When caregiving becomes codependence.


I'm 41, have no life and at my wits end! I am the youngest of 6 siblings (two are deceased). My father passed away a few months ago leaving me alone to take care of Mom. She doesn't take a shower, groom herself, shop, cook, clean, serve herself food, do laundry, drive, make phone calls...she pretty much doesn't do anything. She has chronic back pain due to spinal stenosis but is far from disabled. She is depressed and probably has been her entire life. She complains that she never had a life of her own, she blames everyone and everything for her circumstances and always has. I am writing this now while feeling resentful, overworked and unappreciated and ready to run away. While I am now her "official" caregiver, I've been looking after her for as long as I can remember and cleaning up her life messes. I lost my job of 10 years a couple of years ago, at which time my father was having increasingly complex health problems. I lived an hour and a half from my folks but found myself rushing home every time there was an emergency. (My four living siblings/sisters were/are unavailable or do not want to be involved, and live elsewhere.) Circumstances as they were led me to move back home to help my parents out while re-grouping and deciding the next path I wanted to take career wise. It turns out that my father became increasingly ill for reasons his doctors could no determine until just right before his death a few months ago; he had a cancerous brain tumor. My parents had not prepared for their future, just as they hadn't prepared for most things in their lives. Mom "checked out" long before Dad got sick, it's been worse over the past 5 years though as Dad was hospitalized for something major 1x per year for the last 5. Financial, emotional and physical stress of Dad being sick took it's toll and led also to them losing their home to foreclosure some years ago. Mom was not functioning well even prior to health and financial problems, though better than now. Prior to learning of my Dad's terminal illness Mom was sleeping all day, staying up all night, sitting on the edge of her bed or at the kitchen doing nothing other than chain smoking and staring at the floor or a wall. All of us children have encouraged her to have a life, to engage in life, to engage with people, to get out of the house....to volunteer to DO SOMETHING. I'm lucky if I can get her to take a shower once per year (a problem she's had since at least in her 50's). She doesn't groom, brush her teeth, wash her face or hair. She occasionally brushes her hair when I take her to her pain management doc once per month, or if I take her to the supermarket or pharmacy. Mom refuses attending counseling, a general support group or grief support group. I have essentially become her maid, housekeeper, mechanic, gardener, dishwasher, cook, waitress, technical support for phone and cable, you name it, I do it. Getting her to do ANYTHING is like pulling teeth. In the event of a doctor appointment it takes a few hours to get her to get out of bed and two hours or more to get her to take medication. She does not verbally refuse to do these things, she simply doesn't do them, though says she will and doesn't unless I stand over her like she's a child. She has chronic pain (as do I!!) but doesn't take her medications properly which makes her pain worse by not managing it. She's borderline diabetic and won't check her blood sugar. I ask her to do this and do that (because she is absolutely physically CAPABLE and SHOULD). Mom says, "I was going to", or "am going to" but rarely does she ever do what she says she is going to.

I am physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted taking care of my mother. I increasingly often have thoughts of running away and leaving my other siblings to "deal with her." It may not sound like it at the moment but I love my mother deeply. We have a very dysfunctional family and family history and Mom went through a lot of bad stuff herself over the years. I want the best for her, I want to help her, I'm HERE helping her but how do you truly help someone who doesn't want to help themselves!! I'm hurting and have no life and watching Mom becoming an empty shell is devastating and depressing. I've been tearful and grieving since Dad died and am coping with a lot of the trauma of taking care of him when he was sick as well. Mom doesn't cry or talk about her emotions or deal with them. Dad did everything for her during the years I lived away going to college and focusing on my career. Now that he's gone I'm picking up where he left off. She used to blame him for everything. Now she's blaming me. I'm angry, resentful, sad and frustrated and don't know what to do or where to turn anymore. My mother is not likely to change at this stage in her life and is not participating or cooperating in her own care. I believe I've become codependent and worry I'm enabling her, on the flip side I worry she will just whither away and die.

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how are things, how have you been? Please update us... if you return to this forum...

Your mother over time has been buried under an avalanche of depression. If you're buried too, you can't do anything to help her. Get yourself into a good place first; then you'll be able to see more clearly how to reach her. It may not be possible even then, but right now you haven't a chance - and if you don't make yourself your first priority, then two people will be lost. My heart goes out to both of you. x

My sister and I have been taking care of my Mom for 5 years. She is a narcissist and so hard to get along with. I've learned so much by reading about Narcissism. It might help you to cope. This may not be your Mom's problem, but if it is it will explain your guilt and feelings of obligation.

I'm working through that at this point, and at the age of 91, Mom is still trying to manipulate. It works more on my sister, than me right now, but she still tries. I have been looking for assisted living for her for the last month and I think I've found one that might work.

Please don't ruin your health over this. I suppose I love my Mom but I don't really like her as a person. It's so hard to live with someone who don't like and makes no effort to make things easier in the relationship realm.

I am getting to go to CA for Christmas to see our kids and grandson, thanks to my sister, but when I get back, she is going somewhere. She really does deserve to have her "own place", too. I am sure she doesn't like living here with me three weeks and one week with my sister who lives 95 miles away. We have started having a caregiver come three partial days a week just to get out, and we are signing up for art classes today while she is here.

It has taken me a long time to get to this point - I am 64 - but I am finally realizing the way Mom is and I can't make her happy. No one can, and I am sure she will never be happy. If I can control my reactions to her mean comments and manipulation, I'll be fine. Ugh.

Please follow some of the good advice above. These people know what they are talking about.

Hugs to you.

shielamarie, your mother does sound a lot like mine. Mine doesn't drink milk or go outside much, so her Vitamin D became critically low. The doctor gave her a 5-week course of weekly mega-doses. Now I give her a Vit D capsule every other day. The capsule has 5X the RDA, so I didn't want to give her one every day. Vit D is stored in body fat, so I didn't want her getting too much.

Our house is naturally dark, the way the windows are. It doesn't help that there is a low-wattage fluorescent fixture in the living room. What I do for the lamps is buy bulbs that put out white light. We also have a white-light lamp (lamp that takes a special bulb that has the full spectrum). The white light certainly makes things brighter. I have to turn on lights around here, because my mother would be just as content to sit in gloom, watching the TV.

I wouldn't even suggest counseling for my mother, because nothing is wrong with her. The only things that are wrong are what everyone else has done or is doing. I suggested one time going to a psychiatrist and got a fast "I'm not crazy!" in response. I had to chuckle a bit when you wrote that your mother had too much going on to see a therapist. What does she do with her time that she is too busy? I understand the trouble in getting her to go, however.

I don't think there is any answer except to just do the best we can. There is a huge difference between you and me. I'm almost 62 and you're only 41. You still have to get some retirement money in your account, so I know you have to get out in the world. I know that seems overwhelming to think about right now, but it would be nice to put some focus on rebuilding your life. There has to be some things you can do to make that happen. Sometimes our elders can take so much of our energy that we lose ourselves along the way. I wish someone would invent a pill that would make us focus again on our own lives. I guess we just have to figure out what we need and focus on getting it. This isn't narcissistic. It is just trying to pull ourselves out of the bog that caregiving can create.

What about shock therapy for Mom? It got a bad reputation, for a good reason, but it is sometimes used with persistent depression in the elderly. She might like the idea because she won't have to do anything.

If you can figure out any way to leave her, please don't feel bad about doing so. You still want to have a life. Mom seems content with her present lot in life. Your needs win, imo.

It sounds like you love your mother and that the relationships within your family have been pretty dysfunctional. True?

If you weren't there, what kind of in-home care would Mom need? You are working on the finances now ... could Mom afford in-home care? If not, would she perhaps qualify for Medicaid? Medically, would she qualify for some kind of care center?

I ask because it really sounds to me like you would BOTH be better off not living together. If you could visit her on your terms and be the loving daughter while others took care of the hands-on caregiving, Then she would have someone other than you to blame for all the woes of her life.

Given your training and your experience, if she were your client instead of your mother, what would you be advising?

You sound depressed, and it does sound like more than mourning (although that is certainly part of it). Please find a therapist in your present location. You deserve it! All of sienna2125's items are well-thought-out and useful. Start with this one, and I suspect the others will come easier.

JessieBelle and Sienna2125...thankful to hear from you, so much that I wept when I read your responses. I'm new to this site and really struggling today; feeling very alone and isolated.

In regard to the Lexapro, I forgot to mention Mom also takes Lamictal. She was on 100 mg Zoloft for years prior to my Dad passing. Mom's primary care doc switched her to Lexapro hoping it would make a difference. I suspect nothing will make a difference, especially if she's not compliant with taking meds. She doesn't refuse to take them, she just forgets, or falls asleep or is too busy "worrying" to take care of herself. I have been trying to get her to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist for years. She finally followed up on a referral she received from her PCP for a psychologist (she thought he was a psychiatrist, as in could prescribe meds.) She went to the first appointment after encouraging, insisting and nagging that she do so. (Nagging is typically the only way to get her to do anything. The kind and gentle approach does NOT work with my mother. Once I become irritated and lose my temper, she finally responds.) She led the psychologist to believe she was going to come back for weekly sessions which she promptly cancelled saying she had "too much going on" to go to counseling. I know my mother and I know the truth is that she realized the appointments were for counseling and not for medication management. She would much prefer to take a pill to solve her problems than deal with them. At any rate, I bring this up because of the medication issue. It's possible there are other medications that would be more therapeutic, hypothetically. Mom has had trouble with low Vitamin D in the past due to lack of natural light. Again, getting her to leave the house is almost impossible. The energy and time it takes just to get her out of bed leaves me exhausted. During the summer I tried and tried to get her to come sit outside on the patio with me. She never feels well enough or shows interest. (Yet complains she doesn't get out of the house!?!?) JessieBelle you mentioned lights for the house? What kind and where can I purchase them?

Sienna2125: The list is awesome! The hard part is putting it in to action. I've done counseling in the past but don't currently have a therapist. I pretty much sacrificed everything to be here after I lost my job. I am still dealing with the financial and other fall out from Dad dying (I'm also grieving, very depressed, anxious and cry often.) I mention this because I don't have a support system or community where I live now. When I left my job and moved here, I lost my community, neighbors, friends, and general support system. I'm completely starting over, but haven't had the luxury or know how to address all the items on your wonderful list. Yet, I have thought about each and every one and know intellectually what I need to do. Until about 6 months to a year ago I was still forcing myself to swim or walk. Things got so bad with Dad and at home that I gave up on "me." There's just no room for me to have needs (same as when I was a child). Everything revolves around Mom and her misery and negativity. Caring for and having her issues dropped in my lap make it very difficult to focus on myself. At least when we didn't live together I had time and space to myself to get away from the misery. Now that Dad is gone I see no way out of my situation, there really isn't anyone else to help. My oldest sis disconnected from Mom at least 20 years ago; they have no contact. My second oldest sis (she recently moved from Texas to Arizona and we live in California) disconnected for a couple of years but finally got in touch after she learned Dad was dying. Lastly, sister #3 is closest to my age and lives a few hours from here but her priorities are very screwy and she is generally unavailable and thinks I "make too big of a deal of everything." I have a poor relationship with her. This is coming from someone who thought it was no big deal to get pregnant at age 45, post divorce, with a guy she knew for a week. She has two teenagers and the youngest just turned age 2. She's spent most of the last 3 years trying to get her boyfriend to commit to her and dragged her older children through her poor decisions. My point is, outside of working and raising a new baby, her number one priority is romance. She's always put men before family; when we needed her the most she was unavailable. I have a lot of resentment toward her. In regard to education, I am interested in going back to school but for what, I don't know! I've a bachelor degree in Social Welfare and went to graduate school for counseling psychology. I do not want to return to working in mental health and substance abuse as it's incredibly demanding and I'm pretty burned out from my last job. I had an on the job injury at my last job and currently reaching the end of my workers comp case. It is my understanding I will be given a voucher to be used toward schooling/retraining but it's not likely to cover the actual cost. I've been dealing with heavy emotional and psychological issues personally and professionally most of my life so think it would be nice to do something a tad lighter. I'd like to explore other career options and translatable skills, or maybe do something FUN (GASP!) I applied for jobs previous to Dad falling ill and was told I'm over qualified due to education and work experience. Never thought that would happen! I have found that I really enjoy working with the elderly. We live in a senior mobile home park and I've become the "go to" person for the elderly folks where we live. Unfortunately, it's not so joyous caring for my Mom as it is helping out our neighbors. But then again, they are much higher functioning than she is and age appropriate. At any rate, I love your list, and it IS a beginning and what I already know but can't seem to put in to place. I'm going to give it some deeper consideration when I'm not feeling so aggravated and hopeless. Thanks so much!!

You are not alone. I had to do a double take to make sure that I hadn't written this myself.

1) Do you have a therapist or counselor you could speak with?
It helps to talk these hard feelings through with a trained professional. These sessions will help you to focus on yourself (caregivers always seem to focus on others to their own detriment), your goals, & the small steps it will take to achieve your goals. I see a therapist every 2 weeks (for depression & anxiety) & I don't know where I would be without him. It helps to have someone in your corner that can point out when you are overextending yourself & ignoring your own basic needs. It's vital that on a regular basis you have someone that you can talk to face to face about your challenges. Sometimes friends are busy with their own issues or can't relate to the pressures of a caregiving role & it helps to have a scheduled time when you know you will have a supportive ear.

2) Do you exercise?
Exercise is a great way to temporarily relieve some of the stress that caregiving creates. Going to a gym regularly will help you meet new people. Plus you could take group classes at the gym & meet even more people. I find that regular exercise helps to combat the hopeless "What happened to my life?" feeling.

3) Hobbies
Eg. Perhaps your local library sponsors a reading club that you could join & this would help you meet new people? Reading the scheduled books & going to the book club meetings could be a temporary respite from the demands of caregiving.

4) Job training
Does your library or a community group offer training that could advance your skills & make you more marketable to employers? Now could be a good time to take a computer class. By taking the class you would be learning a skill you could list on your resume while meeting new people.

5) Education
Now could be a good time to pursue that certificate, skill, advanced training, or license that could give you the edge on other job seekers. I realize your time is generally not your own but this does not mean taking on a full course load. How about trying 1 class per week?

While you mom had her tough times & is in poor health; you are entitled to live your own life. You will have to work slowly but surely to get your life back by extricating yourself from your mother's long list of needs. Hopefully the above list is a beginning. Good luck. YOU CAN DO IT!

shielamarie, I also wondered how you are dealing with your father's death. Grieving is so postponed when you are caring for the spouse. I image you are still dealing with estate matters. Many of us understand what you are going through. It does sound like you could use some sibling help so you can have some time for yourself.

shielamarie, your mother sounds so much like mine, even though mine will at least stay clean. I haven't been able to find any answers on how to handle things. My mother is 87 with spinal stenosis and diabetes, along with dementia. She is able to do things she wants to, but won't help at all around the house. This can be exasperating, because she throws things on the floor and makes a mess, then expects me to clean it up. I know how you feel. Something that can be the most exasperating is because I know she has always been lazy. People can tell me she's old or she's depressed, but I know the truth.

Your mother sounds like there is some depression involved, however. The Lexapro doesn't seem to be working well enough. Could her doctor try something else? She is mighty young to be feeling so bad. I wonder, too, if she is getting enough light. Maybe some white light in the house would cheer her up some.

Do the other siblings visit often? I wonder if that might cheer her some.

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