Straight Talk Advice

Oct 24, 2007

Daughter’s mental illness more than family can handle

Dear Straight Talk: I was very affected, Lauren, by the story of your son (9/5/2007). He was obviously an amazing young man and you obviously raised him well. I don’t know how you did it with four kids; we have five and have so many problems.

Our middle child, 15, has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and Aspberger’s syndrome (a mild form of autism). She interrupts, makes ridiculous demands, and picks fights with family members non-stop. Single-handedly, she consumes most of my and her mother’s attention, which the other kids resent. All-out frustration reigns in our household which leads to other problems. As efforts to correct her behavior go nowhere, we are truly exasperated. I detected a note of shock from my older kids when I admitted yesterday that sometimes I want to walk away.

Our second child, 17, is pushing boundaries everywhere: bedtime, dating, freedoms, driving, (including damaging cars, claiming, ‘someone else must have done that.’). Now she wants to home school. She seems to be running from something, but says she is just trying to avoid bad influences. Trouble is, I work full-time, her mother is overwhelmed, and this daughter doesn’t have the discipline to home school successfully.

Our 10-year-old son has regressed to pooping his pants for the last two years, and we’ve tried everything. It really bothers the family when he won’t shower and blatantly lies about having a full “load” even when you can smell it. I’ve stopped bringing negative attention to the problem by harping on him, but now he’s getting more negative attention by failing in school and lying to us and his teachers.

We also have financial stress. I’m employed now, but was unemployed for two years and the financial aftermath is there. I don’t know where to turn. — Overwhelmed Dad

From Nick, 19: I have OCD, too, and nonverbal learning disorder (NLD). Many of your daughter’s actions mirrored my own at 15. My mother tried to help me extensively but I interpreted negatively and it created animosity between us. I felt attacked and ostracized for simply being me, and though I could see my actions were pushing people away, I somehow couldn’t refrain. What worked for me was being sent to live in a therapeutic community. I was there 18 months and it was the greatest — and most difficult thing — ever to happen to me. I learned to live with my mental and emotional issues in a way that doesn’t push people away. 

From Peter, 20: There were five of us, too, and my older brother was schizophrenic and often refused medication. Having OCD with Aspbergers has got to be particularly difficult: not only is nothing perfect enough for your daughter, but she can’t understand why others don’t see it and has trouble communicating it. As frustrating as it is to deal with her, it is probably more frustrating for her to deal with you. Call Health and Human Services. Money and help is there, you just need to tap it.

Dear Overwhelmed: Do exactly as Peter says. Open the phone book and dial Health and Human Services in your county directory. Your family is in over its head with your daughter’s mental illness and you need help. It is destroying not only her, but the other family members as well. Tell Health and Human Services that you need a therapeutic community for your 15-year-old (think of it as a boarding school that will teach her how to function in the world), and get the rest of your family into group and individual counseling. Plow through the red tape and keep asking for what you need until you get it. Once the 15-year-old is where she needs to be, the stress level in your home will drop and you’ll be able solve these other problems. You and your wife are exhausted. Be kind to yourselves.


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