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Posted by: Maria | 2012/07/02

Letter to my bipolar sister-in-law

I''ve written here before about my 40 year old sister-in-law who has bipolar and is still completely dependent on her parents for everything. She is childish and has really dismal social skills - she talks incessantly about nonsense and stands much too close to you etc. She had a job as a nursery school assistant for a couple of years but resigned several years ago. I think she was probably manic at the time as she was quite paranoid. She tried to find another job but failed.

On Thursday I finally had enough. We invited her and our parents over for brunch as it was my daughter''s birthday. My sil threw a tantrum because my daughter didn''t immediately respond to her when she called her, and my mil and I both told her to not bother the kid who was very excitedly playing with a present. She just about shouted at us that everybody treats her like an idiot, then sat and sulked for the next half hour. And all she wanted to ask my daughter was where one of our cats was...

So I decided to write her a letter and tell it like it is. I apologise for this very long post CS, and will quite understand if you don''t read all of it. I will really appreciate other reader''s input as well. Is this ok? Am I too harsh?

Thanks.

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Dear L

I feel the time has come for me to honest with you about what I think. I decided that doing so face to face will be unproductive, therefore I''m writing you a letter which you can read at your leisure.

When I look at you I see unfulfilled potential. I see a grown woman who gets treated as if she is mentally deficient or 9 years old, neither of which is true, and it bothers me a great deal. I believe that this is absolutely not in your best interests and it has stifled your personal development for the last 20 years. I cannot stand the way you and Michaella are handled as if you are on the same level, when you should really not be. You once told me that your illness stole your childhood and that is why you are childlike. Frankly I feel immature is a more apt description and it is not a characteristic of bipolar or OCD. (I don''t know if you have any other diagnoses.) I know people with bipolar who live relatively normal. Yes they have good times and times when the wheels fall off, and the degree of illness varies. But bipolar does not render you incapable of growing up. If you want to be treated like an adult then you must behave like an adult.

My perception of what happened is that your parents, especially your mom, decided that because of your illness you must be protected against anything that might upset you. Bad and childish behaviour is just accepted and forgotten. You were never pushed to achieve anything, never expected to learn how to look after yourself or take responsibility for yourself. I was shocked when I found out that your mom controls your medication, and absolutely dismayed when she told me a couple of years ago that she packs your bag when you go away on holiday. Why on earth can''t you do those things for yourself? Why can you not cook a meal, make a mess in the kitchen and clean it up all by yourself? Unless you are suicidal, which you don''t appear to be, I see absolutely no reason why you cannot take more personal responsibility and live a much more satisfying life. Change and growth is scary, and emotionally painful, but ultimately worth it.

Do you know what medications you take, what they are for and what the typical side effects are? You have access to the internet, there is a wealth of information out there. If you don''t know where to look I will help you. The days are long gone when one should just accept everything doctors tell you, you must educate yourself. I told your mom earlier this year that I switched psychiatrists and it was the best thing I could have done. A new doctor, up to date with the latest research, made a huge difference to my treatment and subsequent quality of life. I suggested that perhaps after all this time it might be useful for you to get a second opinion and a fresh eye looking at your treatment. She wouldn''t hear of it. At her age one doesn''t want to make changes. But it''s not too late for you, and I urge you take take more of an interest in yourself. By the way, I think it''s great that you joined Curves.

My understanding is that medical aids have to pay for certain conditions, including Bipolar, even if you only have a hospital plan. It is called the Minimum Prescribed Benefits. You are entitled to 15 paid visits to a psychiatrist or psychologist, and they must pay for your chronic medication as well, subject to certain rules. The person you see must apply to the medical aid on your behalf. Maybe you can use those visits, go and see a psychologist and work on your self esteem, emotional development and social skills? It will also be very helpful if your parents can go with for a couple of sessions and the psychologist can help all of you together to work out a plan for you to become more independent and self sufficient.

Which brings me to the subject of work. I know you want to work with children but the way you present yourself does not inspire confidence. That''s why working with a psychologist will be such a good thing. In the meantime though, stacking shelves or washing floors in a supermarket is also worthy work, and earning money of your own will do wonders for the way you feel about yourself. Apart from that, is it fair to expect your dad to continue supporting you financially... until when?

Do I have the right to say these things? It''s true that I don''t know your whole history, and haven''t been there when things are really bad. However I have observed the situation now for 7 years, I have a lot of personal experience of psychiatric treatment (successful and unsuccessful), I study in this field and I have read a lot and talked to other people who are bipolar. R and I are going to be the people you turn to the day your parents can no longer look after you. We are raising Michaella to become a capable and independent adult and frankly I am not willing to have someone else''s perpetual child in my house for the rest of my life, not when I believe she is capable of a lot more. You will need support, we understand that and we''re willing to provide it, but I will not spoonfeed you and do everything for you the way your parents do.

That''s all I want to say for now. The rest is up to you. If you want to talk about it then I''m available.

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

People who behave like an idiot should not complain when others treat them as an idiot. The remedy lies in their changing their behaviour and choices.
And, Maria, as the post did actually involve cats, of course I read it all, accompanied by a cup of coffee !
If one feels an illness, or anything else, has somehow deprived one of a normal childhood, this neither justifies nor is remedied by, choosing to live as a childish adult.
As for your letter, it makes excellent sense.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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Our users say:
Posted by: cybershrink | 2012/07/02

People who behave like an idiot should not complain when others treat them as an idiot. The remedy lies in their changing their behaviour and choices.
And, Maria, as the post did actually involve cats, of course I read it all, accompanied by a cup of coffee !
If one feels an illness, or anything else, has somehow deprived one of a normal childhood, this neither justifies nor is remedied by, choosing to live as a childish adult.
As for your letter, it makes excellent sense.

Reply to cybershrink

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