Caroline West-Meads: ‘Her psychosis is destroying both of us’

Ask Caroline

Q. My daughter started to show signs of acute anxiety two years ago, which quickly descended into psychosis and eventually resulted in her being sectioned on two separate occasions. She now lives alone (her choice) close to her mother in a house owned by me. She believes that some of her friends are the cause of all her woes and has taken to sending them abusive messages via social media. Some of these messages have, at my request, been forwarded to me by the recipients. They generally contain racist and threatening language together with her various theories about why she ended up being hospitalised. For the sake of my own mental health, I’ve stopped speaking to my daughter unless it’s to discuss matters relating to her house. I have constantly tried to ‘fix’ her – which, in most cases, has meant giving her a lengthy lecture and berating her for what seems to me like bad behaviour. I know she’s not well but I find that I resent more than sympathise with her, possibly because I realise that I can’t do anything to make her well. She’s 31, doesn’t work and refuses to speak to a healthcare professional or anyone else who doesn’t share her view of events past and present. I would like to have a relationship with her, but I don’t know how to deal with her moods, anger and skewed thinking. I guess what I’m asking for is guidance.

A. I am sorry to hear about your distressing situation. Some of the most heartbreaking letters I get are from parents like you, whose adult children’s mental health conditions make it difficult to have a close relationship with them. You say you resent her, but I think you are largely dealing with grief: over the child (now adult) who you would have liked to have had and sadness that she is not living a fulfilling life. This grief is ongoing, which makes it hard as there is no chance to heal. Understandably, you may feel anger over how this has happened to you and your daughter. The difficulties of bringing her up may have also played a part in your marriage breakup. Sadly, there are no easy answers. Your daughter may be affected by paranoid personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. These are complex conditions and if your daughter rejects help, it is hard for you to make her get it. This is a lot for any father, so it is important to look after yourself. Have counselling to help you cope and work out how to have a relationship with your daughter on your terms and within clearly set boundaries. Read the book Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder. You also need to live your own life – see friends, do things you enjoy – without letting your daughter drain your emotional energy. For further support, contact the mental health charities rethink.org and mind.org.uk.

‘He says he’ll leave me if I get pregnant again’

Q. We have three sons all aged under eight. I love them to bits but I’m desperate for another baby. I’m one of five and have always wanted a big family, but my partner flatly refuses. One of my sisters suggested that I should just get pregnant ‘by accident’, but my partner is adamant that if I have another baby without his consent he’ll leave me. He says he couldn’t cope with four children. How do I persuade him?

A. It is unlikely that you can persuade him and I’m not sure you should. Most people would consider three children to be a big family already. It may be that your partner feels that four would be overwhelming both emotionally and practically, and that you would both be stretched too thinly. Perhaps he thinks that you and he wouldn’t be able to give enough time to four kids. He may miss spending time with you as it is and feel that the children get all your attention. I expect he is also worried about the cost. What is clear is that neither of you are communicating properly. He is trying to emotionally blackmail you; you are considering taking the decision to have another child without his agreement. If this continues, you will be at war with him and your relationship will break down. This would be devastating for you both and could be damaging for the children. So you need to talk and try to understand each other’s point of view. I suspect that this may not be easy and that you may need counselling (try relate.org.uk). This might also help you find a way to accept not having another baby and to focus on your three lovely sons.