I’m Dan, new to this forum and forgive me, this will be a long post.
Yesterday, 4 October 2019 I washed my hands of my mum. I’m 36 years old and have been caring for her alone since the age of nine.
My mum is 69 years old (but looks in her 90s), and her entire life has been ruled (and ruined) by anxiety and depression related illnesses that she has constantly refused to seek any outside help over. Her dad had severe undiagnosed depression (it was the 50’s/60’s and that stuff wasn’t spoken about), whilst her mum came from a family with a history paranoia related mental illness. It was an environment she was bound to develop symptoms of her own.
In the 60’s she met my dad and the got married in 1970, when she was just 20. My Dad is a charming but harder character, not one for talking about emotions or how he feels, or great at supporting or understanding those who do… it was never really going to work.
I was born in 1983, as the cracks were showing in their relationship, before they divorced in 1986. My dad was adulterous, but my mum’s behaviour had become erratic and she was drinking (dad found a bin bag full of empty vodka bottles).
Despite this, I went to live with my mum and gran (presumably so she could keep an eye on her), and my parents agreed to remain civil and share custody for my benefit. Around this time my mum suffered her first nervous breakdown. As I was so little I have few memories of it, other than her crying a lot and later suffering a massive car accident because she was under the influence… she was lucky to survive.
This shook her, and for a few years she got her life back on track. That was until 1992 when my gran died and it was just me and her (grandad died back in 1985). She struggled to cope with work and looking after me without my gran, and ended up retiring early after another nervous breakdown. This was when I started having to do things like the shopping for her, and ‘not tell anyone’ she was struggling.
Around this time my dad moved away with work, so I only saw him every fortnight. At 10 my mum was struggling mentally, my dad was nowhere to be seen (later revealing to me he’d met someone else - but I shouldn’t tell my mum in case it upset her), and the grandparent who kept things constant was gone.
The enormity of everything got on top of me, and between 1993/1994 I developed a severe case of anorexia; it was my brain’s way of taking back control. It forced my mum to take the focus away from herself and back on her son. By 1995 I was on the road to recovery and mum seemed to be generally coping ok. About a year or so later, my mum’s beloved uncle died (he was like a second dad to her) and things started to go downhill from there again. When I did the shopping, i’d always be asked to buy Tonic water (because it was good for her stomach) - it was only that Christmas, when 13 year old-ish me went snooping for Christmas presents in her bedroom and ducked my head under her bed did the truth hit me… there were bottles and bottles of empty gin under her bed. I sniffed the cup of water she always kept next to the bed - it wasn’t water.
I looked at her in a different way after that, I found she was smuggling the bottles into the house in her handbag. Teenage me tried to confront her on it, but the response was I shouldn’t have been snooping (and not to tell my dad). As I went through the teenage years, I carrried on doing my best to help her as much as I could, but I was constantly told off like a child, instead of ever trying trying to understand what I was going through. She would frequently bring up her anger about my dad leaving, and how much I was like him during disagreements (never for positive reasons). Things that I did or were interested in like TV shows were always derided as ‘rubbish’, to the point where if I was watching something and she came into the room, I instantly had to switch off and give her the remote (I still do this at times with my wife).
Over time her outlook was becoming more and more negative too, no matter what it was, everything was reacted to as a negative. I got work experience in my dream job at the time and excitedly called to tell her, the response was her listing all the problems it would cause, sapping the joy from everything.
Things came to a head when I went to university in 2001. In the days before I was due to leave (when I was already nervous about what was to come), her behaviour became more agitated. One night I said to her ‘what’s the problem?’ and her response was ‘YOU’RE LEAVING ME!’. I didn’t know what to say, but of course felt guitly for it. Nevertheless I left the following Sunday, but within about a month of me being away (despite coming home nearly every weekend). I had a call from my dad telling me she’d been admitted to hospital after suffering another nervous breakdown. I of course immediately came home and did so every weekend for the first two years because she then developed agoraphobia and ‘couldn’t’ leave the house ‘in case she fell’.
By the time my final year hit, her confidence had come back a bit, but she would only leave the house to go the village shop in the evening when it was quiet. At least it meant I could remain in uni a bit more whilst I needed to study.
Like most students I graduated then came home not really knowing what was next. Typically around this time she started getting better again, it was only when I started making noises about moving away to get a job that suddenly she became an invalid again.
I’ve just realised this is 2004-2006; I could go on like this for thousands more words, but really it’s just a pattern of repeating behaviour that has unfortunately gotten worse and worse.
I met my wife in 2009, and she’s never seen my mum ‘well’. She always been somewhat housebound and in need of help and support, but what developed alongside this is a real mean streat only reserved for me when she doesn’t get her way. At some point during her journey with agoraphobia and associated anxiety, she couldn’t function before 3pm, so she’d sit quietly in her room at home ‘coming round’ until that point. When it came to our wedding day, she told us we’d need to have the ceremony later if we wanted her to attend… we stood our ground and she came, but left at 6pm.
One Christmas Eve which we were hosting, she called me at 6pm to go and get her some things (after i’d already been to the shop for her), and flew off the handle when I refused because I had our own prep to do. She threatened to not come the following day (but that we could leave a plate a Christmas dinner on the doorstep for her) for her to pick up later. We refused and she ended up coming (but only staying for two hours).
In 2017 I noticed over time she was becoming ‘puffy faced’, with sounding discombobulated and slurred, with red eyes over time. One day I tried to call her to see how she was and there was no answer, I tried and tried and she wouldn’t answer the phone. I raced up to her house, rammed on the door and looked through the window, the house was a mess. I was about to call the police when she answered the door. She idea where she was, what was going on, and was hallucinating. I called an ambulance and she was immediately admitted and remained in hospital for a month. She had low sodium levels and had basically not been looking after herself. The doctors had removed her shoes and feet looked like nothing i’d ever seen before, I thought she was going to lose them.
It was the first time in years someone other than me was caring for her, and I finally thought I might have some help. But she was deemed compus mentus and allowed back to her house, with the hospital only really focusing on her mobility and none of the underlying problems because she told them she was perfectly fine and could cope.
She promised me then she’d get a panic alarm and would carry a portable phone so I if something happened to her there was a way of reaching her. She never got the panic alarm and pulls the phone cord out of the wall because she doesn’t want to be bothered.
I’ve lost count of the times since then I’ve raced up to check on her only to find her same as always, with no regard to how it made me feel.
Fast forward to the last week. I speak to her on the phone and she sounds dreadful, so she asks me to call the doctor on her behalf to get her some antibiotics. I do this, then head up there to collect and deliver them. She opens the door and looks utterly dreadful, puffy faced, yellow eyes, red, just horrendous. When I ask her what’s going on, she says ‘it’s just a sore throat’. Clearly not.
I say i’m calling the doctor, no arguments, he visits and says she has a fungal infection in her throat, as well as a bacterial infection. Some district nurses visit to take some bloods, and the next day she receives a call saying she needs an urgent ECG. Fair play to her, she makes her own way to hospital and lets me know she’s going - i’m delighted because she’s taking responsibility for herself for once. The hospital decide to keep her in, so I go to her house and get all her stuff and return it the same day. At this point our relationship seemed good.
The next day I visit and she’s on the assessment ward and again seems in good spirits, even commenting that it was the right decision.
By Thursday of this week, she’s moved to a ward that specialises in liver and stomach conditions. I arrive and i’m greeted by an agitated, angry woman where literally everything I say is met with a sneer or anger. I notice that she seems to be hallucinating again, hearing children singing outside and seeing arts and crafts displayed on the wall opposite. She also keeps describing the room as ‘boarding’ or a ‘care home’. Understandably she’s also not keen on the people she’s sharing a room with, very elderly women in varying states of distress.
I resolve to call the ward after visting for a private conversating, where I explain she might be better in a different space and that i believe she’s hallucinating and am told that they’ll move her as soon as possible, and that they hadn’t assessed her properly yet but would keep an eye on it. I felt better and went to bed.
Yesterday, my day at work passed as normal, knowing that i’d be heading to visiting at 7pm. At 4.20pm I receive a text from my mum’s best friend, she’s been to visit her and is told she’s been discharged. I immediately try and call home to no answer, then the hospital to find out what happened. It turns out she became agitated in the early hours after accusing a male member of staff of ‘making a pass at her’, then barricaded herself into the cubicle and insisted on discharging herself. They tried to make her see sense, but the doctor who assesed her said she control of her faculties and that there was nothing they could do to keep her there. No one called me.
I found out over 12 hours later. Speaking to the sister, she said the report that had been written said my mum had agreed to ring me in the morning to let her know what happened, and to alert her GP. She was made aware she has ‘deranged bloods’, which I believe is related to her liver yet stiil insisted on leaving.
During this call I received a missed call from her, so called her back. She was instantly on the defensive, exasperated and concerned about her welfare I tried to make her see sense, that she wasn’t thinking clearly and to think of the dangers she’s putting herself under, only to be barked at ‘WHY ARE YOU NEVER ON MY SIDE?’ and ‘I’M NEVER GOING BACK THERE’.
Then it came out, mum, if you’re not willing to help yourself, i’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I love you with all my heart but I can’t watch you kill yourself for good reason. You’re willingly gambling your health to leave me without my mum and choosing not see your grandchildren grow up. If you’re willing to do that and think you can cope, then i’ve got no choice. I said there’s nothing more to say, wished her good luck and hung up.
I feel dreadful, but after however many years it’s been I just had to say it. I’m despertately worried about her and i’ve always said I’m her biggest supporter, but her actions are not the mum I know is underneath. But if she says she can cope i’m going to take her at her word, i’m just not willing to enable it anymore. The worst part is she’s willing to sacrifice her relationship with her grandsons.
I feel bereaved. The people I’ve spoke to all say i’ve done the right thing, but when it’s your mum, you want to do everything you can to make sure they’re safe and well. I feel like i’ve done my best, but ultimately she’s too far gone.
What i’ve painted here is obviously very negative, but my mum at her best is kind, thoughtful, generous and clever; it’s just her other side masks that more often than not. I don’t know if i’ll ever speak to her again, but i’m going to try and do my best to put things in place from afar to make sure she’s looked after. If anyone can advise, i’d really appreciate it.
Sorry for the length of this post. It’s more than 20 years of things i’ve never said coming out all at once.