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Brain Illnesses Cast A Very Wide Net

Over most of the years of my marriage I’ve felt like there’s been an awful lot on my plate in terms of having to deal with depression, anxiety, panic, and ADHD under my roof. Thankfully, on the whole we’ve learned ways to deal with all of these challenges,though there’s always the possibility of an unwelcome surprise around the corner.

For the last ten years or so, there’s been another illness hovering in the background of my life. An extended family member has had a great many odd symptoms pretty much all her life. We were close when she was young, but increasing demands on my time and energy from my own nuclear family naturally changed that. As her symptoms worsened over the years I felt some small effects, mainly in the form of concern for her parents, who bore the brunt of the brain illness that controls her behavior 90% of the time. Once or twice I got caught in the crossfire of a nasty, symptom-induced scene, but I was able to recover emotionally in short order and move on.

Recently, though, there’s been a shift. It began when I was asked to be the trustee for this relative’s inheritance whenever the time should come that her parents are no longer able to manage finances. This was a difficult decision to have to make. On the one hand my position both family-wise and geographically makes it a no-brainer. On the other hand, I am fully aware that I’m letting myself in for an incredible amount of stress and emotional duress. Yuck. End result, I agreed to be the trustee.

Fast forward about a year. In that time my husband has been called on to provide “emergency rescue” several times. He and I both have been on the receiving end of a number of long, irrational, weepy, unproductive, and slightly abusive phone calls. After one such experience a couple of weeks ago, I came to the decision, for the sake of my own emotional health, to cut off contact for the time being. (Here’s the post I wrote at the time: https://depressionscollateraldamage.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/self-preservation-or-just-being-a-jerk/) To no one’s surprise, my decision to suspend communication was not clean and neat; it led to my relative initiating transparently manipulative conversations with others in obvious attempts at triangulation. The whole situation sapped my energy at a time when I really didn’t have any to spare.

In the back-and-forth of coming to this decision, I did a lot of research on the condition this person is dealing with: borderline personality disorder. (If you’re not familiar with it, you can read more here: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/borderline-personality-disorder/DS00442 .) As I read, I felt a range of emotions: validation because I haven’t been overreacting to the incredibly unpleasant behaviors and situations I’ve been observing, relief that I’m not alone in my feelings of wounded-ness after encounters with her, hopelessness due to the futility of any attempts to help and support, anger that I’m all too likely to be dragged back in over and over again.

What this narrative is leading up to is this: The brain illnesses of other people have serious, direct consequences in the lives of innocent bystanders who simply want to care and support. For many years I have thought of myself as someone who deals with depression in a spouse. It’s a difficult role, and though we’ve learned ways to handle it, a role that can be pretty exhausting. Now I also have to think of myself with someone who has to deal with a severe brain illness in another family member, no matter how ugly it gets. I’m really not sure I’m up to this one.


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