Mother has MS...Relationship advice

By musiclover94 Latest Activity November 2, 2017 at 2:32 pm Views 3,524 Replies 1


My mother was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS when I was 8 years old. 5 years later, she fell and broke her "good leg" and has been in a wheelchair ever since. She went from an independent, single mother who took care of herself and was involved in my extra curricular activities to not being able to walk or use her arms/hands.
I've noticed that there's been a strain on our relationship for the last 5 years. I thought it'd be better once I went to college, but it only got worse and now I'm 23 with a nearly ruined relationship with my mom. She refuses to talk to a therapist about her MS since she's "accepted it a long time ago" but then constantly does the woe is me act and is constantly negative about her own image, my life, basically anything you talk to her about she will follow up with a negative response. She has also turned more and more controlling over the years in regards of my life (i.e. I went to school 6 hours away and I get phone calls multiple times a day asking what I'm doing, where I am, homework check ups, hacking into my bank accounts, etc.)
Does anyone have any advice or has anyone else experienced drastic changed behavior from someone they love after they got diagnosed with MS? She doesn't want to help herself and it's getting harder for me to want to go home for the holidays or even just to visit. I love my mom, it's just hard not knowing anyone else my age let alone anyone in a similar situation to mine.

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  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA November 24, 2017 at 2:46 pm   

    Hi musiclover, it's nice to see you.

    I read your post with great interest. I am therapist and I work with clients who are living with chronic and catastrophic health conditions, as well as their family members. You describe your situation and the way it is impacting so well. I have had this conversation with family member many times.

    It is really hard to live with a chronic condition like MS. Frustrating is an understatement. Some people living with MS are able to stay positive, to focus on what's good in life and not only what's not so good. Some people are more emotionally resilient than others. And those who are not so resilient may fall into despair, feel hopeless and helpless, like your mother. What your mom is experiencing, based on your description, could be symptoms of depression. You were right on the money when you encouraged her to see a psychotherapist. I am sorry she has chosen not to.

    I suspect she is constantly calling you because she is looking for a way to connect with you. When she gives you the third degree about something, what may be behind all those questions and advice is this: "I'm lonely and scared. And I a afraid you will abandon me."

    Having said that, I also know this is not easy for you. I would encourage you to set limits as much as you can, but in a kind, gentle way. Of course, you know you're mom and I don't. But you might set up a time everyday to talk, so that she knows you are willing to listen. This might potentially give her some comfort and something to look forward to. When she calls you out of the blue, you might say something like "It sounds like you're frustrated today, mom. What's going on?" She may just need to vent for a minute while someone who loves her listen. If you can't talk at the moment, you can let her know you will call her back, but make sure you follow up when you say you will. Again, your mom may be feeling needy.

    I understand what you mean by all that negativity. It's hard to listen to. Keep in mind we can't force someone to look at the world the way in which we wish they would. It might help to just listen and then say something like, "I'm sorry to hear that." Your mom may just need to be heard. You might also gently suggest an alternative way to view an issue she brings up, a more positive way. Or you might say something like, "What's good today, mom?" Or, "I wish I could make things better. Is there anything I can say to help you feel better?"

    Also, keep in mind that when a needy person suspects that you are pulling away, they may push even harder for your attention. Kindness and gentleness can help reassure her.

    Set limits to protect your own mental health. Protect your bank account with additional security if you need to. Don't feel obligated to give her information about yourself that you are not comfortable with. And you don't have to stay on the phone with her when you have something else you need to do. Setting gentle limits may help your mom to understand that you love her but you can't always be available when she wants to talk.

    Again, we can't change the way other people choose to view their life. Exercising compassion, going with the flow but also setting limits, can help you to cope.

    Believe me, you are not alone. It's not easy to live with a chronic condition, for those with the condition or for their loves ones. Compassion saves the day.

    I hope you will keep in touch. Let us know how you and your mom are doing.

    And take good care of yourself!