Sharon: Impact on Family Relationships

Following her first hospitalization, Gabrielle lived with Sharon, and her partner, Sam, for a year. Gabrielle then moved into a house with roommates and returned to school. Recently, she broke up with her boyfriend, which Sharon attributes to Gabrielle’s symptoms, observing that “responding to symptoms can be exhausting.” On the positive side, Gabrielle did not “fall apart” after losing her boyfriend.

Sharon wants her two daughters “to be self-sufficient young women” and coaches Gabrielle in improving money management skills.

This is her idea—she deposits her paycheck automatically into my checking account. Every day, she will text me what she needs for the day. Sometimes she has to text me twice or three times depending on what comes up. She knows that she can’t manage it alone. For example, her car payment was due today. Yesterday noon she needed $30 and I don’t ask her what it’s for, because it’s her money. I electronically transferred her $30. . . We have a ledger that I bought her and we meet every Sunday. We usually have brunch. I have to go through it with her. She’s taking more responsibility and she’s presenting what she spends and if she’s in the hole, what her plan’s going to be. She’s now presenting it to me rather than me facilitating that process.

Gabrielle’s sister, Alicia, is five years older. Sharon explains the sisters “have each other’s back.” They both understand mental illness and believe that no one gets a free pass for bad behavior because of a diagnosis. The sisters hold each other accountable and through therapy, have learned how to confront one another. Sharon believes they will be helpful to each other. In the past, Gabrielle’s symptoms contributed to difficult family relationships.

Everybody has to give to Gabrielle. I was married at the time [to the children’s father]. Gabrielle was about 11 when we separated and really the reason that we separated was because of my husband’s inability to meet Gabrielle where she was at. When she wouldn’t go to bed, he would yell at her. This happened often. This was one of the reasons we broke up. Not because of Gabrielle but in order for Gabrielle to thrive.

Gabrielle brings joy to Sharon. They can be silly together. Gabrielle knows she can trust her mom. Sharon concluded, ‘’We have a safe enough relationship that she knows that I’m her partner behind the scenes and that she has to take more responsibility. It’s her life. I’m just kind of a checks and balance person.”

Sharon and Sam have been together for 10 years, since Gabrielle was 13. He is at Sharon’s side as they find ways to support Gabrielle.

He is that safe, secure man that is patient and understanding and always says it’s going to be okay. Not only is that really good for Gabrielle but it is really good for me. He isn’t judgmental. He understands mental illness.

Relationships with Gabrielle’s father and in-laws are complex. Sharon does not view her ex-husband as abusive or bad. She explained he did not have the skills to manage Gabrielle’s behavior. Their older daughter was much easier to raise. Gabrielle’s grandparents (Sharon’s in-laws) could not handle Gabrielle’s behavior. For example, on sleepovers they would either bring her back at midnight or ask Sharon to pick her up. Sharon recalled that Gabrielle would scream that she wanted to go home.

More of the Story: Changing Expectations