It was 4 am. We heard a violent kick on my bedroom door. My husband and I almost jumped out of bed in shock.
At the door, my mother was screaming and going berserk: “I cannot find my medicine, she told me to put it on the table, it’s not here, she wants to murder me…”
My mother has never really been properly diagnosed with a mental condition. However, as she has grown older, the doctor has linked her symptoms to dementia and other conditions. So, she needs the medication to calm her down.
My good-natured husband tried to calm my mother down: “Mum, I’ll help you find it.”
As she went on screaming, we woke our helper up to ask where the medicine could be in the wee hours of the morning. Eventually, my husband found it in a bag which my mother had refused to let him look at.
It was right there and yet she refused to admit that it was the bottle that she was asking for! In the end, we had to call my sister (who lives elsewhere) to ask her about it since our mother had visited her earlier.
Despite verifying and having my sister tell her that the bottle was what she was looking for, the wayang continued. In the process, my mother sank her nails into my hand, digging three holes in the flesh. At 4.45 am, after disturbing everyone’s sleep, we called the police.
Four policemen came. After assessing the situation and trying to pacify her for an hour, they advised that we send her to IMH. We asked them if they could help us take her there but they said they were unable to as she wasn’t a threat and she is old. We found out that a private ambulance could cost up to $500 cash on arrival, and that the police cannot escort the patient — i.e no one can force her to get into the ambulance unless she willingly does so.
Two hours later, the police left, leaving us still traumatised and feeling helpless.
I told them that the next time they visit, it could possibly be a case where a body bag is required.
We visited IMH the next day but my mother did not want to receive treatment. Right now, she is still taking the medication she needs. However, similar outbursts still happen.
After that particular incident, I told my sister to take my mother for the weekends. I needed a break and space to recover. That was not the first time that something like this has happened but I am still traumatised and depressed. If there is another outburst, I’m not sure if I can take it.
I spent the next few days trying to regroup and calm myself down.
Challenges taking care of someone who’s mentally ill
Mental illness is a scary thing. More often than not, the sufferer refuses to seek treatment, subjecting their families to great stress.
My mum does not want to seek treatment and she only takes the medicine that is prescribed to her. So it falls on us to take care of her.
While doing so, my siblings and I have to be very patient and careful as our mum can be very insensitive and irrational. For example, she has a helper who helps take care of her. Once, she accused that helper of stealing her items only to find that the item had been with her all along.
She also says many insensitive comments but we can’t really tell her to stop doing that. So, we have to bite our tongue and hold back our comments.
However, most of all, it is hard to take care of her because of her drastic mood swings. One minute she is well, the next, something triggers her and she has a violent outburst. It really affects our mental well-being.
Thankfully, by sharing the burden with my siblings, we all get to take breaks.
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We as a society need to seriously start to look into dealing with this issue as our population ages. Such stresses can leave us feeling helpless and needing to escape from having to face up to our realities.
Mental well-being does not only apply to those dealing with mental illness but also to their caregivers and families too.
Reader (name withheld to protect privacy)