Friday, April 30, 2010

Money and mental illness: It's not a pretty picture.

Women face many situations in their lives that can drain emotional energy and trash their finances. There's no greater challenge than dealing with a family member who is mentally ill whether it be a spouse, a child or grandchild. This week, I listened to a compelling first-person story of a woman whose husband was bi-polar. His manic behavior over several years, which ended with his suicide, pretty much wrecked her life. Recovery has been painful. Hearing her story, it was clear that she still was sorting out what happened, she was still grieving and evaluating whether she could have done something differently to protect herself and her young daughter from his destructive behavior and financial train-wreck.

But when you're in the middle of a relationship with someone who is charging up credit cards with no regard for how the bills will be paid, who is ransacking the family finances by not following through on business agreements and lying about it all, what action to take may not always be clear, or easy. Looking back, what advice did this woman offer? Get out of the relationship if the person that you care about is not being honest with themselves and others. Get out  if the person is secretive about money matters and defensive, if you question their actions.
Some people struggling with their mental illness can to some degree separate themselves from what's happening to their brains. They can acknowledge the problems, seek professional help and receive medications to bring their lives back into normal ranges. Others can't. Their reality is what it is...theirs. As my bi-polar sister angrily told me once, "Even if I end up living under a bridge with a grocery cart, don't worry about me." What she really was saying was, "Back off. I can handle this." For better or worse, she is.
In the past 15 years, we have become more open about mental illness. Great progress has been made with medications that help people with brain-chemistry problems to lead more normal lives. The great tragedy is that the potential for them is there but sometimes the brilliance that is evident in mentally ill people makes it harder for them to hold a regular job because their brains are whirling too fast and their obsessive focus on detail becomes their enemy. Money, or lack of it, is a constant issue. So what advice did our speaker this week have for others who might find themselves enmeshed in a relationship with someone spending money like there was no tomorrow? "Get out," she said again. By doing so earlier, she would not have been liable for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid debt left behind after his suicide or the stress of sorting it all out. Some might say bailing out is a selfish way to handle the situation, but many women hang in there too long with a marriage, while hoping for a change that isn't going to happen, expecting that common sense will prevail when it comes to spending money.
"The ill spouse must recognize and accept the illness, be willing to receive treatment, and if possible, learn to manage the illness," say the experts at "If the mentally ill spouse is not willing to do these things, it may become impossible for the family to continue to support him or her. The family is not required to throw away their own lives for someone who refuses to cooperate. There are limits and they must be enforced without feelings of guilt," said the experts.
For those 60 & Single women who are coping with the mental illness of a family-member, here are additional helpful Web sites: - click here.
Coping with bi-polar disorder - click here.
Ten Steps for Coping with Bipolar Mania - click here.

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