Who's the kid here?
February 20, 2013 7:06 AM   Subscribe

My mom has what seems to be undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. For the last many years, she's burned bridges at work and let her self-loathing get the best of her, to the point that she's chronically unemployed, has alienated most of her friends, and has exhausted all her financial resources. She's hit rock bottom, with $0 in the bank and debts to pay. And she's turned to me for help, saying she doesn't know how to take care of herself. I'm 26. I'm struggling to pay back my own student loans. Please help me help my mom. This is in Canada.

The irony is, I work with social services agencies that should be able to help her, but she slips through the cracks in almost every area. She's got an ivy league education. She is not a minority. But she hasn't been employed full time for ages. She's worked as an "independent contractor" for the past fourteen years, and now she's 2 years away from being retirement age and refuses to claim her pension early. Also, even if she does claim her pension early, in the intervening months between now and her birthday she has absolutely nothing to live on. I know she wants me to take care of her, but I can't afford to. There has to be some alternative. I don't want my mom to be on the street.

I suggested that she go on welfare, but she seems to think that if she does so they'll make her cut out what they deem "unnecessary spending" -- her internet connection and cell phone, which she uses for job searches, her apartment, which is not subsidized housing. At my insistence, she's signed up for a temp agency and is looking for any immediate part time work.

What else can she do? How can she get some money to live on, right now?

Here's the selfish whiny kid part: I don't know how to take care of my mom, and I'm scared for her future. I don't have a partner to fall back on; I don't have siblings. She's a single mom. I feel terribly guilty for not being able to take care of her, but also fear getting pulled into having to care for her my entire adult life. Though she's close to retirement age, she's got the vibrancy and talent of someone in their 40s. There's no reason she can't work, take care of herself, and live well. But she has no retirement savings, no property, no nothing; she went completely bust when I was a teenager, sold everything, and we spent a long time living out of our car and on people’s couches while she tried, in vain, to get a high-level management job like the ones she quit, or was let go from. Since then, she’s even sold the car. Her pride prevents her from doing many things that might improve her life. How can I help someone like this, and how can I do it all by myself? I love her, and this is so painful. But part of the reason I'm struggling to pay back my student loans now is because I took them out the last time she was in a situation like this, got us an apartment and used the loans to pay rent. I'm still paying that off, and can't go into that kind of debt again.

So, I guess my question is twofold, in order of importance:
1. How can my mom get immediate financial assistance in Canada so she is not evicted, homeless, out on the street?
2. How do I deal with this issue overall? It's big, it's here to stay, and I don't know what to do. And I’ve seen a therapist about how to deal with it emotionally, but I don’t know what to actually do to prevent my mom from slipping into dire poverty. Are there counselors who deal with people like my mom? If your answer is "a social worker," in which program?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's not your job to take care of your adult mother. No matter how much you love her, it's not your responsibility.

You can sit down with her and say, "Mom, I love you and I want to help you. I'm not able to help you financially, but I can help you figure out what your next move is. You need to meet me half-way on this. This means that you'll have to find appropriate housing, something to live on, etc. I'm serious, you need to help yourself."

There's no point in blaming her for her situation, especially if she has mental health issues.

If you were in the US, I'd suggest SSI-Disability. There is CPP Disability, so you might want to get the ball rolling on this.

Get her in the system, for food, housing and monitary assistance. Even if you think she doesn't qualify, she may qualify in a month or so.

By setting a boundary, you'll force your mom to help herself. She may be angry, but she's responsible for her situation, and it's not up to you to bail her out.

It's painful, it's hard, but beggaring yourself to throw your money down her black hole of need helps no one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:20 AM on February 20, 2013 [15 favorites]

She should sign up at more than one temp agency.
You can get food stamps and other public assistance and also have a cell phone and internet access. They look at income and assets to determine eligibility for these programs, not what you are spending the money on.
posted by steinwald at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some cities offer emergency housing funding. I know Toronto had such a program in the pre-Ford days. It could be worthwhile looking into it, at least for the time being. I had found out about this through the University of Toronto's housing services - and - as I recall, you didn't need to be a student to qualify for that specific program.

She could talk to her doctor about applying for a disability leave. I'm not sure of all the details - my mom was forced into it when she had full employment (yes, because of mental health issues) and it covered her living expenses until she qualified for retirement.
posted by Milau at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2013

For your own self-care, the book Stop Walking on Eggshells is a really helpful guide for family members and loved-ones of folks with Borderline traits.

In terms of help for your mom I would recommend looking for a program that provides Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It is specifically designed to help people with Borderline traits develop emotional regulation and coping skills that will serve her very well. It will also provide her with a support group outside of you. I'm not sure where exactly you're located, but a preliminary Google turns up groups in Ottowa, Vancouver and Toronto as a start. This link is a start about the therapy and some places to start looking for DBT programs.

You are not being selfish and whiny, you are setting appropriate boundaries that will allow you to still be there for her while still allowing yourself some room to take care of yourself. You are also encouraging her to develop a support network that will keep her from facing crisis after crisis in the future. To me those are the actions of a loving child. Continue to care for yourself and best of luck to both you and your mom.
posted by goggie at 7:36 AM on February 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Stop. Giving. Her. Money. Especially since you don't have it to give.

When my boyfriend was homeless due to being on drugs, and people asked me about it, I said, "he was offered choices. He refused them." Your mother is refusing choices.
posted by Melismata at 7:58 AM on February 20, 2013 [32 favorites]

Her pride prevents her from doing many things that might improve her life.

That's one way of saying it. Another way would be that her pride is more important to her than taking steps to take care of herself. Still another would be that at some level she is choosing to be in this situation.*

First, take care of, and be kind to, yourself. Of course you want to help your mother and that is a fine and natural thing to want to do. And you will help your mother, just by being in her life. But you do not have the resources to solve her problems, and you should not go without just so that she can keep choosing to keep her pride rather than take care of herself.

Consider reading Where to Draw The Line, which may help you to set some boundaries around what you can and can't do for your mother given your own limited resources. Maybe you can't have her move in with you, but you can buy some groceries for her. Maybe you can't do that but you can listen to her when she needs someone to talk to. I don't know where you want to set the boundaries, but it will be important for you and for her that you set them.

How can I help someone like this, and how can I do it all by myself?

You can't. At a bare minimum, your mother has to do some of it. Realistically she has to do the heavy lifting on helping herself. You can't do it for her. You can provide some support, but she has to do it for herself.

I love her, and this is so painful.

It is, and I truly feel for you. Take care of yourself.

But part of the reason I'm struggling to pay back my student loans now is because I took them out the last time she was in a situation like this, got us an apartment and used the loans to pay rent. I'm still paying that off, and can't go into that kind of debt again.

What I hear in this sentence is your limit speaking, your own inner voice that knows how much you can and can't do for her. I think you should honor and support this inner voice because it is trying to keep you safe and to keep you alive. This is the voice that knows that if you are both on the street, saddled with debt because you are giving to your mother in a way that is not sustainable, you've helped nobody.

Take care of yourself. You can't save your mother. She has to do that for herself.

* With the caveat that it does sound to me like she has some kind of mental health issues which may make "choosing" a little bit more complicated than I'm making it, but if she does, then she needs the kind of help that you are not qualified to give her anyway, which makes this kind of a wash either way.
posted by gauche at 8:05 AM on February 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

Her pride prevents her from doing many things that might improve her life.

Her belief that you might bail her out instead, prevents her from doing many things that might improve her life, at least at this critical juncture. Her illness makes her like a drowning person who will pull/down strangle any well-meaning rescuer, without even intending to cause harm. (True story from an EMT class: it's not unusual to find drowning "victims" still alive, standing above water on the body of whomever tried to perform an amateur solo rescue.) Let her know you can help her find services, but she will have to access these services.

The milder version of this is the kid who finds out late in the game that single/widowed mom never bothered to sock away resources/make planning for retirement, because (outside of a culture where this is the norm) they always banked on the kid being their retirement plan/keep them in the lifestyle to which they feel entitled.
posted by availablelight at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

and now she's 2 years away from being retirement age and refuses to claim her pension early.

"It sounds like you should claim your pension early, mom; it sure is a good thing you have it."

she seems to think that if she does so they'll make her cut out what they deem "unnecessary spending" -- her internet connection and cell phone, which she uses for job searches, her apartment, which is not subsidized housing.

"Welfare doesn't cut you off if you have a cell phone or an internet connection, that's just silly. THey want you to find a job and get off welfare. Stop making excuses."

At my insistence, she's signed up for a temp agency and is looking for any immediate part time work.

Well done. Stay the course. As is sometimes said, it feels noble to catch someone who's jumped out of a second-story window so that they don't get hurt, but some jumpers decide you'll always catch them, so they start using the second-story window as a shortcut to the parking lot.
posted by davejay at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am so, so sorry you're going through this. My mother was/is in a similar situation - undiagnosed BPD, in financial ruin, constantly a week or two away from homelessness. You're where I was 5 years ago. I'll share the hard lessons I've learned over the past few years.

- Your mother will not change. Even if she is highly motivated to seek out therapy and is committed to it, it will be a very, very long road. Part of the disease is the pulling you in with charm, promises, tears, guilt, whatever it takes to make you believe things will be different - then pushing you away/returning to poor behavior patterns.
- BPD individuals are like black holes. It doesn't matter how much you give. Even if you meet every demand, it won't be enough.
- Last but most important: if you want to maintain a relationship with you mother over the long term, it is CRUCIAL to set and maintain clear and strong boundaries. You can't afford to give her money - so don't. Ever. She will push and push to get what she wants; suicide threats are common with BPD. She may very well end up homeless in an attempt to force your hand. Don't fall for it.
posted by tealcake at 8:49 AM on February 20, 2013 [13 favorites]

I dealt with this with my mother.

Agreed with the 'don't give money' bit. If she needs money for a bill, she mails you the bill, and you pay the bill directly. But, I wouldn't even do that.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:58 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers free social workers for exactly this situation, however the waitlist is several months long and it sounds like she needs immediate assistance. They will also ONLY deal with the person requiring assistance, rightly determining that someone that isn't motivated to help themselves will also not be motivated to take any advice from them and is a waste of the limited social worker's resources. Does she had a doctor/church? I wonder if you could speak with her doctor/church who could direct her to these same resources (because oftentimes the message is recieved differently from a non-family member) Her immediate need is what welfare is for. I have never heard of them "cutting off" someone from the internet or cell phones, let alone housing (although the housing allowance is pitifully small). The cheque is hers to spend how she wishes.

I am a little confused by your statement that she can't get her early CPP before her next birthday (unless by "retirement age" you mean 60 and not 65). My understanding is that it can be applied for anytime after the age of sixty and the wait for the inital payment (including the retro) may be six months but it is not tied to specific birthday's except in the case of the 65th birthday for the full pension.

Honestly though, if she does suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness, and it is continuing to affect you personally, professionally, and financially, maybe you should back away from her until you feel a bit more resiliant. She has been homeless before so it sounds like she is pretty resiliant herself; she knows where to go for the most efficient source of resources without expending any of her own energy. And right now that is you. It is fair to tell her you feel overwhelmed and can only talk for 30 mins once a week, or you have helped her all that you can and you no longer want to hear about her problems, just her solutions, or whatever feels best for you.

There is nothing you can do for her that she can't do for herself; and you doing it again for her is just continuing the pattern of her living on people's couches, having you pay her rent, and now turning to you, instead of accessing the government services she has paid into. I am so glad to hear you have a therapist because it sounds really, really hard for you to not have a mother or any support yourself. You have done very well for yourself and you should be proud of yourself for recognising this is an unhealthy situation for you, despite the patterns she has taught you.
posted by saucysault at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you could drop a mod a line to let us know what province she is in, that could help us provide you with specific resources. Bonus points if it's in a bigger city, which often have specific resources.

I work providing legal services to low-income people, and a great deal of our work is getting people on disability benefits/cpp and dealing with issues surrounding that. THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE! (sorry). However, if you are in Ontario please feel free to Mefi/Email me and I can get you the contact information for the nearest clinic if you wish. If not - I will not be able to help as much but will gladly do what I can.

A few points to clarify, based roughly on Ontario-specific info. She absolutely will not be forced to get rid of her cell phone and/or internet if she's on welfare. Most of my clients that have a phone number only have a cell phone. Fewer of them have internet, but that's generally a digital divide issue. There is a severe shortage of subsidized housing so most of my clients are not in it (although a number of them would prefer to be so).

Please note that if she applies for CPP retirement there are issues that could prevent her in the future from applying for CPP disability. She needs to speak to someone directly to guide her through those issues. Of course it's not clear whether she has enough earnings to qualify in the first place.

On the other side - completely agree with saucysault about CMHA, they are very good people to work with.

And with regards to the emotional side and what you need to do, the people above are right. You absolutely cannot save her through force of your own will. You can provide some limited support, but if she is not willing to change it will do little.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:56 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Regarding the CPP vs CPPd, the wait list is much longer (as in years), it is very difficult to get, especially with mental illness, and is not possible without a diagnosis from a doctor (which it sounds like she does not have). The money is not much different from what she would be entitled to under CPP and the wait for CPP is shorter so she would be better off just getting the CPP and then OAS when she is eligible. Provincial Disability programmes also tend to have a long wait-time/tonne sof paperwork and it sounds like she needs things to be a bit simpler and faster than that. And although only she can access CMHA, you can certainly contact them and find out what you can do to get the ball rolling (like referrals/getting her a waitlist). If she has a personality disorder she would proably really like the weekly visits with the social workers and the attention and it would take a burden off of you since you appear to be her only support system.

For you though, do you not have a father/her former husband you can contact to see about getting some support/commiseration from? Clearly they have errected hard boundaries with her, but hopefully they could offer some kind of support for you as you extricate yourself from her constant needs.
posted by saucysault at 10:58 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

echoing others in saying please DO NOT GIVE HER MONEY. but you can still help her - at every turn, make your boundaries clear: you never give money but you can help fill out government aid applications, make phone calls to agencies/churches, suggest temp employment places, forward application job postings, find a doctor in her area who has sliding scale, etc.

she will always try to guilt you into doing more than you do, no matter how much you actually are doing so i cannot emphasize enough how important it is to set clear boundaries, communicate them to her, and enforce them by disengaging when she inevitably tries to push past them. it doesn't make you a bad daughter to say "i love you and i care about you but i cannot do X or Y" and instead focus on what you actually can do for her without making your own life more difficult. good luck.
posted by zdravo at 11:42 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Despite the appeal, I wouldn't encourage her to start CPP before age 65. You're really just off-loading the problem that way, because she will see her pension amount reduced drastically. If she is just about to turn 60 (is that the birthday you're waiting for?) she will lose almost a full third of her CPP, FOR LIFE, by collecting early. Welfare, though grim, is a better option because it will protect her future pension benefits.

I only have experience with social assistance in BC, and my experience is quite out of date now, but there were no dictates on what you did with your money once you got it. They wouldn't make you cut off your phone or internet, or move you out of your home. At the time, you could even have some savings (I thought you had to be absolutely penniless before you could apply and was chastised by my welfare worker for waiting until I was in absolute dire straits before going in for help). Whether or not she will be able to continue to afford a phone and internet on the miserable pittance welfare pays is another story. But, seriously, you can blow your entire welfare cheque on a tiny jar of beluga caviar and starve for the rest of the month, they don't care. They just won't give you any more money.

This will all vary by province, but you can usually also earn a small amount of money before welfare cuts that out of your benefits. So she might be able to supplement welfare with small amounts of work, if she gets it.

I'm sorry I don't have any advice for how to get her through the doors of the welfare office, though. I think you have to just step back, give her no money, and let her take care of herself. In fact, from what you have described, that's all you actually can do.
posted by looli at 12:37 PM on February 20, 2013

I haven't read the other comments, so excuse me if this is what everyone else said. The thing is, this went directly to my heart.
I was in your situation exactly, when I was in your age. The only difference might be that I cut off all connection to my mother for a year when I was 17. However, after that, I was as fully engaged as usual.
What I did when I was in your situation was say no. I refused to be the adult in our relationship. I told her she needed to deal with this. And she did, in her own stupid ways. And nobody died and nothing dramatic actually happened, except she had to deal with her self-inflicted poverty. Obviously, she was angry with me for a while. But what was good about is that now, we have a really constructive and trusting relationship. I have two siblings, but even though we are all there, it's me she trusts for doctors' meetings and other important stuff. She sees me as the angry and difficult child, but also as the one she can depend on. Don't be afraid to set boundaries, even if she is your mother. It might be very helpful for her.
posted by mumimor at 1:57 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's awesome that you love her and want to help her. I agree that you have to decide how much to help her, and that you don't have to take on all of her problems.

I think she needs medicaid asap, so she can get mental health care, which it sounds like she needs badly. She is a usually healthy, capable person who has stopped caring for herself properly. Wherever you decide to draw the line, let her know, and be firm. When she is in genuinely dire straits, by her own judgment, she is likely to actually reach out for help. If she behaves badly or crazily, take her to the Emergency Room. That might get her into the care system.
posted by theora55 at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you, everyone for your advice and support. Especially to those who've experienced a similar situation. It helps, a lot, to know others have gone through this.

I have read "Walking on Eggshells" and the companion family guide to BPD, and they were very helpful. My mom is very high-functioning and a) wouldn't seek counseling herself and b) probably wouldn't be deemed unable to make a living/someone who should receive disability. She's (mostly) what these books call "High Functioning Invisible BPD". But obviously I'm not an expert on this. There is no way I could suggest that she go on disability -- she would not submit to even being evaluated.

This is in Toronto, by the way, so any specific services would be much appreciated.

Thank you!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:02 PM on February 20, 2013

she will lose almost a full third of her CPP, for life, by collecting early

Although true, that is really only applicable to people who are continuing to contribute to CPP. As it sounds like the OP's mother has a long history of low income it may actually be to her benefit to collect early rather than have several more years of low income that cannot be excluded.
posted by saucysault at 4:09 PM on February 20, 2013

Oh, you are in Toronto? I would contact CAMH yourself to see what services are available and see if you can get some flyers etc to pass to her.
posted by saucysault at 4:14 PM on February 20, 2013

Sorry to repost, but just to be clear, CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) the hospital, is a completely seperate organisation from CMHA (the Canadian Mental Health Association).
posted by saucysault at 4:52 PM on February 20, 2013

I'm with those who encourage you to set boundaries. But I also get that it's hard to do, and the limits you set might not be someone else's. She is absolutely old enough to take responsibility for her own choices, whether she does or not is not on you.

If she applies for Ontario Works (our version of welfare), they will not require she get rid of things like the Internet; there are local standards that will determine the amount of her cheque irrespective of what she wants to do with it. The reality is that there just won't be very much money and it might not cover her rent. However, the same might be true on CPP or CPP+Old Age Security (OAS), depending on how much she's contributed over the years.

If she was self-employed, Employment Insurance benefits might not be available, but she should double-check.

Her local food bank can help with groceries.

Maybe if she's willing to go on OW, you could focus your help on trying to get her into a cheaper apartment and/or Internet plan? Before she's completely destroyed her credit rating will be easier than after.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:23 AM on February 21, 2013

« Older And if you don't kink then you're no friend of...   |   North Londoners - tell me your back/neck pain... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.