How do I speak to my dad when his crazy thoughts are driving me crazy?
March 10, 2012 9:33 PM   Subscribe

How to reply to my fathers schizophrenic ideations? (long, sorry!)

I'm a 22 year old female. My father is for the most part a really sane person. He holds down a job and works very hard, can take part in normal conversation and is very cognitively "there" for the most part - people seem to really like him/don't seem to notice anything "off" about him.

But he also has schizophrenic tenancies and/or is suffering from drug induced psychosis. He has used meth and large amounts of alcohol for the better part of the past 20 years (though he's been clean from both for over four months now).

He believes that almost everyone has a double (or triple, quadruple, etc) and that they "switch" pretty constantly. His girlfriend of six years has run off to another city with a man she just recently met and he's convinced that there was more than one of her. The cat they bought together last year, he believes is a different cat because his ears aren't as small as they were (he's a kitten still, he's growing in to his ears!).

His work is mostly home restorations and renovations, and he does an amazing job of this. Clients are always very happy with the work that's done. But every single house he works on he believes he worked on before, ten or more years ago. Usually he believes that it's the same work he's doing, even. Rebuilding the same deck, reroofing the same roof. Even when the homeowner has owned the home for more than that length of time, he claims that someone else owned it. The same thing goes for apartments he rents, they're all places he thinks he's been before. I think this may be some form of reduplicative paramnesia?

He believes that the tv is making reference to him and his own life (and even occasionally, speaking directly to him). A lot of the time he'll say that he thinks his music has been "switched" and that someone has edited it in some way.

He's staying at my house until the end of the week (and has been since his breakup, he's found his own place now) and has been here since January. He's convinced that the people who live above me are people he once knew and that they are evil and giving him the nightmares he's been experiencing lately.

For a long time after my mom died (10 years ago, she had epilepsy and drowned in the bathtub while he was asleep in the next room over) he thought that maybe she wasn't dead and that the body wasn't hers because when she was autopsied they said there was nothing in her stomach, though they'd eaten pizza earlier a few hours earlier. He thought maybe she just left him.

He thinks that his head can transmit like a radio and that people know what he's thinking. He often thinks people are "double speaking" and that there's something else they mean, but he won't explain to me exactly what it is. If he hears someone cough out the window, or walks by and coughs or clears their throat, he thinks they are doing this AT him and that they're belittling his thoughts (which they can hear).

He believes that numbers have specific meanings and if till receipts or license plates or phone numbers have or don't have certain numbers it means something.

These are just some examples.

I hate hearing about the doubles and the tv and hearing him mutter "whatever" when someone coughs. A lot of the time I end up getting annoyed and don't say anything or try to refute the points he's making but he doesn't really listen.

I've heard before that it's not a good idea to try to argue these thoughts with someone with schizophrenia but I find it really difficult to not. I can't just sit there and nod along, and I know that there's a part of him that knows these thoughts aren't normal. He'll tell me that he knows it's crazy, and that he sounds crazy. He says he knows that it doesn't make sense. A lot of the time he tells me I just don't understand (and I guess he's right, I really don't).

He has a therapist and goes to AA every morning at 6am 7 days a week, but he still says that he needs somebody to talk to about these things. I really don't want to tell him to stop talking about it because I don't want him to have to bottle it up.

He's a very self sufficient person (where I've heard most schizophrenics live with family members or in facilities and don't really hold down full-time jobs - I know I'm very much stereotyping here but I really haven't heard of any other schizophrenic persons who live their lives without a lot of help from others/on their own especially without medications) and doesn't really believe in pharmaceutical treatments so I don't think that's going to happen.

He doesn't really discuss these things with most people (family, therapist only) and so most the comments that vaguely reference his ideations just sound like offhanded quirky comments. I'm constantly watching my friends and strangers reactions when they spend any time with him to see if they think he's crazy or what, but when they talk about him after he leaves they only mention how "cool" they think he is.

I guess what I'm hoping to figure out is, how can I reply to the things he says? I don't want to just nod or do anything at all to make him think I agree with the things he's saying, but I don't want to refute the things he says if that's hurting his condition more. Have you ever had to deal with anything like this? What did you do/what did you say?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My brother-in-law suffers from schizoaffective disorder and no, it doesn't do any good to argue with him. At least in his case, what I've noticed when he's explaining his ideas and theories and connections is that, more than anything else, he's confused, and scared, and his brain has tried to knit together some patterns out of what it's focusing on and he really, really doesn't want to be 'crazy' and alone-- arguing with him, trying to explain why his ideas don't make any sense, will only increase his fear that he's 'crazy' and that no one else can understand him.

But of course, like you say, indulging him feels like encouraging him, and that's no good either. What I've found helps is to focus on the emotional reaction that he's having, which is definitely real, and often based on something much more tethered to reality-- is he scared? Does he know that you love him? That must have been hard, Dad. That sounds awful.

I know you said that you don't think medication is a likely possibility, but it would be great if that did happen. It really does help, at least in the cases I've seen, particularly my brother-in-law.

I'm glad to hear that your dad is fairly self-sufficient. That is, indeed, pretty rare for schizoaffective disorder. I'm also glad he's sober, as that shit can seriously worsen the symptoms. I hope you're holding up okay. My email's in my profile if you need to talk to someone.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 PM on March 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

How do you interact with *anyone* whose beliefs you disagree with? Seriously, this is no different. He's a self-sufficient adult who holds down a good job and is well-liked. He has some beliefs you and most people find odd, but so what? There are a variety of ways people deal with this; some don't like to spend any significant time around someone whose beliefs differ significantly from their own, some people like to debate, some politely try to change the subject. Proceed just the way you would if you were around, say, a vocally religious person from a religious tradition you didn't share. It's legit to tell your father that you don't agree, it's legit to hold your tongue, and it's legit to spend less time with him because he makes you feel uncomfortable. The only thing that isn't legit is to try to change him, because it won't work and will additionally alienate you two from each other further.
posted by parrot_person at 9:59 PM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Based on my experiences with a schizophrenic family member, I'd say shakespherian has it exactly right. I really can't think of anything to add to that.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:24 PM on March 10, 2012

*shakespeherian. Sorry!
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:25 PM on March 10, 2012

but he still says that he needs somebody to talk to about these things. I really don't want to tell him to stop talking about it because I don't want him to have to bottle it up

I am so sorry, on top of your mother dying it sounds like you don't have a parent looking after you. Just because your father wants to talk about what is in his head does not mean you always have to listen. It is okay to say, "enough, I don't want to talk about that right now." Does he not have a therapist? Maybe booking a session with a therapist where you go as well will help you both. You have taken a lot on and you show incredible compassion for your father, be careful to not let him burn you out. Your needs (for peace, for non-crazy talk, to have conversations about you) are just as important. Do you have anyone in your life you can vent to, or a journal you can write in? What you describe is very draining to be around and you have to look out for yourself first.
posted by saucysault at 4:33 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the Stuff You Should Know podcast about schizophrenia (23 August 2011) the general advice (around 21 minutes in) is to politely disagree. Not "people don't have doubles--that's crazy!" and not 'yes, what do you think the other cat is up to now." But consistently "I believe you when you say you believe that and I respect your beliefs, but I believe something else [for reasons XYZ if there's room in the conversation]." Consistent, polite, respectful disagreement.
posted by K.P. at 4:47 AM on March 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

My mother had schizophreniia, she died many years ago so I don't know much about current treatment. I'm surprised his therapist hasn't insisted that he take some medication. Is he against pharmaceuticals because he thinks people in AA shouldn't take them? Many people in AA take prescribed psycho-active meds.

Are you seeing a therapist? If you're not it would probably be very helpful to you to have someone with whom you could process all this, someone who could give you support and advice on a regular basis. You're very young to have to deal with so much. Another place where you can get some support and find friends who understand is AlAnon.

You're very good to take care of your father so much. I hope you take good care of yourself too. Feel free to mefi-mail me.
posted by mareli at 5:37 AM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think shakespearean's advice above is good, and is quite consistent w what is advocated in CBT for psychosis (there are manuals that you can purchase for this, BTW. I'm certainly not advocating that you try to treat your dad's symptoms yourself, but the manual will have (research-based) suggestions for how to respond). The general idea is to focus on feelings ("that is a pretty upsetting thought, isn't it?" or "did it make you sad when you thought that mom had run off, rather than died?"). Being careful to use words like "thought" or "feel" to describe these beliefs. If your dad directly asks you if you think these things are true than it's fine to say calmly that you have a different explanation or think it's coincidence, but I doubt he will put you on the spot.

Good luck. It sounds like your dad is highly functional but still quite symptomatic, which can be a confusing place for family members.
posted by Bebo at 7:58 AM on March 11, 2012

Shakespearean's advice is exactly right. Respond to the emotion behind the delusion rather than to the delusion itself.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 12:25 PM on March 11, 2012

« Older is this legal   |   Developing the non-pushy ask Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.