future regarding whether your situation will improve or not--so don't try to.

Focus on yourself. The best way to manage this is to realize and reaffirm to yourself that you are you, you are not your mother--you can only be responsible for yourself. It's also good to know you can learn from your family's mistakes, experiences, etc. and change the course for yourself and your offspring (or whatever.)

Managing may be difficult, make sure you have time/take time for yourself. Make yourself happy--do the things you love, find yourself. This may help your mom find out how to be happy or at least aid in inspiring her for a better way of thinking.
posted by rhythm_queen at 4:03 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would recommend providing any possible help, like a psychiatrist. Social anxieties respond to highly qualified therapy, but there are a lot of not-very-talented therapists around. She might need

I would help Mom by bringing doing things that will help her - good books and healthy food, sunshine, exercise and fresh air if possible. And by trying not to make things available that enable depression; like junk food, tv, or other mind- body- and soul- killers. Maybe make a great meal once a week and serve it at the table, not bringing it to her. Music is spirit-lifting, so finding music she loves, and playing it may help. Do you have a pet? My dog is a great mood-elevator, and having to care for him is good for me.

Most of all, I recommend therapy for you. It's spirit-killing to be around a severely depressed person. Irritability is a symptom of depression, and you can be understanding, but it's still no fun. My Mom was likely bipolar, and I've had my own struggles, and I know how dark it can get inside my head, and how much of it leaks out. A therapist or a group would be a great respite, and a reminder that there's a world out there that isn't all dark and twisty, all the time.
posted by theora55 at 4:10 PM on October 11, 2012

If your Mom gives permission, tell your Dad to go into the dr with her to explain what's going on. Often patients will not tell the whole story. Your Dad has been dealing with her for a long time and maybe this new development is overwhelming (has she done this before? Stayed in bed all day for a period of time?) but there's no reason she has to live like this forever. Maybe she needs her meds adjusted. Or maybe she needs someone to throw the curtains open and say, "okay, time to get up, we're going to have breakfast and go for a walk now!"

With a job, there is a certain routine, and that's gone now. Routines are very comfortable for most people and with anxiety and depression, they can be very, very important. Any deviation, such as a trip, can mean things like packing the car full of unneeded items (just in case, but it also delays the actual leaving and routine interruption), etc., can trigger worse symptoms. Also, being at home alone all day and not being able to go out due to social anxiety can lead to depression. Is she lying in bed sleeping, staring at the walls, or watching TV? Could this be her new routine, now that she doesn't have the enforced "getting up for work" routine?

I guess the most you can do right now, unless you live with them or very close by, is call and ask if there is anything you can do. If you live close enough, go over with a meal now and then, hold her hand, and encourage her to talk to the doctor. Try to be patient and understanding, because it can take a while for change to sink in, the idea of change, anyway. She might just be what we used to call "set in her ways." If you can accept her personality as who she is and focus on the good things (and she must be good if she raised a child who is concerned about her), and keep asking Dad to call the doctor if it lasts longer than a couple of weeks, that's what you can do. If there are other siblings or close relatives, maybe talk to them quietly and see if they can visit. Some people will get up for company (even if they complain). Good luck, I know it's hard, but hopefully she'll get through this.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:23 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know someone in a similar position to your mother. I'm sure other people can give you advice regarding a long term strategy... but short term: what about a puppy/kitten?

Pets can do wonders for anxiety; a dog/cat also might help your mom get out of bed/give your mom a "purpose" day to day/help her establish another routine. If you think she could handle a pet, I'd give it at least a passing consideration -- best of luck.
posted by lobbyist at 4:39 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

And if things didn't get better, how did you manage?

Going to a few Al-Anon meetings was somewhat helpful for me. Al-Anon is meant for relatives of alcoholics but some of the principles can be applied to issues other than alcoholism.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2012

She tried talk therapy but did not like it.

She probably had the wrong therapist. You and/or your dad can ask around in the community (pastors, friends, former colleagues) for recommendations. This is worth skipping the insurance reimbursement for, IMO. The best way to think about this is that you're interviewing therapists, looking for the right one.

It also sounds like this has been going on for most of her adult life, and it may take an enormous jolt to inspire any change whatsoever. I'm cautious about the recommendation of a puppy for this reason. Letting her continue in this pattern, however, may be risking a lot. If she's on medication but is still bedridden most of the day, the psychiatrist is not keeping up with her symptoms.
posted by katya.lysander at 6:01 PM on October 11, 2012

Things that have worked for me in a semi-similar situation:
  • Being honest, gently, about the issues I'm seeing. "Mom, how are you feeling today?" "Mom, it seems like you never play the piano anymore; are you feeling all right?"
  • Being a good example (and open) about dealing with my own issues. "Last week was really rough, so I talked to my therapist and she gave me this book; the exercises have been kind of helpful."
  • Talking in therapy and in support groups about my issues with my mom; almost everyone else in my hospital program had similar problems. I haven't gone, but I've heard great things about Al-Anon. NAMI Family Connection groups are also great, and are specifically targeted to family members of people with mental illnesses.
  • Asking my stepdad to intervene specifically with an eye to improving Mom's medical care (talking to the doctor about her symptoms, how the meds aren't helping, etc.) Mom's hypothyroid condition wreaks as much havoc as her depression, as well.
  • Putting my own self-care first. I have given myself blanket permission to not think about Mom's issues at all. I now go several days between worrying about her condition. This was not easy at all. But it was really, really necessary.
You need to consider the possibility, BTW, that she's not following her doctor's instructions re: medications. A lot of people have a very hard time accepting their antidepressants as necessary; few people I know take their pills with the kind of regularity that is required. And a lot of people don't understand how totally useless antidepressants are when they're taken sporadically.

Fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and people to talk with are all very necessary, but it's also tremendously difficult to get yourself to the point where those are things you can get when right now you're in bed all day long. The meds and blood tests and such really need to come first at that point.

Oh... and once she's had her doctor really look things over, I suggest that she begin with a NAMI Peer Connection group; they're much lower-stress (and much more frequent and informal) than individual psychotherapy. And she can get recommendations from people like her.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 8:48 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding nami - they focus on you and how to help you and your dad cope, as much as on her.

how is she doing financially? i'm in the u.s. and getting on social security disability has helped me greatly, both in easing financial worries and (if she hasn't already) getting on medicare has saved me from dealing with insurance companies, which was a complete nightmare. she needs to apply for disability within ten years of when she stopped working.

there are organizations that deal with issues of aging and how to get help and support, particularly for medical issues.

on my better days i find that can be handy for finding events where i can interact with other people, especially groups that get together to play board games, which usually have people of all ages.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 10:09 PM on October 11, 2012

« Older "I want my two dollars!!"   |   Cheap House Detroit: motive, make art Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.