Help: Mom's health and relationship tangles
March 10, 2011 3:01 AM   Subscribe

My mother had a stroke (it seems like a transient ischemic attack) but she won't be in the States until Friday morning. And there are many relationship issues mixed into this. What should I do? Previously this question. (I had decided to spend one week, this week of 3/6, at home and one week, next week, with SO.)

My mom has been to a foreign hospital for what seems to be a ministroke (temporary stroke with minimal damage) but I would like to get a second opinion. The foreign doctor prescribed some pills, of which I don't have specifics. The doctor also recommended a hospital stay, but she doesn't have health insurance there and would like to come back to the US. Her plane leaves tomorrow afternoon, so there isn't be time for extra treatment in the foreign country. I would like to have it right when she arrives at the airport, because I know that time is of the essence. Is this advisable since she would be coming off a ten-hour plus flight? What specialties should I look for? How soon is soon enough? The stroke occurred today, Wednesday.

Also, unfortunately, I'm not even sure if she had a stroke. I can't tell if I'm just being a horribly cynical and selfish person. She is a bit of a hypochondriac and has used illness to prevent me from doing actions she disapproves of before. She started feeling ill, coincidentally, the day I told her I wouldn't change my plans - she has known about my plans with SO for nearly a month and suddenly decided, this week, to come back from the foreign country, and on the exact day that I was planning to leave. She and my dad both wanted/pleaded with me to stay home the second week as well (even though I had worked this out with my dad three weeks ago) and this was actually driving me crazy even before this news of the stroke. I feel very tired of being manipulated, but I am honestly worried about her. She wouldn't fake a stroke...

This trip with SO has been a source of argument for this entire week between me and my dad. The second statement to come out of my dad's mouth after telling me about my mom's visit to the hospital was, "Now you can't go to visit the SO," which isn't exactly trust-building. Nor is his hesitancy to schedule a doctor's appointment for my mom for something as scary as a stroke! I am a freshman in college and am Chinese American if that helps. My parents are immigrants.

My initial reaction is to help her schedule an appointment, hopefully for this Friday, but if not then for Monday. I'm not sure whether to shorten/postpone my plans or not (I have to be back at college on Sunday, 3/20. This week was emotionally killing me before I received news of this just a few hours ago and I don't have the emotional capacity to react anymore. My response was to cry for the fifth time today and became very tired and slightly bitter. In the past few days, my conversations with my dad have mostly disintegrated to the usual topic of SO. I did clear up why he and my mom disapproves of my planned visit to SO: apparently it's a matter of grave ethics and damage to my "reputation." It is because I am 1) staying with a man, 2) people know about it, 3) women should always put in less effort into a relationship than men, and 4) a waste of money (this is money I earned). Again, none of which I agree with.

I was thinking an appointment ASAP and then postponing my plans to Tuesday plus or minus a day. My SO is also having a terrible time. The past month or so has been incredibly stressful, beyond what it should be, and it's screwing with his mental stability. So not only am I incredibly sick of everything, but so is my SO, and so are my parents. I would probably be sobbing my lungs out if I weren't numbed by the fact that everything is just going so badly. I just want time with the SO, who, unlike my parents, doesn't pick painful and stupid arguments with me, who doesn't make me feel like I'm a cowering puppy, and who doesn't try and make me feel guilty for hurting my parents. I feel tired of my responsibilities and obligations to everyone around me. I know it's been hard on everyone else too, which just makes my decision all the worse. If I cancel all plans with the SO, I don't know what he will do. And I miss him so so much too. It would make me resent my parents and another week at home would make me want to beat myself over the head with a blunt instrument. Shortening the trip with the SO to half a week (so I would leave around Tuesday instead of the planned Friday) will inevitably lead to bad feelings on both sides. My parents would be extremely upset about this, of course, since my mom just had a stroke. I don't think I have the emotional capacity to deal with any of this right now. I don't feel sad, just angry. I was already pretty broken and now I just feel incapable of comprehending any consequences. Sorry for the rambling - my mind is... somewhere around here. I would rather spend my time with my SO as planned and forget and pretend everything is okay. Which isn't an option or a solution at all, sadly.

So TL;DR - When should the medical appointment be and with which specialist? How do I spend the next week and how do I deal with an overstressed mom who just suffered a stroke (I think), a possibly suicidal boyfriend, and a very tired me?

Again, I apologize for the length and the rambling. I'm just little kid who's very very lost right now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would have thought that if she has possibly had a TIA then getting on a ten hour flight is potentially a really bad idea. Has she had medical advice on this?
posted by *becca* at 3:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry but this is insanity. On so many levels. You need to learn to draw boundaries. Stop arguing with your dad over and over and over and over about the same thing. You are never going to get another outcome, so quit discussing it. You are not a little kid; stop saying that and stop acting like one.

If your mother has had a transient ischaemic attack, she should not fly for 10 days. If she has not been definitively diagnosed, she should not fly at all. If she insists on flying she should get off the plane and immediately into her doctor's office for evaluation, or into an ER. That puts her in front of a medical professional in the US on Thursday, or if her plane lands Friday, Friday. If you don't know what else to do, call her GP and book an emergency appointment for Friday. He or she can refer her as needed.

Plan to leave to visit your SO on Monday. If your parents are not taking this stroke event seriously enough to seek immediate medical attention in the US, neither should you. If they are, she's an adult with suitable medical professionals and a fully functioning husband.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

A TIA is not a stroke. When you have a TIA your chances for true stroke (CVA) increases. Maybe your mom's doctor gave her a platelet inhibitor, like Plavix, that decreases the likelihood of future stroke.

Your mom should see a doctor and get advice when it is appropriate to fly. If she wants to see a specialist it should be a neurologist.

Take a breath. Again, a TIA is not a stroke. It is a warning sign.
posted by Fairchild at 5:11 AM on March 10, 2011

Visit your SO.

1. You're in a situation where you have no way of knowing whether your parents are being honest with you about your mother's health, and have strong reasons to suspect that they're stretching the truth a bit. You can either treat every health problem as an emergency forever, knowing that almost all of them won't be, or you can draw a boundary. If your parents can manipulate you with illness now, they will do it again and again and again--especially if they sincerely believe that they're acting in your best interests.

2. You need to take some care of yourself. I'm usually not into the metafilter thing of "take care of yourself first even if it causes you to cut loose people who are important to you", but you still have to take some care of yourself. If your mother has suffered a TIA, you probably have a long health slog ahead of you, and you have to have some boundaries to get through that. You can't spend all your time around extremely manipulative people who are picking fights with you and making you feel bad. You can even think of it as "I have to keep myself healthy so that I can meet my parents' real, physical needs rather than burning myself out on trivial emotional manipulations".

3. It's possible that a short sharp shock will help your relationship with your parents. My parents, though not as theatrical as yours, were pretty controlling about a lot of stuff (and crazily lax about other things where I needed help, go figure!). When I was in my mid-twenties, I had prepared for several years to return abroad to teach for a second time . My parents didn't want me to go. My mother (who I love dearly and who has 99% good qualities, and who was a healthy 53 year-old at the time) pulled out this whole "you don't actually love me, and if you go I'll probably die when you're there and you'll never see me again, but then you don't care, do you?" routine. It was extremely painful. I went anyway, and since then there's been a LOT less of the "you aren't doing X because you don't love us" stuff.

Please visit your SO.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on March 10, 2011

How do I spend the next week and how do I deal with an overstressed mom who just suffered a stroke (I think), a possibly suicidal boyfriend, and a very tired me?

It is the responsibility of your mother to seek treatment for her possible stroke. It is the responsibility of your boyfriend to seek treatment for his depression. You are neither a neurologist nor a therapist--your presence with either party can treat neither a transient ischemic attack nor suicidal ideation, nor will your absence make you responsible for any negative health outcomes. Anybody who suggests as such is trying to manipulate you.

What does "tired you" want to do? Ignore the part of you that wants to please everybody else, and listen to what answer comes up. Start making decisions for your own best interest, whatever that decision may be. If you stop doing that in the face of escalating threats, then you teach the people around you that escalation is the method to get you to do what they want.
posted by neda at 5:23 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know that there are cultural aspects to this, as many of my asian-descended friends feel an obligation to be the "dutiful child".

However, it sounds like this is making you miserable, and it would probably do you, personally, well to adopt a less-culturally-acceptable mode of interacting with your parents. It's your life, right?

You know the military saying "Never issue an order you know won't be obeyed"? This is what your parents are doing. Also, read up on the Extinction Burst. Methods they've used to rein you in and control you in the past haven't worked on this occasion (getting you not to visit your SO), so they're escalating. If this works, expect it to be used again.

DarlingBri has it right when she says "If your parents are not taking this stroke event seriously enough to seek immediate medical attention in the US, neither should you." Frowner and neda also have some very good points.

With your conversations with your parents, you can also set boundaries by (a) resorting to using the telephone more and (b) warning them (calmly) that if they continue to argue about X topic with you, that you will leave/hang up. Then, follow through. Say "I will talk to you again another time, goodbye."

Figure out what you want to do and do it for your own sake. You're angry because people are playing emotional football where you are the ball. That's healthy.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:51 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say the decision is between your parents and your SO, but what about YOURSELF?

Your parents sound rather dramatic and I agree with everyone else that if your mom is going to fly, she's not respecting her body. You also mention that you're Chinese; I assume your mom is in an Asian country where a hospital stay is going to be very cheap. My mother was in a hospital for ONE MONTH in HK, and the bill for staying there was something like US$400. I would not fall for their emotional blackmail if they aren't going to take care of themselves first.

Secondly, while you mention your boyfriend "doesn't pick painful and stupid arguments with me, who doesn't make me feel like I'm a cowering puppy, and who doesn't try and make me feel guilty for hurting my parents," then why do you say "If I cancel all plans with the SO, I don't know what he will do?" You are clearly in a bad emotional space and the SO doesn't really seem to help you with this.

Both parties are making you feel guilty. I would do what YOU WANT, as opposed to what you think you want to make X party happy.
posted by mlo at 6:53 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
I called my mom and panicked about the ten-day no-flight period for TIAs. She told me quickly that no, it's really okay for her to go on the flight, because her stroke actually happened a month ago when she first went overseas and that she and my dad didn't want to worry me and so only told me about it now. It's obvious now that this was a ploy to get me to stay out of worry and guilt. I think I'll leave on Friday, as planned. Thanks DarlingBri for the reminder that I am not a little kid - it seems like my parents are the children here.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You know they are lying to manipulate you, right?

I wasn't going to write that because although true, it seemed cruel to point out. Your update swayed me to speak up.

Furthermore, if she even allows you to make appoints for her, she won't let the doctors talk to you. I mean, she'll get around the doctor thing somehow. Like everything else, it will seem somewhat plausible to you. Until you start digging for the truth.

Yes. Yes she would fake a medical emergency.

The bigger answer is that you need to get away from these people. But because you didn't see through this ploy right away... I don't know what it might take for you to get the help you desperately need to sort this out.

I wish you the best. I'm so sorry you must deal with this because you are genuinely a lovely person. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:35 AM on March 10, 2011

I'm really sorry about all this. I've been having issues with my parents and know how crappy it is. I'm not sure if this will help at all and might depend on how much financial support they give you.

After the millionth fight with my then-husband, I said "that is the last time you are saying that to me. Next time, stop yourself or just go pack your bags instead. But that was it." Can you say some version of that to your parents? "that is the last time you mention SO. Either stop yourself or I'm (not coming home at all/leaving early/not talking to you for a week/month?"

I think you need boundaries and they need consequences. The calmer you are, the better. Unfortunately, you have to be the adult. Faking (or something like faking) a stroke is unbelievably cruel and manipulative.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:10 AM on March 10, 2011

What is your situation with friends? Do you have friends you can check in with and visit and who can provide some support in standing up to your parents?

Can you find some kind of support group online or in the flesh? Even though a "children of abusive parents" group might not exactly fit the bill, you might be able to get some support in terms of establishing boundaries. It seems like relying on friends or a support group might help your relationship with the SO, for one thing.

Also, this method of interaction doesn't sound so much "Asian" to me as "crazily (even if lovingly) manipulative and harmful". I'm white; I've lived in China fairly extensively and met many Chinese friends' families--of course, this doesn't mean that I'm privy to every private thing in those families! But although it certainly seemed like there was a different idea about family duties, and there was more emphasis on doing what parents expected, manipulation and lying weren't on the table, even when arguments turned painful. I hope your parents aren't trying to convince you that these routines are "traditional" and that you need to accept the situation for that reason.

I'm sorry that your parents are doing this! I hope you can do what you need to do.
posted by Frowner at 9:11 AM on March 10, 2011

mathowie: "From the OP: She told me quickly that no, it's really okay for her to go on the flight, because her stroke actually happened a month ago when she first went overseas and that she and my dad didn't want to worry me and so only told me about it now. It's obvious now that this was a ploy to get me to stay out of worry and guilt."

Oh FUCK THAT. Actions have consequences. Get in your car, on your bus, or on your train now. You are going to your boyfriend's, today. Do not inform them, do not discuss it, do not debate it. Send an email when you get there saying "Just to let you know, I'm fine and at Jared's as planned and will call you when I get back to school on the 20th."

No drama, just a polite note.

Then enjoy the 10 days with your boyfriend, guilt free. And when you get back, post on Ask for suggestions about books you can read on healthy boundary settings - because you have none and it is not working for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Holy hell, I'm really sorry you have to deal with this. I'm glad you've decided to leave as planned and I do hope you enjoy your vacation and do not let anything to do with your parents ruin your time. I also hope, now that the worry over your mom's health has evaporated, that you are feeling angry, on your own behalf, that they have drawn you into their drama and emotionally manipulated you in this way. Take DarlingBri's advice to seek out methods of creating healthy boundaries, whether through self-help books (good as a start no matter what), and eventually therapy. You cannot control their behavior, but you can control your reaction to it. Distance is paramount at this point.
posted by JenMarie at 1:18 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh wow. You don't need any more proof. You said that they are willing to lie to "protect you" and now they have proven that they are not getting any better. Get out of there. And when you get back to school get your butt back into counciling and tell them exactly what is going on.

UH don't go see your boyfriend? Your are worried that he needs you when your family is basically eating you alive? uh, dude should be half way to your home town with a hotel booked and box of freakin' kleenex.

"i don't know what he will do if i cancel plans with him" WHAT? that is not your problem. You are in the middle of a pretty big crisis and you are not going to be the person who can keep you AND him afloat. What you are going to do if you are concerned with his safety is call 911 and get the hell away from his emotional blackmail.

This is the sort of thing that doesn't just mess with your relationships with your family- it screws completely with how you see your place in all relationships. Basically, every relationship is going to be suspect. Going to your councler and telling them that you need an objective party to make sure you are protecting yourself is a really really good idea.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:39 PM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

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