Father not dealing with uncertainty of mother's bipolar Mania
May 23, 2023 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I need short text message responses to my father who is unable to deal with not 100% knowing whether my manic mother is taking her new meds (we can't know). I need him off my back temporarily. We are estranged, he has a "fragile" ego, and when he gets an idea in his head HE DOES NOT STOP no matter how unrealistic it is.

I'm keeping this quick. Mom has been manic for months. Through patience and encouragement, theoretically, I convinced my mother to start taking new meds a few weeks back.

My father who cannot tolerate frustration or uncertainty and is pretty impulsive because of it is texting me over and over asking me if my mother is taking her new medication. He's counting her pills and it appears she is not, BUT she tells me she is, BUT we can't know for sure. Not taking medication is absolutely normal (relatively) for mental illnesses such as bipolar mania.

He's putting pressure on me and freaking me out. We normally don't talk for similar reasons like he can be extremely unreasonable.

She only talks to me because I'm the only person not completely invalidating. So now he's triangulating through me. I can't deal with him. He won't change. Less concerning is she's now trying to triangulate through me and complain about him. That's another topic and I am starting to hold my boundaries with her.

I've sent my father links to support groups for family members of those suffering from bipolar, but I don't think he's interested. What text messages could I send to let him know we can't know her status 100% while getting him off my back? FRAGILE EGO here! He is just not tolerating less than 100% certainty.

I've been through all the therapy and am pretty aware of the dynamics of uncertainty intolerance and know it's not going away. I also know that I can't be direct and that he really needs a therapist or support group to speak with.

Any suggestions to get me breathing room are appreciated.
posted by Che boludo! to Human Relations (16 answers total)
How would he react to you simply blocking his number for a little while? Will that freak him out even more? If it's unlikely to escalate him, I would suggest that. From the sounds of it he is unlikely to change his thinking or how he's acting because of a single text message. But he might if he's given a wall of silence and a definite boundary.

If you can't go full no contact, you could try just telling him you need a break for X number of days and during that time you won't be reading or responding to his text messages. Or that he can text once a day and everything else you won't read. Something like that.

If that's unlikely to work, maybe something like: "Dad, you're freaking me out. Let's see what happens together. Please don't text me so much." Perhaps he just needs to know that you're on his side.
posted by fight or flight at 2:09 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

Honestly, more important than the message is that you send the same one over and over.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:09 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have been "no" contact and have put all notifications from him to silent so that at least in the evening I don't have to be stressed out. Also, the texts often start after 5pm - happy hour if you get my drift.

SO mania on one side, impulsive personality on the other + booze. As far as I know, none of the drinking is extreme (*as far as I know), but I believe verbal abuse starts flying around Most of his texts are not meaningful nor actionable. He needs his own validation I suppose and just to vent, but it freaks me out and I'm the place for him to find it.
posted by Che boludo! at 2:18 PM on May 23

"Dad, when you text me about Mom's meds, I always say the same thing, and it doesn't seem to be helping you.
From now on, I'm going to respond once a week to your texts, on Sundays" (or whatever day). Then follow through. If he calls you about the same subject, tell him you will text him on Sunday and end the conversation.

You can't make him stop texting, but you don't have to engage.
posted by wryly at 2:20 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]

Is your dad an alcoholic? If so... take that into consideration... as in... unless your dad gets help for it, it's not going to change. You have to decide how to hold your own boundaries. There's nothing you can say basically besides informing that you won't answer anymore texts because your mother will take her medication or not and you are not in charge of her. Tell him to call her doctor not you. Either he will or won't, but you can't help but at least a doctor might be a reality check.
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 2:31 PM on May 23

“Hi, Dad. It is not helpful for anyone for us to continue discussing Mom’s medications. Neither of us can accurately know, or effectively manage, her actions. Please do not raise the subject again. If you do, I will not respond.”

“Hi, Mom. I don’t feel comfortable being in the middle of your relationship with Dad. Please let’s not talk about him from now on. If you do, I will not respond.”

Then, don’t respond. Ignore texts, and bluntly change the subject or get off the call if speaking on the phone.

There is no argument here that can convince either one of them that you are right; they likely already know that you are right, but are seeking these conversations anyway because they don’t want to face that. The only thing you can do is enforce your own boundaries.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 2:35 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]

If the question is how to change his behavior, well, there's no perfect text that will work to do that. In fact, I'd say any text response from you is likely to encourage him to keep texting. If you are interrupting what you are doing to respond, then it seems like it'll dysregulate you and encourage him.

I'd tell him once or twice that you'll get back to him on DAY (once a week on Sundays?) and then leave it at that. And then it's about you regulating your response. It's great that you've silenced/hidden notifications. I think the way you get him off your back is to (to extend the metaphor) add grease to your back. Or whatever. What I mean is, he can still pester you, and you don't acknowledge or respond.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:49 PM on May 23

Hang in there.

Sometimes I do a “hug and redirect” — something like, “oh, man, I wish I knew! This is the part that makes me so anxious, hoping that she’s taking them, but there’s no way to know. We’ll see in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, dad, make sure you’re taking care of yourself - make sure you get out for a walk every day, or find some reason to get out of the house for a bit. I’ll be off line the rest of the evening, but I’ll check back in tomorrow. Love you both.”

And then do not respond to anything else the rest of the evening.

When you do respond, sometimes I avoid addressing anything the other person has said, and continue the hug and redirect narrative - “ hey dad, sounds like this is still making you anxious too. My fingers are crossed this part of it ends soon. Did you get for a walk? I saw this great bird / movie / book last night and I thought of you. I hope tonight goes better for both of you. Love you both. I’ll check in tomorrow.”

It’s this little dance of acknowledging without engaging. And remember - you really don’t have to engage with his questions or exhortations or reply to his questions or requests on HIS terms. From what you wrote, communication or boundaries aren’t going to work. Sometimes this does.
posted by Silvery Fish at 3:03 PM on May 23 [14 favorites]

My guess is that he’s using you as a neurochemical drip- riling you up to achieve an agitated / stressful state because adrenaline is a stimulant and makes his brain feel good. Once you see his behaviour in that way you learn it’s less important to reply because the thing he’s suckling at isn’t the information you provide, it’s the stimulus of the novelty that you replied at all. I would do this:

1. Hi dad, I’m going into a busy period at work so I’m removing alerts from my phone. I won’t be able to see or reply to any texts or calls. Email me if you need me!”

2. Block his number. Or at least silence his alerts and remove the “new text” notification so you can check his texts just once a day when YOU want to.

3. Filter his emails into a folder (mine is called TEH DRAMAZ - a funny folder name helps somehow)

4. Check emails from him twice a week and respond.

5. For added self-awareness (maybe), you can copy all of his many messages into one long email and respond point by point as if you’re his lawyer. He might then notice that he’s being repetitive.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:12 PM on May 23

"I don't know any more than you do, and that's not going to change. I'm not going to answer this question anymore." Period. If your situation were less fraught a "but I'd love to hear about your day" or whatever might soften it but it sounds like that's not the right move here. Or, yes, redirecting to a weekly check in"because you're really busy right now and spending focused time away from your phone" and not answering texts between, or whatever works for you.

I'm sympathetic to his anxieties, I know how much it sucks being the spouse of the manic person off their meds, but it's not your job to deal with that for him. I might also back off the support groups- frankly, a lot of "support" systems for spouses of people with bipolar are absolutely fucking terrible. If you can't pre-vet the specific suggestions, maybe better to just not.
posted by Stacey at 3:22 PM on May 23

You know how politicians in debates answer the question they want to answer, not the question asked?
. If you know his interests, distraction may help. You might enjoy this video of the musicians you like. or maybe This video about supporting family members is good.
. Or mindless enthusiasm and deliberately ignoring his persistent demand Isn't it great that Mom is taking new medications. I have a good feeling about this.
. Helpfulness I won't be discussing this. The Crisis Center number is 292-555-5555 if you need to talk to someone about your obsessive feelings and your anxiety.
. Or honesty I'm glad Mom has new meds. I'm not going to track her meds or help you track her meds. What a nice sunny day; I hope you get outside.
. Kindness that acknowledges his feelings but does not agree to fix them. It's hard to be patient, but that is your only choice. A walk will help you.
. Challenging You're expressing severe levels of anxiety; please call your doctor to get some help with this.
For any of these, find a few ways to say the same thing, copy & paste and move on.

It must be very difficult to deal with his intrusiveness and inability to listen while you're concerned about your Mom and him. Hugs if you want them.
posted by theora55 at 3:24 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

"He's counting her pills and it appears she is not, BUT she tells me she is, BUT we can't know for sure."

Yeahhhh, so this is like media quoting two positions in an 'unbiased' way, which actually means one of them is probably a straight up lie.

It's really distressing having someone lie to your face, regardless of whether they're manic or not, and people start looking for outside validation that *they* aren't going crazy - eg gaslighting.

Your father obviously has issues too, he's stayed with your mum this long, but I wonder if he's seeking validation for his reality - which makes sense: "Your mother says she's on her meds but if so, they appear to be invisible meds that don't exist to be counted, and if she was on meds she probably wouldn't be manic, right? And she *is* still manic, right?"

So my short statement to him, would probably be something like:
"You're almost definitely right, she's probably not taking her meds, and she's definitely still manic, but there's still nothing we can do about that unless she becomes at risk of harming herself or others. I'm still trying to encourage her to take meds, and that's all I can do at the moment"
posted by Elysum at 3:29 PM on May 23 [9 favorites]

To directly answer the question, I was thinking something along the lines of "The only one who knows with certainty if she's taking her meds or not is mom. I only know what she tells me. I am encouraging her to take them. She tells me she is taking them. That is all I know". Repeat as needed.
posted by cgg at 4:07 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]

I'd keep it super, SUPER short (especially if he's drinking which will make him muddy any wordy reply). If his texts aren't actionable, I'd do some version of:

"I know you're [worried/upset/whatever word you think fits best]. I am sorry. I don't have any new information. Hang in there."
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:30 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]

I honestly think you could just reply “yeah” or “uh-huh” or “no” or do the emoji equivalent of this. I think you need to make yourself so uninteresting and bland that he stops turning to you for this. I also support completely blocking him and/or responded only once a week with banalities.
posted by CMcG at 7:06 AM on May 24

Honestly, more important than the message is that you send the same one over and over.

Yep. And "🤞" is pretty quick to send.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

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