Is this all there is to life?

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Hi, so I guess to start I just turned 16. I've been taking care of my dad who is paralyzed for about 6 years. My mom left us and all the responsibility went to me. I have two younger siblings and then two toddler nephews I take care of. I don't have any friends, I take an online school that I failed, and am currently failing. Every time I talk about getting a job and saving money to move out I choke up because I don't want to pass this down to my sister who is only 13. A typical day goes like this. I wake up at 5:30 am to go to my morning job, then I come home around 8 am and help my dad with his online business and make the family breakfast. After that I try and do school from 8 am to 12 pm but usually get interrupted to help my dad. After I fail school I usually start dinner around 4 pm and then go to bed around 9 pm. I'm constantly helping them and never myself. I have serious problems with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. I also have trouble sleeping. But I'm so gosh darn busy and I hate bothering anybody. He has a caregiver, but they don't really help and they are only here for a few hours. I'm so lost and I don't know what to do. I can't really go to my dad or anything because he'll get angry, and say to just live with my mom or compare how sucky he had it growing up (he didn't ) And then I feel bad. I don't know what to do. I want to leave and never look back, but I also don't want my little sister to know what it's like.

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No, this is not all there is to life. I am also wondering if there is another adult in your life whom you could go to for support and better solutions. While you sound very mature and capable, a 16 year old shouldn't have all of this on her plate. I don't blame you for wanting to run away and never look back. I would feel the same way. Unfortunately, you can't do that right now as you are not a legal adult and you'd be found and brought right back.

Is there a teacher you could confide in? A doctor? A neighbor? The parent of a friend? I think you need assistance but it will be up to you to find it. You came to us and shared your situation with us, I hope you will take our suggestions. I'm glad you reached out. I hope you do so again.
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Reply to Eyerishlass
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Ana, what a sweet and selfless young person you are. this is difficult for any age. You do carry a heavy load, but you seem like a very strong person. i am impressed by your daily schedule. This is not all there is to life. This is just a temporary situation. And believe me when I say, time will fly and before you know it, you will be an adult and no longer in the situation you are in. Are you failing in school because of lack of desire or? Or do you maybe need tutoring in certain areas?
If you have nephews, does their parent live there as well?

We are glad you came to this site and we hope you will keep checking back in and letting us know how you are. We all care here. The answers to your situation will come, you just hang in there and you are doing a great job.

May God bless you Ana
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Reply to smeshque
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Good points, GardenArtist, but I think the OP is in danger of not being a high school graduate, let alone being in a position to pursue college or vocational training. If being in foster care could let her do that instead of years of being the unpaid drudge of what sounds like a sad, dysfunctional family situation (taking care of toddler nephews too?!), I think it would be worth the risk.
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Reply to SnoopyLove
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Ana - first, you are doing AMAZING, girl!

Second - I kind of know where you are coming from. I was my mom's caretaker/caregiver till just before I turned 16, but in my case, it was because she was an alcoholic and had major depression. I went to school outside the home, but I wound up skipping out a lot just because it was the only "mental space" time I ever got. In my case, I was able to go live with my father and stepmother, and I finished school because they cared enough to make me do it. But that doesn't sound like a good option for you.

I think the hardest thing about this kind of situation is you are put in the position of being an adult, of having the responsibilities of an adult.....but you have none of the power or authority of an adult. So you are doing the parenting of everyone (including yourself and including your dad, in a way), but he wants to have all the say in how it's done. And that is grossly unfair of him to put you in that position. I know at your age, I was very angry about that. Very, very, VERY angry. It's okay to be angry about it. In fact, it's your right. It's your right to feel anything you feel.

You've got a lot on your plate. I feel like talking to your dad about university or college is kind of moot, if he won't give you the time and space you need to do your high school work. I think it would be a good idea to put the notion of WHICH college or university on the back burner for now. Actually, to be honest, I feel like right now, talking about the future with your dad at all is moot, because you are kind of living in crisis mode RIGHT NOW. If you want to HAVE a future (and you can have any kind of future you want - once you are an adult, your dad does not have any say in that), then you need to finish high school. Period.

There are lots of ways to pay for university, once you are ready for that, so that your future doesn't have to be your dad's choices for you. For example, I have a friend who raised her daughters as a single parent on welfare. One of the daughters put herself through university. After high school, she worked and saved up enough to go through hairdressing school. Then she put herself through university with the money she made as a hairdresser, and by applying for every single grant and bursary she could find. She is 27 now, and is a psychiatric nurse with a really excellent job, very funky hair, lots of amazing hobbies and interests, and has found a great relationship as well.

This is maybe what I would do. I would tell my parent that there's no point even talking about my career or university plans if I can't finish high school. I would tell them that I can't get my school work done if I'm being interrupted, and I require X time of day (when the caregiver is there) to do my school work, uninterrupted. I would probably repeat this over and over again every time they said something to try to make me feel guilty or like I was in the wrong. I would probably outright tell them to stop manipulating me. (I HAVE actually told my parents - when I was younger than you - to stop manipulating me. Actually, the words I used were, "Stop guilt-tripping me." It stopped everyone in their tracks.) I might be so bold as to wonder aloud what might happen if child welfare got wind of the situation at home. (You know your situation better than I do, but this would have terrified my mother when I was your age, if I'd known then that child welfare existed.)

If my parent continued to try to interrupt me while I was doing my school work, I would probably say something like, "I will help you when I'm free, but right now, this is the time I've set aside to study so that I can finish high school." I would definitely be a broken record* about this as long as I had to be.

Is it going to make him feel hurt or angry? Probably. AND THAT'S OKAY. Let him be hurt and angry. YOU are hurt and angry. That's why you're depressed and anxious and have disordered eating. IT'S OKAY TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF. Your father is supposed to be the parent. You are supposed to be the child. Your entire job in life right now should be getting through high school. It should also be having some other kind of life outside of school, especially a social life, but maybe taking things one step at a time is the ticket here. Stand up for one thing and stick by it. Then when that battle is won, stand up for the next thing.

And don't feel guilty! You are 16. You should be focusing on your studies, and meeting your friends for french fries, and learning to drive, and going to dances. Yes, your father needs care, and it shouldn't be you! It IS you, but it shouldn't be. It DEFINITELY shouldn't be you 24/7. Your dad needs to start respecting one little corner of YOUR life, disability or not. Don't let him manipulate you into feeling sorry for him. That kind of behaviour comes from him feeling sorry for himself, and projecting it onto you.  Don't let him!  He has a business, so obviously he's a capable human being. And he HAS a caregiver for a few hours (and he should be the one giving proper direction to them, so that they actually ARE helpful).  So that should be your uninterrupted study time. I mean, is he paying you for your work?  (Don't let him get away with saying he's feeding and housing you in exchange for it - that's his basic legal and moral requirement as a parent.)  If he has an issue with his business, he can wait. Be a broken record* about it.

I sincerely doubt he is going to toss you out on the street or send you to your mother if you stand up for your right to complete your studies. He would be losing everything else you do for him. Do you think he wants to start all over, training your 13-year old, going-through-puberty sibling to do things as well as you do them? I doubt it!

I'm not saying any of this to be harsh. I'm trying to be encouraging, and I hope you'll take it as it's meant.

I really feel like if you can win one battle right now, you are going to start feeling better - that you'll start being in a better place in your head and your body. And I really feel like this is one you can win. Once you win the first one, the rest will come a little easier. Plus....now you have all of these folks here to talk to about it along the way!

*Edit:  I just realized I might need to explain what "broken record" means, because you've grown up in a digital world.  Apologies if you already know this, but in the days of vinyl records, they would sometimes "skip" on the turntable if they had a scratch, meaning the needle would keep jumping to the same few seconds of music over and over again.  "Being a broken record" just means repeating something over and over again, no matter what the other person says.
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Reply to Dorianne
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Snoopy made an interesting comment about calling Child Protective Services. That might be an avenue for help, but there could be a downside as well. I worked in the county Juvenile Court back in the mid 1960-s, and typically if underage children were living alone, the Court would take jurisdiction. Your situation is different in that you're underage, but there is a parent, but he's not able to care for you.

What I would NOT want to happen is that either you or your younger sister are placed in foster care and the state would take control of your father. I'm not writing this to scare you; I'm concerned b/c sometimes what seems to be an avenue of hope turns into a muddy rut that traps people in it.

Eyerishlass also raises a good question in whether or not there are adults in whom you could confide. You wrote that you take online classes; do you have any contact with a former school, which might have a social worker?

I keep thinking there's got to be some help at some level.

What about relatives? Even if they can't help physically, they might have some suggestions, knowing your family.

I asked earlier if your father is a Veteran? This is key, b/c the VA could offer a lot of assistance for children of a Vet.

How did he become paralyzed, and how does he accomplish his ADLs? Have you investigated getting some type of financial assistance for him, in addition to the help you already have now?

That might be the better option b/c he should be able to get some type of assistance. And what about Medicaid?

I would suggest contacting your County offices to see what resources might be available, but again there's the same risk as there might be with protective services.

I really wish I could think of some good suggestions.
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Reply to GardenArtist
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Can you actually go live with your mother? Can you take your siblings with you?

If you have nephews, you have siblings who are adults. Can you and your younger siblings go live with your sibling?

It isn't right for children to be raised without a capable parent or caretaker. It's not illegal as far as I know, but it isn't right.
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Reply to CarlaCB
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Ana, I am also an admirer. You are doing a fantastic job taking responsibilities beyond your years and caring for your family. No, this is not all there is to life. When you care for others and do not see yourself accomplishing personal goals or milestones, you often feel "caught" and "failing". The area where you are clearly succeeding is keeping the family going and protecting your siblings and nephews. Don't minimize that - it's something many adults with many more resources are not able to do.

I see two big problems contributing to those feelings of failure. One is your school work and the second is your social isolation from your own age group.

You are interrupted from school time to help with Dad's care? Are the interruptions really something that needs to be taken care of now or have you and your dad just gotten into a pattern where he asks for your help anytime he encounters a problem? When are the caregivers in the home? Any chance you could set aside school time when the caregivers are there so they could help your dad? Is your dad even aware of how many times he in interrupting you? Or are the interruptions coming from the nephews? When I worked from home with young nephews in the house I got an old fashioned time/hour glass timer that emptied in 30 minutes. The kids had to wait until the glass emptied to interrupt me for anything that wasn't an "emergency", like getting a snack or changing the DVD. It took a week or two to make the adjustment but then I would often have 45-90 minutes between interruptions.

You are far more responsible than the average 16 year old and will probably feel somewhat out of step with your peers who have not had significant responsibilities. Is there a local church with a good youth group? Or a local YWCA or girls club that offers homework help? Finding a youth group that meets for a least a couple of hours weekly would be a great help in reducing your isolation. My church sponsors quarterly field trips for the middle and high school youth groups - if you could find a church with a similar program it could give you and your sister a chance have some fun with other kids. A big sister mentoring program might bring another adult into your life to help you cope and problem solve.

Were you a good student before your recent school problems? Have you considered studying for a GED (General Education Development) instead of a traditional high school program? A GED is a high school equivalence certificate that is generally as accepted as a high school diploma. A GED would allow you to qualify for jobs requiring a high school diploma and enter most public college and technical schools.

Is your sister helping you with household tasks? Cooking breakfast? Cleaning up the kitchen? Washing clothes? I admire that you don't want to whole load you are carrying to fall on your sister, but at 13 she is more than old enough to help.

I have been lucky to know several people that had challenges similar to yours growing up. ALL of them have had good adult lives with homes and families of their own. They didn't all get college educations or have career jobs - but they were happy. You can be too.
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Reply to TNtechie
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Ana, I truly feel badly for you; I wish I had some suggestions but your post is so overwhelming I can't get past thinking how depressing and challenging your life must be.

Is your father by any chance a vet? What caused the paralysis? Stroke? Is he able to get Medicaid, or any other compensation which would allow you to hire more help?
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Reply to GardenArtist
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I am very impressed by you too, Ana! You sound like an awesome young lady. I think you and the two younger siblings need authorities to step in and help you in this situation. Frankly, if I knew you personally and saw what was going on, I would call Child Protective Services. Something isn't right.

Is there any adult in your life you can ask to help you contact them? If not, I would Google it for your county and talk to someone about getting help. 

Thanks for being such a caring person! The world needs more people like you, and you need a chance to succeed at school and grow up without all these extremely heavy burdens on you.
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Reply to SnoopyLove
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I was wondering if you were in the states and you have answered that. Thank you for giving us more information. As hard as your life is it seems your primary concern Is for your sister. I assume she is the only other girl?
Does your sister get to go to school? How is she doing with her class work? Does she help you with things like breakfast and dinner? Are your brothers doing well in school?
Who does the food shopping? The house cleaning? I suppose your dad’s caretakers might help with the housecleaning. You must feel just awful with the situation you describe.
Does your family have a church you attend? Would your father allow that? There might be other young people there you could visit with.
Your feeling of “is this all there is” isn’t an uncommon one. Uncommon for one so young I think but usually comes with an awareness that life is hard. It can be good as in satisfying but still if you are overburdened and feel no joy, life can feel like an endless trudge.
Do you laugh everyday
Ana?
Try to lift up your spirit by smiling and stretching your limbs. Try to do some simple exercises to release the tension in your body. If you have any control over the food brought into the home try to decrease the sugar and add vegetables. Maybe some carrots or celery to snake on. Slowly so the troops won’t rebel. Even if it’s a bag of oranges or some bananas, Ana banana it will help. Better health starts one meal at a time. 
If your sister does well with her class work perhaps you could ask her for a bit of help. Your siblings may be a burden but they are also a blessing. Be sure to hug them. If your mom is a resource tell her how you are feeling. Perhaps she is only used as a threat. You are probably conflicted with how you feel about her. On one hand you might understand why she would want to leave. On the other hand you must be angry that she left you with all her work? 
I know it seems impossible but your siblings will grow up. Time steadily marches forward. Give yourself a hug and be good to Ana today. I’m sending you a big hug as well. Come back to visit with us. We care. 
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Reply to 97yroldmom
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