De-escalate my father while mom's the manic one
January 29, 2023 2:25 AM   Subscribe

I need help with words to de-escalate my father's REACTION to my mother's bipolar episode. She's not too manic, I believe she's relatively safe, but ABSOLUTELY annoying. Earlier my father sent frantic texts for HELP!, "She's threatening to leave him and will not see a doctor." A few hours later, I'm thinking it was mostly just a fight between two emotionally dysregulated people. I'm more concerned bout talking him down than I am about her.

I'm less immediately directly concerned about her than I am about him taking this too far too fast. Take him out of the picture and she desperately needs to get her meds checked but she's ok. He's incredibly impulsive and he cannot just sit and think things through. He seems to be panicking and he's already talking to us about threatening her with hospitalization if she won't see her doctor. There is not much we can do at the moment. It's Saturday night and no doctor's offices are open. She's been manic for months. this is nothing recent. My brother and I thought it was already being addressed, but it seems that it wasn't. We also learned my father doesn't even know her doctor's name.

She apparently got really drunk at dinner tonight and made of fool of herself. He's a narcissist and although she's been manic and publicly unhinged for some time, I suspect that tonight she finally embarrassed him in front of the wrong people. In his defense, he may be legitimately at a breaking point too. I'm assuming that he probably started yelling at her and then everything went nuclear.

Hopefully, by morning things have cooled down a bit, but I'd like to have some recommendations for gently suggesting to my father that RIGHT NOW everything is mostly ok, there is no need to panic, we will do everything possible to get her to a doctor and most importantly that high-pressure and ultimatums from him are not necessary or helpful.

I asked her sister, my aunt to get her out of the house and let my mom stay with her for a few days. My father and I are estranged by the way and my mother gets really paranoid about my father when manic. He did I believe legitimately have to have her institutionalized the first time she had an episode. And also probably because he yells at her when she's this way My aunt will pick my mom up tomorrow and start talking to her about getting medical help. So at least we have some kind of a plan to directly take care of my mom.

Annoying and embarrassing are just a natural part of the deal with a manic episode. She's not flying to Alaska to see the northern lights or anything. She hasn't bought a Ferarri yet. He knows it will be weeks before she calms down even if a doctor had her meds dialed in tomorrow. There will probably be a big crash to come too.
I'm catastrophizing a little bit. I'll be fine but I'm dreading all of this so much. Obviously, I'm concerned about my mom but this has the potential to get so much weirder. I don't have the patience for him. Those days are long gone.

You've heard about the PERFECT FAMILY, right? That's us! During his last crisis, my father got into the Secret, The Law of Attraction. All the stuff for ignoring problems. He is a completely unreliable narrator in the best of times. He's been keeping family secrets covered up for 70+ years. At least Qanon isn't involved,.......yet. He's already talking about her possibly having cell phone tumors. I'm worried about his mental health honestly.

My history here is loaded with questions about dealing with my stubborn and narcissistic If you want more context or just enjoy reading about dysfunctional families see 1, 2, 3, 4, The greatest hits GRANDPA ATTACKED ME AT WORK! and GRANDPA MUST BE CRAZY pt. 2.
posted by Che boludo! to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a lot! Are you somewhere where you can get a social worker or some other professional to talk to your father or to you as a family? Absolutely this kind of thing is a family issue and not just about the person dealing with mental illness. There may be a group your father can attend. It sounds like they may also be of an age where you can try a geriatric social worker. But I think it would help your father to have some support that's professional and from outside the family.

Good luck!
posted by BibiRose at 4:01 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]

Do you have adequate support yourself? This sounds really stressful but it doesn't sound as if there is any immediate need to do anything beyond what you have done.

You've arranged for your aunt to remove your mother and that should allow your father to calm down.

All the other stuff is long-term underlying stuff. It sounds like there are intense scenes but nobody is getting hurt. It sounds like intense scenes is what they do. So yes, as they age they'll need more regular check-ins so that your family/social worker/family doctors can pick up on changes in one or both of them that may indicate that they can no longer cope/ need more help/ are becoming a danger to themselves or each other.

So I'd prioritize getting a bit more support for yourself so you can process the intense scenes you get dragged into without being able to help much and be ok with doing what you can do.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:12 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]

sounds like he'll be a lot more receptive to your "this is not an emergency" input if you preface it first with a LOT of sympathy and affirmation that the behavior is distressing, hard to deal with, hard to live with, and that it requires a lot from him emotionally.

And don't tell him it's not an emergency. First listen, sympathize, and then ask him if it is. Otherwise he'll just be reacting against what you say.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:07 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]

Seconding the listening and sympathizing so he has no foothold to start a drama with you. I will add to that: give him useful assignments that YOU don’t do for him. Here’s two: tell him you can’t do anything to help until he finds out the name of her doctor or until he gets her one, if she does not have one yet, and he has to be the one to do that because he’s the one with medical power of attorney for her. (He’s got that, right? If not, make him get it.). Give him the contact information for the local chapter of NAMI. Remove yourself, you’ve done enough with getting her out of the house, and when you notice that you’re being pulled in to the dramatic spirals, excuse yourself by saying “I can’t do this for you, you have to be the one to do it.”
posted by terridrawsstuff at 9:42 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]

One thing narcissists or people with narcissistic wounds are really good at is creating drama and sucking you into it. It's easier for your father to reach out to you and then have an argument with you than to handle whatever is going on with your mother.

But, you don't have to play this game.

Your mum is safe. Your dad is safe.

I would listen to your dad with empathy and text him back things like "Dad, that sounds really hard, I'm so sorry you're going through this." But don't play the fix-it game. It's lovely that you helped this time, but you are the adult child in the situation. You can lend your support, you can help with money and driving and research and calling others.

But you cannot fix the relationship between your parents. You cannot go back in time and have your dad not marry your mum or the two of them address this issue of embarrassment or lack of engagement with doctors.

It's okay to take a step back. Turn your phone off and go see a movie.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:20 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]

They are still parentifying you. This isn’t your problem to solve or even listen to. I’m sorry, it is hard to behave as if you are in the Script we all have that families support each other when your parents are playing off a whole other script. No advice beyond be gentle with yourself. Narcissists are like cats - they always land on their feet. Once you stop being their supply they will find someone else to suck dry.
posted by saucysault at 12:18 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]

I would listen to your dad with empathy and text him back things like "Dad, that sounds really hard, I'm so sorry you're going through this." But don't play the fix-it game.

Yeah as the kid of a narcissist I guess I'd ask (not in a jerk way just an inquisitive one) "Why is this your problem?" and then again "No really, why?" because it sounds to me like warriorqueen's advice is good. Is everyone safe? Does your dad need a friend or a sounding board? Is it your job to manage your dad's anxiety? Can you make it not your job? Also seconding NAMI they are really good both for your dad but maybe as a support group for you so that your dad's nonsense can be better contextualized.
posted by jessamyn at 2:55 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your dad is basically triggered (I can't tell you for sure since I am not his therapist and haven't identified his triggers) and is basically outside of his emotional window of tolerance. Therefore he's overreacting and anxious/scared/mad/etc. I like your idea of letting him get time away from mom so that he can calm his nervous system down. It feels like less of a crisis when you aren't staring it in the face.

While he's in this hyperaroused state, telling him that it's not an emergency won't help. He won't accept it. First step is to provide a listening ear and some empathy. Let him express emotions so he can wind himself down a bit. When we're in our emotions, the logical part of our brain is disconnected, so he really can't think logically. This doesn't mean you have to solve the may not mean you have to actually listen to him (especially if you don't want to get sucked into it). He can find any number of ways to calm himself...quiet time, walking/exercise, a bubble bath, whatever.

Once he's calm, then he can engage in some problem solving. What would help him feel more secure about the situation with your mother? Does he have numbers for mental health crisis response or therapists or whatever is in their area? Does he have an EAP through work where he can meet with a therapist for himself just to help him sort through things? Maybe your aunt is the one who really makes things happen by getting mom to her doctor (especially if she's paranoid about dad). Hopefully aunt will let dad know who mom's providers are, but he won't be able to dictate treatment unless the MD and mom allows him to be involved. So aunt may need to be the person to share information to dad until mom is more rational. If you can, are you able to tell aunt "Hey aunt...I really need for you to be the person to handle things here. I can't solve this problem for them". (I'm really hoping your aunt can be "the person"'s HARD for children to handle their manic parents).

Also, please take care of yourself! Do what you need to do to keep your own emotions and nervous system regulated...that may mean avoiding text/calls when you need to. As others have said above, you can't fix this for them. Sending you lots of peaceful, calming vibes!
posted by MultiFaceted at 3:40 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know if any commenters will ever see this thank you as I'm coming back late but THANKS!

It sounds like I've already been doing a lot of the things suggested here. I'm totally fine just really annoyed and somewhat pissed off.

I'm not trying to get involved in their relationship, but my hope was to slow his role. Hospitalization is a HUGE STEP and probably not the correct care she needs anyway.

The good news and bad news is that there are no psychiatrists available for weeks. So the bad thing is, she can't see a doctor right away (she's been mostly fine for months as I've written) the good thing is he can't do much to force my mom into doing anything through coercion. Now SHE NEEDS to see a doctor, I can't say this enough but I called her today and guess what! I was completely validating with her and made her feel better. She said she'd see a doctor but there still are not any around and I don't exactly trust her to be honest with these things, but she said she absolutely doesn't want him to go to the appt. with her and honestly, I don't blame her at all.

Since I wrote this, I'll spare the details but he sent a text making it clear that this is about him, his frustration with her and HIS timeline. He wrote me the most half-assed hypocritical message saying he's willing to work with her but it's 100% him affected by this thing. What a jackass.

Just for the Hell of it, I called my old doctor to see if there were any possibilities they could take her in as a new patient, but at a minimum, it would be three weeks just to get a televisit. There are no psychiatrists in this town at the moment. She referred me to another office, I sent my father the phone number and info, but after sending us texts to HELP him for hours the other night, when I actually get him a couple of options to help and he ignores them completely. He just keeps saying he's going to work through her GP who CANNOT do much not being a psychiatrist and I hear out of town at the moment. Seriously, this guy gets tunnel vision and can't deviate. I suggested he call the insurance company for help finding a doctor who might be available soon, he just texted me back to say he switched insurance companies. OK, I guess?

I know I can't fix anything or want to be a savior, but it's so ridiculous. He's offered options for help after begging for them and just skates by them and keeps doing what he wants to do which gets him nowhere. So yeah, I guess it's just drama.

I also put my phone on DND for the afternoon and did some reading I've been meaning to do because fuck it, I believe everybody is safe, there are no doctors to visit and I did what I could to help. I told her that I would take her to the first appointment, I'd really rather her sister did that though, but I'm out.
posted by Che boludo! at 11:17 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

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