Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the other side

Because of the nature of the work I do, I have come across countless people whose loved ones are struggling with mental illness - and there is nothing their families can do for them.

It is a broken system - even moreso than the rest of the healthcare system because the families are not included in support, treatment, or decision-making once their loved one is legally adult.

I have written here before about my struggles with depression and anxiety. And now I find myself on the other side of this coin.

When I get upset, I hide out. I don't e-mail or call friends or ask them to make plans, because I don't want to be a burden. That's essentially what I've been doing the last few weeks because some major family shit is going down.

In a nutshell, my grandmother, who has struggled with untreated depression (read: depression she won't treat) is now having some kind of psychosis. Because my grandfather won't admit that there is a problem, he won't get her to any kind of treatment or evaluation. We are not sure, miles and miles away, if it is dementia, psychosis, or a combination thereof.

My dad gets disturbing phone messages. This normally sweet, formal lady has run around the neighborhood with paranoid delusions and threatened my grandfather and threatened to harm herself.

But because of super strict state laws, we can't hospitalize her. Why? Even though she has made threats, there is no specific "plan." Or if there is, she won't tell staff at the one hospital she has been taken to.

One of my coworkers told me it sounded like Monty Python. Doesn't it?

It is terribly upsetting to my dad, to whom I am hardwired. I have been distracted and anxious and unable to wrap my mind around accepting that the other shoe will eventually drop.

Are we control freaks? It is so frustrating to be unable to help, to sit by and be unable to intervene as my grandparents' lives slowly go to pieces.

I am sad and I am angry - angry because my grandfather is so worried about what people think that he is neglecting my grandmother's care. Angry because my grandmother also seems to be able to turn this behavior on and off. The one time she was taken to a hospital by law enforcement she started acting normal and they let her go home.

I feel powerless, depressed, and pissed off all at the same time. Although my grandparents have never been terribly interested in their grandchildren, I do have some nice memories and it is horrifying to imagine what is happening now.

My dad has been too upset to even talk about it. So it hit me the other day - so many families that come to us at work must be on their very last nerve, having avoided the issue for quite a long time. Although my impulse is always to try to get help for something and fix it right away, the stigma of mental illness in my grandparents' generation is very, very real.

And even with all of the resources of my professional life, we are unable to help my grandparents because of that stigma.

So, please - we are all affected by this issue. Talk about it. That's the only way to change things.


Senorita said...

You and I are on the same boat as far as anxiety and depression goes.

My grandmother gets depressed, but she hasn't ended up like your grandma.

I don't know what to say about this, except that services for the elderly and the mentally ill are deplorable.

Boonie S said...

This sounds to be deeply troubling. My thoughts are with you.

Best wishes from Boonie

Lynn said...

It is the most frightening thing in the world to watch a loved one slip away like that. I'm always here to talk if you need me, my friend.

Aliceson said...

I have avoided blogging about it (because my family reads my blog and most of them are in denial) but my grandmother has been having some serious mental health issues lately too. Doesn't sound as severe as your grandmother but still troubling to some of us who see it for what it is. She'll drive her car across town for a hair appointment (most of the time on the wrong day) and forget how to get back home. She's been very short with my fragile grandfather (he'll be 93 next month) and can't figure out their medications. My mom and her sister have refused to tell her doctor about her (dementia? Again we don't know because she's never been diagnosed or treated) issues and when the rest of us bring it up, because we're concerned about my grandparents' safety, we're told to butt out. Tough spot, really, I know.

Hang in there!

Fireblossom said...

I've been there, and it's hell on earth. My darling former spouse did all that stuff near the end, was paranoid, up all night, would wander off and get picked up by the cops, treated all attempts to help as interference, and turned my son's life and mine into utter hell.

But the same things happened...the behavior seemingly could be turned on and off. One minute climbing the walls, the next nice as pie when it suited. To get someone into a hospital, they pretty much have to be waving a knife around. Otherwise it's good night and good luck.

I got in the hospital, though, when I literally dropped from exhaustion. I wouldn't wish any of it on my worst enemy. It's been a decade since all of that happened, but I doubt anything has changed in mental health care. Families are still, obviously, on their own to deal.

Logical Libby said...

I am so sorry. That is frustrating. I always find watching someone with untreated depression makes mine even worse -- especially when it is a person I love.

Keep your head up.

Scarlet Ily said...

I'm sorry to hear this, my friend. I hate out of control situations where I feel helpless, and no, you're not being control freaks...you just want to help your family (who obviously need special care and attention), but what can you do when no one is acknowledging the problem?

I hope something can be done soon before there's any more drama...but what??

I'm here for you...you know that. I would never consider you a burden, just the opposite, and I would try to come up with possible solutions with you.

Anil P said...

Troubling to learn of this. I just wonder sometimes if law tries too hard to go by the letter of the law and not by the spirit of the law.

Surely, there needs to be a case by case approach instead of applying the same brush regardless of the circumstances.

I'm not sure how it is now as opposed to how it was before where you live. Often neighbourhood empathy, and even tight-knit mingling would often offset many of the imbalances those unfortunate would suffer from.

I hope, in time, she will get better. My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.

Mama Zen said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. It is so hard to get help for a loved one, especially if they are uncooperative (or unable to cooperate).

Riot Kitty said...

Hey everyone, thank you for your kind words. I felt better reading all of them :)

Darth Weasel said...

there are times it seems like there SHOULD be something to say, that someone wiser than myself would have the right words.

Just glad you have the support system you have with Mr. Rk/friends/family. Keep in there.

kristin5683 said...

This is a tough one. There's definitely a stigma attached to mental health issues.

Green Tea said...

As a former mental health worker I understand the pain you are feeling.
There have been some terrible stories hear in Minnesota by families who have tried to get help.
Because people can't be forced to get help, our streets are filled with mentally ill people.
I have volunteered at food kitchens in the inner city and served many
who are in need of help but prefer to live on the streets.
I wish I had an answer.
Hang in there Hon..