#362: Go the F*** to Sleep

Dear Captain Awkward,

I write this as I lie in bed, too stressed to sleep. You think tonight I’d be feeling good. After more months then I’d like to admit to, I’ve finally got an interview on the books for one of the many jobs I’ve been applying for – one that I really want too.

There is, however, something of a problem that’s stressing me out.

The job is interstate. Which of its own is not a huge deal. I have family there who I like and get on with who will help me out and are enthusiastic at the possibility of me being closer by.

My mother is not one of them. She lives here. Not too close by – a blessing since we don’t get on fantastically – but close enough. And as yet she doesn’t know about the potential move. She won’t react to it well and since she doesn’t believe in keeping feelings held in I don’t plan on telling her bupkis until its a done deal.

I know how she’ll react. She’ll feel abandoned and that I’m choosing those other relatives (who she hates) over her. And considering the dramas I dealt with from her when I visited them earlier this year, news about me moving lock and stock will sound the deaths knolls on an already rocky relationship.

I guess my question is what to do and how to do it. As a long time mummy’s girl who has already weathered the souring of what used to be the single most important relationship in her life, I’m finding the looming end of it a bit hard to handle.

Yours sleeplessly,

Stressed out.

Dear Stressed Out:

It is so awesome that you got an interview for a job you want! That is great news! You are fantastic! I am sure that you will rock it, and I sincerely hope that you get an offer!

Look in the mirror: You look great!

Look at your resume: You are intelligent, experienced, and good at spelling!

Look at the town you’ll be moving to if you get the job: You have family there and it will make your transition so much easier! They will be so excited to have you nearby and you will be able to be closer with them!

That is how someone who is rooting for you will treat this prospect and how they will treat the news that you got the job. Sorry that you can’t count on your mom in the “rooting for you” department.

It would be natural and understandable for your mom to feel pangs and worry about missing you if you move away. My mom is sad that I live far away from her, and frequently expresses a wish that I’d live closer, but the difference is that she doesn’t shit on my dreams in the process. It would be great if a full-time film & video production faculty job opened up in New England (Know of any? SRSLY) and greater still if I got the job, but she doesn’t sabotage me or make me feel crappy and afraid in order to try to get me to stay closer. Because those are her feelings to manage, not mine to build my entire life around. If something great came my way and it brought me closer to my dreams she would say “Go get it” no matter where it was located.

However, you don’t have the job yet, so all of this anxiety is of the free-floating kind. Your imaginary Future Mean Mom (who is realistically based on Current Known Mom) is in your brain being a jerk to you. You can tell her to go away if you want to.

Banishment Exercise:

1. Draw a picture of her. Label it “Future Mean Mom.” You can make the picture very unflattering if you want to. No one will see it but you.

2. Look at the picture and say “Shut up, I’m trying to sleep.” Put the picture in a drawer or a box and then put the box on a high shelf or in the garage or basement.

3. Say “Self, if I get the job and have to make a choice about this, those will be good problems.”

4. Make some chamomile tea or other hot soothing beverage of choice.

5. Lay out your clothes for your interview. Shine your shoes, employ your lint brush, etc.

6. Between now and the interview and receiving the offer, talk only to nice people who will root for you. You are smart to present this to your mom as a fait accompli rather than inviting Future Mean Mom to come live with you in the here and now.

7.  Go the f*** to sleep.

That should get you through tonight and the next few days, right?

Next steps:

1. ROCK your interview.

2. Hopefully get awesome job offer.*

3. Negotiate awesome salary, benefits & relocation package.

4. Sign papers and accept job.

5. Keep talking only to nice people who root for you.

7. When you’ve accepted an offer, tell your mom, “Great news, I got a job! I will be a (job title) at (company). I start on (date)!

Okay, so here’s the real advice:

When talking to your mom about this, do not acknowledge any of the rocky history with relatives or that you expect this will have a bad affect on her or the relationship. Treat her as if she is a normal mom who will do the normal thing and be happy and proud for you. Treat it like something worth celebrating because it is. In fact, you can say “Can I take you to lunch later this week and we can celebrate? I’d love to see you!

If she’s going to be nasty about it, let her do ALL the work. You are enthusiasm personified and she cannot bring you down.Let her moan and groan and ignore it as much as possible to stay focused on the positive.

And then be ready for her with some short rehearsed responses:

  • “Well, I’m really happy and excited about this.”
  • “We’ll work out the logistics later. Right now I just want to celebrate and spend some time with you!”
  • “Wow.” (It really is all-purpose)
  • “Well, this is my day to be happy. Let’s save discussions about that for another time.**”
  • “Jeez, Ma, I didn’t get a new job AT you.”
  • “I haven’t really thought about that.*** Can I think about that and get back to you?””
  • “I know you don’t like them, but if I have to move away for work, I’d really like to be close to at least some family. Can you try to see it my way?”
  • “Well, I’m sorry to hear that you are disappointed. My mind is made up, so I hope you will find a way to be happy for me.”
  • She may try to make an issue of when you told her – After the fact, versus when it was happening. That’s a derail whether you were telling her something sad or something happy. It’s making your good news about her and looking for a reason to be angry about it. It’s making when you tell her things a relationship test. You can answer this very simply: “I didn’t tell you until it was certain – I didn’t want to everyone’s hopes up if it wasn’t going to happen.”

After that lunch or weird phone call where you break the news, I think you are going to be really busy with your move, so “I can’t talk right now, can we talk about this later?” will be your friend. Present any details of your move as “Great news!” as in “Great news, I found a place!” If she wants to see it as not great news, let her. You don’t have to do your feelings and her feelings. If it’s great news to you, it’s great news.

8. Move to awesome new place, be happy. Talk to or visit your mom periodically  and show her that you care about her and that moving hasn’t made you stop. When she gets sour and mean change the subject or get off the phone or out of the room. Teach her that if she wants a relationship with you, she has to be a basic level of nice.

9. When you get some time, consider seeing a therapist about Mom Stuff. That’s a big scary box of Mom Stuff you have there. Time to unpack some?

A short Difficult People review:

  • I think your mom would find a way to be disappointed or sour about whatever happens next in your life. Now it’s worrying you – What if I tell her and then she’s sour and horrible?  – but if you treat it as an inevitability it is (perversely) very freeing. If she’ll be upset no matter what you do, then why not do what you want and what you think is best for you?
  • Meet good behavior with kindness and encouragement and bad behavior with less contact. You can live with her ill feelings and disappointment, but not with her being mean to you and treating you badly. If she makes every interaction a negative, soulsucking experience where she berates you and tries to pull you into family drama, you’ll simply interact less. If she is nice, she will get your attention.
  • If you take on the threat of an emotional outburst or their eventual disappointment as your own and let it dictate how you live your life, you do all their work for them and they win. Let them do that hard work of worrying and being mean and sucky.

Please don’t let your worry about this sabotage a great opportunity for you. Your relationship with your mom might get better with time and distance as you’re allowed to set boundaries and choose more when and how you interact. For now, treat your mom as if you expect her to react normally and let her feelings and reactions be what they are. You can deal with them. Banish Future Mean Mom to the dustbin or the closet and get some sleep, ok?


*If for some reason you do not get awesome job offer, apply cake/liquor/time with hilarious & encouraging friends as needed and then repeat process of applying for awesome jobs.

**Another time can = never.

***You have thought about it, probably, but this is a very useful thing that allows you to stall for time in the hopes that the mean person will forget what they were asking.

61 thoughts on “#362: Go the F*** to Sleep

  1. I whole-heartedly second all of the advice here. As someone who has a good relationship with my mom *because* I moved away, I feel you on the dread that telling her entails. But maybe it won’t be as bad as you think. When I told my mom that I was moving halfway across the country to go to college and then didn’t come back for grad school or law school, there was some initial grumbling, but she surprised me by stepping up and becoming supportive, especially when it became clear that being unsupportive wasn’t going to work. She still mentioned (repeatedly) that she missed me, but not in an undermining way, just in a mom way.

    Twenty years down the road (damn, I’m old), I think that my moving away* allowed my mother and I to create a relationship of equal adults, where I can draw boundaries and she can accept them. We’ve never been so close, even though I live away.

    *I still haven’t moved back, but I live on an hour and a half away, as opposed to 8 or 12 hours.

    1. This was my experience as well, even though my parents weren’t more than a 45 minute drive away (they lived beyond the bus lines, I had no car, they expected me to come visit them? yeah, no.). It took some adjusting on both sides, and a couple different attempts at “let’s meet up for lunch once a week” (and some awkward holidays), and a lot of me establishing myself on my own (which it sounds like the LW is already on top of).

      Having a “we are all adult equals here” relationship is so much better than the fights because I “wasn’t living up to my potential”/money/whatever.

  2. I, too, have a non-abusive but not best friend level relationship with my mom. We’re just not similar people, and she really images me spending my life living near my childhood home like she did when she graduated from the local college. I don’t see this happening, and when I went to college, I found that bullet points one and two from the difficult people’s list are true. If she’s calling to make me feel bad, I avoid. If she’s calling to tell me how the family is doing and how life is going, I listen. Saying, “I don’t want to discuss that right now”, “it’s a bad time”, or “can we just talk about (school, work, money, dad, sister, pets, ect.)” are great ways to reroute the conversation. And, if all else fails, the saying goes, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

  3. The mom advice here is spot-on and I don’t really have anything to add to it. But right now you are not sleeping and that is ratcheting up your anxiety about the whole thing. There are a few things you can do short term to help you rest.
    1) Some people find melatonin supplements to help get your body into sleep mode.
    2) Reading. Settling down with a nice book can help distract your mind from the situation. This isn’t the time for heavy reading though. In college I used to pick up a Harlequin romance at finals time so that I could shut off after study time.
    3) Television. This is my current go to. Again, I choose carefully, my current insomnia choices are Antiques Roadshow and History Detectives. Both interesting (at least to me) but not emotionally draining. My sister used to watch the golf channel.
    4) Short term meds. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer I had a really hard time sleeping. After a few days I begged my doctor for help and he gave me a sample pack of Ambien. I only ended up using it for two nights, but that was enough to get me back to a relatively normal sleep cycle.
    Hope this helps.

    1. I have found that audio books, podcasts, or lectures work better for me than TV. With television I have both light and moving pictures that seem to keep me awake longer. With audio books or podcasts, I can listen to the words enough to distract the Jerkbrain and get off the Jerkbrain roller coaster. But, whatever works, sleep is a Good Thing.

      1. Seconding this. I have a set of soothing-voiced podcasts and audiobooks (often things I’ve already heard before, so I don’t mind losing my place or missing stuff as I drift off), and I set up my mp3 player to shut itself off after a particular length of time so it doesn’t keep running all night. Gives my brain enough to grab onto that it doesn’t hamsterwheel all night, but not so much that it keeps me up.

        1. Thirding this. My husband is really sensitive to noise so I listen to podcasts through my Sleepphones (headband with flat speakers inside). I love them, although I do sometimes get tangled up in the cord if I sleep with them on all night. They’re great for travelling, too.

          When I was in the depths of depression a while ago, podcasts were invaluable in distracting my jerkbrain long enough for me to get some rest. My personal favourite going-to-sleep podcast is Astronomy Cast, because the subject matter is totally separate from what I do during the day, both the hosts have soothing voices, and if I genuinely can’t get to sleep I end up learning something. I’m also not emotionally invested in astronomy as I am in, say, a fiction audiobook, which helps me switch off. Astronomy also helps me regain perspective about things I’m worried about vs the size and scope of the universe (although that might just be me).

          I also really like Gardeners’ Question Time from the BBC as a brain wind-down, although it does occasionally have some weird gender and class stuff in it. (Tired jokes about husband-wife relationships, that kind of thing.) YMMV.

        2. Yeees.

          This is why I end up buying new audiobooks by Stephen Fry when I get sick. It’s perfect for the situations where my body goes: “I’m so sleeepy”, but my brain goes: “but sleepy is so boooring”. (My inner voices get really whiny when I’m sick. Deal with it.)

          I’ve also had success with the soothing podcasts-route. British panel shows work really well for me. (Just a minute, News Quiz, The Unbelievable Truth…)

          1. Okay, so I’m kind of podcast-impaired because I almost never listen to podcasts (they don’t fit well into the rest of my day). But these sound like something I should definitely try at night. I know how to subscribe through iTunes–is that where you get them or is there some other source? Not trying to get a detailed explanation but would love the bare bones if you have a moment. Thank you!

          2. Hey, sorry, didn’t see this before now.

            Yes, I mostly find stuff on itunes. If you’re into british panel shows, I’d suggest “Friday Night comedy” and “comedy of the week”. “comedy of the week” changes the type of show every week, so sometimes you’ll hit gold and sometimes you’ll hit delete. “friday night comedy” changes every 8 weeks or so (usually between the same two shows)

            BBC has a page listing available podcasts here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts

            I’m sure other people have much better podcast-skills than I do, I mainly just stumble across some interesting stuff and then listen to it forever and ever.

          3. Thanks! That was really helpful and I appreciate your taking the time. I listened to Friday Night Comedy and also Just a Minute when making dinner tonight (in unusual peace and quiet…) and really enjoyed both; could see how they would also be soothing bedtime choices.

      2. The blue wavelengths of light can actually be somewhat stimulating (disclaimer: NOT ALL BRAINS ARE THE SAME), so I also go with soothing audio. There are some great websites out there with free audio books of stuff old enough to be in public domain. Sometimes the readers are pretty good. (Sometimes they’re pretty bad. But, hey, free.) Melatonin can also be helpful, although see above disclaimer.

        1. De-lurking to share one of my favorite recent finds, f.lux. It automatically changes your computer settings from blue to orange light in the evenings, which is supposed to be more relaxing at night. I still try not to use the computer right before bed if possible, but the app does seem to help me transition into nighttime mode: http://stereopsis.com/flux/

      3. I third this! Audiobooks work great to shut down my jerkbrain. It’s best to listen stuff you’ve already heard or read – I found this out after I woke up in the middle of the night a few times and heard the ending, or an important part I was still far from (Actually, that’s how I found out a few characters died in A Game of Thrones)….

    2. I listen to This American Life episodes I’ve already heard when I can’t get my brain to shut off. Ira Glass has such a relaxing voice but I don’t get so into the reruns that I stay awake through them.

    3. another idea–journalling before bed w/750words.com or paper. write down all your swirly thoughts, put them aside.

      OTC sleep meds and allergy meds are the same thing, difft price. diphenhydramine.

      uber-mellow podcast recommendation: zencast if you have any interest in buddhism. if you might like mindfulness (without the buddhist part), jon kabat-zinn has a number of books that usually have a cd attached with an excellent body scan meditation and some others. here’s a youtube vid of a talk he did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc

      i also use simplynoise.com on my laptop next to the bed all night–i set it to oscillating and it sounds like ocean waves if you do pink noise.

      1. Seconding the recommendation of mindfulness stuff, and especially Jon Kabat-Zinn. Has helped me enormously, and requires no set of beliefs – it’s just practical tools for dealing with emotions and argh in the moment.

      2. I definitely pray when all my swirly thoughts get too swirly and specifically say or think “ok, I’m handing over my burdens for a while”. Even if you aren’t religious, its a good exercise. Address your emotions/anxieties, feel them and them visualize letting them go (to God, to the wind, put them on an imaginary boat and put them out to sea, it really can be anything). It definitely doesn’t get rid of the issues but it does clear my mind long enough to do what I need to do (in this case, fall asleep).

    4. There’s a series of books called things like sunshine and starbright and moonbeam that my mom used to read to help my brothers and I go to sleep.

      The basic premise is that there are prompts that give you something to think about other than whatever it is that’s bothering you- like visiting a star, or growing a garden full of magical fruit or something else. I obviously don’t have/use these particular books anymore, but I find that telling myself some sort of story is often helpful when trying to sleep. Nothing action-y, though, because that usually makes me more awake, not less.

    5. Or if there is anything you like that you have memorized, when I’m having trouble with stress and sleep, I start reciting in my mind. It’s relaxing enough that I can move into sleep, and gives my mind a focus that keeps me from thinking and rethinking about stressors. I like poetry, myself, and keep a memorized stock of poems for these occasions. But just about anything would work.

    6. Every time I’ve gotten sleeping pills I’ve been told, use them three nights in a row, that should reset your clock. (Unfortunately it doesn’t for me – I got 12 hours sleep the first night and was groggy all the next day, then 8 hours the next night, and 6 the third, and then avoided ever using them twice in a row again and still ended up having to take twice the high end of the recommended range for them to do anything, but that’s just my weirdness.) IIRC, you’re not supposed to use actual sleeping pills more than three nights in a row – mild sedatives are better if you need something every night.

    7. To deal with anxiety in college, I decided that once I got in bed, I was NOT ALLOWED TO WORRY. If thinking about real-life things spiraled into worrying, I wasn’t allowed to think about them either. Instead, I could lie there and think about anything I wanted that was positive or pleasant or soothing, any book, any movie, any daydream. And you do have to mindfully train yourself to turn anxiety off. But what I eventually ended up doing was imagining places to build up around myself–mansions, castles, secret lairs–and it kind of turned into geek/fantasy interior decorating. One time I thought about how you might turn an abandoned library into a home. You could have a hobbit hole! Or the palace of Versailles! Or a spaceship (I don’t know as much about spaceships)! The trick is to get really, really into it, to come up with as many details and as complex a space as possible in your mind. Build a garden, build a labyrinth, build a city, get all Inception up in that shit. Don’t write it down, don’t draw it out. Just think about it. It sounds like it would keep you up, but it almost always works for me.

      You can think about more than just buildings and locations, obviously, but for me, I find it extra relaxing because it doubles as a place where no one gets to come in and there is sweet blessed silence all the time omg. So there can be kind of a therapeutic aspect to what you choose to imagine. “But who cleans a place that big, and how do you pay the–” SHHHH. THERE ARE NO WORRIES IN THE CAKE ROOM.

      1. The cake room! That sounds completely charming. Also handy for situations where you’re awake but want to take your mind off something, or just being in a queue…

      2. Oo, this sounds like a great alternative to my usual go-to, which is imagining flying up through the ceiling, over my city, and then flying wherever. Paris, African savannahs, Middle-earth, whatever. I’m flying. I can’t worry about whatever because HELLOOOOO, flying here!

        Sometimes if I get on the anxiety hamster-wheel, I imagine whatever’s got me going as a big wad of something or annoying papers. These are firmly placed in a box marked “TOMORROW” which is then taped shut and put in a (mind)closet. Then it’s time to fly away from that closet. PERHAPS TO YOUR CAKE ROOM I HAVE HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT.

      3. I do this, and it’s totally awesome. Works as a way to stop obsessing things, too; just jerk your train of thought sideways and obsess over The Mansion I Will Build When I Win The Lottery instead.

        My cocktail restaurant in space turns out to be a great place to relax 🙂

    8. I do the TV thing to wind down myself. I put on my pjs, turn on a cartoon I’ve watched before, have a pot of tea- I love Evening in Missoula- to sip, and cuddle down. I’m dozing by the 2nd episode. I prefer My Little Pony or Pound Puppies because they’re sweet and calming without too much substance. You don’t miss anything when you fall asleep. Pinkie Pie silences my Jerkbrain like a mute button.
      Haven’t tried to podcast ideas suggested below.

    9. The therapist I saw for stress/anxiety (that led to non-sleeping) in high school had me do this, which I have found incredibly helpful in the… 13… years since: for *me* (LW’s situation is a bit different, but it may be adaptable) I have trouble sleeping when I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do and/or worrying about what’s expected of me. So if I’m going around in circles on that, I turn the light back on, grab a piece of paper and write out a list of all the stuff I’m stressing out over.

      Once I’ve got an actual list, it feels less overwhelming, because hey, it’s all written there in text. It’s not some horrifying ever-changing monster thing — and because once it’s written down, I know I’m not going to forget anything. (One of the things that will literally jerk me awake is going “Oh my god! I can’t forget that I said I’d do XYZ first thing tomorrow!” Jotting it down is so simple and so great.) Also, once I’ve got a list I can pick something that’s very immediate (“I really, really should have done the dishes before bed and now I can’t sleep because DISHES” = getting up and doing the darned dishes) or at least start to plan and prioritize for the next day. (“The easiest thing on this list is Q, so when I get up I’ll handle that and that won’t be so bad…” And then the next day I can cross stuff off a list! Crossing stuff off is such a great feeling.)

      Anyway, having it all out there as a real, actionable thing actually calms me down quite a bit because it makes me feel much more in control, so some of that anxiety floats away. Other folks’ mileage may totally vary, though, since that’s all just my own, personal cause of sleeplessness.

  4. We got some of this when Mr. Vintage got his job 4+ hours away. His mom was supportive but in the “I have to be happy for you but I’m really not so I’ll be a little passive aggressive about this” and his Dad… Well, he spent the entire supposed “celebration dinner” as one massive guilt trip for abandoning him. It’s been 3 years and he STILL makes comments to that effect (and now so is MIL but she’s more mad that her first grandchild won’t be close by then for our sake.)

    The good Captain’s advice is spot on, though. It’s not precisely easy, but you’ve got to recognize their issues are THEIR issues, not yours!

    (And my family, in case you are wondering, were sad but super supportive. They were all either military or grew up in military families so moving away and never moving back again is the norm. When we leave the nest, we LEAVE the damn nest so Mom and Dad can enjoy their retirement thankyouverymuch!)

      1. http://www.ctfilmworkforce.com/ctfi_filmemployers.php

        also of interest but not built yet – CT Studios in Ellington Ct (about 1/2 hour from MA)
        CT Studios on Ellington Road and Fitch Boulevard:

        ‘The project, which was proposed to great fanfare in 2010, calls for four movie studios, a mill for the construction of sets, a hotel and commercial space on 40 acres in the southern part of town. The project still has momentum, Lipe said. The studios, according to Lipe, are approved and are ready for construction, but the developer, CT Studios LLC, does not have the OK to construct the hotel. CT Studios LLC recently filed a phasing plan that calls for the construction of two studios and the hotel, which needs a detailed site plan before moving forward’

        good luck!

    1. And Colgate is awesome! I credit it with some of the best parts of who I am. Not just the ethics classes I took, but the whole culture, in which figuring out who you are and what you believe and what your role in the world is going to be (definitely not just in a vocational kind of way) is really important regardless of your major. Alumni newsletters have convinced me that’s still a core part of what Colgate is, in a way that is perhaps not unique but certainly rare and special.

  5. LW, I am right there with you.
    I live with my mum and have been covering her rent and utilities and sometimes credit card for over 2 years now (I make minimum wage, so this is a massive stretch and my savings are completely wiped out).
    She shows almost no signs of generating any real income for herself (she picks up dribs and drabs but then will have 2 totally dry months in a row, etc.).
    My partner and I want a place of our own and have done for a very long time now and every time I think about leaving home I feel so very sick. Vomity sick.
    I once mentioned leaving home to study so I could further my career and her immediate response was “what about me?” which made my partner want to punch her (he was very good about it at the time though and didn’t say anything – honestly I don’t know how he does it, most men would have left our relationship by now, I think).
    I just feel bad because she doesn’t have a partner and she’d be living alone, which means she would get very depressed and continue on that spiral until she probably ends up like the other LW you published today with all the suicidal phone calls.

    She’s really done a number on me. 😦

    1. L, this was heartbreaking for me. Because of course you want to take care of your mother. But it sounds like your instincts to care for her are drowning you. Is there any way for you to do what you need to do to further your life and career, while keeping in mind that you will be better able to help her if you are more financially stable?

    2. What an awful situation. 😦 She is seriously endangering your life security – you’ve been dipping into your savings which you might need, especially since minimum wage jobs are not known for being secure themselves. Her credit card especially is NOT something you should be having to pay (rent and utilities either really). What happens to the money she does earn? Can she not get any financial assistance?

      L you are not responsible for her happiness. You have gone above and beyond already, you’ve compromised your life for her, and in return she’s emotionally manipulating you into feeling like you’re still not good enough.

      There are things she can do for herself here – find a therapist at a low cost or sliding scale clinic, or even call free support helplines. Join social groups in the area, like craft groups or book clubs or, I don’t know, lawn bowls or something. Anything that would get her meeting people and leaving the house. If the income issue is because she’s not really looking for work, that’s not your problem. If it’s because there isn’t any work, it’s still not your problem even if it is more understandable, but depending on what she has experience at meeting people might help her find something else anyway.

      But those are all things SHE has to do. Not you. You can come up with suggestions for her, you can even research things in the area she might be able to do or would enjoy, but you can’t make her do any of it. It’s quite likely she’ll be miserable whatever you do. She’s probably miserable right now. So if you get the chance to leave and you do so, it won’t be your fault that she’s sad. But if you stay, all of you will be sad, and that’s just not a good situation. She’s like this huge dark tree that’s blocking all the sunshine and leeching all the nutrients from the soil and taking all the space so you can’t grow or put down roots yourself. You need sunshine too, L. You can’t keep going like this and putting this stress on yourself and your relationship.

      I would probably suggest doing a few different brainstorms:

      – things you think would help your mum that you can suggest she do
      – things that would help YOU. that might be moving to somewhere nearby so you can still see her. it might be moving somewhere far away. obviously involve your partner in this one, he might have some ideas that are different from yours and you’ll want to know what he thinks would be good. try to pretend that there is no reason you can’t do this stuff, don’t moderate your ideas as being too difficult because of your mother.
      – things that will help you in the super short term. going to the park when she’s stressing you out? voicing your feelings? try to make it small things that you can just go and do, not stuff where you’ll be thinking “oh god, but that’s so huge” and getting overwhelmed.

      If any of the ideas involve telling her anything, plan it in advance so you know exactly what you’re going to say. Use scripts that have come up on CA before! “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I don’t want to have this conversation right now” or anything like that. Practice saying it, in front of the mirror or with your partner. Things you want to suggest she does you can say, “Mum, I’m really worried about you, do you think it would help if you started [x]? I can help you by [y].” Make [y] as concrete as you can so that she doesn’t stretch it out beyond what you can reasonably offer.

      But that second brainstorm? That doesn’t need to involve her. That’s for you and your partner. Set a timeline for when you want things to happen, and tell her only when you’ve made decisions. Not “I’m thinking about maybe going back to school sometime” but “I’m going to do some courses next year to boost my CV so Partner and I are going to be moving to Other Town in Some months.” When she protests: “I know this is probably scary for you, which is why I’m telling you now, so you can plan in advance what you’re going to do.” If you feel so inclined you can add, “I can help you by [y] but you’ll need to make your own decisions because Partner and I will be busy making our arrangements as well.” (But you don’t have to. Again, not your responsibility.) And if you need to be really blunt you might try, “Mum, I can’t keep paying your bills. My savings are nearly gone. I’m not comfortable going into debt for you and I don’t think you would really want me to.”

      I know you didn’t ask for advice but your description of feeling “vomity sick” is just so not good and your whole comment makes me hurt for you. I would send you a basket of your cute animal of choice if I could.

    3. That’s awful. Whether somebody is your friend, spouse, parent, child, whatever, you don’t get to turn them into your sole support system. Nobody can be that for you.

    4. Oh L, that is not right for you! You’re savings is gone and you’re drowning and your mom is pulling you under. The fact that your mom is able to pick up “dribs and drabs” still show she is capable of getting a job but she’s choosing not to keep them because she has you and your partner to fall back on. I strongly suspect she can figure out how to maintain herself if you are out of the picture. She’s been an adult a lot longer than you have been. To put it bluntly, I ditched my mom after supporting her for 5 years (she lived with me too) and I come to find out years later while she lived with me she was squirreling away her own savings and investments and now she has a comfortable semi-wealthy life, this woman only had sporadic part-time jobs for three years at most. During those 5 years (and 20 years before, lets be honest) she acted helpless, naïve, and dumb which she was none of it. She claimed depression (maybe it’s true, I don’t know) and made vague threats of suicide, but since she refused all my attempts to get her to the doctor I said, “fine!” and left her to it and told her I have the numbers of her siblings, doctors, and social services if she goes through with her threats of suicide and/or poverty. Today she’s still doing very well and I never had to call those numbers.

      1. Oh My…. That…. What…. I just…. Okay, all I could really say would be very ranty and in all caps and let me just say, that was not okay of your mother. Just not. Wow.

    5. Others have given wise advice. I would just like to add this:

      ‘I just feel bad because she doesn’t have a partner and she’d be living alone, which means she would get very depressed’

      I don’t have a partner, and I’ve lived alone for the last five years, and I’m happy as a pig in mud. Being single and alone doesn’t make you depressed, it’s how you live your single life. And that is *entirely* up to her.

      Happiness comes from within, not without. You can’t give it to her; and you can’t take it away, either.

    6. L, I want to reach through the computer and hug you. What your mother is doing is WRONG. Parents owe their children a loving, supportive upbringing, not the other way around. It was her job to parent you. Clearly, you turned out to be a kind and loving individual. Now it’s YOUR job to move on with your life and become an independent adult. It’s not your job to cover her bills.

      I have seen this in my own family. Trust me when I say there will never be “enough” for her. There will never be a real end-date to the support you give her, because there will always be some reason, some emergency, some crisis that she will have to make sure you are stuck right where she wants you. People like this are vacuums of need, sucking away your time, money and energy. There will never be enough to fill her up. She will always need just one more thing.

      Yes, she’s done a number on you. And yes, you should be really sad about the situation. But you should also get angry. She is endangering your relationship, your livelihood, your ability to establish a happy, successful life. Because it’s more important for her to be taken care of than for you to be happy.

      Anger is a much more motivating emotion than sadness. And frankly, you deserve to be angry. You deserve to live through that part of the process to heal and move on. Even if you feel sick. Even if she cries and gets angry, you need to start the steps to move out on your own ASAP. Life is too short to live unhappy and afraid.

      Many many MANY hugs to you.

      1. Thanks for all the internet hugs and advice, guys!

        Now I just have to convince my partner that it might be excessive to move to a 3-bed house straight away (we don’t have kids or anything and no plans for any, so that’s A LOT of space for just 2 people) because mum staying overnight could potentially turn into “you guys have spare rooms, can I stay for a couple of nights?” which might grow into her eventually moving in again.

        But – moving within a month! Yay!

        1. Wow, this is huge! Good luck with moving. Once you’re out, maybe you can figure out some boundaries you would like to keep with your mother so that she won’t be able to take this unfair kind of advantage of you again. Good luck with that, too.

        2. Ah I’m so happy for you, L! Good luck and take care!
          I have a spare guest room in my house and whenever my mom tries to passively-aggressively stay beyond the agreed time frame with the goal of moving in with me (again)….
          Me: “No” and silence
          Mom: “Whyyyyyyyyy”
          Me: “No” and walk away to do chores around the house
          Mom: “I have health issues – mental issues- you owe me issues- your brothers and sisters turned you against me- you’re not on my side – you’re an ungrateful spoiled bitch.”
          Me: Leave the house to have brunch/lunch/dinner/see movies with friends. End result is she’s still not moving in with me.

  6. Definitely don’t tell her bupkis till it’s a done deal.

    If you live somewhere that you can, going for a nice long stroll at night will often help get me tired enough to go the f*** to sleep.

  7. Years ago I had a friend who was in love with me. He never reached the stage of threatening self-harm to get the kind of attention from me he wanted, as in the previous letter, but my hinting at any kind of interest in anybody else would send him into a spiral of sadness, which he would likely share with me.

    The friend eventually decided he couldn’t be in contact with me anymore. I was really sad about it and missed him. But something interesting happened. I was going to meet a guy I’d encountered online, and I idly wondered if he’d be cute. Reflexively I thought, “And then I’d have to tell [friend].” And then I thought, “Wait, no I wouldn’t.” And then I felt lighter than air.

    I realized that my anxiety around my friend’s hurt feelings had escalated to the point where I couldn’t even fantasize about guys I knew I’d never have without working in the part where I had to tell my friend about it. It was ridiculous. And I resolved that if my friend made a reappearance (which he did a few months later), things were going to change.

    Predictable negative emotional reactions are hard to deal with, and sometimes we go too far in bracing ourselves for them, doling out in our own minds a hundred times the punishment than we would get from them. Despite the above story, I never got good at combatting that — I just got better at recognizing it for what it was.

    tl;dr: You’re not the only person to lose sleep over the mere anticipation of a bad reaction. If any of the Captain’s suggestions work, they’ll stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. Good luck!

  8. So once upon a time (erm, turns out it was like 32 years ago — eek!), my mom drove me from the west coast (where she lives and where I had, until then, lived my whole life) to New England so I could go to graduate school. On the way, we stopped in northern Wisconsin to visit my grandparents on the farm where my mom grew up.

    So we’re sitting around in the living room after supper when my mom says, “I figure she’s likely to stay on the east coast forever. She really likes it there, but 3000 miles is a long way for a daughter to go.”

    To which my grandmother replied, “From a practical standpoint, how is 3000 miles really any different than 1500 miles?”

    My mom was taken aback but then she saw how funny it really was. Just reminding her of it makes her laugh even now, all those years later.

    I mention this because at the time, the whole thing was very fraught for me. Her mentioning it to her mother seemed like an attack on me, right up until my grandmother made her point. At which point, I got glimmer of how it was really anxiety about me actually growing up and having a life that she couldn’t protect me from anymore.

    Over time, I learned to deal with my feelings about the whole mother/daughter thing and to let her deal with hers. Therapy helped, but so did having that life of my own. When we could both see that I was doing okay at leading my life (most of the time anyway), we were able to stop interpreting each other’s actions as being aimed at each other.

    I learned that my mother sometimes expresses her own anxiety or insecurity by displacing them onto me. And I learned to let her deal with her own feelings by engaging her warmly and focusing on whatever we were doing at the time.

    It’s important not to take responsibility for your mom’s upsets, even in your head. Accept that who your mom seems to be includes wanting you to do things her way, feel how she feels, and never ever do anything that suggests you might make different choices for yourself than she would make for you. Then live your life the best way you can figure out to live, invite your mother to participate in that life, but don’t engage if she starts in on judging your choices or on trying to live your life for you.

    Congratulations on making it to the interview! Hang onto the good feelings from that, and claim your life with both hands.

  9. LW, you never know – your mom may surprise you. I was DREADING telling my mom when I got pregnant because, based on her past behaviour/personality I expected her to completely freak out and start mailing me vitamins or sending me articles from Natural News or calling me to tell me her chiropractor specifically said I should avoid even LOOKING at wheat and being all OMG WHAT ARE YOU THINKING by having a midwife instead of an OB and of course you need a car now, but you can’t afford a car so here is a car! and generally sticking her oar in and trying to take over because I love my mom, but that’s who she is…except she didn’t do any of that. She totally stepped back and was awesome and supportive in exactly the way I needed her to be.

    YMMV (your mom may vary), but it is possible that she will be big enough to put her insecurities aside and be happy for you. If not, do what the Captain said.

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