How to keep it together when no one else is?
July 20, 2016 5:30 AM   Subscribe

With a family in crisis, how do you keep yourself together while everyone else seems to be falling apart?

First, I'm doing what I can to keep it together -- working out, minimal drinking, seeing pals when I feel up to it, talking openly with my partner, therapy, good sleep hygiene. I am supporting my sibling in all the best non-judgmental ways that I can.

My family is having a really rough time. I live a plane ride away, and for the first time ever, have a life that is calm, joyful, and loving. Our parents were extremely emotionally abusive, and I've worked really hard to forge a life where there's true unconditional love and peace. I can feel my stress from family spilling out, and I'm scared I'm going to mess up everything I have worked very hard for.

My adult sibling is in serious suicidal crisis. It's really bad. I'm scared every time my phone rings that it's going to be "the call," or if not, another breakdown and hospital visit. They are doing everything they can to get better, and witnessing that courage and struggle breaks my heart every day. My parent drinks heavily, and is in frequent contact. They are of little to no help, and in fact, usually make things worse for everyone.

In short -- How do you deal / still enjoy life when someone you love so dearly is suffering and in such constant pain? I feel like I'm wearing a 200lb weight vest every day, and it's getting harder and harder to feel hopeful, or to even do the things I know are good for me / help me stay a strong and valuable support.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry you're going through this. Take a deep breath.

You're doing SO GOOD! It sounds like you're on the right path with therapy, sleep, a supportive partner, and friends....

So here's just a small reminder: Part of having healthy boundaries is to remind yourself that you're only responsible for your actions and emotions, and not the actions and emotions of others.

It's so so so so so hard when there are so many complex emotions involved (love, fear, anger, regret, hope...) but you can't take that 200lb burden on your shoulders for everyone: it doesn't do you good, or your sibling. You can still be a supportive and caring sibling without being helplessly reactive to the pain of others.

Mindfulness can help with this (and I struggle with it too). Try metta, or loving-kindness meditation: for me, it makes me feel like instead of taking IN the pain of other people, I'm training myself to push OUT the love and compassion that's in my heart to help others. Don't be afraid to reach out to your friends, too. Do what you need to do to manage YOUR emotions and needs.

You're not going to mess up everything you've worked very hard for: I promise. You sound very thoughtful and compassionate. Good luck.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:57 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry this is happening; I recently went through something similar except it was my teenage son who had a med change and suicidal thinking and treatment, etc. I was also freaking out and concerned about putting this heaviness on his sisters' shoulders. (Also, imagining the things he was thinking and how hard he was working to not hurt himself -- that broke my heart.)

What I did: first, remember that he WANTS to get better and that is HUGE. There are people and facilities who are very good in their work who will help him. Trust that he is getting help.

Next, take good care of yourself. Exercise, hydrate, eat well, meditate, do some hot yoga, whatever. Your falling apart will help nobody.

Now, make a conscious choice that your brother's problems are NOT yours. You can feel your sadness for what he's going through, but all the overthinking and stressing and fretting in the world will have NO EFFECT on his treatment. So you need to learn to let that go, which isn't easy, but you can do it.

When my son was hospitalized, after a brief check in with his sisters, I decided to start a book club so we were forced to talk about something other than his treatment. Our hearts weren't really into it at first, but we needed a reminder that incessantly stressing about him wasn't helping any of us.

It seems like your parents are not helping; I would avoid talking to them. I told my also unhelpful mother I couldn't get to the phone and only emailed her. This saved my sanity.

Lastly, I did a bit better when I was able to reframe my son's progress into very small pieces. It helped that I had a boss whose son had undergone similar issues and even went to the same psychiatric hospital for treatment. Instead of getting upset and wondering how it would all play out, I would assure myself that today my son was safe, and that was good enough.

I know how hard this is, but these are a few things that helped me.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:16 AM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've been in a prolonged family crisis for the last six months. I made a joke in the linked comment about relying on buspirone, but it really has been super helpful.
posted by workerant at 7:11 AM on July 20, 2016

Can you gradually and inconspicuously limit contact with the parent and gently, non-intrusively, gradually increase contact with the sibling? (Assuming the parent is continuing in their traditional nonhelpful/exacerbating roles, that is.)

I'm just thinking efficiency, here, because time and energy are not infinite: if the parent is not in a position to be useful, and it sounds like that's the situation, no sense wasting work on the parent. As soon as you determine that a given call is not "the" call, end the call. Not in a fighty way because you don't need to get into the big dumb circus fight the parent is trying to gin up in order to distract from the horrible immediate. Don't try to explain to the parent but do quickly act to end these communications. And then do a little ritual thing like light a match and blow it out to indicate "done with that particular piece of bullshit" so you don't obsess over it. Treat the parent's calls like you'd treat a telemarketing call. Will take much practice, which parent will no doubt provide. Better yet, if you can do it, yes I said yes I will Yes's e-mail-only idea is perfect. "Oh man, my phone broke. What a time for that to happen, right?!" I would full-on lie. Arguments with narcissistic parents used up much of my otherwise pleasant and frolicsome fourth decade. I should've just lied my way out of everything, hell.

For talking to your dear brave sibling, I heard something the other week on NPR somewhere that might be helpful. It profoundly changed my own attitude toward this, anyhow. I heard that suffering people often find family/friends' "I will do anything to help you, I would pluck out my own eyes, yadda" stance painful and inhibiting. So your relative distance from the situation and your relatively non-fraught okayness with living your own life might actually be a boon to your sibling.

(Interestingly, my own knee-jerk response was to come in here and yell, "Do anything you can to get your sibling out of there, fly them to your house, save them save them!" Which would be textbook savior BS of the exact type that apparently will make the problem worse.)

(But--and I can't tell quite, but if the sibling is still living with the parent, if feasible maybe you could invite the sibling to come visit some time? For a limited time, at a time distant enough to be convenient to you both, something normal and not couched in emergency-shriek and only if it's feasible, that would be nice to do. It's not a fix for the ultimate problem. You would not be saving anything. You would just be saying, Hey maybe can you come spend a week or two? We'd just sit on the couch and play some Uno. Just offering a little vacation break from steeping in the parental wacksauce--which, important to note, otherpeople wacksauce isn't the problem. The sibling's problem is for the sibling to determine and for the sibling to solve--as is getting away from the parent, if need be. But knowing that the parent is wack and that you, too, can clearly see that the parent is wack will be comforting. And speaking as someone currently distanced from parental wackitude, a break from it is very soothing to the brain.)

NAMI is a helpful resource.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:37 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Al-Anon is built to help people exactly like you. I am the opposite of religious but a key tenant of the Al-Anon fellowship is to "take what you like and leave the rest" and folks mean it. Going to Al-Anon taught me to be a better adult and a happier, saner person even as a relative was being shuttled from treatment center to treatment center in an effort to keep them alive after a suicide attempt. It's a community and a support system for people who have friends or family with drinking problems. Please go to a meeting as soon as you can. If you can't go to a physical meeting, there are telephone meetings. Don't worry about the God stuff, if you aren't religious. It is a safe and welcoming place for many of us. I am so sorry that you're facing such a painful situation.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:48 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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