(Picture Credit: bloggingforjobs.com)
My lovely and loving sister came to visit me last week, coming from the east coast all the way out here to Idaho, for some relaxation and family time. I couldn't have been happier to see her and her visit was healing for me in a few ways. She left yesterday, though, but left me with some peace about my life and that of Thomas's.
While she was here, we spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch of my mom's house playing silly games on our phones and tablets and in between games we talked, sometimes even abandoning the games for serious discussions about the realities of our lives,
You see, my sister has a daughter with serious bipolar I disorder and her daughter is 19 now. The family has spent many years coping with the illness and for my sister, coping with what it means to be a parent of a young adult with a serious mental illness. We exchanged stories of our experiences with our kids and we found some similarities in our stories.
To begin with, what's different for her, is that her daughter is not properly medicated. It's not that she doesn't have the medications rather it's that she refuses to take them or only takes them when she feels like it. Of course this leads to many conflicts between her and my sister and my sister works to cope with the behaviors that rise out of her child not being properly medicated. As many of you can imagine, as a mom, she has a tough time trying to find balance and on top of that my sister has other young children to parent at the same time. Her plate is full and out of our discussion came some truths.
Both she and I talked about where our children are in their lives, her daughter fighting symptoms and having no motivation to change her life and refusing to take her medications properly and my Thomas who has the same lack of motivation to change his life and can be found 90% of the time on his computer playing games and watching YouTube. While I am blessed to have a son who takes his medications and takes them seriously in that he knows they help him, he still sees a life for himself shut into his room, unmotivated, and increasingly unwilling to even go to work for the one single day he's scheduled to go. Two Saturday's ago he called me to come get him from work early because he "felt sick" and then this last Saturday he called me in the late morning complaining of a scratchy throat and upset stomach, insisting there was no way he could go to work that evening. What was I to do? I couldn't force him to go so instead I was essentially forced to give him the go ahead to call in sick.
What this brought up in my discussion with my sister is the fact that Thomas was quickly putting himself in danger of being fired from his job. They're tolerant at his work with his unpredictability but they do have a business to run and I know it's just a matter of time before they let him go. What, then, would that mean for his life? With no job, and being isolated in his bedroom and collecting disability, did this mean that this was what his life was going to amount to? Between my sister and I with her daughter needing a driver's license and insisting she already knows how to drive yet won't take the driver's test and is also looking at a life of a lack of motivation and Thomas near being fired and unable to bring himself to find courage to take a college course or increase his work hours so he can better afford to find independence, we have 2 children that we don't have a clue what their fate will be in the future and even more concerning is the fate she and I face as our young adult children don't look towards independence from the comforts of their childhood homes.
So, what does this mean for our future, for mine and my sister's future? What we came to was that we were looking at the rest of our lives with our mentally ill children safely ensconced in our homes living at their current status quo looking towards a future stricken with their respective illnesses. We talked about how as our peers our age are now becoming "empty nesters", we are still looking ahead to a life where our nest will never be empty. Our lives, as we know them now, appear to be shaping up to become our future lives too.
The question then became,
"What are we going to do?"
As we talked, we realized that together we had similar futures and we resigned ourselves to them. It's not that we don't want our kids to move out, it's not that we haven't tried to help them find a way out, it's simply that we've tried countless times over the years to help our children choose different paths and it's become out of our control to make the decisions for them, instead opting to turn their fate over to their own hands and in effect stand by as they choose to do absolutely nothing.
The discussion on that warm, shaded front porch turned to a kind of nervous laughter as we tried to find our classic sense of humor about our futures. There we were once again faced with reality and once again the only way to cope with that reality was to find the humor in it all. What else, when all else has failed, can you do? The minute you stop laughing, the minute you turn your own reality over the the grim truth, is when you find yourself in a place that's hard to crawl out of. Surely there is humor to be found in our situations and one thing you can count on out of the relationship my sister and I share is that we will always find the funny. After years of tragedy after tragedy befalling each of our lives and our children, we have toughened up and learned that a sense of humor is not a bad quality to have in the face of pain and disappointment.
So, there we sat on that warm, shaded front porch and we quietly stared off into the distance over the Snake River and the baked hillsides surrounding it and we accepted what we know to be the truth. Of course there will always be hope. There is hope that her daughter will become enlightened about her illness and begin to take her meds and begin to see that she can have a life of independence and good health and there is hope that Thomas will find the motivation and strength to find bravery and independence but for now, things are as they are.
For now, I'll sit with my sister on the front porch and we'll share the truth of our lives and somehow find humor in it all.