A few years ago, I was in therapy, and there was a thing that would reduce me to a teary, shaking mess. Last week, that thing happened. And I’m on the other side of it now. It can and will be argued that there is more to come, but the specific thing I was worried about happened and I found a way through it, and I want to take a minute to celebrate that.
Here’s the thing— part of this is my story, but part of it involves disclosing personal information that belongs to people I care about. I’m not sure where the story is my story to tell and where it becomes exploitative. So I’m going to be a little vague.
There’s a person in my life with a mental illness. We didn’t really know that s/he had a mental illness until s/he came to stay with me four years ago for the summer. Over the course of about a month, things went from okay to I’m a little concerned to I’m really afraid for his/her safety to this is way too much for me to manage, please come get him/her. S/he was never violent or threatening to me or involved with anything illegal, which is good, but it also made it much harder to get him or her help when s/he refused to seek help on his/her own. There were, however, delusions that resulted in an array of behaviors that culminated repeatedly in fire hazard and missing persons interactions with the police and this person’s parents, not to mention financial disaster for this person, such that I felt like s/he needed greater supervision than I could offer, given that work and sleep are both non-negotiable for me, but they were not for this person about whom I care deeply.
The person was later diagnosed with bipolar with schizophrenic delusions, was hospitalized a couple of times (immediately after our stretch together for several weeks), and has been medicated since. But I live in the state where this person wants to live, and his/her parents do not. And I knew s/he would do anything to get back, so it was only a matter of time. And I knew that s/he would turn to me. The idea of navigating “I care so deeply for you but I don’t know how else to help you and I think we might both drown if I try” has had me knotted up and in tears many times since then.
S/he declared an intention to relocate here about a month ago. I didn’t respond at first. Initially, s/he said “don’t worry, I won’t ask for anything,” which was partly a relief and partly broke my heart, because I do want good things for this person, and I prefer to be the sort of person who gives with an open hand. But I can’t be that person in this relationship— it becomes too all-consuming and personally destructive. And now, it’s not just destructive to me— Mom is deeply affected by these choices, as well. Later, s/he approached me and said, “could I stay with you for 1-7 days?”
I thought about it. I talked with Mom about it. S/he has visited several times, and the last visit was really destructive to the relationship. S/he doesn’t keep commitments well, and doesn’t have a great understanding of how his/her actions affect others. We made plans to see him/her at the end of his/her trip, but s/he didn’t make appropriate arrangements for the front end of the trip, so we ended up agreeing s/he could stay the first night as well. By coincidence, Mom spent some quality time in the ER that day. And through no fault of this person’s, his/her flight was delayed, so a flight that was supposed to arrive by 9 p.m. arrived more like 11:30 p.m. And then his/her bag was lost. And then there were problems with his/her rental car. At 1 a.m., I talked Mom out of waiting up any longer. At 2:30 a.m., I said, “let me come to the airport and pick you up, we’ll all get a good night’s sleep and I’ll bring you back in the morning to deal with the rental car.” S/he said no, s/he was going to stay at the airport until the rental office opened again at 6 a.m. and sort it out, and that s/he wouldn’t stay with us on the front end of the trip after all. I confirmed that s/he wasn’t coming to the house until the end of the trip. It’s now 3:30 a.m. on a day where I spent hours in the ER with my sick mother. S/he confirmed that we’d see him/her at the end of the week.
Cut to 8 a.m. the following morning, when my phone starts ringing. S/he wants to take us to coffee! S/he stopped by the house an hour ago, but we must have been out!
Not my best self, I snarled that I wasn’t out, I was asleep because I’d been up until 3:30 a.m. waiting for him/her and was exhausted. We worked out that s/he would come to the house, I’d make breakfast, and s/he could get some sleep. S/he really wanted to go to church with us! After a nap and some brunch, it turned out that s/he really wasn’t feeling church and would see us at the end of the week for dinner. At the end of the week, s/he was running late and we shouldn’t hold dinner. Walked in the house at 7:50, asleep by 8:20 p.m. And then at 3 a.m., the dog went nuts because s/he was leaving for his/her flight, the earliness of which s/he never mentioned.
Suffice it to say I spend way too much time up at 3 a.m. explaining why certain behaviors are inappropriate to this person I love so much. The relocation here was not well planned— no job, nowhere to live, not a lot of alternatives to me and Mom. And at the last minute, s/he added a friend to the trip, doubling basically everything.
In the end, I set a curfew of 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. of absolute quiet time. No arrivals or departures during those hours, no meals or bathing or phone calls, just dark and quiet. And I agreed to a stay of 4 days.
It wasn’t all smooth. But we had quiet hours from 10 p.m. – 8 a.m. and a stay lasting not more than 4 days. And no fire hazards or encounters with police.
But more than that, a thing I thought would surely break me? Did not. Setting and enforcing boundaries, which was a thing I didn’t think I could do with this person? Mostly worked. Not easy, and boundaries were repeatedly tested, but they were set and mostly observed. And this person now at least has a place to live other than my house.Which is a fine thing for all concerned.