Terrible family situation with my mother, sister and disabled husband


#1

I do not know how to explain this briefly, but I will try. I am 63 and my husband is 62 and is disabled and in a wheelchair (he had polio as a child and became totally wheelchair bound two years ago). My mother is 85 and has emphysema and spondylitis of the back, and other health problems. My sister is 53 and has recently gone back to live with my mother. My sister has had many relationships and has just left an abusive one. The problem is that my sister has many severe problems - they were apparent to me when she was in her teens, but my mother would not see it. My sister has presented with problems throughout her life - cannot explain as it would make the post too long.

My husband and I are now in extreme difficulty as my sister is, we feel, very mentally ill. She is doing all kinds of things and is almost driving my mother mad. It goes on both day and night. My mother managed finally to get her to a doctor the other day, but the doctor said that he could not help and that mental health is the Cindereall of the National Health Service (I live in the U.K). I fear that my mother and my sister did not explain the full seriousness of my sister’s mental state and what she is doing and how she is behaving. My mother did tell the doctor that she is 85 and cannot cope any more with my sister.

My mother is constantly ringing my husband and myself with crises and my husband has to go out to them, and either take them somewhere to calm my sister down, or whatever they decide they want. This is so dangerous for him to do. But he does it, and yet knows he should not do it.

I am also at my mother’s beck and call because no-one else will help her. We do not know where to turn for help for my mother and my sister. We have tried and tried.

My husband and I cannot carry on any more, and tonight he was called out at almost 10p.m. and this is not right at all, but he did not refuse. His health will suffer from it.

We have both tried, so often to stop all of this, but my mother is alone and 85 and very ill. We just don’t know what to do any more.

I know that my first responsibility is to my husband and he is sick. I do not know what to do about my mother however, as she is desperately in need of help.

I am not sure if I have explained this very well, but I have done my best.

There is probably no advice that anyone can offer. I feel guilty and so bad if I do not help my mother, but then I feel so bad because it is affecting my husband and he really has been very sick. I am so torn and just don’t know what to do or if would be blamed by God for not helping my mother. Sorry this is so long. Thankyou for reading this. God bless you all. (I am Catholic and so is my husband, but my family is not and they are not religious at all)


#2

I am going to be blunt. I do not mean to hurt you, but to be honest and forthright about what you have posted. I am going to try to say everything plainly, but with charity.

Your mother is 85. She is a grown, adult woman. Is she of sound mind? I mean by that, is she mentally impaired to where she cannot make proper choices for herself? If she is reasonably mentally sound, then (and here is the blunt part) she has chosen to allow your sister to move back in with her. For whatever reason, that was her choice. I assume she knows enough about your sister to know that she will cause trouble.

What your sister and your mother are doing is called “triangulation.” They are using you and your husband to carry on their tumultuous relationship and each probably talks about the other to you and/or your husband, and being caught between them both tears you and your husband up inside. What to do?

Stop taking your mother’s phone calls. Period. Or, if you can’t imagine simply cutting off contact, then tell your mother that when the conversation starts to become about your sister, you have to hang up the phone. Same with your sister. No more rescuing of either one. You say you are at your mother’s beck and call because no one else will help her? No, you are choosing to be at her beck and call, and you can choose not to be.

Does this sound cruel? It actually may be a blessing to both of them. They will need to figure out how to live with each other or perhaps your mother will have your sister evicted. You might be surprised at what happens when you take yourself out of the triangle. I’ll tell you my experience. My father had always been wrapped up in my sister’s drama. He would give her money, pay off car loans, give her rent and food money, etc. and although he seemed not to like to do it, he chose to do it nonetheless. My sister and my father were living in the same town, 2 states away from me. One Sunday, my dad called me and all he did was gripe about my sister. Then, my sister called me and all she did was gripe about my dad! I listened to both of them and tried to help, but after I had hung up the phone, I realized 2 things. They probably both felt better for having vented, but I felt worse, and, there was NOTHING I could do from 2 states away, so why was I even listening? I called them both back and told them in no uncertain terms that if they called me and talked about each other I was going to hang up. It took a lot of courage for me to do that because that had been my role for a long time, being their referee and listening post. But after I hung up from the 2nd calls, I felt 1,000% better!

(Now, I will say that nothing much changed for my sister and my dad, for a number of years, but at least I wasn’t hearing about the drama so I was OK if they carried on as usual. Eventually his wife got tired of my sister’s mooching and Dad cut her off. She finally grew up somewhat and learned to support herself.)

I did almost the same thing when my FIL’s 2nd wife and he were divorcing. I liked her and we got along, but she had started to call me and tell me all sorts of details about their marriage, which was inappropriate. I had to tell her that as much as I considered her a friend, he is my husband’s father and grandfather to my kids and I couldn’t listen to the intimate details of their breakup. She stopped calling me. It was a relief.

You have to set boundaries or your lives will never be your own, and your mother and sister will continue to impact your health and your dear husband’s health. Your choice. You can always pray for your mother and sister, but to continue to be the rescuer is doing you physical harm. How much is enough?

p.s. I will add you to my prayers. Dealing with family is never easy. If you can get the book “Boundaries” from the library, I know you will find it helpful. It’s by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Helps you sort out what is and isn’t your responsibility.


#3

Is there a social services agency you could call? It sounds like a visit from a counsellor might shed some light… Perhaps someone who advocates for the elderly needs to evaluate if your mom is in any danger


#4

Thankyou to both of you for your kind reponses. TheRealJuliane - no, you were not too blunt at all. Much of this is true and makes sense. There are complications however. The first one is that my mother is very sick actually, and has not the strength to deal with all of this, or my sister. She has emphysema, as I said, and much of the time she has problems breathing. Yes, doctors have been consulted but here in the U.K. not much is done. Different culture to America I think.

I am actually formally Carer for my husband, but also Carer for my mother. Again, complicated situation.

However, what you have said is totally correct - how to deal with it is the issue. We have attempted to get various ‘bodies’ in the U.K. to help us, but at the end of the day, no-one can. Social Services say that my mother has to ask them for help herself. That makes sense of course.

Now, if my mother was younger, and not so sick, there would be no problem at all. In fact we have been very ‘apart’ from her for most of our married lives. The difference now is that she is sick and old. I do not know if I would know if she was dying or not. We thought last week that she was - a visit to the doctor revealed an infection. If we had not been there to get her to the doctors this could have killed her.

So, that is my real dilemma. I struggle with what God would say to me for leaving my mother to die. I guess, however, that this is what I must do. We are attempting, today, to contact further 'agencies, to try to get someone else to help her other than us. The real problem is that my sister is mentally ill, but has never been diagnosed. This should have happened years ago, but never did. As you say though, we have to cut off from this.

Thankyou for your advice.


#5

Then get your mother to ask them. If she can talk, she should be able to ask them. If she can write, she should be able to ask them.

If she refuses, your husband comes first.

Prayers,

KG


#6

Will your mother ask for help? Or will she continue to make excuses for your sister?

I know - it’s hard when your mother is sick and old. But she gave permission for your sister to move back in, did she not? If she did not give your sister permission, then some agency or another should step in and straighten out the problem.

I know the elderly are increasingly disposable in a lot of societies. They cost the system way too much and I’m sure the bureaucrats and functionaries are told, “Do nothing,” meanwhile, you go crazy trying to help.

I am sorry that you are in the situation and I will pray for you.


#7

[quote="Robswife, post:1, topic:239336"]
I do not know how to explain this briefly, but I will try. I am 63 and my husband is 62 and is disabled and in a wheelchair (he had polio as a child and became totally wheelchair bound two years ago). My mother is 85 and has emphysema and spondylitis of the back, and other health problems. My sister is 53 and has recently gone back to live with my mother. My sister has had many relationships and has just left an abusive one. The problem is that my sister has many severe problems - they were apparent to me when she was in her teens, but my mother would not see it. My sister has presented with problems throughout her life - cannot explain as it would make the post too long.

My husband and I are now in extreme difficulty as my sister is, we feel, very mentally ill. She is doing all kinds of things and is almost driving my mother mad. It goes on both day and night. My mother managed finally to get her to a doctor the other day, but the doctor said that he could not help and that mental health is the Cindereall of the National Health Service (I live in the U.K). I fear that my mother and my sister did not explain the full seriousness of my sister's mental state and what she is doing and how she is behaving. My mother did tell the doctor that she is 85 and cannot cope any more with my sister.

My mother is constantly ringing my husband and myself with crises and my husband has to go out to them, and either take them somewhere to calm my sister down, or whatever they decide they want. This is so dangerous for him to do. But he does it, and yet knows he should not do it.

I am also at my mother's beck and call because no-one else will help her. We do not know where to turn for help for my mother and my sister. We have tried and tried.

My husband and I cannot carry on any more, and tonight he was called out at almost 10p.m. and this is not right at all, but he did not refuse. His health will suffer from it.

We have both tried, so often to stop all of this, but my mother is alone and 85 and very ill. We just don't know what to do any more.

I know that my first responsibility is to my husband and he is sick. I do not know what to do about my mother however, as she is desperately in need of help.

I am not sure if I have explained this very well, but I have done my best.

There is probably no advice that anyone can offer. I feel guilty and so bad if I do not help my mother, but then I feel so bad because it is affecting my husband and he really has been very sick. I am so torn and just don't know what to do or if would be blamed by God for not helping my mother. Sorry this is so long. Thankyou for reading this. God bless you all. (I am Catholic and so is my husband, but my family is not and they are not religious at all)

[/quote]

if you believe your sister is mentally ill then she needs treatment, if she wont get that willingly or her doctor wont take it seriously then you need to go to your doctor and explain the whole thing and ask what the steps you need to take to have her legally commited (then by law she has to go to hospital and be treated, they will release her once they have treated her)


#8

We do have a lot of forum members who are in the UK, maybe one of them will read this and know if there is a way for you to get help for your mother and sister and for you to get out of the middle of the mess. I know you have socialized medicine over there and that sometimes no agency will do anything. But perhaps there is a way.


#9

I am going to recommend 3 resources that promote different points of view but are US resources so they will probably not be able to directly help you anyway - what they will offer is familiarity with situations like this and perhaps referrals to specific professionals where you live. Finding the right doctor or hospital program can make all the difference:

As other posters have pointed out you can't save your sister but if she is mentally ill that is a real illness that goes beyond causing drama or chaos, although she may do that as well. I have a family that chooses not to see that I'm ill, they acknowledge it but blame it on bad attitude even though I have always complied with treatment and tried as hard as I could not to cause trouble. My parents may be like your mother in not getting it but you can get help for yourself and perhaps your sister as well.

treatmentadvocacycenter.org/

This is a group that focuses on getting people often involuntary treatment. There are two things I don't like about it - they are very heavily biological in their understanding of mental illness to the point where they deny that psychotherapy can help, and I think psychotherapy is often essential even with psychosis.

However I recommend them b/c they have 'been there' and have expertise and on a daily basis they talk to family members and help them cope. Some of their material is in writing which may help you.

They have a short bullet point summary that I've repeated many times - there are 3 potential indicators that someone with mental illness could be violent. They are: current untreated substance-abuse problem, or relapse into substance abuse after a period of being clean; past history of violence, and lack of compliance with mental health treatment.

My suggestion is to call or email and say you live in the UK but are desperate - they hear from desperate family members all the time unfortunately.

my second suggestion - if you think your sister has post-traumatic stress or even some other condition that psychotherapy would help with, there is a US group called Sidran that can help. they are at -

www.sidran.org

I am not saying your family 'caused' her illness; having traumatic events happen is very common in the general population. Recent research is showing that if a person has a serious even psychotic mental illness and also has post-traumatic stress disorder, treating the PTSD can improve the person's mental health. PTSD is an anxiety disorder and contributes to mood disturbances which a mentally ill person does not need. Lowering the level of anxiety to a more reasonable level is always a good thing.

I'm recommending Sidran in general b/c they will not put suggestions for help on their website although they have a help desk. That is b/c they insist on interacting with people individually, whether that is patients or family members, before they offer suggestions. They might be able to tell you where to start looking.

The third one is a hospital program that turned things around for me - Sheppard Pratt trauma disorders unit. Just 18 days there really changed the picture for me in a good way. The focus is on coping with present-day stress, not on reliving past trauma if any, or "searching" for it.

traumaatsp.org/

I have a long story with many years of treatment and it is not true that all mentally ill people refuse help, some of us really want help and have trouble finding it. I have severe bipolar disorder that is probably life-long (I'm 42) and PTSD that is ameliorating with treatment.

I hope this helps. All of these organizations work with doctors internationally although they may not say it on their sites. I have personal experience with all 3 of these places and in addition to having mental illness I have a library science degree and plowed through many resources, these are 3 of the best. If I knew UK resources I would suggest them but that is really better off coming from a professional.

About your mother - it sounds like she may be eligible for financial or caretaking assistance but she does not want to apply? In that case I agree with the real Juliane that it's really unfair of her to expect you to pick up the slack. The one thing I don't agree with is that your sister may be quite ill, not just doing things out of drama, or she could be naturally chaotic and very ill as well.

I have a family who prefers to look the other way and when I have been very ill they really thought it was due to a bad attitude, no amount of explaining helped. I know this is bias about mental illness b/c my parents used to be enraged if I showed I had a problem in childhood when these things were not discussed. Now they are much more tolerant as US culture has become but they still see my illness as a personal failing, something they don't understand. My sisters are more understanding than my parents so just telling your sister that you think something is wrong and you want to help, but you can't save her, but you don't blame her for being troubled/ill - saying that could really help. If she is receptive to it. She may not react to hearing it but that would have made a big difference to me to hear something like that from my family even once.

In contrast my husband is extremely supportive. But I think you need to focus on getting help for yourself so that you are not overwhelmed by your mother and sister's problems when you need to be taking care of yourself and your husband.


#10

This is why I like the treatment advocacy center even though I don't agree with them 100%. They are very realistic and they focus on families protecting themselves especially when in a caregiving role. For example:

treatmentadvocacycenter.org/get-help/be-prepared-for-an-emergency

There is a whole article on overwhelmed caregivers that is available to read and the principles they describe probably apply to the UK, with the exception that the laws are different.

I'm sorry you are faced with these difficulties and will pray for you.


#11

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.