Taking Care of a Loved One With Mental Ilness When You Have a Mental Ilness

Caretaking a mentally ill loved one can help and hurt your mental healthIt’s tough taking care of a family member with a mental illness when you yourself suffer from one or more mental illnesses.  On one hand, taking care of someone else is good for your own mental health.  It makes you move your muscles so you get needed exercise.  You have to concentrate on someone else’s problems, which helps halt the self-hating chatter in your own head.  Taking care of someone else also helps with your self-esteem.

And — let’s be blunt — taking care of someone else is a great reason not to commit suicide.  I know I haven’t seriously thought of committing suicide in a long while because I have pets and my invalid mother to care for.  Who’d take care of them after I was dead?  No one.  So, I better stick around to make sure the job is done right, dammit.

But still, taking care of the pets and my Mom works on my nerves at times.  Yesterday, my Mom casually announced that she was considering killing herself by taking an overdose of the insomnia medication temazepam.  She was prescribed that when she had her knee replaced in May.  I took the medication away from her after my own misadventure with a “tammie.”  It took her nearly 5 weeks to realize I had taken the medication away.  We had discussed it at the time but Mom now has absolutely no memory of the conversation because she was on tammies at the time.  Addicts who’ve just shot up on heroin are more coherent than someone taking tammies at least once a week for six months.

So, what do you do when your Mom admits that she thought about killing herself?  I’m not a mental health professional, but I don’t think you should make a fuss about it.  Not to your Mom’s face, anyway.  Just nod, say “Okay, I’ll trash the medication” and then go into another room and silently scream like that Edvard Munch painting.  Then go out and buy Mom her favorite goodies like a hoagie, potato chips, chocolate and/or fruit stolen.

Eventually, you will need to schedule some time off from your caretaker duties.  For example, I’m taking a short vacation to Germany next year to see a Peter Gabriel concert.   It gives me something to look forward to and gives me something else to think about rather than medications, food shopping and letting the dogs out for the milionth time that day.

Hope this helps.


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