A Loving Son Cares For His Ill Mother: Struggling To Navigate System & Deal With Her Voices


(6-22-16) I asked Mike Gaeta to share a blog with my readers that he had written about caring for his mother.) 

Benevolent Neglect: My Mom and Her Serious Mental Illness 

By Mike Gaeta

This week marks a month since my mom moved in with me. I knew it’d be challenging. In actuality, it has been damn near overwhelming.

On top of being her caretaker seven days a week, I also play the role of counselor, social worker, case manager, advocate and her main peer and family support person. Among other things, I’ve spent countless hours just trying to find a clinic or doctor for her (Many are not accepting new Medi-Cal patients, due to the increase in insured people from Obamacare.).

Interpersonally, challenges also abound. I’ve been trying to bond and build trust with my mom. That has been made exceedingly difficult, though, due to her delusions and hallucinations. These affect her moods, comprehension ability, level of social engagement and just her ability to have a conversation with me. In my estimation, she hears voices around 80% of the time.

As is common with people who hear voices, the voices can vary in the emotions and associations they arouse. Put simply, there are “good” voices and “bad voices.” For my mom, they take a religious form. There are “godly” voices and “evil” voices. The godly voices look out for her and protect her, she says. They can be biblical figures and/or prophets, while the evil voices can be evil spirits and/or witches. The evil voices torment my mom by telling her various things like they want to kill her, that she is getting ugly and old and even sexual things.

When the evil voices are afflicting her, the godly voices do battle with them. They tell her what to say or do in order to cast the evil voices/spirits away or vanquish them. At more acute times, this can take a quite animated, even disconcerting form, with my mom talking loudly, sometimes swearing, while walking into different rooms and opening doors around the house. “Get out! Get out!” she will say. She calls this “spiritual warfare.” Some nights, this limits her sleeping to just four or five hours.

When she is agitated, I do my best to assure her and calm her down. I’ll pray with her or sage her room and the house.  Though sometimes, I’ll just keep an eye on her and won’t engage with her verbally, because I’m busy or not in the mood to deal or just trying to recharge with sleep. If she was more physically capable, I’d be concerned about her wandering outside and causing problems with neighbors, as she has done in the past. For now, that hasn’t been a problem, fortunately.

When hallucinating and the evil voices aren’t present, she is listening to and conversing with the godly voices. From what I can tell, my mom enjoys engaging with them. It provides euphoria and self-worth. How could it not, speaking with an anointed voice sent by God? This is pretty typical, according to the literature on serious mental illness (SMI). People who hear voices often times willingly engage and interact with them. It can get to the point to where the person will ask or take the advice of the voices around mundane things, like what to buy or eat.

In Walmart recently, this led to a quarrel between my mom and me. They didn’t have her size in the pants she liked. The good voices, she said, told her that her size would be there the next day.  Tired and exasperated, I told her that we didn’t have time to drive across town the next day, despite her insistence. As it is, she often wants to return things days after buying them because they end up “fitting funny” or she doesn’t remember buying them. The constant negotiating and strategizing involved on an everyday basis can be quite stressful, needless to say.

It’s not my mom’s fault she behaves this way or believes the things she does. The illness has progressed, due to her never receiving successful treatment. She hasn’t always heard voices, for example. While she has been exhibiting a SMI for more than ten years, she started hearing voices around five years ago. But I’m already somewhat questioning my decision and fortitude in taking her in. The books I’ve read on living and helping someone with a SMI give good advice, but are geared towards wealthy people. At least I like telling myself that anyways. Take time off from caretaking and seek adequate self-care? Ha! I’ll just pay for some help with my dwindling savings! Do my best to see and prevent a potential psychotic episode? Ha! The person the author has in mind must already be in treatment and taking meds. How nice it must be to afford a good psychiatrist!

I’m determined to see it through, though. What I’m going through pales in comparison to what my mom has had to live with. Thinking her family abandoned her and such. To heck with the mental healthcare system, I ultimately conclude.

Tomorrow is another day to live, breath, and to try and enjoy, for both of us. 

(About Mike Gaeta: Professionally, I am an educator. I have been teaching at a community college in the Bay Area for ten years. I have taken some time off work, however, to try and get help for my mom, who has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, a serious mental illness (SMI). Her health has greatly deteriorated the last few years, largely due to her being unable to take  adequate care of herself. Two of those last three years she has been homeless, living in a car in Kern County, CA. Despite my family’s best attempts to get her help and treatment for her SMI, we have been thwarted by a mental healthcare that is grossly underfunded, unresponsive and disorganized, and a government system that is fundamentally indifferent to the needs of those who need help the most.

Please visit his website: Benevolent Neglect: My Mom and Her Serious Mental Illness and read his blog to learn more.)mikegaeta

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.