Carmen: Responding to Lily's Needs

Now age 50, Carmen is emotionally close to her sister, who is 54. She observed, “We were just normal sisters, sometimes argued, sometimes got along. But it turned into a very close emotional bond.” When Lily came back from living out West, time with family and the birth of Carmen’s daughter brought them closer. Carmen’s inclusion of her sister in their family life contributes to Lily’s stability and well-being. At the same time, she is attuned to her sister's moods and needs.

I hate to see her sad and unhappy and it requires more time on my part and more conscious communication with her. Have you talked to your sister in a couple of days? You definitely need to check in. Or if I haven’t heard from her. I don’t automatically wonder if something’s wrong. She and I communicate very well. She says, “Well, I’m not having a good day. I have to change my medication.” We talk through it. “You know I probably won’t be going out for a couple of days. I’ll check on you if you’re in tomorrow.” It requires more time and more energy.

A strong support system makes it possible for Carmen to focus on her sister during those bad times. She has “an extremely supportive husband” and her three children, ranging in ages from 16 to 25, have good relationships with Lily. Carmen explained that Lily does not need a caregiver but she needs people who care about her. Since she works from home and has a supportive boss, Carmen is able to be available for Lily if her symptoms become problematic. She moves into high gear when Lily experiences a crisis.

I remember very clearly with the second suicide attempt I came home and my husband told me and I pretty much crumpled to the ground and cried. She’s my only sister. The prospect of losing her is extremely emotional and very hurtful. I go through mad, being very mad, and angry, and sad—all the things I should be going through. I feel all of them. I roll up my sleeves and try to help. Now we’ve got to get busy. Get you well and get you on the right path. I get in the car and go to her for one, first and foremost, so I’m with her. I stay with her. I let her go through what’s she going through.

Also, Carmen helps interpret communication from healthcare providers, because when Lily's symptoms are severe, she does not remember.

In the past Lily lived with Carmen and her family for less than a year, which proved to be a challenging time. Carmen is sensitive to how much she relies on her husband for support.

My husband as awesome as he, likes order. He likes things the way they are. But he wouldn’t deny me having any of my family come and live with me. He’s very, very supportive but it’s stressful. She needed me a lot at that time. So that was very, very difficult.

Carmen located supportive housing for Lily in a nearby community where they both could easily connect with one another. Lily lives in an apartment with access to public transportation so she does not have the expense of a car. She noted Lily’s apartment is “far enough away, so she can be her own independent self and have her life too, but close enough so I can get to her or do things together.” She continues to be watchful for signs that Lily might be cycling in her moods. Indications of mood changes can be small, such as withdrawal or not picking up the phone. Lily has some insight about her cycling moods and will usually share what she is experiencing with Carmen. However, sometimes she waits longer to share because she is trying to hide her symptoms. Lily knows that is not helpful and Carmen is very comfortable in confronting her in those situations.

When asked how she manages all the uncertainty in her life, given Lily’s mood cycles and her parents’ health challenges, Carmen shared what Lily had observed one time.

When Lily lived with us, I took something over to a neighbor—an orange. Lily said “I watched you walk across the lawn throwing that orange up in the air. Just as happy as can be. Why did God give her all the serotonin?” It’s just kind of my makeup. I’m not being boastful. It’s who I am. There are times—don’t get me wrong—I get down and sad. But it’s not bad. You’d have to ask my children and my husband how wonderful I am. They might tell a different story.

More of the Story: Family Relationships