Carmen: Her Sister Lily's Challenges and Accomplishments

In addition to living with bipolar disorder, Lily encountered challenges from a physical disability. She spent the first year of her life in a cast due to a congenital hip defect. She lived with a difference in the length of her legs and did not have surgery until age thirty-two. As a result, she developed arthritis and copes with pain related to her physical disability.

Lily works hard to accomplish what she wants to do. She participated in sports in high school but needed to build rest into her schedule. After her suicide attempt at age 19, she moved out West for nine years, living on her own, and then returned to the Midwest. For another nine years, she worked successfully as a 911 dispatcher. Then Lily was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a suicide attempt in 2002. During 2015, Lily ended up in a hospital emergency room three times. Carmen recalled,

She tried to stretch her medication out and was doing so with alcohol. Things just spiraled out of control. My dad was going through a cancer diagnosis at the time and that added stress. She had three emergency room visits and I was with her each one. Then prior to the final one she tried to commit suicide. I think taking a little teeny knife she put some scratches in her wrist.

Since the crisis in 2015, Lily has experienced stability. Carmen, observed, “She’s the highest functioning bipolar person that I know. But when it’s bad, it’s bad.”

Carmen explained Lily lives on a strict budget within the parameters of her Social Security disability income. A limited income also means that her sister is not able do “what she wants to do when she wants to do it.” However, she has found a way to use her gifts as a substitute teacher one day a week.

She’s come up with a good compromise for working. Substitute teaching for her is hard and physically demanding, emotionally demanding. But she can take that one day a week. That gives her a sense of contributing and being a meaningful part in kids’ lives. She’s always does the best job she can do and needs to limit her time because she can’t do it very long since it does take a physical and emotional toll on her. I’m glad she’s substitute teaching.

Lily works for several schools in one district where school staff know her and request her as a substitute teacher. She prefers working with classes of children who have behavioral disorders because the classes are smaller.

Carmen noted that sometimes Lily “doesn’t say no when she should say no” to some activities. She tends to get very involved with activities in her apartment building. For example, Lily offered a computer class for seniors, which led to people knocking on her door at 10 p.m. for help. She also coaches some of the international residents in English as a second language. Carmen surmised, “She’s always got to be giving. I tell her she has to say no. Either that or she doesn’t tell me that she’s doing these things because she really wants to do it.”

When stable, Lily effectively advocates for herself. Carmen shared “the cat story.” Lily would often take her cat, Felipe, down to the apartment complex lobby area.

Older ladies that had lost a pet would spend time petting Felipe. She called it pet therapy. Somebody complained. It happened to be a guy who was mad because he wasn’t allowed at their Christmas party because he didn’t bring anything, so the manager had to tell her Felipe is not allowed in the lobby anymore. Instead of coming to me, she wrote a letter and it went right to the regional manager. Well, Felipe is now allowed in the lobby. But I didn’t find out about this until after. She managed it. I got a text—“Felipe’s in the lobby again.”

More of the Story: Responding to Lily’s Needs