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My Mother Enables My Depression

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: I am 28 years old, living at home with my parents and younger brother. I have been in a state of pretty severe depression for the last few months. This has been a pattern in my life since age 17 where I will be doing okay (or even well) for a while and then I go back to being depressed. I have problems with social anxiety, agoraphobia, anger, extreme moods, overeating, and feelings of emptiness as well. One thing that has compounded my problems recently (and brought on this latest depressive episode) is having tinnitus and trying to quit smoking. I have had tinnitus for 4 and 1/2 months and I quit smoking three days ago.

I can’t get my life “on track” in terms of having a social life, being physically healthy, dealing with my moods and emotions, school, or pretty much any area you could think of. I can’t even get out of my current depressive episode so I don’t know why I’m trying to think of long term solutions.

The only person I can ask for help is my mom and I have asked her again and again to try and help me. She keeps saying she’s going to, that I am not alone, etc. but she doesn’t really change anything she does. She is an enabler who doesn’t seem to care about how she is damaging me. She gets me stuff I want and food from the store (including unhealthy food I am trying to avoid). Up until a few days ago she was buying my cigarettes and would go buy more right now if I asked her. She allows me to sit around all day, escaping reality by watching tv and playing games, and doesn’t make any sort of effort whatsoever to help me out. She even recently told me that a friend of hers gave her some tough advice by telling her that she needs to change and that life is passing her (and consequently me) by. This friend told her she needs to make some major changes but she still isn’t.

I know that changing my life is ultimately my responsibility, but I feel that all of my efforts have been ruined by being able to fall back into my old habits (due to her being enabling). I don’t have anywhere else I can go live and I don’t know what to do. I have tried to talking to her about this but she doesn’t get it. I have told her that she has created a toxic environment here and that my dad, brother, and I are now so dependent on her that we wouldn’t be able to function normally if something happened to her. She only gets angry in response and we fight all the time.

I have tried going to many different psychiatrists, psychologists, my regular doctor, etc. but no one and no medication has helped. In fact I have been on several medications that have caused severe mental changes and episodes during which I said and did crazy, dangerous things and / or gave me terrible withdraw symptoms when I inevitably had to stop taking them. Understandably (I think) I am resistant to try therapy or medication at this time. Lately I have been doing research on doctors in my area in spite of my fear, but trust me when I say my options are very limited where I live.

Could you please give me some sort of advice to help me change my life (either by getting out of my current rut, long term, or both)? I promise I am basically a hard worked who wants to do good things and be a good person, but I can’t move forward. Even this morning I have tried to look up some tips and I enrolled in a month long trial of Daily Burn. I am really trying here, so if someone could help me out I would appreciate it so very much.

You are very correct. Ultimately, the only person who can help you is you. Although I understand your frustration, blaming your mother for enabling you is not fair to her or helpful to you. A person can only enable someone who agrees to be enabled. As you’ve already discovered, waiting for your mother to change in order to change yourself is a losing proposition.

I find myself wondering what you are so afraid of that you aren’t moving into adult life. On the face of it, it looks to me like you need to get a job and get out of the house. Consider finding a cheap place and sharing with a housemate to cut expenses. College may be important eventually, but I worry that it’s become another way to avoid dealing with whatever is blocking you from being on your own.

If options for treatment are limited in your area, there are other ways to get help. Take a look at the following books: The Depression Workbook by Mary Ellen Copeland, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne and Feeling Good by David Burns. My book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem, might also be helpful. All of those books include concrete, practical activities to help you get back on track. Choose one and work on it seriously. Self-help can be very, very helpful — as long as you commit to it.

Do consider joining a support group here at LifeHelper. You will gain from the support and practical advice of other people who are struggling with some of the same issues.

I found it very helpful in my own life when one of my teachers pointed out that “trying” doesn’t count. We either do something or we don’t. Trying, he used to say, is a way assuage our conscience with good intentions while not really doing what we know we need to do. The solution is to set smaller, achievable goals. Do a small goal, then set the next one, then the next one after that. That approach can prevent you from overwhelming yourself by the big picture and will start you on a path of real movement.

Finally, don’t give up on therapists. It sometimes takes interviewing several before finding the therapist who is a good fit.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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