Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How to Deal with Family Members Who Won't Help

At the end of yesterday's post, I promised to address Chas' comments on Bipolar Anger (Part 3). He wrote the following:

"I am so f**k**g (this is a PG blog) pissed at my mother. I am 42 and was diagnosed when I was 21. I have never been able to accept that she cannot handle learning about the illness and helping me. When I push the issue (I recently suggested a book), I get hostility and criticism. When I try to avoid my mother, I feel guilty and fearful that I am hurting her. I have siblings and a father but really do not care as much about their ignorant, inhumane approach. Anyway, I do not see how to let this go. Right now I am worried about having to go home for Thanksgiving."

* * *

I'm hoping that those of you who have had a similar experience will share some of the things you've done--hopefully that have worked--with Chas. As I've mentioned before, despite my disappointment with many family members and friends, my mother and husband have always been wonderfully supportive. (And my dad died four years before I was diagnosed.)

Chas, obviously my first suggestion would be for you to discuss all this with a therapist or counselor. (If the fee is an issue, there are plenty of people who are available at no cost.) My own experience is that severe disappointment with others greatly exacerbates this illness. And while we always hope the people we love will be there for us, sadly enough, often that is not the case.

It's difficult to know if the problem is the "stigma" of the illness or whether there are other underlying problems. Sometimes, people are so afraid of the label, "mental illness," that they are paralyzed to help. I'm not sure what your mother's problem is with this but it certainly is important to explore. Clearly, you're very angry--understandably so--but unless you can resolve this in some way, I'm afraid it will have a real negative impact on healing.

In terms of holidays, that is probably a universal problem for many of us. For years, I tried to celebrate holidays with family members--even those who were not supportive and whose behavior contributed to my illness. I primarily did it for my son but it was a mistake because these two days--Thanksgiving and Christmas--caused me to be sick for months and that didn't help him or me.

And it's not like I didn't try to "change the way I felt" about the holidays. In fact, I spent hundreds of dollars discussing it in therapy and I couldn't resolve it. What I learned is that for me, some people are toxic, and so are some environments.

So, these days we celebrate the holidays with family members who are supportive and affirming. I know other people who have such a terrible history of celebrating the holidays with their families that they've developed new traditions with friends, which is another possibility.

Sometimes, writing a letter of explanation as to "why you can't attend" a family holiday can alleviate the guilt you feel as long as it's written in love rather than anger.


JayPeeFreely said...

It is always difficult to deal with them. I guess the best thing is to not deal with them at all.

No matter how hard you try, how nicely you try, they will annoy or do anything to upset a person struggling with bigger issues.

But assistance from others does help.

Have a good holiday!!!

soulfree said...

i would think the best would be to minimise the point of contact. i live in asia whereas my younger brother does very well in the US. i am so so surprised that months pass by and he never, never feels like communicating with me. i have no money to call him up and the only day he really calls for only me is my birthday.
it hurts. it was not meant to be this way. i thought blood was thicker than water...but is it. last year when he and his wife came home i was in deepest of blues. can u believe...not a word passed between us? i was naturally in a frozen state but why did he have to?
i know from him, coz he is the closest of them all, that i really dont want to be with them when they are in my vicinity- even if i am not unwell. when i cannot be accorded the dignity that a due to a sister and a patient in my weak moment...the whole world will be there to celebrate my strong ones. what woudl it matter then that a brother or uncle are there or not.
but right now deep down i agonise sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I have a sister (age 45) who has bipolar. I am her 56 year old sister. I am already dreading the holidays I dread going to see my parents on Thanksgiving and Christmas because I know she will be at their home. I get a knot in the pit of my stomach everytime I thik about going. She will be there all day on both holidays. She has not spoken to me in 6 months because I talked back to her last February when she called me out of the clear blue sky and swore and screamed at me for 30 minutes for no reason. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for writing. I'm going to address your question in tomorrow's post.