Need Guidance on Bipolar Family Member

Updated on July 23, 2009
R.N. asks from Katy, TX
5 answers

I have a sister-in-law who may or may not be bipolar. She doesn't fit the profile perfectly so she hasn't been 'officially' diagnosed, but she's close enough that they have her on bipolar meds and she sees a psychiatrist twice a month. She is a stay at home mom to my beautiful 2 year old nephew. The problem is that she is the most awful person I have ever met in my life. I feel completely duped because when she first started dating my brother, she was absolutely wonderful--they would come over and visit all the time, they would visit with my kids (whom my brother loves) and play with them for hours, they would have dinner with us and I thought, wow, she is just perfect for my brother. Then she got pregnant and they got engaged and, almost three years later, I cannot even believe she is the same person I first met. It appeared that, from the moment she 'had' my brother (the pregnancy/engagement), she started letting her true colors show. She hates EVERYONE. She can't stand to be around ANYONE. She sends my mother (her child's grandmother), horrible hateful emails stating that she will never allow her to see her grandchild again over something as minor as my mother allowing him to hold the straw from her empty margarita glass while he was sitting in her lap. I know that was a mistake on my mother's part but the email response was so over the top and out of proportion to the crime that it was ridiculous (aside from making my mother break down in tears). My brother just says, 'well, you should have seen the email before I made her change it.' He blames everything on her illness and says he has no control on what she does. She yells at my kids and even grabs them if they try to touch her son or even get too close to him (my children are the ones that eveyone always comments on how sweet and well-behaved they are, but they ADORE their baby cousin and just want to be near him). And lest you think she prefers her own, no such luck...she screams at her son CONSTANTLY. He is the most precious little angel, with a sweet disposition and sunny nature, but he can do nothing right in her eyes. I worry about him all the time...I'm so afraid he is going to end up just as messed up as she is. I tried to get her to go to parenting classes but she couldn't stand to be in the same room with so many people, so she only made it to two classes of eight. So, the dilemma is that my brother is feeling left out because we don't invite them to family functions as often as we used to, but it is because no one can stand to be around his wife. And on the one hand I feel justified because of her horrible behavior, but on the other hand part of me feels guilty because I don't know how much of it could be due to her mental illness and therefore not within her control. She actually tapped her foot and rolled her eyes at a family event this past weekend when my uncle said a prayer (they don't practice the same religion, but neither does my family, and none of us were making faces and rolling our eyes!). Sorry this has gotten so long but this has been on my mind for some time now and I don't want to hurt my brother or my nephew but I also don't want to subject my children to having their feelings trampled on so I'm really at a loss. I have never in my life met anyone with as awful a nature as this woman, and I get along with ALL of my other in-laws and am actually good friends with them! I have always been pretty easy-going and try not to judge people but I just don't know how to handle this person. Any advice from others who have dealt with this type of situation would be most welcome. Thank you!

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answers from Austin on

I am so sorry to hear about this. I had a very good friend that was bipolar and it was very scary for everyone. She was either very happy or very angry. We as friends and neighbors mostly saw (90% of the time)the happy. But there came a time when my friend quit her medication and felt like she was doing fine. This is when it became scary. She needed major help and was not willing to accept it.

The thing to remember is that many people will not show signs of bipolar till their early or mid 20's. I am sure she did not intend to fool you in the beginning.

Please also know this is a disease. She has no control over any of this. It is not something she will ever "get over". She will need to be under a doctors care for the rest of her life. She should find someone she likes and trusts. She will need to take medications to help her system. There is no "cure". Your SIL should be in a managed program for this. There will be times when her medications will need to be adjusted, but she will fight it. It may also take a while to find the correct combination's, so she and her Doctor will need to decide if she should be under total medical care during those times, or if she can work on this from home.

This is part of that "for better or worse, sickness and in health". When you love someone it must be heartbreaking to see them so ill but just as if she had cancer, you will all need to be understanding and never let her stop taking care of herself. If you can assure her that you will always love her and be there for her, it may at least help her to not feel so devastated and shamed when she comes out of these episodes. Your husband and his young family should also go to counseling.

You may need to sit down with your brother and make plans for how he will handle these episodes and if any of you are willing, let him know how you can help with the care of their children or whatever may be needed.

I am sending you patience and strength.

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answers from Houston on

I've dealt with bi-polar/manic depressive disorder and other behavioral issues with various family members my whole life. My Dad was diagnosed with MMDD (Major manic depressive disorder) when he was in his 40's, this is pretty much the same as bi-polar. My sister was diagnosed with a border line personality disorder as a teen. Borderline personality disorder sounds more like what your sister in law has, along with social anxiety disorder.

The fact that she does not want to be around people is part of the social anxiety disorder and if she is only on anti depressants and not anti anxiety meds it's not going to get better.

Yes there are a lot of behaviors that can not be controlled, at the same time we as people they love, can not allow them to use it as an excuse to behave badly. I would suggest you have a heart to heart with your brother. By excusing her behavior he is enabling her and making it worse. He has an obligation to ensure his son is well cared for physically and emotionally and it doesn't sound like that is happening.

I would strongly urge him to go to counseling with her, and talk to her psychiatrist to explain some of the behaviors that she is not discussing in her sessions. Her nasty attitude is probably a direct result of her social anxiety. I know because I also have a social anxiety disorder and I have a real hard time in new situations with people I don't know or a lot of people. Although I am able to control my nasty attitude most of the time and when I feel extremely anxious I remove myself from the situation by either leaving the crowded area or finding a quiet spot to decompress.

Your sister in law needs to take some responsibility for her actions. Not just take meds and expect everyone will walk on egg shells around her. She needs to learn how to communicate better instead of yelling and she needs to find ways to cope with the anger she is feeling.

Definitely let your brother and sister in law know that she is family and you will support her but this type of behavior can't continue or you won't be able to allwo your children to visit them and vice versa.

I know it's a difficult situation, but it doesn't help her to let her get away with her behavior just because she is dealing with a mental illness. There are some things that can be overlooked, but not everything! Be strong, hopefully she will be able to get it together and your brother will be able to help her through this!

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answers from Austin on

I think I've heard that sometimes pregnancy & one's 30's (not necessarily at the same time) can set off bipolar disorders in some women....can't even tell you where I heard this...but I know I heard it when we were dealing with a friend who was suffering from manic depression and had stopped taking her medicine for dealing for bipolar.
Is she still taking meds? Probably a lot is out of her control and she is embarassed when she gets home as well. Perhaps invite her and bro when there's not going to be a crowd. You may have a better visit, or you may just have to endure for your brother's sake...he has more on his plate than you since he is with her more.

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answers from Houston on

I read your story and it brought back many terrible memories. My advice on how to deal is to NOT deal with it. We had this problem in my family as well and we thought we could help but the problems only escalated - threatening emails, outbursts, identity theft, stealing, check forgery - you name it. Please protect yourself and your family (your husband, your children) - I know you are concerned about your brother and your nephew, but please put your family first - protect YOUR family from this drama, don't enable it.

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answers from San Antonio on

It is always difficult when there is a family member who does not get along with others. You have two options. You can talk to your brother and express your concerns with him. As a father, it is his responsibility to protect his child and provide a nuturing, safe home. Even if his wife is behaving because of a neurological condition, he still has the responsibility to protect his son. He can do this by talking to his wife's doctor or seeking counseling for himself to learn of his options. If he refuses to do anything, you can anonymously call child protective services. Document all of the extreme behavior you can remember, and tell it to the intake worker. They will probably get involved because of your nephew's age. This will force your husband, and hopefully his wife, to take action for improvement. People often do not want to contact outside agencies, but the well-being of your nephew is at-risk. He needs emotional stability and safety in his life, and it does not sound like this is the case. You have to be his voice because he can't take care of himself. Good luck.

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