Sometimes, denial is the biggest obstacle in treating a mental illness
Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(2), pp. 25-26
Over the past years, we as a family have experienced the frustration of watching our mother display the signs of what we believed were that of a person growing old. In our situation, it would have been much easier to deal with the medical problems of one parent, without having to deal with the interventions of the other dominant parent, our father.
Our father's interpretations of my mother's behavior differed from the rest of the family. He requested medical intervention at each and every occasion by our father, believing what was going on to be a physical illness. This put him at odds with the rest of the family, but when we confronted him, our father justified his interpretations by the statement "you don't live it — you don't know what it is like living with her"!
Specialist (psychiatric) diagnosis of our mother identified the condition as the "early stages of Alzheimer's/dementia" but mostly, severe depression. The family had been present at one of the visits leading up to this diagnosis, and it was an interesting experience. Our mother was overridden during the visit by our father, who told the doctor all the symptoms. Medication was prescribed, and it was left up to our father to administer. Subsequent visits were conducted in the same manner, to the best of our knowledge, with our father always present, with one exception.
Throughout this period, our father sought medical attention from every resource available to find some other diagnosis, as he could not comprehend that "depression" was an illness. Again, the family discouraged him from this, but we were constantly reminded by him, "You don't live it — you don't know what it is like living with her". Intervention was discouraged by our father unless it conformed with his interpretation of need.
Our father would interpret the actions of our mother as being hereditary. He would constantly describe our mother's actions in ways that were seldom complimentary, unfortunately at times in the company of others. We felt that he was repeating these kinds of verbal reports (abuses) constantly, and that our mother was being put into a position of believing them as truths.
She would resort to sleeping at times for one or two days, but our father would interpret this as being a medical condition not related to the diagnosis of depression. The family intervened and discovered that he would, at times, administer his own "natural supplements" to assist our mother, and that these substances would create adverse responses. He was also found to be quite capable of mixing up or unintentionally "overdosing" our mother. A different prescription process was initiated, but it was found that our father would blame the druggist for the mistake and continue the "overdosing".
I am not relating this story for the purpose of blaming our father, but rather to provide some insight into the difficulties a family may have with a possessive and dictatorial father or head of the family. Our father detests the idea of being old, and is possibly afraid of death and of being alone. We feel he does have true feelings for our mother and in his mind believes what is being done is the best under the circumstances. He displays signs of complete frustration with the medical profession, stating that "they don't care like they used to and they don't tell you anything". Our father has been abusive to the medical practitioners and is not beyond abusing the system.
Separation of our parents has been discussed and offered as an option, but any intervention has been refused each time. The family has sought outside advice, both professional and otherwise, and at each turn have been met with resistance and the same repeated statement. Medical professionals have been advised of the concerns and they too have expressed frustration with our father.
We do not believe that a situation such as this is uncommon. Any resolution involving separation, which appears to be the only remedy, would be heartbreaking and possibly destructive to the health of our parents. Our mother's physician has indicated that she could be placed in a separate facility. While our father would accept this, our mother refuses. Our mother was hospitalized for a period of time, and showed marked improvement in an institutional setting where she was properly medicated. After she was discharged, she fell back into her depression.
The family has attempted to provide as much support as possible with visits, dinners, offers of outings etc., which have been well received, but have not helped to resolve the problem. Our father has been the sole caretaker of our mother and has made her totally dependent on him. Sadly, since the onset of this situation, our mother has indicated on numerous occasions that "she is just tired, feels she is a nuisance to everyone and wishes it were all over".
In an effort to look after our aged parents, we have exhausted most avenues and experienced new emotions that leave us somewhat bewildered as to the best course of action to follow. These two people have experienced a fruitful life in their own right, and do still demand that they be left in control of their own destiny, for whatever reason. Our father made plans for this period in their lives, to allow for their independence and insure that they would not be a financial burden on anyone. This, unfortunately, has not been borne out, hence the dilemma. Others may believe that they have or can offer further resolutions but to paraphrase our father — "You don't live it — you don't know what it is like to live with her!"
About the author
Elizabeth is a Member of MDA – the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia