Hounded by mom
April 8, 2010 11:30 PM   Subscribe

My mentally ill mother hired a private investigator to track me down... among other things. Please help!

I've known for a long time my mother is unstable and unwell, she was diagnosed by her psychiatrist as having extremely high anxiety levels and as being delusional, me and my sister think she has Borderline Personality Disorder. Obviously, she is stressful to deal with, so this winter when I was going through a rough time in my life I decided to cut off contact with her so that I could avoid that extra stress and focus on healing myself. I informed her on the phone then sent her a polite email explaining that I still loved her and that I was not cutting her out of my life forever, I just needed the time apart, since I knew she would be stressed without contact.

This was around Christmas. Since then she has bombarded me with emails and phone calls, which I've blocked, since this behavior is usual for her... she is extremely needy, extremely protective of me.

After 3 months, they started tracking us down. My parents know where my sister lives, they have taken to knocking on her apartment door at all hours of the night and morning just to ask where I am, she never feels peaceful in her apartment anymore but dreads another knock. My father surprised me with a visit while I was there, and pleaded with me to call my mother. Apparently when my mother asked him about how the visit went, she asked if I was wearing loose clothing. Why? She thought I had bombs strapped to me under my clothing. No joke... this is when we realized my mother was having a nervous breakdown.

My mother thinks the KGB, Al Qaeda, or some mafia has me hostage, and that when I tell her I'm fine I'm just lying out of fear. Coincidentally, the time I cut off contact. She has started friending the readers of my blog one by one, and I got so sick watching this I just shut down my blog entirely. Then she got a hold of my cell phone records and started calling the numbers... some of my friends reported strange calls, she didn't state who she was but they recognized her voice. (I'm on the family plan... a holdover from years ago, I plan to open a new number very soon since she likely won't sign the release to get my existing number off the family plan).

First subplot:
Why does she think it's some mafia? Well aside from the fact she would rather convince herself I'm being held hostage than I simply don't want to talk to her, my mother is politically active online for years now in some VERY heated (non-English) debates, and has been receiving bullying emails and death threats for years. Photos of gang rape, detailed biographic information about my mother that even my father says he is surprised they could know, etc. Some threats were about her kids - that's me!, but she says those emails are none of my business. This is probably a goon from the internet playing mind games with her, but if it's serious, she's putting ME in danger, and she is REPLYING to this bully... as my mother can't back down from a fight. Ironically, while my mother is worried about my safety, she is perhaps putting me in danger herself.

Second subplot:
At around the time I told her I was stopping contact, I made a new friend, and since he is also very prolific online she was able to follow our communication to an extent. She is CONVINCED he is evil and sick and causing my change in behavior (because we met roughly same time as I stopped talking to my mother, and because his art is occasionally dark which disturbs my mother greatly but I doubt any normal person would blink an eye), and she has been threatening him with litigation against his stalking and crime life (?!) via comments on his Flickr page and emails... poor guy, I barely know him, and he has to deal with threats from the crazy mother of a friend he barely met? I would not be surprised if she kills that budding friendship off, though I explained the situation to him, and I am embarrassed.

Details: I'm 24, live on my own. She knows what car I drive, in fact it's a car they own the title to (they gave it to me years ago, so this is a technicality rather than a desire on my part to mooch off them financially... I am financially independent and I would gladly abandon the thing tomorrow if it meant peace of mind.)

My heart has been racing since finding out that there is someone out there who was paid thousands of dollars to track me down, and I feel paranoid at home. I live alone in a small coach house that is in the backyard of people who I know (they are the parents of a friend), so it is hidden from street view, but my car isn't always hidden. She wants to find out where I live ... and told me she paid a private investigator 5k to find me and make sure I'm safe.

Is it illegal to hire a private investigator? What can I do to regain my sense of control? I feel hounded, I feel like I must either see her and continue our abusive relationship in order to stop the most insane behavior (investigator, terrorist plot, bothering my friends) or I must ignore her at great cost to both me, my sister who she harasses for information, and my friends who she is starting to harass... I am sure my employer will be next... and I want to network online to spread my name as an artist but she will track me down and leave malicious comments no matter where I am... I don't want to put my life on hold and live in a state of anxiety.

My father, as usual, thinks it is his responsibility to take care of her, and so he is no help at all in this situation.

Advice GREATLY appreciated... I'm sorry this was so long.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'm not sure if the location listed in your mefi profile is right but you might want to change that as step one. :)

Look, I'll be honest here. Your mom isn't right in the head and you can't fix crazy. There aren't any easy ways out here. Either way you go is going to take a lot of emotional and likely physical energy.

Make sure that all your friends and your employed KNOW not to give out your information. Stop giving your sister useful information. Also make sure that your landlords are aware of the situation.

Tell your mom you NEED some time to yourself without her interference and if she interferes again that you will seek out all legal options. AND THEN PURSUE LEGAL OPTIONS.

Give the car back to your parents and find different transportation.

You've got to cut off all communication OR be willing to put up with minimal communication that may or may not ease your journey.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:43 PM on April 8, 2010

I know your father said it is his job to take care of her. How good a job of that is he doing? For that matter how good of a job is her psychiatrist doing? Has *everything* been tried? I don't want to presume because I have no idea what you guys have tried or not. It just seems to me that if her mental health issues could be brought more under control, the rest of the problems would follow behind.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:47 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is not illegal to hire a private investigator.

As far as regaining your sense of control, I advise you move apartments and start seeking professional help. it sounds like you are adopting the same traits you accuse your mother of, e.g., 'My heart has been racing', 'my car isn't always hidden', 'I am sure my employer is next.' and if you are allowing your mother to illicit these reactions, then you should address that impulse as well.

I'm serious, seek help.
posted by Dagobert at 11:48 PM on April 8, 2010 [12 favorites]

If your dad really thinks it's his responsibility to take care of her then he needs to be sure that she's getting medical attention...is she currently getting any professional help or taking her meds? Is he trying to take care of her or is he hoping the issue goes away? (The issue isn't going to go away.) You need to make sure your dad is aware of the situation with her and that you don't want contact with her at this time.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:48 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention telling this to your mom's psychiatrist. That should have been your starting point. What you want a.s.a.p. is a qualified mental health professional to see what can be done for your mother's illness. Your father may be reluctant/resistant, so be prepared for that. Instead, try to rally support from your sister, relatives, or close personal friends/family friends. Finding help for this woman is what you must do, in order to restore stability in your own life. Because you are responsible for yourself.

All the best!
posted by polymodus at 11:53 PM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

definitely contact her psychiatrist, and tell someone you trust in your family that you're doing it.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:58 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Taking everything you have said at face value, it seems to me that you are being stalked and harassed by an insane person, who happens to be your mother. There are laws against stalking and harassment and while they vary between jurisdictions, it is very doubtful that they make exceptions for mothers. File a restraining order. Ask people who you trust, who she contacts, to also file restraining orders. When she breaks them, take steps to have them enforced. Find out how involuntary psychiatric commitment works where you are.

Where (at least to state, but preferably to city) are you? If you can provide that, people can put you in contact with appropriate support.

Regarding the private investigator, the best thing to do is not avoid them. If it's true, and hopefully your father will tell you whether it's true and who they are, contact them yourself. IANAL, but just like mothers, PIs are not immune to restraining orders. Tell them straight out - your mother is insane, you avoid her because she is insane, you have (or are about to) file restraining orders against her and by taking on this job for her they risk not only legal trouble for themselves arising from that issue, but the attendant problems of working for an insane client who may or may not pay them, may suddenly sue them for the return of their payments, etc. If they give you any static whatsoever, tell them that you will be filing a restraining order against them as well, and then do so.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [15 favorites]

inactivist: You might need a restraining order. I guess that would help with the PI. It's hard to imagine that it's legal for a P.I. to work for someone who has a restraining order taken out on them by the person they are supposed to investigate.
posted by delmoi at 12:35 AM on April 9, 2010

Yes, certainly if your mother is harassing you, a restraining order is an option. That would me she can't have PI harass you on her behalf, too.

I'd ditch the car, too. If she's desperate enough, she could have it reported stolen and that would be bad for you until things are sorted out.
posted by inturnaround at 12:37 AM on April 9, 2010

If she's contacting your friends, you should address this with them. It doesn't have to be a full explanation, just say that you have personal issues, you'd prefer not to talk about it, and if she contacts them they shouldn't give out information about you, and that they should block her number.

She needs more than marriage counseling. I've never been involved with anything of the sort, but I'm guessing that a marriage counselor, especially one who specializes in that or does that exclusively, is not the right person for her. I also understand that if you or your father told her that she needed crazy person counseling, she wouldn't be so into the idea. Maybe get your dad to 'switch' marriage counselors to someone that will be able to deal with her issues, but under a facade of continuing the marriage counseling? I don't know how attached she is to her counselor, so maybe I'm way off base here.

Also, what aeschenkarnos said about the PI.

Also, you need to cut yourself off more. They own your car, pay your cell phone bill, and what else? You're 24, you can pay your own cell phone bill. The basic plans on t-mobile (Even More Plus) and others don't have to cost an astounding amount of money.

For the record, I don't think you're acting like your mother. You're being stalked, and having reactions that sound, to me, like reasonable fear of a crazy person are appropriate. That said, having to deal with this is neither healthy, nor normal, and you probably need some help for yourself to deal with this. You shouldn't have to do this on your own (especially if this is secret enough that you don't want to tell your friends or employer). It doesn't sound like you have a huge support network for this, and perhaps in general.
posted by R a c h e l at 12:45 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, what about arranging to meet her occasionally? You can insist on doing it at a restaurant, and on having to leave promptly afterward. Once every week or two. In return, she gets off your back. That might be enough to quell her paranoia, and you can threaten to stop meeting her if she persists with the more unpleasant behaviors.
posted by alexei at 12:50 AM on April 9, 2010

Is the marriage counselor actually a psychiatrist or just a licensed counselor? Perhaps she would benefit from some solo therapy. I would leave diagnosing something like borderline personality disorder to a qualified professional.

For dealing with stalker behavior, read Gavin DeBecker's The Gift of Fear.

I'm going to Memail you.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:12 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stop playing Spy vs. Spy with your mom. I realize that you don't want to deal with her, and I completely understand that - I don't want to deal with my mom either, but it's not the end of the world if she knows where you live. Call your dad and tell him that you will not be taking any calls from your mom and that you want her to leave you alone. Let your friends know that your mom is a bit unhinged and that you would appreciate it if they ignore any weird calls that they might receive from her - and get on with your life. Don't move, don't delete your blog, don't change your number - just don't respond. You're playing into her game by trying to out-think her next move. Stop reacting to her and she'll stop messing with you. This is a game she's playing, and you are playing along. Just stop.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:09 AM on April 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry this is happening to you OP. It sounds awful, and that you and your sister are doing the best you can to live your lives in the face of something that at its core is just really, really sad.

I wonder if you would reconsider your response in terms of the trying to move, hide your situation from friends, employer, etc. (because it would be TMI, etc.). You haven't done anything wrong here. You're just a regular person who happens to have a mom that is mentally ill, and a father who is in denial. But that's not a reflection of you - that's just part of the situation that you are dealing with. It also isn't all of who you are. It also isn't fair that it's happening to you. But it is, and while it isn't okay, I think if you try to hide that from employers, friends, etc, you'll just take on extra stress of trying to control something that is beyond your control (your parents' behavior). So what if you don't do that? (this is assuming that the issue isn't that you mom is violent, but that her harassing is frustrating, embarrassing, exhausting and shame provoking. If she's violent, do whatever steps you need to to hide and protect yourself).

I have friends who have explained that they have (sibling in this case) who is sadly, paranoid, and that they might try to contact us. What was helpful was the person explaining how we should respond (hang up, and then tell them because they needed to document). In hearing their situation, explained calmly, and rationally, I could only feel sympathy both for the person and the sibling. If some staff person's parent did start with harassing phone calls/visits at my place of work, I would entirely understand if they managed the situation by sharing with HR that regrettably, they had a mentally ill parent, and that they needed to inform them about the situation, including the steps they had taken (restraining order, etc). That way steps could be taken on the part of your organization to manage the situation in a professional manner.

I suppose I'm just wondering if it might be less stressful on you if you didn't have to manage this situation alone. Because you can't manage your mother behavior - she's in the grip of something awful. What you can do is consistently manage your response to anyone who seeks to transgress your boundaries, who can't respond to reason. Tell her therapist. Keep track of all instances of her inappropriate behavior with friends, etc. Document them. File a restraining order. If she knocks on your door, call the police. Repeat, knowing that that's what you've been paying your taxes for. Go to therapy yourself. Seek out support groups of other people who have similar situations. I promise you they are out there - many, many, many of them. Even if it's 'just' online communities, sharing about how the cope with the embarrassment, exhaustion and sorrow of what's happening to you with others who understand can be a real balm. You aren't alone.

Please know that these steps won't stop her from trying to mess with you. Avoidance only works with rational people who can pick up social cues. That does not work with mentally ill people, whose minds will create the most fantastic narratives that you are being held hostage, and they must, must find you. You will need to consistently set boundaries with her, and support to do that in a way that doesn't exhaust you. But in the face of that (once again, assuming there is no danger of her becoming violent), I think the best response is not to take on the burden of trying to hide that or yourself, but instead to step into the light of support that is around you (and your sister), by being transparent about your situation, not hiding it. I think many people would be sympathetic, and really, there is no way anyone could handle this alone. The whole point is to realize that you aren't alone, and to get the support you need, even if your mom won't get the support she needs. I think this might be the path that lets you live a full life. Boundaries and support. Boundaries and support. That's pretty much the way it is for everyone, but it sounds like you've been tasked with learning this in a devastatingly hard way.

Best of luck.
posted by anitanita at 4:01 AM on April 9, 2010 [17 favorites]

This sounds awful, I'm really sorry to hear you have to deal with it. Dealing with this kind of behaviour by a friend or acquaintance would be difficult enough - but when it is coming from your own mother, that has to add so many extra layers of frustration.

I am certainly not qualified to give any advice, as I haven't ever dealt with a similar situation. But I want to agree with a few posters above who say you need to stop avoiding her.

Find a way to contact her just enough to not feed into her paranoia. I know you don't want her banging on your door, and that is totally reasonable. But your mother is not reasonable. She needs some kind of regular contact or the crazy gets worse. And she is your mother - you can't defriend her, and you can't just walk away (unless you are also willing to cut off contact with everyone else in your family too). That is fucking hard. And it's totally not fair. But that's how it is.

Crucial point: you are avoiding her in order to reduce stress in your life, right? But attempting to avoid her is actually creating more stress in your life. That is a really tough situation to be in, because as much as you want to be stress-free, I don't think it's really an option.

So I think you need to reinitiate contact with your mother. Find some way to placate her. And then, seriously ream out your father. He is the one who can get her into counselling. He is the one who can make this situation better for you and everyone else. You need to talk to your father, one on one, and get him to get her help.
posted by molecicco at 4:39 AM on April 9, 2010

Do as much as you can to help her and keep her balanced. Granted she might be crazy but she is your mother. Hopefully you can see some of her good points behind her crazy. There are plenty of people that have to deal with their parents' dementia or alzheimers'. It isn't pretty and it isn't fun. Find sources to help you get through the pain and help her. I would chime in that you need some therapy to keep your own sanity balanced.

Please don't take the attitude of adding police or the courts to the mix. Behavioral and psychological problems are not solved through those means. More often than not, both can be hazardous to everyone involved.
posted by JJ86 at 5:57 AM on April 9, 2010

And if they do find out where I live (presumably the aim of this investigation), they will show up unannounced on random days and bang and scream outside my door until I open it or call the cops

I can't imagine private investigators want to call attention to themselves by banging and screaming and carrying on. They are not going to snatch you off the street and throw you in a truck. If a PI knocks on the door, answer it, calmly explain that you are fine, your mother is mentally ill, and if the PI persists, you will file for a restraining order. IF the PI harasses you after that, call the cops.

I know what it's like to live with a paranoid, mentally ill mother, and how inconvenient and embarrassing it is and I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by crankylex at 6:17 AM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't think that sharing part (or even all) of your current situation would necessarily be "airing dirty laundry." If someone told me, "My mom is mentally ill and sometimes contacts my friends or colleagues to try to check up on me; if you get any odd phone calls or e-mails asking about me, that's probably what's going on," my reaction would be appreciative of the warning and compassionate toward your situation, not "Oh my god, TMI!"

I also think that this situation boils down to: you tried to set a boundary with your mother and she began stalking you. Your experience is that if you try to manage your relationship with her in a way that is healthy for you, her brain turns it into a reason to behave badly. I think that comments about how, "She's your mother," as if that means you and your sister have to endure her abuse are cruel and off base. Your love for her doesn't mean it's healthy for you to be in contact with her, now or ever, and her behavior warrants a serious response (whether that might be a restraining order or something else). I think you, and perhaps also your sister, would be well served by a local support group for families of mentally ill people or by meeting with a local mental health social service organization to create a plan for dealing with your parents (both your mother and father are behaving in problematic ways) going forward.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:55 AM on April 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

... detailed biographic information about my mother that even my father says he is surprised they could know, etc. Some threats were about her kids - that's me!, but she says those emails are none of my business.

This raised some flags for me. Have you been able to verify that these emails were actually from someone else? Is it possible she's been manufacturing them herself (viz. not letting you see emails, having detailed biographical information). Also, have you been able to verify that there *is* a private investigator, or do you only know because she told you she'd hired one?

In any case -- your mom needs help (possibly involuntary if that's the only way she'll get it). Your dad seems like he's enabling her behavior, even if it it with the best of intentions. And you need to take some basic steps - get rid of the car and cellphone (not for the purposes of hiding, but so that she doesn't have any financial hold over you), and inform her that if this harrassment continues, you will have to take out a restraining order. If she violates it, well, maybe she'll be forced to get the help she so obviously needs.
posted by media_itoku at 7:00 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If there's a local organisation for families of people with schizophrenia, it might be useful to talk to them - I have two friends whose mothers have schizophrenia, and their behaviour has been similar to your mothers. Not in the details, but in delusions focused on danger befalling their children. So you may well be able to get coping advice from people who've "been there, done that". Most advice consists of working round the delusions rather than challenging them upfront.

This is probably a goon from the internet playing mind games with her
I'd say it's more likely she's writing them herself (and may not even be fully aware that she's doing so).
posted by Coobeastie at 7:11 AM on April 9, 2010

I think one way of looking at it is to break it down into one of two choices. Either you can try and keep your life as it is and spend your energy dealing with your mother, or you can spend your energy changing your life and insulating yourself from her to avoid dealing with her. Either way it's going to take energy, you just have to figure out which direction you want to go. There are pros and cons to both and other posters have laid out good advice that can support either scenario. Sorry I don't any good advice of my own, but thought thinking of it this way may help to sort out an approach that works for you.
posted by forforf at 7:12 AM on April 9, 2010

I understand the inclination not to talk to your employer about this but maybe you could speak with someone from human resources who could either facilitate a conversation with the appropriate people or simply inform them. If and when you do decide to tell work or friends, approach it as calmly as you can, it'll put them at ease. I would think of it like having a long term illness when you talk to them - you didn't do anything wrong, this is just something you're dealing with and it might affect them as a result. And please, take care of yourself.
posted by kat518 at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2010

Someone at an old workplace informed us that they had a parent who tried to track them down and that we were to never give out their information to anyone, nor confirm that that person worked there. It wasn't a big deal "omg tmi." We were informed professionally, "here's the deal, handle it this way, it's no big deal but you do need to definitely do this," so I think I said something like "oh, sorry to hear that, ok, will do" and went back to work. The person told me themselves, but you could probably ask HR or your supervisor to do it. If you wanted to be totally left out of it, HR could even take an approach like "our policy is that nobody ever gives out anyone's number or confirms employment, even if someone claims to be a family member -- repeat, do not confirm employment or give out phone numbers, even to family members."
posted by salvia at 7:35 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is hard. Just a few thoughts: maybe talking to a psychiatrist of your own would help, both for processing your own feelings and for suggestions on how to handle paranoid mentally ill people. Maybe brief regular contact with your mom would help calm her, or maybe it would amp up the craziness - better see what a professional says about the current views on best practice here. This is out of our league.

Also, the PI may be fictional (did your dad or anybody else confirm this?). Your dad has seen you at your sister's place and has told her you're alive and well. Dropping $5K on a PI for the same info (plus your address) seems a little unlikely but would fit with the largely imaginary drama world she lives in.

Give the car back to your dad - arrange to meet him somewhere and have the paperwork taken care of in advance. Or get rid of it some other way, but cut that tie. Same with the cell phone. The fewer entanglements, the better (true for all newly-independent young adults, not just you).

And not to be harsh, but you really do need to disengage from the Spy vs. Spy routine. Getting caught up in somebody else's drama is never a good idea, even when it's not as extreme as this. There are lots of good suggestions upthread for getting help and support - you need people who've got your back, you're dealing with some seriously weird shit here and you can't go it alone. Right now you're understandably in near-panic mode but once you feel like you have some reliable allies you'll be able to respond more rationally. Good luck and let us know how it works out.
posted by Quietgal at 7:35 AM on April 9, 2010

I think that comments about how, "She's your mother," as if that means you and your sister have to endure her abuse are cruel and off base.

This, times a million. Just because you love someone doesn't give them the right to treat you badly. She is treating you badly. It's because of her disease, but the end result is you are treated badly. It's one thing to have compassion for someone who is unwell, it is entirely another to become sick from anxiety because of that person.

In your specific situation, I would return the car and get a new phone. I would call your father and tell him that this behavior is intolerable, and if it does not cease you will file for a restraining order. And then I would do it. I know it will make you feel terrible, but if your mother refuses to receive help for her illness, I don't think there is anything you can do but protect yourself.
posted by crankylex at 7:37 AM on April 9, 2010 [15 favorites]

Sorry, should have credited The Light Fantastic for the apt Spy vs Spy metaphor. And on non-preview, media_itoku is also skeptical of the cloak-and-dagger stuff so I'll second him/her. Finally, as long as I'm back here, don't be ashamed to ask for help. Friends and employers are likely to be sympathetic and supportive (providing you're open and frank about your mother's mental illness, and not making it into some kind of drama of your own), and your taxes and insurance pay for the infrastructure you'll need, like cops or a psychiatrist. Again, good luck.
posted by Quietgal at 8:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion that you take some control of the situation by being the one to inform your friends and employer. If you talk to them up front and let them know the situation, they'll almost certainly be sympathetic and want to be as helpful as possible.

The biggest thing is that it will drain away a large part of the dread you're now feeling. A big chunk of what's going on for you, I'm guessing, is worrying about how other people will view you due to your mother's behavior. If you talk to them, you can explain it calmly and in a way that makes sense — almost everybody has had experience with somebody who didn't seem entirely in touch with mainstream reality, IME.

And then, if your mother does contact them, they won't be startled and freaking out because of this bizarre paranoid phone call they just got, they'll probably think something along the lines of "Gosh, inactivist was right, her mom's not well, poor thing — and poor inactivist!" And they tell you, and you sigh and say "yeah, I thought that might happen which is why I warned you. Thanks for letting me know," and things are okay.
posted by Lexica at 9:12 AM on April 9, 2010

Getting some help on your own may pay other dividends - mental health professionals tend to know what legal resources are available to protect someone in these situations. Best of luck to you.
posted by azpenguin at 9:14 AM on April 9, 2010

they have taken to knocking on her apartment door at all hours of the night and morning just to ask where I am, she never feels peaceful in her apartment anymore but dreads another knock.
If I were your sister, I'd seek legal protection.

Get a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. Call Mom monthly to assure her you are alive and well. Then turn it off until next month. It would be a kindness to let her hear your voice, and this would allow you to keep your privacy.

If you need to discuss it at all, at work or elsewhere, just say that you are sometimes harassed by a family member with mental health issues, and ask HR and anyone else not to share information about you.

Tell your Dad, in no uncertain terms, that your Mom needs serious help right away. And remind him how much better his life would be, and hers, too, if she were healthy.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. I went through a much milder version, with an alcoholic, probably bipolar Mom. It was always a struggle, but we ended up having a meaningful relationship. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on April 9, 2010

I hope it helps you to know that you're not alone. I have a cousin who cut himself off from my entire family about a decade ago, largely because he couldn't deal with his mother's/my aunt's intrusions. She is now convinced that he has been kidnapped or brainwashed by a cult, she has hired private investigators, internet stalked him, and shown up at his doorstep. The weird thing is that she seems pretty normal when she's not being totally crazy. Some of this is mother love, I think, which is a crazy thing in and of itself. She can't reconcile with not being part of the life of this person she raised, and she can't face the fact that it's her own fault that he doesn't want to have anything to do with her.

I wish I could offer you a solution, but I don't know how to deal with this situation. It does seem that things have somewhat improved over the course of a decade. My aunt still googles her son, checks up on him through a p.i., and tries to e-mail or call or write to him with some regularity. But it has tapered off, and it is less severe than it once was.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:33 PM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: I agree with what Coobeastie suggested about getting in touch with a local organization that supports individuals (and their family/friends) who experience schizophrenia. I'm not a doctor or anything of the sort, but I do know some things about mental illnesses and it sounds to me like your mom may be suffering from schizophrenia.

I also agree with what others have said about not getting so caught up in the cat-and-mouse game. Perhaps your energy and time would be better spent trying to help her get appropriate medical care rather than attempting to evade her. I don't mean that to sound critical at all; your situation is unenviable and I imagine it'd be enormously difficult to get a delusional person into treatment. But it does sound like the situation will only worsen as long as your mom is without that treatment, which will be stressful for you and her both (not to mention everyone else involved in the situation). I'm wondering if the best way for all of you to find some relief isn't to get to the root of the problem and get it sorted out as best you can.

I found a few links that might help you get started; I wish you all the best and hope things turn out for the better.

First Episode Psychosis: An Information Guide
Understanding and responding to symptoms of schizophrenia
How to manage 5 common symptoms of schizophrenia
How To Help Someone With Psychosis
An Introduction to Schizophrenia
Worldwide Early Diagnosis & Treatment Centers for Psychosis & Schizophrenia
posted by splendid animal at 10:13 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

here's another idea--find a family therapist who is also a board-certified psychiatrist. if your mom's receptive to marriage counseling, maybe she'll be receptive to the idea of family counseling.

sell it to her this way: you're growing up and struggling with conflicting desires to be independent without weakening your relationship with her. tell her it would be a big help if she could go with you to see the therapist together to work on your communication issues.

for the first visit, go see the therapist alone. explain what's going on and what your goals are--the therapist probably can't force your mother into treatment, but she can help you understand what's going on in her mind and give you some techniques for dealing with her. who knows, maybe she can also help give your mother some tools for dealing with her anxieties.

but make sure this is a real psychiatrist, because they will have the training and background you need to guide you.

another option, albeit a painful one, is to document your mother's behavior, lay it out for your father, and make it clear that it's hurtful for you. tell him you understand that he wants to help her, but that while enabling/defending this behavior does soothe her in the short term (i have similar issues with my parents), it doesn't do anything for her long-term mental health--or yours. explain to him that as long as he continues to enable/defend her behavior, he is complicit in her abuse of you. explain that you will be cutting off contact until she can control herself. explain that this was an extremely difficult and painful decision to reach, but that you have given it great thought and that if either of them show up unannounced at your house, you will call the police (ditto your sister--you CAN call the police to remove unwanted people from your living space, even if you don't have a restraining order, which you may not be able to get if she hasn't threatened physical violence). be frank with him. let him know that you'll miss him terribly, but that you can't take this any longer, and if missing your father is the price you have to pay for sanity, you will pay it. if she does manage to intrude, don't try to engage or reason with her or your father. just tell her you're fine and to go away. repeat, repeat, repeat.

you may wish to brief a few close relatives and one or two of your parents' friends (this all depends on your relationship to these people, of course, and it may not suit your situation)--not to air dirty laundry, but to get their support. i think a big problem is that your dad is too close to the situation to see the big picture and may need a little help stepping back.

good luck. i'm sorry you have to go through this.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:11 AM on April 10, 2010

Best answer: If you're in the U.S., you can contact a local or state affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness -- they have a chapter for every state and over 1,200 local groups. They have a national information helpline that can help you get started. If you're in a different country, you could email the national NAMI organization and ask them if they can help you find similar organizations where you live.

I've known people from two different families and different states who got information and support through NAMI groups/contacts that they said really, really helped them deal with their relatives' mental illness. (One had paranoid schizophrenia with some behaviors like the ones you describe, the other I can't remember what the diagnosis was, but caused a lot of heartache and drama in that family too.) People they met through NAMI helped them understand things like which psychiatrists and counselors locally would be good resources for particular diagnoses, how to handle interactions with the ill person, how to get help with restraining orders and involuntary commitment if it came to that, plus support groups. They found it so helpful to be able to talk with other people who also had family members who were sadly and scarily so ill. Emotional support is a big help, but also having people who know what to do in terms of the health and legal systems is such a relief.

It looks like the NAMI site also has an online community that you can join, so that might be a helpful option to try at least initially. I just don't know anyone who has used the online NAMI forums.

Best wishes, this is a terribly difficult thing that you and your family are experiencing. As many posters said above, please do find ways to get support for yourself. Several excellent suggestions above about how you can tell friends, coworkers, HR, etc. about this situation in a way that will help you a lot and won't at all seem TMI to them. Good luck.
posted by stillwater at 9:41 AM on April 10, 2010

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