Chronic Pain or Addiction? Personality Disorder or Legitimate Health Issues?!!
My sister has a rare immune deficiency disease. It affects her life in many ways, she cannot work, she has to wear a mask in public places, she is now oxygen dependent from complications of her illness. She also needs help taking care of herself due to other health issues, and has a PCA come and help her.
Here is where I get confused… and maybe it doesn’t matter? She loves the attention. She spends her time on her illnesses and talks only about her health. (I get it, her health issues DO take up her time and it is a big part of her life) but it is the excitement in her voice when there is a new diagnosis or new medication that makes me wonder. She often will exaggerate or even worsen symptoms for attention. She often is dependent on others and will call my parents several times a day to have help with minor decisions (like what to wear, which friend to hang out with, what to eat for dinner etc.) (she is 29)
The last 2 family gatherings (though this behavior has been present in the past) has been concerning? After our meal together, she will take pain meds, seem incredibly out of it and high and sleep the rest of the time. I know she is in legtamate pain- but i worry about the pattern and how it affects kids around.
What are your thoughts on this situation, and how can I be sensitive to her needs and not ignore issues that might be coming up??
I might have some input for you. I have been in a similar but different situation. My mom has had many health struggles throughout her life. These health struggles were legitimate health struggles. However, they did not justify all her behavior. In contrast to your sister, my mom did not seem excited about new medications or diagnoses, but if she had the energy, she would tell EVERYONE and cry. I really get that venting helps to cope, but just like you, I had the impression she was enjoying the attention. I don’t think that in itself is problematic. However, she also seemed to be using her health in arguments with me (when I was a teenager). When I would get angry about something (regardless of whether the thing I was angry about was related to her health and regardless of whether my anger was legitimate), she would magically start vomiting and/or scream that I should not get angry at her because she was sick. In my eyes, she used her health so that she could be unreasonable and not being held accountable.
Also, my mom seemed unable to cope when my dad got a stroke and she was no longer “the sick one”. Instead, she was now calling everyone telling how hard it was for her to cope with her husband not being the same anymore. By itself, this is also a legitimate way to cope. However, by being so focused on her own pain, she could not be there for my dad, my brother, or me. Instead, she relied heavily on me for emotional support completely ignoring the fact that the situation might have also impacted me. And, similar to when she was sick, she used the situation to justify being downright hard to be around and even leaving the house for a couple of months. (While my dad did need to be cared for, so I had to spend quite some time at their house.) It even got to the point that my uncle (who she was staying with) called me to tell me I had to be more understanding of how hard it all was on my mom. I think she was legitimately struggling wth the situation. However, that still does not (fully) justify her behavior. On top of all that, similar to your sister, my mom has always heavily relied on me and my dad for everyday decisions. When my dad got his stroke, she could no longer rely on him in that way, which resulted in her calling me more than daily. So long story short: I think I can relate to your situation.
Over the last couple of the years, I have tried to be sensitive to my mom’s needs, but also trying to be clear on and really protect my boundaries. This became increasingly important when my own (mental) health deteriorated and simply could no longer be her crutch anymore. I have started to tell her what I was willing to do for her and what I was not willing to do for her. (I really like to hear how you are doing and catch up, but I do not want to hear all the things you think are bad about my dad and if you want to vent and cry, please call a friend. I am very willing to help you to select a new laptop, but please don’t call me for every little computer questions. etc etc etc.) It took quite a while of explaining, giving examples, staying very patient and friendly, but I really feel like she got it now. One clear example was when she was invited to a session with my psychiatrist. I asked her if she was willing to join the session to answer questions about me as a child and she started asking if I could send her the directions to get from here home to the treatment center, but she stopped mid-sentence and continued: I will look up how I can get there, what is the address again? Actually, from that moment on, she seems to make more of her own decisions and be more independent.
Since your sister does not seem to directly rely on you, this might not be as applicable. However, I think you can at least be clear on what you are willing to do for her.
I hope this helps a bit,
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