My sister, Marion, is mentally ill! There I said it! The worst part is that I can’t do anything to help her. I thought I would be able to listen to her ramblings and not get angry with her as everyone else in the family has. I managed to do it for a time, convincing myself this really isn’t that bad. After all, she is lonely and needs someone to talk to. This is the least I can do for her. Unfortunately, I burn out. Marion’s children and grandchildren don’t speak to her any more, as she has accused all of them of stealing from her. In fact, she has managed to alienate almost every family member and friend she has ever had, and will not accept help from anyone. Out of sheer frustration even social workers and caseworkers have “closed the book” on Marion. I often wonder how long she will be able to go on before she meets with a tragic end.
Marion lives in a small, dilapidated apartment in Hamilton, Ontario with her two cats, Lucky Loo and Miss Meowie. With the exception of cat hair everywhere, her apartment is fairly clean and orderly. However, Marion cannot see the hair because her eyesight is so bad. I have suggested she go to an optician to get her eyes checked numerous times, but she refuses, claiming she had her eyes checked years ago and the doctor said she has no lenses in her eyes, so there is nothing they can do for her. Weird! Yet I still I offer to take her to the optician, “No, Barb, I told you there is nothing they can do for me,” she says, frustration screaming through her tight jaw and glazed eyes. I decided I’d better just let it go.
Marion spends most of the day without her dentures because they don’t fit properly. I offer to take her to the dentist. “No, Barb, the dentist said there is nothing more he can do for me.” I sigh with exasperation, wondering why someone would not want to try to help themselves
Marion weighs 80 pounds and looks weak and frail although she professes that she eats all the time. I ask what she eats. “The same things you eat.” I know she can’t be eating very much, but I am too fearful to say anything as I can feel her rage, simmering just below the surface, ready to erupt without notice. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of her angry, paranoid behaviour again. An incident that occurred a month ago is still fresh in my mind. I was startled awake when my telephone rang at midnight. A police officer introduced himself asking if I was Marion Campbell’s sister. Apparently they had received a complaint from Marion that I was harassing her. I proceed to describe in detail Marion’s mental health issues. The Officer replied “Well that explains at lot.” Following this event I was apprehensive to even call Marion in case she decided to press charges against me; after all, It’s her word against mine. However a few days later Marion called, speaking to me as if nothing had happened. I ask her why she called the police. She said she didn’t call the police. When I insist that she did call the police, she said that it must have been a seizure that made her do it. She blames her all erratic behaviour on her “seizures.”
I live in a different city, so we communicate mostly through telephone conversations and the occasional letter. Lately the conversations have consisted mainly of Marion incessantly complaining to me about how awful her children treat her and that they never call or visit. I know this is not true and that her children have tried and tried with her, but she is mean and verbally abusive to them. If I attempt to remind her of what she has said and done to them, her response is always the same, “No, Barb, That’s not the way it is.” She proceeds to tell me her version of the events, as she has rationalized them in her mentally ill mind.
She is crippled with osteoporosis as a result of the medications she has taken over the years. Marion is convinced the osteoporosis is because of a car accident she was involved in when she was sixteen years old, and also from falling on the cement floor in her apartment. I’ve repeatedly suggested we look into assisted living, but Marion says she has always lived by herself and she is perfectly fine. Again I remind her of her recent, numerous falls, and the fact that she cannot leave her apartment by herself because she is so unsteady. Her response is the same each time; she will be fine if only the pain would get better and if she could stop sleeping all day.
In spite of all her issues, she still asks my husband if he has any friends for her to date!
Some days I get so tired of hearing about how everything that happens to her is someone else’s fault that I try to clarify the way things really are in the hopes that she will finally see the light, but she only becomes furious and swears at me or hangs up the phone and the cycle continues.
What a sad, tortured life. And, unfortunately, there is nothing in the world anyone can do for her. If I have learned anything through this situation it is that no matter how hard we try, there are some things in life we just have to accept.
Barbara Godin is a graduate of AU and writes the “Dear Barb” column. She lives in London, Ontario with her husband, two dogs, and one cat.
A step out of the box for our advice columnist, Barb Godin, the personal connection she brings to bear made this a favourite both with students and myself.