My mom is in the mental hospital.
September 29, 2022 10:19 AM   Subscribe

My (29F) mother (59F) is in a mental hospital right now. She is on disability for her mental health and takes care of her intellectually disabled brother. I am her emergency contact and the hospital called me to take my uncle. I have been caring for him all week. I am stressed and also don't know what to do long term with my uncle and mom. It seems to be up to my sister and I.

She had an extremely dysfunctional upbringing (lived in bad poverty with disabled mom and grandma, plus five siblings each from different dads and three of which were intellectually disabled [her mother was an alcoholic] or thieves, she only went to school until 5th grade). She met my dad (middle class carpenter with abusive family background), accidentally had my sister at 20, married and divorced him (extremely volatile marriage), accidentally had me at 30 (we both have same dad).

I grew up living with my dad because my mom was mentally unfit, she went into a mental hospital until relatively better, was in an out throughout my childhood. She is extreme bipolar and schizophrenic. I remember my dad picking me up and I would be crying hysterically because she was drunk and screaming at me and I had to lock myself in the bathroom. He would just say, "Yeah your mom is not right but she's your mom," and then let me go back there next weekend.

I grew up living with my dad, his girlfriend, and her two daughters. Stepmom seemed jealous of me. It was pretty toxic, I would confide in my mom, not realizing how mentally insane she was. My mom got custody of her half brother who has an intellectual disability when their mom died. My mom tried to turn me against my whole family basically. I didn’t know what to believe.

My mom and I have had a toxic relationship, but everybody thinks we're closest. My 40 year old sister has had her blocked since her teens and rarely ever speaks to her, which my dad and aunt look down on her for, though they don’t like her either and only sometimes tolerate her. They leave my sister and I holding the bag. I only sometimes have her blocked but I’ve just had a feeling of intense hatred for her since I was a teen probably.

She has put me through a lot. When not blocked she will call me 20 times a day over nonsense, screaming and hollering, causing drama, she’s always paranoid, she drives me crazy. Sometimes she can be okay and give me comfort. She’s called my boss to yell at him, showed up at my work telling all my coworkers I don’t talk to her to get them to feel sorry for her and think I’m a bad person, all kinds of crazy stuff.

For the last 20 years or so she has lived independently with her intellectually disabled brother taking care of him. She can’t keep any jobs. So they are both on disability and can’t make it without the other. They are barely scooting by, always completely broke borrowing money from people. She used to be going to mental hospitals every couple months many years ago but has been better I guess the last decade, but still goes off her meds and acts up and probably should go. She was acting up a couple months ago and I couldn’t take it and stopped talking to her. I knew her social workers knew that she was acting up, and they were calling me asking me what to do and if my uncle was okay. I said she just needs her meds. I thought they took more responsibility but apparently they work for my mom.

I didn't talk to my mom for a month, blocked her, she got a new number (always does this) and I just monitored her texts. I don't want the responsibility of her. I struggle myself.

So Sunday she went into the mental hospital, the hospital called me to pick up my uncle. I picked up my uncle and her keys. It has fallen on me, her youngest daughter, to care for my uncle all week completely unexpectedly. We sleep at my mom's house so he has his bed, he goes to daycare and gets dropped off at my house, when I get off work we go to his house to sleep. I work from home. Also, when I got to my mom's the house was a disaster, papers all over the floor, her social security cards credit cards thrown about, food scraps and cigarette butts everywhere...

Sister can’t stand my mom and I can’t either. I mean, idk, I feel like my mom always expects me to take care of her when I didn’t even have a mother, she just is too much. I’ve been running myself ragged caring for my uncle and stressing. My sister has taken over talking to all the social workers, respite care, etc. And my mom is blowing up my phone constantly all day wanting to see how my uncle is, is he crying for her, she calls every 30 minutes to check while I’m also taking calls from my dad, sister, social workers, etc., and trying to work. I got rude on the phone with my mom today because she has been telling everyone that I‘ve blocked the hospital phone so she can’t call me, which I haven’t, I’ve just been letting some of her 20 calls a day go to voicemail because if I don’t I just want to yell at her. Idk. My compassion is about gone. She says I’m the only one who ever cared for her, she’s asking “who’s behind all this”, if it’s the Indian reservation, my uncle, my dad, her sister. She thinks everyone is plotting against her. She’s delusional and paranoid. I don’t have the patience to talk to her 20 times a day while she’s delusional and paranoid and drugged up while also caring for my uncle and working full time and being completely stressed out. My sister asked the hospital why she has access to phones, they said it's a human right. We get the impression she is just drugged up talking on the phone all day.

Her sister was supposed to watch my uncle all weekend starting Friday (I watched him all week) but backed out to only one night this weekend that she doesn’t want to do, because I told her that he is easy to care for and was trying to be a good sport, not knowing when my mom would be let out, so my aunt made social plans for herself Friday night and Saturday day. She says she works a lot and my mom will get paranoid with her in her house. Basically she doesn’t seem to give a darn. My sister says she’s nuts too. She only will watch him if my mom has TV and I don't know if her TV works, she doesn't watch it. Luckily a kind neighbor/friend of my mom’s is taking Friday night so I can have a break before watching him all next week too. My mom might be let out next Tuesday if her meds start working but they definitely haven't yet.

I’ve been on the verge of panic attacks, have racing heart, impending doom, trying to breathe at night... My dad stopped by my house and I'm embarrassed at how I've kept it.

I feel like my mom really wants someone to care for her but I feel like I hate her honestly. She’s harmed so much of my life.

My sister wants them both put in homes. Over the years my mom has filed bankruptcy, went off meds many times, she yells at my uncle, constantly burning one bridge after another with people, can’t keep a job more than a couple days, many episodes, leaving voicemails screaming at people, starting drama, fires any caretakers that try to help her, new social worker every other month. She will also call up news stations, government agencies, companies and complain and accuse and tell everyone how she was victimized by them, has paranoid delusions. She sits on the phone all day smoking on the phone. That’s what she is doing at the hospital, she’s drugged up calling people all day, the hospital said phones are a basic human right and they can’t stop her even though she’s delusional and harassing everyone.

But she demands to be independent and my dad thinks she could be, and her sister does too, but they make terrible decisions. My sister is very savvy and smart. I’m afraid of being judged for having my mom and uncle put in a home. I could consider caring for my uncle but my mom is the most volatile and difficult person I know, I don’t think I could ever care for her. It would be self sacrifice and I would end up in a mental hospital.

Part of me thinks she’s acting this way for attention and care. She really wants someone to care for her, she keeps saying no one does. The only reason people don’t talk to her is because of how intrusive, abusive, smothering, insane she acts. I don’t have the skills to relate to her well. My friend who I’ve known for 15 years asked if I thought she might have done this so I would talk to her again, she has an attachment to me. She called the police on herself basically Sunday and was hallucinating, seeing things (said she saw a nasty foot), papers were flying everywhere, food scraps everywhere, said my uncle wouldn’t stop eating, she stared at the wall for hours…

I just don’t know.

Basically the options seem to be:
- keep things as they were (her independent, taking care of her brother) however she also is aging and in terrible shape, can’t bathe him without hurting, complains all the time about caring for him although she chooses to so she can be independent, and he gives her purpose. This seems like the worst thing to do.
- try and make her choose to go to a home and put her brother in a home. She currently is her own guardian so we can’t make her do anything and she is extremely stubborn. Also paranoid. She might end up homeless, who knows!!! She can't afford to live alone.
- my sister and I get a conservatorship or guardianship over her, which takes months, lawyers, money, court time, to prove she is unfit, so we can make her decisions and put her in some kind of home.

The social workers say it’s up to me and my sister (the family) what to do, and they’ll make it happen. You can apparently be your own guardian even if you are extremely low functioning, unless someone claims you and you agree, I think. If my uncle goes to a home ASAP, my mom will be on her own financially and she can’t afford rent. If we got guardianship over her, it would take a long time it sounds like, it’s a legal and court process, she would have a lawyer, etc.

We live in Missouri.
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I’m afraid of being judged for having my mom and uncle put in a home.

This is literally the only downside you have listed for pursuing this option. Everything else -- hundreds of words, paragraph after paragraph -- is fully valid and thought-out reasons why you simply cannot care for them. I think the first step will be the hardest. But please, please, do not light yourself on fire to keep woman warm. Please take care of yourself. You are the only person in your life who can take care of you. There are dozens of people who can take care of your mom and your uncle. They need more than you can give them.

I would relinquish care. I would change my number. I would move. I would save myself.
posted by kate blank at 10:29 AM on September 29, 2022 [94 favorites]

I have worked at a government office and been on the end of MANY phone calls like the ones you describe. There are people who behave in such a way that they have nobody in their life who isn't paid to be there (and half of the ones who are paid to be there end up refusing to do the work because of the relentless abuse). The only way you will be able to find compassion for your mother (and she does warrant compassion!) is to not be a part of the day-to-day drama. You are not a bad person, or a bad daughter, to want to live without your mother's presence in your life.

There may also be some cultural elements with which most of the users of this site are largely unfamiliar - I noticed you mentioned a reservation. I'm not at all familiar with Missouri and the resources available there, but I wanted to highlight this point in the hopes that other commenters will suggest something.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:47 AM on September 29, 2022 [13 favorites]

From how you describe current conditions and the fact that your mother likely has unmanaged conditions, I actually wonder if your uncle would be under significantly better care if we were in a home.

There are several questions that run through my mind as to his care, such as:
  • Is she monitoring his heath (vs. a home, which is likely to schedule appointments and/or help with medication distribution if applicable.)?
  • When she is in these states, how does she treat your uncle? (From how you describe your childhood, I would be significantly concerned that she might not treat her brother well during any episodes.)
You also mention this...

...her social workers knew that she was acting up, and they were calling me asking me what to do and if my uncle was okay...

...which might indicate he is not being treated well during these episodes.

Why not sit down with (a) social worker(s) and see homes? I suspect he might be treated better, have better outcomes, etc.

I don't know if it is available in your area, but NAMI might be a useful resource to either identify resources and/or talk to others who have had to make similar decisions.

I don't know the answer about your mother, but if I were in your shoes and/or had a friend in your shoes, I would probably lean toward getting your uncle into a home based on the minimal info you have shared here.

Good luck, OP. I think you are phenomenally generous to have done this much for them so far. Maybe step back. Talk to the social workers. I would consider asking them: What would you do if this were your relative (and to elaborate their rationale).
posted by Wolfster at 10:52 AM on September 29, 2022 [10 favorites]

It's okay if you can't meet your mother's needs and your uncle's needs.

If it comes to breaking point, you could not collect your uncle from daycare and the daycare would have to figure short term respite out.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 10:53 AM on September 29, 2022 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess the only downside of having them in homes is judgement but also my mom would probably hate us and it would make her worse, maybe.

The Indian reservation comment, so I talked to my mom today and she is senseless and said that maybe they are “behind all this”. She said she doesn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes and someone has to be the ruler. She’s out of her mind and says random stuff like this all the time. She thought of the Indian reservation because her grandma was a full blood Chippewa Indian, and her and her siblings inherited some money or land or something one time. I think it’s completely irrelevant, it’s just a new insane thing she is saying.

I am sure that they will be going to homes. I feel like I’m about to lose my own mind with all the stress. I look awful. It’s just a matter of how we do it. Luckily my sister is taking more care of that, while I care for my uncle.
posted by anon1129 at 10:53 AM on September 29, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I’m afraid of being judged for having my mom and uncle put in a home.

I want to encourage you to put aside the fear and panic for a moment and figure out what might actually happen to you if you are judged for this. Will you die? Will you lose the ability to take care of yourself and deal with your own daily life?

The people around you who are telling you they think she could do this or do that or be able to do whatever: they just don't want to get stuck having to deal with it. They've got lots of opinions about what YOU should do so that THEY don't have to. They do not care about anyone's well-being but their own. If they judge you, just go ahead and judge them back harder. Once you let go of caring about this, your life and choices will become so much clearer and more manageable.

Institutionalization will not be a luxury cruise for them, but it won't be any less unsafe and insecure than it is now. It may actually be a significantly better life for your uncle.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on September 29, 2022 [32 favorites]

Definitely get a new phone number which your mother doesn't know, so you can get a break from your mother's calls.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 10:54 AM on September 29, 2022 [5 favorites]

Oh wow, you need to stop prioritizing them over yourself right now. Even if you were prioritizing yourself at the same level as them, you would _have_ to protect yourself more in order to have any hope of helping them at all.

You are in a real, material crisis, and the judgment of others needs to be less of a thing, if you can manage it.

It sounds like your sister will _totally_ understand, and probably your other relatives will too. Almost anybody who knows any part of this story will also understand -- but that doesn't matter as much as your survival as a kind, emotionally mostly intact human.

Do what you need to do.
posted by amtho at 11:05 AM on September 29, 2022 [11 favorites]

I’m afraid of being judged for having my mom and uncle put in a home.

While i can fully relate (i had my brother made a ward of the court and placed into a home, as it became dangerous for him and her to remain with my mother and broke off contact with my mother after decades of highly disfunctional relationship between us), i can report from the other side having gone through this process (which was harrowing, draining and scarry) that not only was it the right decision for me but also such a freeing result. And while there were people judging me, others unexpectedly told me it was the right thing to do.

Don't sacrifice yourself any longer. Tell the social workers you want them to go into a home/homes. It will be hard work and difficult for sure, but Wörth the pain.
posted by 15L06 at 11:11 AM on September 29, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I must confess I haven't read your whole post, but I caught the line about feeling judged and wanted to offer this counter to that. Here in Sweden we try to avoid having family be caretakers for vulnerable or disabled adults. The appropriate thing to ensure their independence, dignity, quality of care, unbiased attention (ie, that they don't have to "behave well" to be cared for) by having that provided by professionals who are trained, overseen, etc. I for example, would not want my partner to be taking care of my personal hygiene if I needed that support, I would want to preserve our extant roles towards each other. So yep, just to give you a different perspective, that ensuring that they get professionally competent care is for sure a more ethical call than ruining your life and health trying to provide anything approaching that on your own.
posted by Iteki at 11:15 AM on September 29, 2022 [54 favorites]

Can you separate the decisions for your mother from the decision for your uncle?
It sounds to me like maybe your uncle is not getting good care living with your mother and, depending on his level of functioning and his own preferences, he may actually have a better quality of life have the structure and support of professionals. Assuming that he is still living close by, you can then visit regularly, weekly or even more often, and then your time together be focused on higher quality interactions instead of pressure of daily routines. I wonder if the social worker you have or someone from Adult Protective Services can do an evaluation of your uncle's living situation when he is with your mother so it is not just your call to say that it can't continue. You might consider having him live full time with you but it as Itekei said it might be better for you to preserve your role as niece and allow professional to do the heavy caregiving. More importantly I think your mother will make it impossible for you to care for your uncle without undue drama so I don't recommend it.

I know this will have an impact on your mother financially and otherwise but you can't just put her in a home if she doesn't want to go (and if you do, she will probably act out in ways that will get her kicked out. However, her options may become clearer to her once she realizes that she can't sustain living on her own by herself. It may take a crash and burn for her to get there - that's hard to watch. Your mother will need to make her own choices but you need to be very clear and strong that having her live with you will not work - it is just going to burn you out and then you will start behaving in ways that aren't healthy for you or for her. Better to find something that is at least sustainable for you and then you do the best you can (while protecting yourself) for your mother.
posted by metahawk at 12:07 PM on September 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

> My sister wants them both put in homes.

Your sister is 100% correct. Nobody in your family, including you, has the skills or capacity to be able to provide the care that these two people desperately need. They should absolutely be put in homes because they deserve better than to be left to their own devices most of the time with only occasional help from completely unresourced, and worse, extremely reluctant family members. None of this is your fault, indeed, none of this is *anyone*'s fault. But it will be a tragedy (and a preventable one at that) if you do not put them in homes where there can be some semblance of reliable structure and care for them. Among other things, you will not be able to continue being a daughter if you insist on burdening yourself with responsibilities that you have no idea how to fulfill, responsibilities that you don't even want. The camel's back is close to cracking. It is time for you to accept your own limitations.

> Part of me thinks she’s acting this way for attention and care. She really wants someone to care for her, she keeps saying no one does. The only reason people don’t talk to her is because of how intrusive, abusive, smothering, insane she acts. I don’t have the skills to relate to her well.

I suspect that figuring out your mother's motivations, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and character will be the work of a lifetime for you. Nobody who has a mentally ill parent escapes this constant drumbeat of "but why why why why why are they like this", the whole unresolved mess of what happened to us. There is no way out of this confusion you are feeling, there is only a way through.

You need to honor your own need to hash this out, and honor your need to heal in many other ways too, ideally with the help of a therapist. There is hope for you, and there can be healing for you. You will have the space and the capacity to chase after your own healing, if you accept that your mother and your uncle need to be in a home.
posted by MiraK at 12:15 PM on September 29, 2022 [14 favorites]

You cannot sustain this on your own. If you have options to get your uncle into a facility that can safely care for him, that’s better than breaking yourself to keep him out of one. Your father’s perspective on your mother is highly biased: from your description, she’s not able to safely maintain her independence and care for your uncle consistently. She might—aside from the uncle—be able to avoid being legally forced into an assisted living or nursing home setting, but she’s not functioning in a safe and stable way. And you can’t fix it for her. You can’t facilitate her stability. You’ve made an incredible, generous, and consistent effort to help her, and if one person’s efforts could do the job… it would be done.

If you can get one or both of them into a nursing home where they will be safe, supervised, and cared for, they will be better off. Anyone who judges you for that is unreasonable and unkind, and if they say one word about it, appropriate responses would include, “I don’t care what you think,” “what an insulting thing to say to me,” or “eat a bag of dicks.”
posted by theotherdurassister at 12:22 PM on September 29, 2022 [6 favorites]

I almost had a breakdown reading your story. This is not sustainable. You are on a sinking ship. You seem to think you should go down with the ship because you are all they got. You know how to swim. Your mom and uncle do not. Swim to get help. I would tell your mom that her choices are to voluntarily go to a home or involuntarily, but if voluntary, you are more likely to visit and be a part of her life to the extent possible.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:44 PM on September 29, 2022 [4 favorites]

Your dilemma is very familiar, and I've been in similar situations a couple of times, with friends, not family, so not as fraught.

There are some of us who, for whatever reasons (in my case, a combination of having a good heart and a lot of empathy, and needing to learn to set boundaries) end up the last remaining support person in someone's life.

As that last person, it feels like you're the only one standing between this person and ruin, and that, if it goes badly, it will somehow be your fault.

It can help to remember that you're in this situation because everybody else already bowed out. It's like that joke where the sergeant asks for a volunteer and all the soldiers but one step back. You didn't volunteer. You just didn't know that everybody else was going to step back and leave you all alone out front to handle it.

Whatever happens to your mom and uncle is not up to you and is not your fault. It's the result of all these years of decisions, behaviors, and bad luck that put them in this vulnerable position.

You can't make things good for them. You can't fix it. But you can protect yourself. I hope you're able to listen to the people in this thread who are telling you it's OK to do that.

Good luck. I know from personal experience how hard this is. But it's better on the other side.
posted by Well I never at 12:45 PM on September 29, 2022 [16 favorites]

I want to reinforce that it can be true that your mother - like any human - craves care and attention and comfort, but also that her Issues make it very difficult to do that without a good bit of professional training AND INFRASTRUCTURE. Severe psycho-neuro disorders cannot be solved with love and good intentions.

You are capable of caring about her well-being so that is what you can do; it is not your fault you are not a psychiatrist, pharmacist, and social worker plus 24/7 patient and facility care, and it's not a failure to recognize the need for all those kinds of people to get involved.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:33 PM on September 29, 2022 [4 favorites]

Along with what everyone else has said, I wanted to emphasize your father’s treatment of you is harmful.

As a kid, he should’ve said that your mom is still your mom, but has mental health issues that make it impossible for her to care for you. That he still dropped you off at her house is infuriating to me. That isn’t okay.

Now he’s dumping this problem on you *again*. He may love you, but he doesn’t know healthy boundaries. You aren’t meant to be everything for your mother and or uncle. You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, and it sounds like that means getting professional care for your mother.

If you can, see if you can go to therapy yourself. You are taking on a large mental load, and having help processing that would be beificial.
posted by Monday at 2:24 PM on September 29, 2022 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: My dad has always said that she’s our mom and we should still talk to her and not block her. When I blocked her a month ago, he kinda said I shouldn’t do that, she’s my mom. My sister doesn’t give a care, our cousin and aunt shamed her for blocking our mom, but she said she doesn’t care, she’s protecting herself and children.

My dad saw my mom’s friend today, he tried to help by going to my mom’s to do my uncle’s laundry etc. while I worked from home and he was in daycare. He ran into her neighbor friend who has been talking to my mom daily and thinks my mom and uncle need eachother and my dad thinks the same. So my dad and sister aren’t talking much, my sister thinks they should be put in homes probably but wants my opinion, my dad thinks things should go right back to how they were, and so does my aunt. If anything is to happen we probably need my aunt and other uncle (who is also mentally challenged but can live alone with a caretaker, still struggles majorly though) to agree unless we can get emergency custody or something.

So yeah. My dad totally thinks mom should be out soon and able to care for my uncle. But my dad encourages me to have a relationship with her even though it hurts me. My dad himself has been abusive and neglectful. I talked to my friend from high school and she said my parents never took care of me. And that they should be put in homes. That’s what I want to do. Everyone has an opinion but when my mom fails to care for him my sister and I hold the bag.
posted by anon1129 at 2:37 PM on September 29, 2022

I'm sorry. When trained professionals are providing the necessary care for your uncle, your mom's own health may improve. Trying to take care of him is a significant daily stressor for her.

This is the first time you've been made point person for him while she's in hospital, and it was unexpected. Separate from how terribly hard that is on you, consider that anxiety over him/his care is part of what's driving her dozens of daily calls. Definitely block these calls while she's being treated; it's either a single 'good night' check-in (if that's a safe idea you, her, and your uncle) that you place to her, or it's another task your sister manages.

They've been struggling for years and little to nothing in this situation is going to get easier as they age. Being in a predictable, structured environment with daily medication management (not the hospital -- she's there because she's in crisis, knows it's temporary, and may have bad associations because of previous episodes/stays) will. Getting supports in place now is the right thing to do.

Work with your sister on this. Your dad doesn't get a say unless he's funding some of his ex's care, which it doesn't sound like he is. When you write "My mom and I have had a toxic relationship, but everybody thinks we're closest," consider how convenient holding that notion is for everybody but you.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great news, my sister pushed and got my uncle set up for short term respite care, and we are taking him tonight!!!!!!
posted by anon1129 at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2022 [30 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, taking care of my uncle is a big stressor on my mom, but every time she gets caregiver help she fires them because she gets paranoid and slighted extremely easily I think and cancelled the short term resprite care plan they had in place (just got it reinstated). She complains about caring for him constantly but knows that without him she couldn’t live by herself and no one likes her to have her as a roommate, she’d be a terrible roommate always smoking on the phone yelling at everyone. So, having my uncle may be selfish of her, I know they love eachother very much of course, but I don’t think he gets the best care. She will cancel his daycare all the time because it’s too much work to bathe him and get him and her ready for the day, but she rejects help.
posted by anon1129 at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2022

Whether or not they're sharing a place, it doesn't seem like either one can live by themselves.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:54 PM on September 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, my mom was in and out of mental hospitals ever since my dad got custody of me at 1 year old. She only got my uncle when I was about 10 but was already suffering severe mental illness and acting just the same I believe.
posted by anon1129 at 3:04 PM on September 29, 2022

I believe you're overthinking this because you're understandably caught up in a mass of dysfunction. I encourage you to stop thinking about the details and the daily play-by-play, imagine rising up to a height of 30,000 feet, take a deep breath, and get a look from farther away.

You wouldn't hire a dogwalker to work on your electrical panel, nor should you with your particular limitation of skills be responsible for caretaking and/or administering to your uncle or mother, both of whom have specific needs requiring specialized skilled workers.

Anyone who is putting pressure on you to maintain things as they are, or take on this responsibility, is also a part of the dysfunction and even if their opinions are intensely felt, that doesn't mean they are "right."

Take that deep breath and do what you know is right for YOU. It will be hard for a while but it will get easier and one day you will look back on this with self-forgiveness and gratitude that you loved yourself enough to take this step.
posted by happy_cat at 3:28 PM on September 29, 2022 [16 favorites]

Best answer: You know what they tell you during flight safety briefings? Put on your own oxygen mask first. That advice is not in doubt. It is given because it maximises everybody’s chances of survival.

The only member of your family who is encouraging you to put your own mask on first is your sister. Every single other member of your family is telling you to help every single passenger on the crashing plane to put their mask on before putting on yours. And while they are telling you to help everybody else first what are they doing? They are putting on their own masks…not a single person is helping you except your sister. She’s successfully arranged care for your uncle, while honouring the boundaries she’s drawn for herself and her family…

Perhaps framing it like that makes it easier to see who to pay attention to.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2022 [37 favorites]

I'm the eldest of three. Our mother was mentally unstable, and all three of us suffer complex-ptsd. Your sister and I agree: it's time to take care of YOURSELF. You cannot solve your mother. You can heal from her, with time and distance. Put on your own oxygen mask, and let the professionals deal with your mother's.
posted by MuChao at 4:19 PM on September 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

I am an RN case manager who does hospital discharge work and has a lot of experience in other parts of the mental health and elder care systems as well. I want to warn you about some of the difficulties that might lie ahead as you try to navigate this situation, but also offer some encouragement.

-Nursing homes are at a terrible breaking point right now. This was greatly accelerated by Covid but was honestly inevitable, given the bare-bones staffing levels most facilities were already working with. The end result is that many facilities are being extremely picky about which patients they take on, especially for long term care. (As opposed to short-term rehab from an acute injury or chronic disease flare-up). If your goal is for your mother to enter a nursing home or personal care boarding home after discharging from the hospital—and I agree with other posters that this is a good goal, family guilt tripping be damned—then you should let your mother’s hospital social worker know as soon as possible. Since she will likely be a “difficult placement” due to her psychosis and intrusive behaviors, it would behoove her social worker to start sending out referrals to facilities ASAP. You should explicitly tell the social worker to cast a wide referral net—basically anywhere within your greater metro area that will accept your mother’s insurance.

-Inevitably, many of the nursing home referrals the hospital social worker send out will result in rejections. The weasel words facilities will use when they really mean “we don’t want to deal with someone who has a complex mental health history” is “we cannot accommodate this patient’s needs.” If there’s one facility that rejects her but is especially desirable for one reason or another (e.g. close to family members) then it might be worth reaching out to an admissions director to plead your case. Don’t try to fight every rejection, though, because you will burn yourself out and nursing home admissions directors are a weird and merciless bunch. Be prepared to accept a placement for your mother wherever the hospital may find one.

-It is entirely possible that the hospital will find no accepting facilities on their first round of referrals, then come to you and/or your sister begging you to take your mother home. They will guilt trip hard, because hospitals are still stretched to bursting and are forever eager to rid themselves of any patient they perceive as difficult, even with a discharge plan full of holes. If this happens, you have rights and you need to stand firm. The magic words are “this is not a safe discharge.” Tell them that you are insisting she stay until there is a safe discharge plan in place, and that plan cannot involve you being her permanent caregiver. Then see if the hospital social worker has any personal pull at certain nursing homes, or if you need to send another round of referrals to slightly farther away facilities, or if somewhere that didn’t have openings before might have had some discharges.

-Even if the hospital is able to find a nursing home bed for your mother quickly and get her discharged there, she may continue to call you nonstop. You may also get regular calls from the facility begging you to “do something” about her problematic behaviors. If this happens, it is your right to ask the nursing home to enter into your mother’s chart that you should only be contacted in cases of emergency (e.g mom is hospitalized or actively dying), or not be contacted at all. If you go the total no-contact route you’ll need to confer with your sister and other family members to determine who will be listed as an emergency contact. If nobody is willing or able to take that on—which sounds entirely possible and within reason—then the nursing home will need to start the process of getting a court-appointed guardian for your mother.

-I wish you luck and boundless resolve. I see families all the time who place endless pressure on themselves to keep people home in increasingly unsafe circumstances because “that’s what family does” or “it’s what [family member] wants,” without realizing that round the clock care of elders and people with severe mental illness is historically contingent on women not working for pay outside the home. Right now whatever you do outside the home is your work, and you are not physically or emotionally able to take on a second job that requires near full time hours and highly specialized training.
posted by I am a Sock, I am an Island at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2022 [67 favorites]

Caring for people with huge challenges like this is a full time job, and some people LIKE doing it so much that they chose to make it their full time job.

Let them. They also get to stop at the end of a shift and not feel crushing panic about their patients.

Just like you don’t need to fix your own roof or grow your own celery or dig your own house foundation or distill your own tequila, you also don’t have to become a home care nurse!

You are ALLOWED to NOT be a nurse. You can just be a daughter and neice in the way nature intended, by letting calls go to voicemail and visiting for a couple hours once or twenty times a year!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:51 PM on September 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

Clearly, you cannot keep on lighting yourself on fire to keep others warm! I’ve found help from the book “Adult children of emotionally immature parents” fwiw.

As an anecdote, if it’s helpful, my friend’s uncle who has Down’s syndrome, *wanted* to move to a group home as an adult rather than live with family. He saw all his siblings moving out to start their adult lives and wanted that too. I had a friend with physical and intellectual disabilities who had a similar story. As a PT, I’ve visited several group homes and they have been by in large run well. In my state at least, there are safeguards in place also. For example, I believe the laws here require a visit with the primary care doctor every 60 days to insure that residents’ needs are met.
posted by ticketmaster10 at 10:15 PM on September 29, 2022 [2 favorites]


You do not have the emotional resources, the physical resources, or the training to care for one of them, let alone both.

You are NOT actually responsible for either of them. No matter how much your mother, other family members, or any other toxic people in your life brainwashed/manipulated you into believing you are.

Your mother is DEFINITELY manipulating you with her "poor pitiful me, nobody loves me" act. She controls you that way... and she doesn't have to be accountable for her actions. Including the harm she's caused you for decades.

You are NOT obligated to her simply because she decided to keep you after an "accident". Even the way you write that shows how much you've been guilted and "trained" into permitting whatever abuse she feels like dishing out.

It's ok to get space from that toxicity. It's ok to let people that ARE trained to care for your mother and uncle do so. It'll actually be better for them - even if they're mad about it - in the long run.

It's ok to save yourself.

And it will be SO MUCH BETTER for you.

And, adding on to what nouvell-personne said... you can answer let those calls go to voicemail and return them once a year, twenty times a year... or maybe once every twenty years.

It's all ok. Really. (((hugs)))
posted by stormyteal at 11:05 PM on September 29, 2022 [5 favorites]

Your dad is abusive, don't listen to him! Your mom is abusive, don't listen to her! Save yourself and get away from them all, it is not and should not be your responsibility. Your uncle should be in a home of some kind. He does not need your mother. Don't worry about what other people think, they can't really know what you've been through. Get out of there, go live in a new place and you will gradually create a family of choice, people who care about you and that you care about.

My mom had schizophrenia and my dad was emotionally negligent and abusive, he was also violent. I cut them out of my life decades ago and I've never regretted it.
posted by mareli at 7:44 AM on September 30, 2022

Response by poster: I would also like to add that my dad was abusive and neglectful, definitely. Felt he had my stepmom’s back more than mine. He’s physically abused me, once at dinner while sitting on a stool I said something about my stepmom and while drinking milk he shoved it in my face and I fell over backwards on the floor covered in milk, had a bruise on my forehead and cuts on my cheeks. And then he screamed at me to clean it up. Also threw a remote at my back hard when I was mad at my stepmom. Used to scream a lot and call us “retarded” (horrible). And besides that he smoked a lot of marijuana and busied himself in house projects and tv. He’d pick me up from my moms and I would be hyperventilating because she was going crazy and drunk and acting explosive and insane. He would tell me yeah she’s your mom though. My sister tried her best to protect me and has been the only one seeming to actually care about me. She’s so incredibly strong and I feel kinda like the weaker empathetic trauma bonded one. I just want to be left alone. I have struggled with many issues including hair pulling, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression, dysthymia, social anxiety, autoimmune disease, bad relationships, codependency. At least I know my issues though! But I’m almost 30 and I need to get away from this dysfunction.
So I spent a lot of time alone in my room or outside. My stepmom said I just want people to feel sorry for me and her mistreatment of me was all in my head. I am ready to cut my mom out of my life completely but not sure about my dad. He is nicer over the years. Yesterday he did my uncle’s laundry and is trying to help but also insists things go back to how they were and I stay in contact with my mom. Idk. I’m so fed up.
posted by anon1129 at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Both your mother and uncle need to be in a professional care situation that does not involve you. Please stop listening to your father. He is directly responsible for traumatizing you, both by being abusive and neglectful to you himself as well as sending you back to be in the custody of your mother, who was very obviously totally unable to parent you and forced you to hide for your own safety. He doesn't get to comment on what's right and correct in this situation. He has failed you repeatedly and continues to do so now. He is encouraging you to overlook a history of trauma and abuse because you ignoring that directly benefits him and the fairytale he tells himself about having been a good parent to you. He was not a good parent. He continues to not have your best interests at heart.

Work with your sister to get your mother and uncle into permanent care and then give yourself the space and time to heal and recover from a lifetime of trauma. You are not obligated to destroy your life and wellbeing because of being born by chance to parents who were not fit to parent. Please save yourself.
posted by quince at 2:30 PM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

Of course your dad insists things go back - because he wouldn't have to take care of your mom in that case. But you would. He doesn't have a dog in this fight, you do.

Listen, do not throw away your life for some nebulous idea of duty. I LOVE my mom, she is the best, and I would still place her in a nursing home if she required intensive care, because I DO NOT HAVE the skills needed to take care of her. Even if your mom were the best mom in the world, you ARE NOT in the position to take care of her - she needs more than you can give.

Change your phone number so you have some space to think without answering allllll the calls, take advice from others above who gave you practical steps and tips on what to do, detach your feelings from this situation and just follow your sister's advice.
posted by gakiko at 2:34 PM on September 30, 2022

Do what you can do for your uncle, if there is a safe and stable institutional setting he could live in and if you have the legal and practical means to get him into it. if breaking down in a loud and emotional way that makes your other relatives uncomfortable will help to pressure them into helping you with this, do it. do not think twice about that. if they can be coerced into helping, what they think of you doesn't matter.

if that can be done:

1. leave some kind of message for your mother telling her where he has gone, that she will find when she goes home so that she will know he is safe. that way, your very last communication with her will have been a kind and helpful one

2. resolve to be done with the cycle of blocking her and waiting until she gets a new number to harass you with. change YOUR number. do not give your new number to anyone who is in contact with your mother. she can go on putting your old number on contact forms as long as she likes, but you won't have to know about it.

what she does with the rest of her life does not have to be your problem. you are not in charge of planning it out for her and you also do not have to know about it. you have more than earned the right to never think about her again. you may not be able to hold to that, it's not fully within your control, but you have also more than earned the right to never speak to her again, and you can definitely hold to that one. your sister went most of the way there and you can go all the way.

2(b) is it right to take away your mother's autonomy and assume guardianship against her will when she is at least borderline independent? It can be a hard question, but there's an easy answer here: it's wrong for you to do it because you hate her, and you have every reason to. you are exempt from wrestling with this horrible problem of Is it right to declare her incompetent, or is it just convenient for everyone else. By a lifetime of terrible actions she has made you exempt. It is a real problem but not a problem for you. you are exempt from figuring out her future and you are exempt from having to know about it. as soon as your uncle's living situation is solved, you are free.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:58 PM on September 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

I suggest you consider what your dad stands to lose if you follow your own needs and instincts. Here is a man who failed you in major ways when you were a child and depended on him for safety and parenting. Now you’re an adult, and he’s still telling you the same lie—she’s your mom so you haaaave to put up with her, forgive her, take care of her, let her abuse you, etc. But what if you chose to reject it? Not only would you be freeing yourself to prioritize your very valid, basic needs (to put your mask on first, as referenced above), but you would also be opening yourself up to the possibility of seeing your dad as he really is (and was): someone you do not owe any ongoing deference to. Do you think he might have a reason to want to avoid that?
posted by theotherdurassister at 7:01 PM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, the answer to anyone who has the temerity to question your decision is “are you offering to take them in?” (Ideally followed by “yeah, didn’t think so, punk”)
posted by Iteki at 9:19 PM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

I’m afraid of being judged for having my mom and uncle put in a home.

Things you can say:
"Oh, I didn't realize you wanted to take them in and care for them!"
"I feel they really deserve to have professionals with the knowledge to help them available anytime they need them, I don't think it's fair to deny them the professional care they need."

Also something to consider -- how does your uncle feel about living with your mom? Perhaps he would be happier living somewhere else. Might be best if they are in separate facilities.

And "a home" is often not the gloom and doom it's painted as. An elderly relative who moved into one seemed to be doing a lot better, happier, more physically active. There were a lot of organized activities with other people her age that she enjoyed a lot. Before moving there she just watched tv all day. I think nursing homes in the US are actually required to have some sort of activity director to provide interesting things for the residents to participate in.
posted by yohko at 5:05 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

My father is in LTC with senile dementia and he is frankly happier than he has been for pretty much my entire life. He is around people his own age who are all similarly dysfunctional and is pretty well looked after by professional staff. His social life is infinitely more social. His health has improved and he has gained weight and he is absolutely thrilled with the regular desserts with lunch and dinner.

Some aspects of institutional living look horrible from the outside but it is mostly caused by the causes of institutionalization themselves (growing old is the ultimate a creeping horror) and if we could see the previous home lives of those who end up institutionalized they are sometimes much much worse. This is even when people are trying very hard. It takes a lot. My family would have been unable to provide even a portion of the support that the LTC facility provides even with two middle class households' worth of resources even if international geography were not an issue.

Most importantly though, he is now much safer than he would be in a home scenario. Before he went into care he was sometimes found doing strange things like stacking kitchen knives on the counter or turning oven burners on and it is pretty much impossible to senile-adult proof a home. There are nurses, a full time doctor, continuity of care, physiotherapy and staff to help him dress, shower and use the toilets. They can let him wander and keep an eye on him, pick him up when he falls (often) and patch him up when he falls hard (also often). All of which we could not possibly do.

A care home is usually much better for people who need to be in one than a home.
posted by srboisvert at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2022

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