I don't know what to do about my elderly mentally ill alcoholic mother
September 5, 2017 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm at a point where my mother's mere existence is causing me so much stress. I don't know what to do or how to deal with her for the rest of her life. I wrote these three questions about her. I've taken the advice and encouragement given to me in those posts and I'm in the process of moving out, but what next? I'm at such a loss. I don't know what to do about her.

Long story short my father died this year and he basically did everything for my 72 year-old mentally ill (she was diagnosed with schizophrenia 14/16 years ago, but I don't know any more than what my father told me at the time). My mother takes very poor care of herself. She doesn't bathe, brush her teeth, rarely changes her clothes, doesn't wash her hair, etc. She only leaves the house to go to the local bar. (She says she just has two beers, but you would think she's had about six or seven. She comes back soooooo wasted.)

Right now all her bills are set up to be automatically withdrawn from her bank account (everything from property taxes to house insurance). I think she has a decent amount of money that she SHOULD be able to live on for the rest of her life from my father. She also owns her house. She doesn't want to move to a senior's home ever (well the other day she did say when she's 75 she'll move, but whatever). I mean, she says she can "live on her own," but can she??

I know I should look in to power of attorney at some point, but I dealing with her has just become so draining. There's no way she'd ever agree to be evaluated by a mental health professional or declared incompetent, or whatever. I don't think doing that is something that's realistic. I just... I'm at a point where I don't know what else I should be doing. Is it OKAY if I don't do more? I just feel like I'm at a loss. I'm constantly worried that she'll somehow "spend" all her money at the bar and I don't know, I'll just have to spend my life taking care of her until she dies.

I'm 29 and moving out later this week. In addition I've started grad school and I'm still working and I just....... want to live a life at this point. I feel like I'm doing nothing for myself anymore and I spend so much time worrying about my mother and worrying about the worst case scenario and frightened that I won't be able to live any sort of life because of her. And then of course I'm trying to really deal with the deep seated shame and resentment I have towards my mother, which I didn't think about too much until my father died. I am seeing a therapist. But what else should I do? I just... I'm lost and worried. Like, is there still hope for me to have a real life despite my mother?
posted by modesty.blaise to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, you can just go and live your life. You have my permission. It is okay to not do more.

Try an Al-Anon meeting, though. For real. It will help you live a better life free of shame and resentment, and it doesn't cost any money. I found it through AskMeFi and never looked back.
posted by juniperesque at 6:07 PM on September 5, 2017 [14 favorites]

Your father took on the task of caring for your mother, who clearly cannot take care of herself, voluntarily, as an adult, as her husband.

You are her child. Even though you're an adult, it's a very different relationship, and a very different burden. In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent takes care of the child (and ideally detaches somewhat as the child moves into independent adulthood). It sounds like you haven't been taken care of by your mother for a very long time, if you're 29 now and she was diagnosed with major mental illness 15 years ago--when you were a young teen. It's not your job to take care of her. It's not fair to expect you to.

Yes, you can move out. Yes, you can have a life. Yes, there are almost certainly social services in your area that can help make sure she's taken care of, or at least watched over, by someone else. Move out, take a breather, and start looking for those resources.

Good luck to you.
posted by Sublimity at 6:16 PM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

There are ways to set up a trust to minimize the damage an addict can do to their finances. I don't know much about this beyond the sentence I just typed or whether it's feasible in this situation. But it might be thinking about if it allows you to walk away knowing you've done all you can and that she won't call you in a month having run out of money - it sounds like that possibility would be a constant source of worry for you and a means of hooking you back in to living with or supporting her.

Glad you are in therapy. Al-Anon is probably worth checking out too. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about your situation-- it sounds horrible. I think it would be easier on yourself if you sort things out now before crisis hits. People in their 70s can be pretty frail, especially if they've struggled with substance use, and although it sounds incredibly draining to deal with your mother, it's better to deal with thing when she's still reasonably with it, and you haven't gotten up to bat for your qualifying exams or thesis defense just yet. Being a POA doesn't mean that your mother has to be declared incompetent right this second, but having all that on file will make the whole process smoother when she can't make her own decisions. You don't have to do all of this yourself, or even do it all at once. Look into a case manager or social worker to help with the process. They're used to mediating this type of conversation about when to look for assisted living / nursing home situations. Good luck with everything.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:30 PM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess another question is how am I supposed to figure out how to make her a will or get power of attorney (which she has to agree to, correct) when she is pretty much always drunk?

To be "fair," she actually doesn't drink in the winter months because she's too afraid of slipping on ice to walk to the bar. I guess I'll have to wait until the winter to sort it out.

How do you get a social worker or a caseworker involved in a situation like this? She doesn't want help. A social worker who visited me and my father in the hospital really just said all we could do was automate her bills and make sure she had food and that was it. If she doesn't feel anything is "wrong" with her, what can be done?
posted by modesty.blaise at 6:40 PM on September 5, 2017

Your mother's physician should be involved. You can voice your concerns to her physician beforehand, and he/she should assess your mother on a number of things, like fall risk/history of falls, nutritional status, compliance with medications, cognitive status, ability to perform basic living tasks, and so on. Pitch it to your mother as a "you need your annual checkup and flu shot" or something like that. If the doctor agrees that your mother can't take care of herself, usually they can make referrals for either a visiting nursing assistant to come to your mother's house, or make referrals for a case manager to mediate the transition to assisted living.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:47 PM on September 5, 2017

Response by poster: She doesn't have a physician and has never had one and is not likely to go to one. If she could be reasoned with at that level, at least, I don't think I would feel so frustrated or as anxious about the situation. Again, she only leaves the house to walk to the bar. How do I force her against her will to go a physician?
posted by modesty.blaise at 6:50 PM on September 5, 2017

Yes there is hope that you can have a real life despite her. To get it will require you practicing loving detachment- you love her and you accept that nothing you can do will change her life. The reality is that unless she becomes a danger to another person she will continue to live the way she does and eventually get worse and die. Trying to fight reality is making you stressed and your life unmanageable. You can grieve or be angry or both, but it is what it is. I'm so sorry and I wish you the best.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:08 PM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm glad you're moving out - I've been wondering how you're getting on. The current worries not withstanding you will feel so much better in your new place.

To help with the worrying. Have you been in touch with any local support groups for families of
- sufferers of schizophrenia
- alcoholics
- the elderly?

This will do two things. Firstly, her illness and alcoholism have clearly affected you as well and it may be really helpful to meet people who have faced these challenges. You are not alone in this. Secondly, they will know what local support may be available for her and can put you in touch with such support. At least that way you know what is/isn't available, the limits of what can be done in her current state of functioning. You can then step back knowing you've set up whatever support you can. And you absolutely should step back and live your life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:22 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree you can and should step back.
In my state, there is an Adult Protective Services agency. You could call them and they'd go check out the situation.
posted by kerf at 8:03 PM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

You cannot both force her against her will do do things she does not want to do, and also stop being involved and live your own life. It is one or the other. They are mutually exclusive.

You say: "I guess another question is how am I supposed to figure out how to make her a will or get power of attorney (which she has to agree to, correct) when she is pretty much always drunk?"

The answer is, you don't. You don't figure it out. You let her live her life and you go live yours. To do otherwise is crazymaking and will suck you in and make it impossible for you to live your own life.

You say: "How do you get a social worker or a caseworker involved in a situation like this? She doesn't want help. A social worker who visited me and my father in the hospital really just said all we could do was automate her bills and make sure she had food and that was it. If she doesn't feel anything is "wrong" with her, what can be done?"

The answer is, you don't. You can do pretty much what the social worker said you could do, and no more. No more can be done.

You say: "How do I force her against her will to go a physician?"

You cannot. You cannot force her to do anything. You sounded so ready to find your own way up there at the top and then you circled the drain again with your follow-ups. I can so clearly see your struggle here, and it is one I know well and am familiar with. Being raised by an alcoholic changes your brain, and these patterns of thinking can be unlearned and you can live a life free of worry, shame, and resentment when you are ready.

You want to live your own life, but you cannot if you keep getting sucked back in with these follow up questions. It is really black and white: You cannot case-manage her life and also live your own. It is not possible in this circumstance. There is no hack or clever trick you haven't heard of yet or advice you are just waiting to hear. Do you see the theme in your questions? "How do I make her..." ? You cannot. You have to let that go. You cannot.
posted by juniperesque at 8:20 PM on September 5, 2017 [26 favorites]

If you get a will and power of attorney written (you'll want both a health care POA/living will and a durable financial POA), you arrange for a notary public to come her house and notarize her signing the documents.

As someone else said above, the Power of Attorney authorizes you to act for your mother but does not take away her power to act on her behalf. Also, it doesn't obligate you to do anything. So it won't keep her from spending all her money but it will make it easier for you to step in if she needs to come up with money for a nursing home or has to sell her house when she isn't able to.

We used NOLO press's Will Maker software for our first set of wills/POA, when the issues were simple and paid a lawyer to do later ones when our lives got more complicated. The benefit of an computer version is that you can sit down and work on it with your mother as she is available to talk with you about it and she doesn't need to leave the house to talk to an attorney.
posted by metahawk at 8:25 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

You are not a bad person or child because you can't take this on.

You won't be a bad person or child if you choose not to change that, either.

Let go and let live. All you can do from here is that.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:41 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Walk away. Just walk away and go live your life. It is that simple. Youre done there. You can go back and visit her from time to time if you want to and feel up to it, but you don't have to. Just walk away.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:59 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

What makes you think there is anything you can do for her?

If there was an obvious solution you would have found it. If there was an obvious solution someone on the internet or someone you talked about this would have pointed it out.

You may be trying to solve an insolvable problem on par with, "How can I stop my mother from aging?" or "How can I go back to the past and do it over?" or "What can I say that will stop an alcoholic from drinking?"

Perhaps a good question you can ask yourself is, "How can I be at peace with the fact that I can't heal my mother?"
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:19 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your jurisdiction if in the US should have an Adult protective services or something similar you can call who will do home assessments for this kind of situation and make recommendations if a higher level of care is needed.

It is sometimes the first step for nursing home care for some people who do not want to go.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:24 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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