Dear Annie: My mother is 79 years old. She was born during the Depression, and I know that when she was younger, she didn’t get enough to eat. The problem now is that she still hoards food.
She admits that she has a problem, but she can’t seem to stop buying food for the freezer. She has a huge chest freezer and two smaller freezers that are stuffed full of food. Some of the food in the freezers must be over 10 years old. When we mention this to her, she says all that food is good because it has remained frozen. If she would still be cooking for big family get-togethers the way she did when my dad was alive, I could understand why she would want to store extra food.
I realize that I don’t have any right to tell her how to spend her money. My problem is that I know there are family members who could use this food, which just sits there getting freezer burn. Since Mom has gotten older, she has lost her sense of taste. When she does cook for us, the food always tastes freezer-burnt. How do we tell her that her food has freezer burn when she is being kind in cooking us a meal?
There are a lot of things worse in this world, but Mom is beginning to wonder why we don’t eat at her house, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. -- Troubled by Hoarding
Dear Troubled by Hoarding: It’s time to unfreeze the tension with a warm and honest conversation with your mom. Tell her how you feel about the expired food. Most frozen food lasts up to three months before it starts to show signs of freezer burn. As you said, your mom was born at the tail end of the Depression. Childhood experiences of deprivation can last a lifetime. Show understanding for her fears while helping her to make a few adjustments, but don’t expect miracles. She needs as much love as possible, and your letter shows you feel that for her.
Dear Annie: Our 50-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a personality disorder about 10 years ago. She is very bright and holds two degrees. In her early 30s, she started imagining many things and divorced her husband. She hears people telling her absurd ideas and insists they are hurting her.
We tried to advise her, but any mention of mental illness is rejected. She takes some financial help from us and her brother but refuses to go on disability and is homeless, working when she can at temp agencies.
My husband and I are in our late 70s and find her personality to be very difficult at times. She doesn’t threaten anyone or herself and doesn’t take drugs. We’re in the South, and she is in the Northeast.
We do go to National Alliance on Mental Illness meetings for support, but we worry constantly. We’re flying her down this week for a short visit because she has a bad cold, and I’m afraid she’ll get the flu.
Any advice? -- Worried Parents
Dear Worried Parents: It’s wonderful you’re attending NAMI meetings. Keep it up. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is another organization you might find helpful. Its website (http://www.dbsalliance.org) offers diverse resources, including podcasts by family members of people with bipolar disorder. It might be therapeutic to listen to others’ stories.
As long as your daughter is not a danger to herself or others, I’d encourage you and your husband to try to focus more on yourselves and your own mental health. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine to help release some of that stress.
And if you ever do feel that your daughter is at immediate risk, dial 911. (The Suicide Prevention Lifeline can also offer guidance: 800-273-8255.)
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