Grief about a parent's possible psychosis

  • 5 Replies
  • 313 Views
*

HeadAboveWater

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • 292
Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« on: June 27, 2021, 05:37:40 PM »
Recently I was talking with my mother. The topic of an acquaintance of hers came up. This acquaintance is a complicated person who has engaged in lies, conspiracy, breaking and entering, international intrigue, and other illegal and unethical activities to the point that the acquaintance has received negative press on numerous occasions. Fortunately, my mother is no longer speaking to or seeing this person, as my mother has broken her relationship with the organization where they met. From my mother's descriptions of this organization, it sounded like a place where several people with poor boundaries had leadership positions, so I always politely turned down invitations to be a part of their events and activities. [Sorry for being so vague, but I'd rather not share details that connect to geographic location, etc.]

So here's the part where things get challenging for me: My mother alleged that she heard this acquaintance plotting an assassination. Aside from the outlandishness of the claim, the story did not seem plausible for a number of reasons. However, my mother cited online "evidence." I went looking where this evidence would be, and there is nothing to see. While it is possible that something was deleted, right now no details of the story seem believable to me.

To be clear, I did not think I could prove or disprove my mother's assertion. I was trying to find a way to find out what my mother had witnessed so I could better understand the stimulus and my mother's response. What I wanted to know was whether my mother paranoid and anxious, which caused her to mishear and exaggerate something, or whether my mother was imagining something for which there was no evidence. I couldn't find any information that would lead me to a conclusion one way or another. Ultimately, that road block caused me to pause long enough to ask myself whether finding out more would benefit me. I decided that it would not change my relationship with my mother, and it would not change any decisions I make, so I would just file that conversation away.

I spoke to a sibling today and shared the conversation I had had with our mother. My goal was to process what I had heard and to say that I was concerned about our mother. The sibling said to me, plainly, that if you look back at the last 30 years of our mother's life, she appears to have had multiple episodes of psychosis. The moment I heard this, I knew it to be true. I could think of the ways my mother recounted conversations that just were not true, political conspiracies (including murder), unusual mystical experiences, and extreme motives she ascribed to others. In each of these incidents, I always had an explanation for myself for why my mother was reacting in a certain way. On the one hand, it is reassuring to think that this is a long-standing issue and my mother has never been a physical threat to herself or others, and she seems to have control over her finances. On the other hand, I am mourning for her and for myself now that I realize how far removed from reality she may be. It is really hard to know that my mother suffers from significant mental illness and no one has been able to help her. I am angry too at the people in her life, who enabled her to believe in things that could not possibly be true. I am experiencing renewed upset about my childhood experiences with my mother and how believing the things she told me when I was a minor caused me to have difficulty making normal social connections.  In short, it is a lot of grief and questioning welling up all at once. 

Anyone "been there, done that" with a parent who may have breaks from reality? How do you process your feelings about it? What, if anything, do you do to try to protect the parent from him or herself?

*

Janeite V

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • 90
Re: Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2021, 07:43:22 AM »
HeadAboveWater, this is such a painful situation to be in. Psychosis runs in my family, too, and it's terrible for the sufferer as well as those who care for them.

When one family member had a psychotic break, another family member who went to help him developed a chronic illness overnight. We think it was the stress that triggered it.

Other family members say that when they stay with the psychotic family member (who among other things, thinks people are hiding in the ceiling taking photos) that they start to believe it's true on some level, too. I think that sometimes we have this adrenaline coursing through us when we are trying to care for the psychotic loved one that can mask the true level of distress we are in.

All of that is to say that even if you think you are feeling okay, it's very important to rest and take time out for yourself, and do a reality check if needed. We have a need to share a reality with our loved ones, and that need can be very destabilising when that loved one is in psychosis.

I am not an expert by any means, but I have found that it's very important to validate that the person is in distress and that what they are experiencing is real to them, but without enabling or confirming their beliefs. If the person feels unheard then they may start to feel paranoid about you - they might worry you are going to get yourself killed with your carelessness, or worse, that you are untrustworthy yourself.

For example, my family member believed some flashing lights outside were people taking pictures. So I said "I don't see anyone out there, but let's experiment with turning lights on and off to see what's going on." When I turned enough lights off, the family member realised what he thought was a camera was just a reflection. When he thought we were being followed, I said that I didn't see anyone but we would go home if he would feel more comfortable. That way he is more likely to be open about what he is experiencing.

It does depend on how severe the psychosis is, of course. Severe psychosis can be a complete break from reality, whereas mild psychosis (which I suffer from myself) is seeing, feeling or hearing things, or believing bizarre facts, but also being open to the fact that it's not what it seems like.

*

Amadahy

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • 927
  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Re: Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2021, 08:02:41 AM »
I'm so sorry.  This issue revisits from time to time with my Nmom, also.  As a child, I believed everything she said and as I grew up, it was hard to face that she was unwell.  It does get easier over time, or at least it has for me.  In my N's case, she seems not to be bothered by these thoughts; it's only when others become involved does it get hairy.  For example, the other day, when I visited her long term care facility, she alluded to doing my homework in college.  Wha??!  Ok, I could let that one go with a little eye-roll.  On the other hand, when she was living in her apartment, she'd get in her mind that neighbors were conspiring against her and call the police.  Uh oh.  That caused lots of problems, ultimately resulting in a police officer calling me and suggesting she needed help, which, of course, was true.

Take good care.  I'm sorry for your grief.  xoxo
Ring the bells that still can ring;
Forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything ~~
That's how the Light gets in!

~~ Leonard Cohen

*

HeadAboveWater

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • 292
Re: Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2021, 12:53:09 PM »
I am not an expert by any means, but I have found that it's very important to validate that the person is in distress and that what they are experiencing is real to them, but without enabling or confirming their beliefs. If the person feels unheard then they may start to feel paranoid about you - they might worry you are going to get yourself killed with your carelessness, or worse, that you are untrustworthy yourself.

Thank you so much for this advice! I feel so much better when I have a pre-set strategy for situations that I commonly encounter.

*

HeadAboveWater

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • 292
Re: Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2021, 01:08:38 PM »
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It helps to remember that this situation is not unique and that I am not alone.

As a child, I believed everything she said and as I grew up, it was hard to face that she was unwell.

This bit is the hardest part for me. I believed my mom for all of the years that I lived at home. A lot of the "off" things she said had to do with things I had not experienced in my life, so I couldn't critically evaluate them. I remember thinking that what she said was strange or that her affect as she delivered certain news was odd, but I chalked it up to her being authoritarian and socially awkward. It was so unremarkable to me that she would say things that were off that I never raised it with my teachers or with my father, with whom I did not live.

*

Janeite V

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • 90
Re: Grief about a parent's possible psychosis
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2021, 10:44:20 PM »

Thank you so much for this advice! I feel so much better when I have a pre-set strategy for situations that I commonly encounter.

It's so hard to get the balance right, but it sounds like you really care for your mother and that will shine through.

The really tough thing about psychosis is that for the sufferer it often feels like you are being continually gaslighted about your experiences. Even when you are not actually psychotic, often laypeople and medical professionals alike doubt what you have to say about your own experience, which discourages people from getting help or telling others what is going on, even when they are lucky enough to be aware on some level of their mental illness.

This was absolutely devastating for me when experiencing narcissistic abuse and having no one believe me that it wasn't just in my head (which I understand is the usual experience anyway, but this adds another layer to it).

Depending on what the cause of the paranoia is (bipolar, psychotic depression, schizophrenic spectrum disorders, NPD, BPD, lewy body dementia, etc) sometimes sufferers will seek help for other mental health issues, such as depression, even if they aren't aware of the paranoia. This can be a big help because paranoia and psychosis can be triggered or worsened by stress. So even by addressing other issues in the sufferer's life, there can be a beneficial effect in the paranoia, and there is a good chance a mental health professional would notice the latter, too.