Stop This Mental Health RollerCoaster... I Wanna get off.

I've been a secondary passenger on this RollerCoaster ride for most of my life, as I accompany my mother through the Highs and Lows. I'm not a willing passenger...I HATE RollerCoasters....but I don't have any choice. Neither does my brother, or his wife...or Mr Jazzy, or even that I come to think of it. We are ALL affected by it though. My mother mostly, of course.

With most RollerCoasters you can see the HIGHS and the LOWS ahead.... you know what's coming and WHEN. You can even choose whether or not to get on board. With some RollerCoasters there's even scary Loop-the- Loops. Our RollerCoaster definitely has Loop-the-Loops. It also has a name, it's called: The Bi-Polar Express. But there's no plan with our RollerCoaster, you can't really see what's ahead. The Highs and Lows ...and the Loop-the-Loops...come at you out of the blue. They can totally blindside you. My mother, of course is the most affected by this.... she has no say in when they occur either. Or does she?

I am now going to ask a really difficult question here..... and I wholeheartedly apologise in advance if I offend anyone reading this who suffers with Depression. This question is based on my perspective of a close family member dealing with Mental Illness, it doesn't reflect anyone elses. It is a genuine question asked for genuine reasons.

How selective is Mental Illness??

Is it possible to choose when you'll have a Nervous Breakdown??


Do you simply choose to OPT OUT when life is tough or things are simply not going your way??


Is it that you suffer from Depression or Bi-Polar Disorder and have no control over when it hits??

Then again, maybe it's a mixture of all three??

Or maybe I'm just being cold and heartless.

But, before you judge me, please let me explain why I ask this question.

My mam will be 70 on the 30th April which is next Thursday. She has been suffering with Depression since she was 19 and has been on medication since that time. Counselling for depression wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eyes then. She's been given a few different Diagnoses over the years. The latest one, given a long time ago, is Bi-Polar Disorder with Dementia. The Dementia bit was only added in the last 8 yrs approx. Like with all labels given to members of this family, sometimes the professionals argue about what the correct one is! Hence I'm using the umbrella term for the title of this Post i.e. Mental Illness. A bit like the umbrella term PDD-NOS used within Autism Diagnoses!! We're back to that old chestnut.... the Wolf and the Duck.... eh Lisadom?! In fact someone will probably diagnose my mam with BP-NOS. Believe it or not there is such a label!

There's no doubt that my mam has had a tough life. But she's been a brilliant mam, when she's been well enough. She raised us well.

The past 11 years were very difficult for her though. Both my brother and I moved out within 12 months of each other. Shortly after that, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers (aged 60) and died 4 yrs later. It's his 8th Anniversary this Sunday actually. And , of course in the middle of all of this, Snuggles was born.

Then, 5 years ago this August, She had a Triple By-Pass, followed by a massive stroke. She was in hospital for 3 months. Most Triple By-Pass patients are home within 3 weeks. Unfortunately, her stay was also prolonged by Psychiatric episodes, MRSA and C-Diff. As a result of this she (reluctantly) agreed to go into a Nursing Home. She needs constant care....more so when she is mentally unwell. There is very limited support for Psychiatric Patients in Ireland... Monday to Friday. There is ZILCH at weekends.

You see... in Ireland, if you break your leg you may have to wait a few hours in A & E, but it will be fixed. But, if your head/mind is "broken"??? TOUGH. Wait until Monday ( Tuesday if it's a Bank Holiday ), or..... as we're usually told.........WAIT TIL OUR NEXT CLINIC!!! That could be a week away! I kid you not. So keeping her at home is NOT an option. We have had some truly HORRENDOUS experiences at home (through lack of support) believe me. At least in the nursing home there are nurses there who can take care of her properly until the rest of the HSE gets "with the programme".

Unfortunately, she's not really happy in the Nursing Home. We're reluctant to move her though, because the level of care there is great. Particularly when the Bi-Polar Express runs through. No guarantee we'd get that anywhere else. When she's well she's great though! She's very lucid and we take her out everytime we visit. She comes home to our house for the day....regularly. So, she gets out a bit. Not all the residents do.

So now, back to my question....and my current dilemma.

My mam's Bi-Polar hits every 3 to 4 weeks approx. It takes about 2 weeks, maybe longer to get back on track. And then the cycle starts again.

So, does she choose to be unwell or does the Bi-Polar choose her??

Sometimes it does just happen.

But I think at other times she can make it happen. There are ways of doing this. She can simply choose NOT to take her tablets..... she KNOWS the effect this can have. It is a finely tuned cocktail of tablets she takes on board every day. Must be a total pain for her, in fairness. I mean, it's kind of understandable isn't it? "I feel fine, so why do I need to keep taking the tablets"? Most people on Anti-biotics say that.... and their ailment returns with a vengance when they stop the course. But I don't believe that's the reason she stops.

There are also preceeding incidents ....... or Triggers..... that set off her behaviour. The most common one is when I tell her I'm going on Holidays..... even just going away for a weekend will do the trick. My brother, on the other hand, can go away whenever he likes. I do not say this lightly.... I've proved it. I now only tell her the day before I go away and she's perfectly fine while I'm gone.

Upcoming events are also a Trigger. Like Christmas for example.

At the moment she knows it's her 70th soon. There was talk of maybe a small gathering to celebrate. She wanted it....didn't want it.... wanted it....... Bi-Polar paranoia setting in, big time. So, to defuse the situation I stopped entertaining any talk of it.... and went ahead and booked the restaurant for Sunday Lunch for 12 people. This Sunday. I've also arranged for a Mass to be said for my dad so I'm bringing her to mass too. Snuggles and I will be bringing her..... while Mr Jazzy plays golf in bloody Portugal!!

Oh, and more importantly, she's aware that Snuggles and I are going away for a weekend "in May". I truly believe that's the real trigger. ( We're off to Legoland in Denmark on May 1st!! Shhhh say NOTHING yet!!)

As we approach these dates, The Bi-Polar Express is stopping and starting CONSTANTLY for the last 2 weeks. It came just before Easter, right on schedule and left very quickly. Only to return, completely unscheduled within 10 days. It is totally bizarre. One day she's completely incoherent ( unless there's something important she wants you to "I can't open my easter Egg!") and can't be brought anywhere. The next day she's absolutely fine... not a bother. I get a sense that she's opting in and out. The staff agree with me.... you see they now know her pretty well. So it's no longer me (or my brother) saying it.

For example 2 days ago she was totally incoherent but yesterday I took her out and we had a lovely lunch. I got firm with her and asked her how come she was so well today and not the day before?? She told me that she told herself to get up and get on with it.... something like that . She DECIDED to be well, you see. She absolutely made that choice.

So, I tried a bit of Marte Meo and said "I know it's hard for you, I do understand but I want you to remember that feeling tomorrow morning and do EXACTLY the same thing. And do it every morning." I told her she had the power to be well or unwell. It was her choice and that we would help her. I told her about the lunch and the Mass and she seemed happy about it .... at the time. I asked her not to let her 70th Birthday slip by as it only happens once. We shook hands on it and she promised me. If I could have set up a Star Chart or given her check-marks for reaching her goals I would have!!!

I'm being hard on her because I want her to enjoy the occasion. Life is easier FOR HER when she's well. But I won't be mentioning the upcoming trip to legoland! And woe betide anyone who does!!

So, now I'm gonna make the dreaded call and see if the Bi- Polar Express has arrived today...... on current scheduling it would be due!

Wish me luck!! I truly hope to be posting pictures of a 70th Birthday celebration here on Sunday evening!! xx J


  1. The topic of mental illness and how it is managed seems a really interesting one. Not that many people are brave enough to talk about it openly or to question whether or not it can be controlled. I can only imagine what you, your family and your mother must be going through.

    I think your mother is a really interesting and brave person. Whatever way other people see her, she's still your mother to you.
    I think it's a disgrace that there's a lack of support for people with mental illness and their families in Ireland.

    Wishing her many happy returns and I'm looking forward to see the photos. I hope you and Snuggles have a great time in Legoland.

  2. Such an interesting post, Jazzy. Again, you educate me, I know nothing of the "Bi-Polar Express" except what I picked up along the way (tv, radio, papers). It must be very hard to live with, your mother, but of course you and your brother, and all others around.

    I can't answer your questions, however I can say this from personal experience: there was a time some years back when my life took a very bad turn, and the resulting pressure, the stress, the unrelenting waves after waves of emotions, all brought me into depression for about 2 years. THAT was a tough period, when I had to keep on “operating” as if nothing was wrong, but actually wanted to just curl up in bed and never get up again. And I actually did this for most weekends for that period. Eventually, I came to realise this was not what life was about, and I DECIDED to pull myself out of it, to phase out the med’s, get out, meet people, DO THINGS. I never looked back, and if anything, since then I have such a huge appreciation of life, of the fun of it, the enjoyment of it, even when things are tough!

    I’m not sure it that helps. It’s just my own story, plain and simple.

    By the way, my mother is not in very good physical health, but nothing major. However she is a total hypochondriac, and very manipulative... not easy all the time for those around!

  3. I really do hope you get to celebrate your Mum's 70th birthday on Sunday and that she enjoys it and indeed all of you do!

    My dad spent his 70th in hospital (just after his stroke) and although we tried to make the best of it, its hard when you have to celebrate in a hospital.

    I understand fully what you say about how they can bring it on and turn it off behaviour wise - somedays Dad is really good at remembering things and getting on with life, other days I could scream with frustration dealing with him!! I drove over to visit him this morning - having reminded him last night, and this morning - I got there - took over an hour - and he was out!! He had forgotten in the space of two hours!! Waited for another two hours - he can't remember how to use his mobile anymore so eventually I had to leave and drive home!!

    Have a lovely time in Legoland too and I look forward to hearing about that trip as well.

    W5 is well worth the visit if you ever venture north - there is plenty of different activities to pass three or four hours.

    Fingers crossed all goes well for you on Sunday,
    the little man's mum!

  4. Well you know how I feel about the Bi-Polar thing being "In the Spectrum"

    But I think that you might have analyzed the data here and found your conclusion. YOU are the safety net that allows your Mum to fall. How you untie yourself from that is another whole ball game.

    All I know is that when things are closing in on me, and I feel like I'm losing it, I have to look at it all rationally and work out what I can adjust to take the pressure off.

    My potential depression of course is completely reactive, so it's not like the chemical one that just creeps up on people.

    But I know that I have no safety net. that no one will step in and "save" me. So I don't fall.

    I think your mum might be past the stage where she could happily converse with 3laine or Phillip, my other friend with Aspergers who gets anxiety and depression. But it would go someway towards explaining it for you Jazz.

    And as for the Fricken HSE mental Health services. May they burn in hell for what they have caused. All those murder-suicides down the country had clear warning signs and happened "after hours" when the Social Workers were not on duty.

    When and if I go over the edge, I plan to do it at 10;30 on a Monday morning in the carpark of the HSE. With a big list of people who should have helped taped to my car.

    You are a great daughter Jazzy. And a great Mum, so you are.


  5. Thank you ladies for your comments...and for sharing your personal thoughts and experiences.
    I am BARELY skimming the Ice Berg with this post.

    3laine: Yup...gotta be careful where we raise this topic! And you're the end of the day she's my mother. That can cloud my judgement too though.

    Nan P: That must have been a difficult time for you. My mother-in-law had a similiar experience when her "kids" had all finally flown the nest. But, like you, she was eventually able to pull herself out. Bi-Polar is different though. The most important word u used was "manipulative". Absolutely hitting the nail on the head there!

    Clive: That's hard for you. How frustrating!! The Dementia bit is very hard too.

    Hammie: Yup...definitely a correlation there. I know I'm used as the net...she knows I'm the net...but what she doesn't get is that I'm NOT there to catch her. I get in WHEN I can. I can afford to do that as she has great carers. thank God. But it doesn't stop the guilt taking over. And, oh yeah..... lets NOT get started on HSE supports. Disgraceful.

    Thanks again. Really appreciate those comments. xx J

  6. Hey Jazzy - what an incredibly honest post. I dont have much experience with mental illness but the little I do have I struggle to understand. Do they just need the kick up the bum and told to get on with it or is it truly truly something that cannot be controlled? I dont know either.
    Anyway I hope tomorrow goes as planned & Bi-polar express has left the station without your mother on it.

    Good luck & we look forward to hearing the outcome.

  7. Thanks Gruffalomum. You know, with all I know about it I STILL don't know the answer! From what I can see a big part of it is fighting to be well. Not easy to keep that up , I'm sure. She has the power to do it....if she has the will to do it. At times.xx J


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