My Family is Falling Apart in New and Interesting Ways

And I don’t know what the hell to do about it.

I am going to try to make this as concise as possible, but there is a lot of history so bear with me.

My mother is severely mentally ill, has been for quite some time (at least since I was 6 or 7 years old.) If I had to armchair diagnose her, I’d go with Borderline Personality Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. At her core, she is a truly good, fun-loving, caring person, but this thing that takes her over drives her to paranoia, fits of rage, narcissism, and extremely controlling and unpredictable behavior (Example: driving a car deliberately into the side of my stepfather’s office building, hitting reverse, and doing it again.) My childhood was a living hell because of this, but this thread really isn’t about my childhood.

My Mom and I have come to an understanding - she doesn’t abuse me and I have a relationship with her. We now have what I would call a mutually supportive relationship, though I admit I really struggle sometimes with trying to take care of her and fix her problems for her, and she has a tendency to be dependent on me in that way, calling and asking for advice and sometimes claiming I am the only one who truly understands her (which I admit is probably true.)

She is trying, really trying, for the first time since I can remember, to get her shit together. She has admitted more than once that she knows she needs help but she is still incredibly unstable and really doesn’t know how to control herself or deal with her very strong emotions. It’s actually quite tragic.

My Mom is certainly not the only mentally ill person in our family (my uncle is paranoid schizoaffective, my other uncle, bipolar, killed himself) but her singular capacity to wreak havoc in already horrible situations is just astounding. Recently, my maternal grandmother’s husband died. I’ll try not to get into the details of this drama because it’s long and confusing (and embarrassing) but I’ll try to highlight the most relevant bits.

My Mom’s favorite person to irrationally hate is one of the people I love most in the world, my Aunt. My Aunt is my best friend, sister and mother all rolled into one, she spent years supporting my mother and did everything she could to protect me while growing up; she took me into her home when I was 17 and she is one of the most straightforward, competent, selfless people I know. Her devotion not only to me, but to other family members, including my mother, is without peer. I could write a novel about how completely amazing my Aunt is. The fact that I feel this way no doubt drives my mother absolutely fucking crazy with jealousy, but there it is.

My Mom called on Thanksgiving Day last year (two weeks after my grandfather’s death) in a vain attempt to drive a wedge between me and my Aunt and my Grandma. She was angry when I got defensive and started talking about how much she wanted to die. I spent the next two days on the phone with my Mom trying to prevent her from killing herself. I tried to fix the problem, tried to play mediator for everybody, but it was bigger than me and I realized I could not get involved without compromising my own mental health. Then something similar happened when I visited for Christmas - I got sucked in again, very unhealthy for me, and resolved, yet again, not to become too involved.

When my Mom realized that I was not going to take sides, she set her sights instead of my grieving grandmother. My grandmother is currently not ‘‘allowed’’ to talk about my Mom with my Aunt or to mention my Aunt’s name to my Mom. My mother is convinced, based on a purely fabricated personal narrative, that my Aunt has a secret relationship with her ex-husband’s sister, and that her ex-husband is plotting to destroy her and my Aunt is somehow apathetic or complicit to this. This all started when my Aunt talked to my Mom’s Ex’s sister at Grandpa’s funeral and was invited to a BBQ. She never went, but my Mom is nonetheless convinced that my Aunt is an enemy on ‘‘his side.’’

My Grandmother has done everything to try to make my mother happy because she still has PTSD from her first marriage, which was abusive and controlling. Meanwhile, she’s grieving a death, she has cancer, and her blood pressure is through the roof.

I was recently informed that last week, when my Mom took my Grandma to the hospital for her surgery, Grandma had an allergic reaction and nearly died. My Mom apparently absolutely fell apart. She started vomiting and on the way home she totally flew off the handle and started screaming to my grandmother that this was all my Aunt’s fault and my Aunt should have been the one to take her to the hospital and that of all the things she regretted the most, she regretted ever allowing me to get close to my Aunt because she is such a terrible influence on me. She said all sorts of nasty things about my Aunt (none of which I’m supposed to know), then screamed and demanded to be let out of the car. Meanwhile my poor Grandma is driving with a blood pressure through the roof and just begging my Mom to calm down so they can go home. My Mom then told her she would call the police on my Grandmother and report her for kidnapping if she didn’t stop the car. By the time they got home they were both sobbing hysterically and my Mom admitted she was fighting strong urges to grab a hold of the steering wheel and crash the car.

But Mom also told Grandma she couldn’t tell my Aunt anything about what happened. Well, my Grandma did, because she is terrified, and we now realize that my Mom cannot take care of my Grandma or help her through this. She admitted it herself, and called my Aunt and asked her to do it. My Aunt was already doing that even though she lives in a different state so of course she said yes, she totally understands and my Mom doesn’t have to worry about it. But less than two hours later Mom was calling leaving crazy ranting messages and acting like none of the previous conversation ever happened.

My Aunt and my Grandma are both at their wit’s end and I love them very much.

So three things.

  1. I am incredibly worried about my mother, as she has apparently been hiding the crazy from me SO WELL. She’s always been paranoid but I feel like it’s reaching the level of psychosis at this point and am very concerned. I don’t know who could help her because she pushes everyone away and I live in another part of the country.
  2. I am incredibly worried about my grandmother, who has already been identified as ‘‘high risk’’ for her upcoming surgery and is utterly convinced that she is going to die. She clearly cannot control her reactions to my Mom or stand up for herself without shooting her blood pressure through the roof. She lives alone, and the nearest relative who can take care of her is my Aunt, who lives about four hours away.
  3. I am incredibly pissed off that my Mom is villainizing my Aunt and I am really frightened that the next time she calls me to bitch about how neglected and ignored she is, I am going to lose my own shit and say something I regret. I know she is mentally ill, but I’m furious beyond belief that she could just say these blatantly untrue things about someone I care so much about, someone who has sacrificed so much for her, and who has forgiven her so many times for all the anger and hatred she directs toward her. I’m just really angry at my Mom and I’m afraid if we talk it’s going to make the situation worse.

I know I should be learning some lesson about not being involved, but every time something comes up, it feels like life or death to me. It was always life or death. It has been life or death. What if I don’t talk to my Mom and she kills herself? What if my Grandma really does have a heart attack? What can I do? I live twelve hours away and I love all of them so much.

Good times. Thanks for listening.

Is you mom willing to discuss hospitalization and/or medication?

Olives, I really wish I knew what to say, but I don’t. I wanted to post, though, and tell you that I’m here, I care, and I’m sorry you’re going through this.

I’m sure other people, more eloquent than I am, will come along and help you with good advice. (Thank goodness.) All I can offer you is my caring and support.

Wow. I don’t know what to say other than I send my best and strongest energy to you and Dom.

Unfortunately, no, she is adamant that she will not be medicated. Her brother is schizophrenic and the experience of seeing him institutionalized at such a young age was really traumatic for her.

She is willing to consider therapy, though. It’s hard because there was a time when she utterly refused to acknowledge anything was wrong - now she knows something is wrong but doesn’t know how to help herself. Sr. Olives recently did a practicum on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and mailed her a book about Borderline Personality Disorder which she loved, and she admitted that she related very strongly to the described symptoms. But she hasn’t yet sought treatment. It’s like emotional ADD I guess - whatever she’s feeling in that second just dominates everything, to hell with whatever happened two seconds ago. She can also get really upset if you try to push her too hard. So I try not to get my hopes up.

Thank you all for your well-wishings. I really don’t expect anyone to know what to do about it. I think I just needed to get it out. I’ve been trying to minimize all this stuff as much as possible but it feels like I just have to talk about it right now.

You need a group like Al-Anon - a support group for the friends and families of the mentally ill. Is there actually such a thing? Because there should be. How do you separate yourself so you can be a supportive family member to your mom and not let her pull you down with her?

Hmm… hadn’t considered that. NAMI maybe? Back in Michigan they had a group called FEST which helped people deal with mentally ill family members, but it emphasized schizophrenia and bipolar, not personality disorders. Thanks for the tip, I’ll see what I can find.

Consider working to detach with love from your mom. You didn’t cause her to be this way, you can’t control her thoughts, feelings, or actions, and you can’t cure her.

I endorse finding some sort of mutual support group, perhaps via NAMI or similar. Set good limits, don’t take responsibility for her feelings or behaviors, and stay in your own lane.

olivesmarch4th I am so sorry you’re caught in such a difficult place. I went through a similar situation with my brother very recently. I spent a year giving my all to helping him sort through the wreckage of his life. I don’t want to make this about me and my brother, but I do need to tell you that the emotional and physical toll this could take on you could be life threatening to YOU.

Despite living with my husband and me, our helping him to buy his own place 5 minutes away from our house, checking on him daily and having him over to dinner several times a week - he still tried to kill himself. He didn’t call me when he did it (took a bottle of pills) he sent a text to a friend 3,000 miles away who didn’t know where he lived. Luckily he was found and admitted to hospital. He’s been diagnosed as OCPD; BiPolar; Paranoid; Depressive with Alcoholic Mood Disorder.

Making a long story short - I have serious medical issues of my own, including extremely high blood pressure. I’ve had to take a medical accommodation at work to manage my stress. Over the past year my meds have been increased monthly to try to get it within high normal levels.

I met with my brother’s psychiatrist in hospital who asked me when I took on the mothering role for him. I really reflected on the cost to my own health and the fact I wasn’t really helping him, as I was trying to solve his problems and fix things for him but he wasn’t improving at all.

I had to make the tough decision to listen without offering advice and put every effort into not becoming embroiled in his many issues. For example, when he is at the height of his paranoia, I just listen without comment. I have a new key message for him, now that he has a psychiatrist. I simply say, “you have a professional who will help you with that”.

So perhaps my advice would be to develop a key message for your Mom, where you simply repeat, “Mom, you need to have a professional help you sort these things out”.

Perhaps you could also help your Grandma (bless her heart) take up the same message - which might allow her to step back a bit and feel less responsible. Is it possible to pay for a cab for your Grandmother, so she’s not in a dangerous situation in a car?

Your Aunt sounds very level-headed and generous of thought and action. Make sure she knows how much you appreciate her balanced assistance. (You could tell her I think she’s a hero too, if you like).

In the meantime, be kind to yourself and know that you are not responsible for your Mom’s actions. You also don’t always have to be strong - I do know how hard it is when you love someone who is mentally ill. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

Hey olives, just wanted to post in support. Your mother reminds me of my father, and my fathers favorite person to irrationally hate is my wife :frowning: I feel where you’re coming from. I hate it for you and wish you the best

No suggestions, just best wishes for a difficult situation.

NAMI locally at least has a couple of support groups for the families of people with mental illness. Also the local chapter may be able to suggest resources for you to check.

I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. Take care of yourself.

If she kills herself, it’s not your fault.
If you stop talking to her, and she kills herself - it still wouldn’t be your fault.
If you keep talking to her, and her sickness gets worse, and she kills herself - not your fault.
She’s sick, and that’s not your fault, either.
Sometimes this sickness is fatal. That’s awful, but it’s not your fault.
You can’t cure this sickness, and it’s not your fault.

Your mom is who she is. Nothing she does is your fault.

This is just excellent advice. Your mother is not ever going to be a healthy, normal person. She’s a rabid dog and if you keep her in your sphere, you are going to be bitten. If your mother were not there, your grandmother would find another way to get the help she needs; since your mother is not stable and therefore not really ‘there,’ your grandmother will need to find other assistance from other sources. Your aunt sounds like a terrific person who must be heartily fed up with cleaning up the damage your mother has caused.

I’m so sorry, and I know this isn’t what you want, but your mother is not ever going to get better. You have to take care of you and your own, and that doesn’t include her.

There are no shoulds or if-onlys. There is only what there is. What does your experience and gut tell you about who your mother is?

I know what it’s like to know that it really is life or death but that you can’t fix people. I hope you’re able to find some peace and support.

Hoooo, boy, Olives, dear, my heart goes out to you. Glad you could vent here - maybe someone will wander along with additional coherent advice, as I’m afraid I have none for you right now. You’ve lived one helluva life, though, I’ll tell you that.

The "what if"s and the guilt stuff, though? That stuff: it’s just not up to you. It’s not up to you. It’s not up to you and never will be and never was. Repeat as needed.

Also, the advice upthread about having a standardized script (what’d you call it? a key message?) is good. It helps give you words to say when you don’t know what to say, or you think you’ll fly off the handle and say shit you regret.

What if you slipped drugs into her food?

I’m so sorry you’re going through this, olives. I agree that you’ve already gotten some excellent advice here. Both the support group and forcing yourself to detach yourself from your mom’s situation should help you take care of yourself. I know it’s very difficult to do this, but we all know you’re very strong and can do it.

I’ll be thinking about you and hoping that everything improves.

I don’t have any advice. All that I can say is good luck, Olives. Do what you can do, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Oh, well that’s awful big of her.

I mean, it’s great that she’s made enough progress to acknowledge that there’s a problem, but it’s simultaneously exceedingly shitty that she apparently doesn’t consider it a serious enough problem to actually try to do anything about it. And this is a problem she has to do something about, because nobody else can. Not you, not your granny, not your aunt, not your sweetie, not the Vice President In Charge of Attitude Adjustments at Acme, Inc. She has to take steps to help herself, and until she does, there is dick-all you can do to help her. And even if she does take these steps, there’s still probably very little you can do to help her.

I know it’s stressful and scary and overwhelming and everything seems utterly fraught with responsibility and OMG PANIC STATIONS!!! Learning to deal with life and death situations is like that. But I’ll tell you a little something about life and death situations, the first and worst lesson you have to learn in medicine: No matter what you do, how smart or talented you are, how hard you work or try, you’re not going to be able to save anything remotely like all of them. It’s something you have to wrap not just your head, but your heart and gut, around and it sucks. But it’s the only thing that keeps it from eating you alive.