Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guest Blogger: Family Member Asked for a 5150 for Mentally Ill Loved One

Our guest contributor has a family member who is mentally ill. In this post, "Linda" describes what it is like to take care of "Joe" and the time she had to request a 5150 for him. The 5150 is an involuntary psychiatric hold that I wrote about previously.

Marcia, you always have a very helpful nonjudgmental commentary that can be very useful for people struggling with tough decisions, ethical dilemmas, and multi-layered situations, and thanks for that.

I wanted to say a few words which I think may be helpful for some to hear, although opinionated as is my nature. I have a family member, “Joe”, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and taking anti psychotic meds.

I admit it is hard to be "your brother's keeper" even for loved ones. Their outbursts and behavior can wear you down and make you feel unappreciated, angry, and sometimes even unsafe around them.

And just like addictions, brain disorders are something that one seems to want to have a lot of empathy for those who fall prey to, but it's not always easy. I sometimes feel guilty if I do something that makes Joe upset or can feel like I'm violating him with my firm "it’s good for you" nature.

I have had to 5150 my family member not by my authority but by insisting the boarding house where Joe lives call it in. In fact, the attending physician who monitors my relative's case in this county said it's not illegal for patients to decide to stop taking their meds so the psychiatrist could not compel him to do anything including taking his prescriptions to avoid severe symptoms such as hearing voices and deep paranoia.

I was frustrated because I felt the system was doing nothing preventative; it was going to be all punitive. I felt that the professional caregivers were doing nothing to avert an impending disaster. I knew in my heart that Joe needed to stabilize on medicine and get a restart in a controlled environment, and my fear was that Joe was going to hurt someone or get arrested, both of which has happened in the past.

I tried to convince Joe to self-commit, but he refused. So I discussed the behavior with the home, and we concluded there was danger to others and Joe needed to go into a hospital for a short stay. It was not to teach him a lesson or mess with him - which is sometimes hard for the afflicted to perceive - and then they go ballistic.

But after months of visiting Joe’s social worker and medical team and trying to intervene and lean on the team to suggest group therapy and talking to the licensed board and care residence to monitor the medication better, it didn't seem that I was getting anywhere and all the advocating can take a toll. (I might add that I do not have a conservatorship and Joe needed to sign a waiver at the clinic, so they would discuss the case with me. He had signed it during his "better days" so it was in effect later when he was not agreeable.)

Just like Charlie Sheen who seems to have an ongoing struggle, my family member has repeated incidents, and it burns me out. Many people call Charlie Sheen a jerk and let me tell you, people with these problems can be, but they do deserve our compassion, not help avoiding the consequences of their actions, and if you have the strength to give, they will be better off with your efforts on their behalf.

Even though we don't want to let our love ones down, I want to tell people out there that it is ok to take a breather; turn your back if you can't deal with their problems at that moment. Long after Joe got out of the hospital from that particular 5150 in better condition as a result of the stay, he continued to manifest behavior that violated me, so I made the decision to cut ties. I needed to for a few months not to talk to him, to concentrate on my life, and rejuvenate so that I could come back more refreshed and in a healthy state of mind for myself.

I didn't know if or when I was going to come back because I felt a lot of anger over the way I was treated after I had "helped" him repeatedly, and I felt abused when he was so hostile in return. It was emotionally painful to do this during the holidays and his birthday, causing me guilt because I do feel a responsibility to contribute to better his quality of life and safety.

After "the breather" though, I'm not angry anymore, and I just called up to see how my family member was doing. There was no apology from him, but I didn't need it. I accept that's who he is and now with my new self protecting boundaries in place, I can be kinder and able to offer advice that may be well received or not, but continue to be a support to him by just showing my love and concern.

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