Reprinted from "Income" issue of Visions Journal, 2011, 7(2), p. 15
Our roller-coaster journey began in earnest about seven years ago. After moving to Vancouver on a whim in August 2003, our son Paul* was hospitalized in June 2004 at age 28. At first he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but it was changed to schizoaffective disorder (an illness that combines the symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder).
Paul needed help in every aspect of life. He would call his father and talk for hours about the horrible things in his mind that he believed were real. I took over Paul's finances, making sure he had money to pay rent and other necessities.
Finding a safety net
At the beginning of Paul's illness, when my husband and I were still living in Manitoba, I struggled to understand the large amounts of money Paul spent. He worked as an artist in the film industry in Vancouver and got paid well, but saved nothing.
After Paul was discharged from the hospital in 2004, he was unable to work, and social assistance was not enough to cover his expenses. We supported the idea that Paul stay in Vancouver to establish himself in his chosen field. We agreed to help him with whatever money he was short.
His banking institution was a great help. They suggested I open an account in my name, get signing authority for his account and link it to his. This helped, as I was able to deposit money in my name only and then transfer money to him whenever needed. Frequently, this was required immediately.
A difficult balancing act
In June 2007, I retired. Circumstances required us to move, so I chose to try island living for a two-year period, and we moved to BC.
By this time, Paul had cleared his debt to us. But the film industry is not a stable work industry; at the end of shows or movies, employees are frequently laid off. Paul continued to have times when, if not laid off, he was too ill to work. Once again, we found ourselves helping him with money to tide him over for a short period of time.
Retirement meant a significant drop in income for us. It's a scary position to be in—weighing the decision of whether we could or could not continue to help our son.
Struggles with money limits
I have somewhat of a unique position when it comes to managing Paul's money. He trusts me completely with taking control of all his income and expenses. When he worked, I was able to move large amounts of his pay to reduce his debts.
This payback approach was interrupted when projects became scarce. When he was ill and/or unemployed for longer periods of time, Paul used his credit card to supplement his meagre funds. His mental illness clouded (and continues to cloud) his judgment on the limits to how much he should spend. We are troubled that he doesn't grasp the value of a budget as a tool for managing one's finances.
Will we know when to say no?
Saying "no, we cannot help you," will be one of the hardest decisions to make. My husband and I successfully managed our income throughout our 40 years of marriage. With retirement, we knew we could have no debts. We have a small savings account left from selling our Prairie home and purchasing a mobile home here. This "nest egg" is the only thing we left to pay for things like repairs to our home, replacing appliances and keeping a safe vehicle on the road. From time to time, we need to remind ourselves to keep this in mind.
Financially, we have been to the brink of needing to put what we call "plan B" in place. Paul would have to give up his apartment and move in with us. This is one of our worst fears because of the possible outcome. It would signal failure to him, compromising his health.
Keeping hope alive
The word 'worry' is not strong enough to describe our feelings for the future. We will remain on this journey with Paul, supporting him mentally as well as financially. This could mean that he will have to live with us.
When forced to think of when we are no longer here, the panic we feel is monstrous. We are in our middle sixties and have no set ideas about what will be in the future. Paul has an older brother Derek* who lives on the Prairies. They are close, and Derek has assured us he will do his best to help if needed.
In the meantime, we live with the hope that Paul will be able to draw on his stregths to keep himself healthy. It's difficult, but we work to keep hope alive.
About the author
Trudy* was born and previously lived in Manitoba. In 2007 she retired from her job as a teacher assistant and moved to Vancouver Island. Having a son who has a serious mental illness, Trudy now spends a lot of time volunteering with the BC Schizophrenia Society