Saying Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness
Pretty much weekly I get messages from people who are desperate to help a loved one with a mental illness. I hear versions of this story over and over, my child/parent/sibling/friend/spouse is sick and won’t get help for their mental illness. They say they would rather be in jail than be on medication for their mental illness. They can’t take care of themselves and they are going to end up on the street. Their behavior is destroying our family/relationship. Their behavior is destroying them.
Believe me, I get it. I really, really do. And sometimes you have to accept not everyone with a mental illness will get help. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness. Sometimes you have to cut a person with mental illness out of your life.
I’m Related to Mental Illness
Like many of us I’m related to a lot of mentally ill people. There are at least a couple of bipolars and likely a schizophrenic or two hiding in the wings. There have been enough illegal drugs to fuel a Columbian cartel and enough alcohol to float an ark. There have been suicide attempts, hospitalizations and crazy, abusive behavior galore.
Believe me, I get it.
And I don’t have a relationship with any of these mentally ill people. Not one of them are stable or three-dimensional. Not one of them gets help, follows a regimen, admits to the mental illness, or tries to get better.
That’s just the way the cookies crumbles folks.
Mental Illness Isn’t Fair to the Ill or Those Around Them
And my brother, the one I grew up with, the one who I remember with white-blond hair, the one that would sleep under the covers and wake with rosy cheeks, the one that had Winnie-the-Pooh fuzzy pajamas with booties, is mentally ill.
I remember playing video games, I remember playing on the lawn, I remember how he screamed when he broke his arm, I remember how thrilled he was when he got a remote-controlled car for Christmas, and I remember the way he used to twirl his hair around his finger so it was always in knots.
But we all grow up.
And now he is an abusive, destructive force that no one can stand to be around lest they get pulled into convincing delusions and psychoses or have to fear his violent rage. Being in the same room with him is like being hit repeatedly with a hard, blunt abject. A drunken, hard, blunt object. It only feels good when you stop.
He’s sick. I know he’s sick. Everyone knows he’s sick. Everyone knows he’s mentally ill and an addict.
Except him. To him it’s the world that’s wrong.
The Reality of Mental Illness is Horrific
This mental illness reality is unbearably painful as it will shortly result in his having nowhere to live. I don’t know if he will have any friends. I don’t know if he’ll have enough food to eat. I don’t know whether he’ll even live to tell the tale.
So you see, I get it. I don’t just willy-nilly tell people to distance themselves from intractable crazy for no reason, I tell them this because they need to be told. I’m not mean, uncaring, inflexible, unhelpful or cruel. I’m telling people to save themselves from the gosh darn Titanic. Stop arranging the desk chairs and get on a damn lifeboat.
People who won’t get treatment and continue to hurt you are the Titanic. Period.
Sometimes You Have to Say Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness
As I write this I weep for my brother. I weep for his pain. I weep for what he’s going through. I weep for what I know drives him to his behavior. I weep for his mentally ill brain.
And I weep for me. Because the white-haired boy hiding under the covers is gone. And there’s nothing I can do to bring him back.