Back in June I thought it would be a great idea to stop taking my depression meds.
I lasted for about 3 weeks before I realized that it wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had.
Without meds, my mood plummeted, patience went flying out the window and my husband Ryan, unfortunately, was often swept up and tossed around by my emotional shit storms.
When I finally realized the mistake I’d made I asked Ryan if he noticed the change in my mood.
And he didn’t hesitate to say, “YES!”
That’s when I knew it was time to start taking my meds again.
This whole scenario got me thinking about the experiences I had with my parents and their mental health issues.
Not only were my mom and dad alcoholics but my mom was bipolar and my dad was chronically depressed.
My stepdad was a violent, bipolar alcoholic and my stepmom, although she didn’t drink, had a severe personality disorder.
And they were never treated for their illnesses.
So growing up and even now as an adult I often ask myself this question:
“Should I excuse my parents’ actions because of mental illness?”
It’s a question that can stir up loads of frustration, guilt and confusion.
On one hand you’re hurt by your parent’s actions but at the same time you wonder if you’re even allowed to be hurt or angry because you know they have a mental illness.
If you’ve ever been stumped by this question, today’s post is for you.
I’ve got 3 ideas that will not only help you manage the guilt and frustration you feel but will also help you figure out when it’s time to say, enough is enough when dealing with a parent who has a mental illness.
After you’re done reading, I’d love for you to weigh in on today’s topic.
If you have a parent with a mental illness, how do you deal? How do you know when to excuse their behavior and when it’s time to stand your ground.
Tell me your answers in the comment section.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thanks for reading!
Until Next Tuesday,
P.S. When it comes to medications and your mental health, please for the love of GOD don’t make the same mistake I did and try to wean yourself off of them. Always, check in with your doctor first.
#1 Feel The Guilt And Do It Anyway
You’re probably familiar with the phrase, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. But did you know that you can take this same approach when dealing with guilt. Especially with guilt that’s tied to a mentally ill parent?
Here’s what I mean.
It’s one thing to have a parent that has a mental illness but consistently manages it versus a parent that uses their illness as an excuse to act irresponsibly.
For example, let’s say your mom is bipolar and she’s also an alcoholic. She already has 3 DUIs under her belt and you find out that this past weekend she scored another one.
Instead of taking responsibility for her behavior she blames her doctor for the medication he prescribed and then demands that you pay the $1000 fee to bail her out of jail.
As we said, this isn’t the first time this has happened. And even though there’s a part of you that’s fed up you feel a tremendous amount of guilt saying no to her.
Here’s precisely where it would be completely appropriate for you to feel the guilt and do whatever you need to do anyway.
Waiting for the guilt to disappear before you put your foot down is going to keep you waiting forever.
For years, I let the guilt I felt towards my dad rip my life apart. We had an insanely codependent relationship and the fact that he was an alcoholic and also depressed made me believe that I had to excuse his rotten behavior despite the fact that I wanted to do otherwise.
Anytime I thought about standing up for myself, I’d feel a tremendous amount of guilt that kept me stuck in a dysfunctional cycle with him.
I thought that once I figured out how to get rid of the guilt I felt that I’d be able to assert myself with him and enforce my boundaries.
But once I figured out that getting rid of the guilt wasn’t going to happen, I decided to feel the guilt and do what I needed to do anyway.
And I’ve been doing it ever since.
Do I still feel some degree of guilt? Absolutely. But the difference now is that I accept that the feeling just come with the territory.
Now. There’s just one thing I want to make clear here. When we’re talking about a parent with a mental illness and their behavior, I’m not talking about a parent that takes consistent action to manage their mental health but falls short from time to time.
This is about a parent that repeatedly makes excuses for their behavior, dumps their responsibilities or keeps making the same mistakes over and over again despite the consequences and regardless of who continues to get hurt.
#2 Take The Next Right In The Roundabout
This next idea is really all about helping you figure out when it’s time to stop excusing your mentally ill parent’s behavior.
So, remember the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation from the 1980’s?
It was a movie about a comically dysfunctional family, the Griswolds, and their big European adventure.
There’s a scene in the movie where the Griswolds are driving through London and they encounter a roundabout.
And since roundabouts are not common in the United States they enter the roundabout but have no idea how to exit out of it.
So they end up driving around this thing for hours and by the end of the scene, the father, Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase has literally gone mad.
You can watch this ridiculous scene right here –
This is how it can feel when dealing with a mentally ill parent that keeps repeating the same dysfunctional behavior.
So if you find yourself in a situation where if feels like you’re going around in circles with your parent. Where you finally realize that you’re fighting the same battles over and over again, it may be time for you to put your foot down and stop using their mental illness as an excuse for their behavior.
It may be time for you to seriously consider taking the next right in the roundabout.
Now I realize that making this decision is rarely if ever as black and white as I’m presenting it here.
When it comes to your parent, you have to be the one to take a step back and assess your situation as thoroughly as possible. This isn’t the kind of work that anyone else can do for you.
But you have every right to decide when enough is enough. There’s no reason why you should keep driving around in circles, making yourself crazy just because your parent has a mental illness.
And remember this – no decision that you make is ever permanent. Maybe for right now, it’s time for you to stop excusing your parent’s behavior. But who’s to say that in six months or even a year your situation or your parent won’t change?
#3 Be A Two-Timer
When dealing with a dysfunctional family, our choices are never as black and white as we may want them to be.
That’s why it’s perfectly okay, when it comes to a mentally ill parent, to be a two-timer.
You can love them and disagree with their choices.
You can have compassion and have boundaries.
You can be concerned and let them live out the consequences of their choices.
You can feel guilty and do what you need to do to preserve your peace of mind.
You know, I used to be insanely jealous of people who appeared to have “normal” parents. Just seeing a mom and daughter out shopping together or having lunch would serve as a reminder of all that I missed out on with my parents.
But over time I realized that although my parents couldn’t be the positive and stable role models I wanted them to be, they actually taught me a hell of a lot through their poor choices.
And one of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away has been perfectly summed up by this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson –
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”
I think this is important to remember when trying to answer the question,
Should I excuse my parent’s actions because of mental illness?
In order to figure out the answer you need to take an inventory of their actions.
Promising to get help or swearing never to do X, Y or Z again really doesn’t mean anything until they take action.
Now don’t get me wrong, when I say inventory I’m not promoting judgement of someone else.
But I do believe that this approach can give you the information you need to make informed choices about your specific situation. Choices that will ultimately be the right fit for you, your life and your mental and emotional well being.