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Family member with mental illness

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Old 08-31-2013, 12:08 PM   #1
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Default Family member with mental illness

Hi Everyone:

I really trust and respect everyone's judgement on this forum and would very much appreciate your feedback on how to deal with a mentally ill family member.

I have a cousin, who is a woman in her early 60s. She has extreme social anxiety disorder, is OCD, germophobic and paranoid. She has never held a job or been in any intimate relationship. She has no hobbies, no friends and no pets. She won't go anywhere or do anything without me and she is wearing me out. She also refuses to get any type of counseling, take medication or do a single thing to help herself.

To add to this problem, she is running out of money. She has lived off of her parents her entire life. After they passed away, she burned through all of the money she inherited. One of the reasons she ran out of money is because of her spending habits. She has a tiny condo, but refuses to clean it, so she hired housekeepers. She refuses to drive so she hires people to drive her. She refuses to cook, so she buys all of her meals in restaurants.

Now she is looking to my DH and me to take care of her. She hints about moving in with us or getting money from us. We can't and won't do it. We don't have the room or the money to take care of her.

She has a brother with a family who live in another country and they don't want to help her. They are hoping we will take on this responsibility.

I feel terrible about this situation all of the time. I am scared that the stress will cause her to have a nervous breakdown. I told her to get a job with benefits, move to a cheaper area, get a roommate to save money, but she refuses to do anything to improve her situation.

What would you do in this situation?
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Old 08-31-2013, 12:18 PM   #2
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What would I do ? Cruel as it may sound....I would do nothing. Do not enable her in her sickness.
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Old 08-31-2013, 12:23 PM   #3
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My instincts tell me the same thing. She has managed to make this work for her for 6 decades. Maybe when she is forced to take care of herself, she will find a way to do it.

By the way, she is smart. She has two bachelors degrees, a paralegal certificate and a real estate license, but never used any of it.

Thanks for your input, Bargoo!
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Old 08-31-2013, 12:27 PM   #4
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I'm sorry you have to deal with this situation, it sounds really tough.
Like bargoo said though, if you can't shake the guilt and end up having her living off of you, that's only going to enable her behavior and she'll be with you as long as she lives. It might seem really harsh to make her take care of herself, but unfortunately that's reality, illness or not. I have family members with mental disorders, and I do all I can to make life easier for them, but that's only because they're seeking professional help/are on the medications that they need to be on. If they refused help, I'm not sure I'd feel the same way, because I have a hard time tolerating people who have a fixable issue but refuse to put forth the effort to fix it (sounds hypocritical considering my weight problem, but that's actually probably why I have such an issue with seeing it in others!). It's pretty inevitable that you're going to feel bad about it, but better to feel bad & help her help herself than to try and cope with the stress of supporting her and then inevitably sending her off on her own anyway in the end.

Edit cause I just saw your post - if she has all of that college under her belt, then she has even less of an excuse to support herself! She definitely has options. It's not like you're sending out a poor old helpless woman to fend for herself, it sounds like she's perfectly capable to garner an income if she wanted to. Now I feel even more sure it's not the right choice to let her mooch.

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Old 08-31-2013, 12:28 PM   #5
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I would contact the local social services or the mental health department to set up an appointment to apply for services. Ideally with your family member's cooperation, but it can be done without it. Explain that you're overwhelmed and cannot provide the care she needs.

They'll help her and you.
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Old 08-31-2013, 12:53 PM   #6
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^ This. If she needs money, perhaps there is social service funding that can be offered to her. Although (from what I've heard) these amounts are often very, very low, living off of them is still possible.

I feel bad for your family member, and certainly for you and your family; it sounds like a tough situation all-around. However, people with mental illnesses are accountable for themselves like the rest of us. And while I don't know whether her actions have been irresponsible or are strategies she's been employing to manage her anxiety (ordering groceries so she doesn't have to leave the house, hiring cleaners so she doesn't have to come in contact with germs, etc.), you and your husband also have a right to act in ways (establish boundaries) that support your well-being and make sense for you. My suggestion would be to act ethically with compassion, but also with reason and care for yourselves. Good luck!
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Old 08-31-2013, 01:16 PM   #7
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Well goodness...I hate to say this but I wonder how bad her OCD/ germophobia actually is if she's willing to let other people clean her house/prepare her food/etc- though I know people's symptoms of those diseases vary.

I mean...I'd love to have a housekeeper and never have to cook again. I'm sure you would, too- and we actually work for our money. I wonder how she got so spoiled and entitled?

That's a tough situation because I can't imagine that, in her early 60's, even with an education, with no job experience it's going to be a nightmare getting hired anywhere.

I think you need to sit down with her and talk to her very realistically. Tell her straight up that you and your husband love her, you have spent a lot of time and money helping her, but that you can't afford to support her. Tell her you're worried that she is going to find herself evicted and out of money soon if she doesn't start thinking and planning for her future. I think a social worker is a great idea, and maybe also have her talk to a financial planner.

She's too young to be so dependent on you. If you let her move in with you, she could live off of you another 30 years. You need to only help her with things that will get her back on track. Easier said than done, I know, but she is taking advantage of you.
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Old 08-31-2013, 01:22 PM   #8
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The problem with social services is that they really can't force someone to get help if they need help. I mean Amanda Bynes had to start a fire before anyone could step in.

But calling them for advice may be a good idea. Also, I think you are going to have to be forceful with her. Tell her she has to enroll in some sort of program to get help or you can no longer be a part of her life. The problem is, you have to follow through or she'll know you are bluffing. But you also have to be prepared that doing this may not have the results you want. She could downward spiral and hurt herself which would not be your fault but that doesn't mean you won't feel that way.

But it seems like you have tried for a long time and ultimately this is not your burden.
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Old 08-31-2013, 01:27 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bargoo View Post
What would I do ? Cruel as it may sound....I would do nothing. Do not enable her in her sickness.
Ditto, except I don't think it is cruel. She needs to not be enabled in her diseases and confronting that, even if it requires a breakdown, must happen sooner or later. That she made it this many years is staggering. Don't take that on yourself, but maybe do some research into counselors or clinics that specialize in her specific OCD issues so that when things do get back, you have a resource to offer her. I would do no more than that and prayer.
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Old 08-31-2013, 01:44 PM   #10
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Honestly, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing. I suffer from social anxiety disorder and have suffered from a range of fears that have kept me from living a normal life. I could never stand letting someone in my house to clean it, just because I am terrified of physically being around other people. Heck, I am afraid to call the utility companies because I may have to talk to a person *gasp* The one thing that has helped me with my problems is family refusing to let me use it as a crutch. I was always pushed from a young age to overcome my fears, because in the end I have to make sure I am taken care of. In fact it took a desperate situation to force me out of my comfort zone (my mothers basement). Here it is 7 years later, I am now married with a child, and have a bachelors degree. I am now much more capable of talking to people when necessary. I have also come over some other fears like crossing the street (yes I was afraid to cross the street). Now I am in a situation where I need to get over my fear of driving. If I don't learn then Ill spend the rest of my life walking because my family isn't going to play chauffeur for me. Who wants to walk with a one year old? Tell her you understand but she will feel so much happier knowing she can take care of herself, for all she knows you may not be around forever, then where will she be? Homeless and destitute?
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Old 08-31-2013, 02:37 PM   #11
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R-U-N.

Seriously. Tell her you can't help her in any way anymore, period. Tell her to contact Social Security and take care of her own problems, she's certainly smart enough to navigate the system and sounds old enough and/or impaired enough to qualify for at least basic services, and CUT HER OFF COMPLETELY. Do not accept her calls (you think you got guilt NOW?), do not drive her anywhere, refuse her letters (or if she has a computer, delete her emails without reading and tag her as spam). She has problems but she clearly has no problem manipulating and using people as it suits her needs, either.

She has problems, but they aren't so terrible that she tries to fix them, does she? If she did, she'd be on medication and seeing a therapist. Her problems give her a wonderful excuse for letting someone else deal with her life, why should she fix them?

She's spent her whole life letting other people take the responsibility because they are kind and feel sorry for her. What she's done is used them, abdicating any responsibility for her life (handy, if she doesn't like things then she can blame everyone else except herself for her problems). This woman is not your problem. You have no legal responsibility to her nor a moral one. She is not your parent or sibling (BTW, it says something that her own sibling wants nothing to do with her).

She will happily suck the life and resources away from your family and continue to whine about how terrible her life is. She will never contribute anything but stress and guilt and financial drain. Cut her off and don't give her a single thought. You know how a drowning person will pull you under if you try to rescue them? Same thing. And if she has a nervous breakdown, oh well. If she ends up homeless there are even more social programs available to her.

Seriously, two BAs and she couldn't manage an inheritance? OCD and social anxiety but she ate out? Germaphobic, paranoia and social anxiety but she has STRANGERS come and clean her home? Darned convenient mental illness if you ask me.

You can't save someone who doesn't want to save themselves.

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Old 08-31-2013, 04:47 PM   #12
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From what you say, this woman is mentally ill, not bad, evil or out to take advantage of you. Some folks can be seriously mentally ill while still being intelligent and academically able. She can't help her condition anymore than someone can help being physically unwell. Presumably, you're not a doctor so you're not in a position to fix her, however, she needs help, so point her in the right direction while making your own boundaries clear.
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Old 08-31-2013, 05:09 PM   #13
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Wow - thank you so much everyone for all of your wisdom.

You have confirmed everything that I have been thinking and feeling.

As hard as it is to watch someone make one bad choice after another, my husband and I are done being used and manipulated.

We have suggested so many options to her, including social services, therapy, career counseling (even though it's too late for her), getting a financial planner etc. and she always refuses.

We are done. She will have to take care of herself. We didn't work for 30+ years to support her.

ReNew Me and Marjorie: You are so right - very convenient mental illness.
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Old 09-02-2013, 02:41 PM   #14
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Doingmybest, good girl. Cut yourself free of her and don't you dare feel a moments guilt. While I have compassion for someone who has mental health problems, there are limits. I have been in a very similar position to you (it was my MIL). The woman literally sucked me dry and took advantage of my good nature (oh the wailing, the crying, the beating of her breast, nobody understood her, nobody had compassion for her but ME, for a darned good reason. Says something when all FIVE of your kids have cut you off). Took me upwards of $4,000 before I realized how I was being used. Just because someone is mentally ill does not mean they are permitted to screw over those closest to them. People like this will use you, suck you dry, and move on to the next teat when you have nothing left to give and not give the destruction they've wreaked in your life a second thought.

She's ill but not stupid, she can navigate social services. She just doesn't want to do it because it's WAAAAAAYYYY easier to get someone else to fix problems. Stop giving her fish and make her figure out how to fish.

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Old 09-02-2013, 04:25 PM   #15
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I don't mean to sound mean. But your family member is selfish, manipulative and entitled. She doesn't want to help herself. Why would she. People have taken care of her her entire life. I have an aunt who is the same way. She has always had help and is manipulative and uses everyone. She is now ridden with Alzheimers and can't take care of herself and. None of the family will even come see her. She burnt every bridge. My point is if you help her she will take over your lives and everything she can get out of you. It will only make you resent her and maybe even hate her.
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