#606: How do I come out to my abusive parents about being on antidepressants?

Dear Captain, 

I need scripts, and I need them ASAP.

I have 24 years of reasons (emotional abuse and toxic family environment) to hide why I am on antidepressants from my parents, and I have been doing so successfully for a year, paying for them out of pocket, because I am on a medication where I can afford that, though I am not in a position where I can yet go off my parents’ (very good) health insurance for my other (costly) health problems. My SSRIs have been great for me-I respond well to them and I am getting through grad school very well with thousands of miles of distance from my abusive parents, plenty of therapy, and at long last, medication I probably needed years ago! (medicate those brain weasels, plus learning weasel-charming techniques!)

But. I just found out that some no-doubt well-meaning person at my pharmacy put my most recent refill on my insurance, which my medical-trained mother goes through line by line every month.

I am desperately hoping she does not tell my dad, because that would make things a thousand times worse. As it is, she is probably going to corner me with the “But why didn’t you tellllll ME” and “You didn’t say anything about how you feel to me BECAUSE I’M A BAD MOM” and “You obviously don’t think that I AM TRUSTWORTHY ENOUGH” and make it her, her, her and I am just….I don’t have any scripts for this. And I’m going to be visiting them for the next month, starting tomorrow. (Dad is a “Only the weak use medication” and “Try exercise” and “Drink St John’s Wort tea because they’re all placebos anyway” type.)

Please, Captain. I need your help. The last time something like this happened, Mom and I had a huge fight because I didn’t tell her about a panic attack I had-I didn’t want to tell her about it because she made it all about her feelings about it, but I wound up telling her that I was just too ashamed of it too tell her in order to get her to shut up, because she would not let me leave. I’ve already spent weeks psyching myself up to deal with how self-centered she is most of the time, and knowing that she’s going to be reviewing my insurance statement line by line and then making it all about her feelings about it has made that psych-up all but useless.

(I can’t cancel the trip, either. One of my best friends is getting married and I spent a month’s rent.)

~Forced Out Of The Antidepressant Closet

Dear Forced Out:

Rush answer coming your way!

Scripts cannot solve 24 years of abusive behavior and lack of respect for boundaries, and I’m sorry. I’m gonna give you some scripts, and your parents are going to say what they are going to say and do what they are going to do, and the script won’t fix that or pre-empt it. That doesn’t mean scripts aren’t useful. They help you say something back, so you’re not just taking whatever it is silently. They give you comfort in that you did your best to advocate for yourself – if the other people are acting badly, they can’t claim ignorance anymore, because you told them what was up. “Sorry, I didn’t realize.” “Well, good, that’s cleared up then.” If repeated enough times, they make it boring for the other person to interact with you around this one thing. They are a way to remind yourself of what is reasonable and how you want and deserve to be treated.

I know exactly why you are dreading this visit home, but I want to remind you that your parents acting in predictable, shitty, minimizing, self-centered ways is survivable. You’ve already survived it. You’re surviving it all the time. Whatever awkward bullshit they throw at you, you’ve already survived worse, because you used to have to live there and take it all the time and now you don’t.

You also don’t have any history or touchstone for having an adult relationship with your parents, of talking to them like adults, of being treated like an adult. So it’s very understandable that you would instantly regress when you go home, and, even though you obviously have a lot of success having adult relationships away from home. This isn’t about antidepressants: a good idea, yes or no? This is about dealing with unreasonable and abusive people around an area where you feel vulnerable, and about trying to psych yourself up to have your vulnerable places poked for their amusement or to shore up their self-image as good parents or whatever messed up reasons they have for doing what they do. You’ve been groomed and trained to give them outsized deference and to “behave” when they act unreasonably, and you’re not going to throw that off in one visit, so forgive yourself right now for probably not having some perfect awesome emotional Teflon abilities at the ready.

A reasonable parent would still be worried if they saw an antidepressant prescription pop up on the family health insurance bill, and a reasonable parent would probably still want to know that their child was ok and might ask about it. But they’d do it respectfully, like, “Hey, I saw some new meds pop up for you on the health insurance bill last month, and I don’t want to pry, but are you doing all right? Is there anything you need from us?” And you’d feel super awkward but you’d say “So far so good, my doctor thought it would be a good idea and it all seems to be working” and they’d go “Okay, that’s good. If there’s anything you need, don’t be shy, ok?” and you’d both feel awkward for a bit but the circuit of “I’m your parent and I will always love you and look out for you”/”I know! Thanks, but I got this one” would be complete and it wouldn’t loom over or wreck the entire visit or the day.  Chances are you would have told Reasonable Parent yourself long before then anyway. Unreasonable parents feel (correctly) like they are always the last to know certain information about their adult kids, but it’s a self-reinforcing cycle, where years of going apeshit about totally normal stuff makes their kids reluctant to invoke the apeshit reaction, so they withhold info.

Someone who didn’t grow up in a house where they were excessively monitored, a house where everything you do and think and say is a reflection somehow on your parents rather than about yourself, won’t hear the difference, but I do. This is for potential commenters who do not understand why the LW is so panicked about something that isn’t or shouldn’t really that big a deal. There are signals here that normal people with normal childhoods and normal relationships maybe cannot hear. I had an intercom in my room that was used like a baby monitor well into high school if I had friends over. My phone calls were monitored. My diaries were read and I was punished for things I wrote in them. My room and bookbags were tossed regularly like a prisoner’s cell. Of especial interest in these searches were notes passed between me and my friends, which we learned to copy out in Tolkien’s rune-script (long before the days of handy generators) even though we were just talking about homework and boys, not running a teenaged spy ring. I got good grades and did not do drugs or have teen sex or really do anything trouble-making wise that would invite such monitoring, so it’s not like my parents were genuinely concerned about trying to keep me out of jail or rehab or the arms of Satan. If it sounds surreal, it was. That stuff has stopped, and it all happened so long ago that it doesn’t seem real, which is part of the sense of unreality/disassociation that adult survivors of this stuff carry with them. We always feel like we’re overreacting, because we spent so much time under-reacting to truly bizarre things when we had no power to do otherwise.  “Is this normal? Am I overreacting?” we always ask.  Well, maybe you are and maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re just reacting. Maybe you’re just learning how to react finally. Maybe your ability to calibrate how you deserve to be treated and what is normal was severely stunted by people who had power over you, and you learned that your best defense was not reacting at all.

A question from the Letter Writer’s mom is never, never “just a question.” It can sound like a reasonable question, like, the above exchange, but it won’t be. I fully believe that your mom will ask about the meds in a way that implies that:

  1. She is owed all the details (bonus points if her exact words are “So, when exactly were you going to tell me about _________”?).
  2. That your mental health treatment is somehow a comment on something about her, or somehow affects her. Triple bonus points if she inquires about therapy from the telling angle of “I bet you’re telling them all about what a terrible mother I am” or other passive-aggressive (yet incredibly true!) comments.
  3. That you are keeping a giant secret that you should have told her, so what ELSE are you keeping from her? (Bonus if she uses this as a launching pad to body-shame you or police your sex life or choice of career).
  4. This is proof you can’t be trusted to take care of yourself/proof you don’t love her/proof she is a bad mother.
  5. And,  if you assert your right to medical privacy, she will remind you that you are on the family’s health insurance and she will somehow threaten to take that away from you if you don’t behave/conform/give her what she wants…even though, in the reasonable person’s world, using your medical insurance as it was intended is not a statement on your love for your parents, and in fact is proof that you are good at taking care of yourself and that your parents love you enough to provide medical insurance while you’re in school.
  6. You complete the bingo card of bonus points automatically if at any point your mom says “I’m just asking a question, I don’t understand why you’re so defensive/secretive.
  7. Infinity more bonus points if the conversation happens when you are a) trapped in a car or somewhere you can’t escape or leave or b) right when you are trying to get out the door to go to something wedding-related so that you can also have an argument about who is more important, the wedding that is the only reason you are coming to town at all vs. YOUR MOTHER WHO LOVES YOU AND JUST WANTS WHAT BEST FOR YOU.

Did I miss anything? You have been primed and raised to believe that all information about yourself belongs to your mom, and you are required to answer all of her questions fully, until she is satisfied, or else you are a bad child or somehow saying that she is a bad mother. And when you’re Through the Looking Glass into her effed up abuser’s perspective, it’s really hard to remind yourself that this is not normal and actually, you don’t have to answer all the questions, and you definitely don’t have to answer them to her complete satisfaction or have answers that are comfortable for her. I mean, a true, reasonable answer to “Do you talk about me, and family stuff in therapy?” Is “Doesn’t everyone talk about their family in therapy, at some point, even if it’s just to talk about patterns of thinking and behavior?” You don’t have to reassure your mom about what your therapist thinks of her.

Over here in the Reasonable World, lots of people are on antidepressants and it’s no big thing. Your mom’s medical training means that she should understand that medical decisions are best handled confidentially between a doctor and a patient and that it is a big no-no to diagnose or treat your own family. I predict that she will reject this appeal to logic because YOU ARE HER DAUGHTER and SHE KNOWS YOU BEST and other sundry reasons that every damn thing in your life has to be all about her, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not the right way to go after it when talking to her. The other thing to keep in mind is that the hard/bad stuff is being treated. The meds are working. So you don’t need advice or time to process or solve a problem, the problem is already being handled, correctly, which is good news. So the first batch of scripts can be something like:

  • “Oh yeah. My doctor recommended that I try this out, and so far it really seems to be working.”
  • “Handling this with my doctor really seems to be working.”
  • “My doctor is great, I feel a lot better since I started seeing him/her, and so far the meds really seem to be working.”
  • “Yeah, I had a bad patch, but once the meds kicked in I felt so much better.”

When you get the inevitable “But whyyyyyyyyy didn’t you tell MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE?” response, tell the bald truth. “I was a bit ashamed, especially since you and dad have said so many negative things in the past about people who need meds, and I feel kind of private about medical stuff anyway, so I chose to just handle it with my doctor. The good news is, it’s working!”

Then get ready to cultivate an air of confusion at the rest of her FEELINGSBOMB. “But do you think I’m a bad mom, you don’t tell me things, whyyyyyyyyyy we’re not close whyyyyyyyyyyyy” etc. “Uh, mom, where is this coming from? My mom is my mom. My doctor is my doctor. Some stuff, like brain chemistry, is doctor stuff. That’s not an insult, that’s being an adult. With a doctor.” You didn’t get depression AT her, you didn’t treat your depression AT her. People who react as if everything is about them invite and deserve the “I’m sorry you feel that way, but uh, I have to go into another room now” non-apology. Also, your mom is not entitled to know exactly when you went on the meds, what prompted it, how long you’ve been on them, that you’ve been paying for them out of pocket all this time, and I would not fault you at all if you were deliberately vague about all of that stuff. Doctors give free samples all the time at the beginning, btw, especially to poor grad students.

So say, “Mom, your questions about the logistics of all of this are making me really uncomfortable. I realize you’re still processing some stuff, but I’ve already told you everything I’m comfortable discussing with anyone who is not my doctor. And if your mom actually says “You obviously don’t think I’m TRUSTWORTHY enough” what if you said “Well, it’s about fixing my brain chemistry, not about you at all, actually.” Or what if you said “Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, but I’m much more comfortable discussing mental health issues with my doctor than I am with you and dad” instead of reassuring her? You could even be more reassuring about it, i.e., “I don’t need you to be my therapist. Just be my mom.” She’s been trying to trap you for so long, daring you to confirm or fail to reassure her that she’s the Most Special, making an issue of your past panic attacks into a referendum on her own need to be the Most Important Person In Your Life. You’ve been raised to believe that the world would end if you failed to reassure her in this call-and-response game. That she’d unleash something so hurtful and unpleasant or painful that it would be the Worst Thing In The World. Whatever That Thing is, I think you can survive it. I think you already have. I think you could again, on your own terms.

I realize we’ve focused a lot on your mom and not on your dad, who from your letter seems to be offering more general ignorant mental health stigma/dickhead responses than your mom’s “Come Into My Hellmaze of Abuser Logic Where I Hurt You And Then Beg You To Reassure Me” responses. His opinions on anti-depressants are just as crushing, and can be just as part of an abusive pattern in your house, but they don’t have as much of the “Your life is all about me me me” thrust as your mom’s stuff. I think he can be countered with some of the same scripts. “My doctor suggested it, and so far it’s really working.” “Well, couldn’t you just jog and drink St. John’s Wort tea?” “Maybe! But so far this is really working.” “Only the weak use medication.” “Well, that’s pretty insulting, Dad, but I guess I’ll be one of the weak people since this really seems to be working.” If he keeps pushing you, what if you escalated it instead of retreating? “Well, hey Dad, you’ve said so many jerky and insulting things about antidepressants in the past, it was actually my plan to never ever tell you about this very confidential and private medical decision I made. But, since the cat’s out of the bag, and since it’s working, me managing my brain chemistry is actually way more important to me than convincing you that it’s a good idea. The good news is that you can think whatever you want, and then I’ll keep doing what works for me.” If I’m right about the type of guy I imagine him to be, he wins when he draws you into a protracted discussion where he gets to demonstrate his “superior” man-logic and cow you into at least lip-service agreeing with him to get him to shut up. You win by making the conversation as short as possible (even if you end up conceding/agreeing, like, ‘Yep, I’m so weak! Time to take my Lexapro, tho”) and by not giving a fuck. You can win this one.

And if they won’t stop, leave the room. Leave the house. Go for a walk. Go for a drive. You can. I promise, you can. Your mom can feel bad and be very angry and not want to end the conversation, and your dad can feel like he wants to argue more, and yet, you can end it. When you were a kid, you couldn’t really do this, but you have leveled up now. Embrace it.

This is all going to feel really fucking scary, no lie. If you can call your therapist or a friend and rehearse stuff, do it. If you can be out of the house as much as possible on this visit, do it. Have a great time at the wedding. Invent wedding events if you have to. “Can’t stay, wedding pre-brunch wedding breakfast!” “Can’t stay! Afternoon wedding high tea with wedding things wedding wedding!” And hey, if she doesn’t even mention it, if none of this happens, then, great. Consider it a win. Things got slightly better in your life and your relationship with your mom. Not safe. But better. I don’t think it was a bad idea or an overreaction to be concerned or to want to prepare.

These scripts and strategies won’t make the overall relationship better this visit, or this instant, or maybe even this year. When you get back to school, I strongly recommend reading Karyl McBride’s book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? and maybe forming a little book club on that one with your therapist as you think about long-term stuff. Some stuff I’ve gleaned from reading that book, to give you a preview: Your mom (both your parents, but especially her) is unlikely to ever apologize, admit that she is out of line, or talk about past incidents of abuse honestly. There will always be this warp in reality between you, where your memories of your childhood will be treated like they are exaggerations and lies, and she will simply…not remember…things that she did and said, and you will second-guess yourself all the time, like, am I crazy? Am I misremembering? She is likely to see attempts at boundary-setting as direct personal attacks on her. To do otherwise profoundly threatens her self-image, and protecting her self-image is a lot of what motivates her to behave as she does. So you can waste a lifetime in trying to get her to apologize or looking for that cathartic moment when she acknowledges what she did and you have that healing, clearing-the-air discussion and resolution.

Sometimes relationships are so toxic that cutting contact is the right thing to do. But sometimes you (or we…this was also me) want to keep the lines open, for whatever reason. And it is possible, with time and some structure, to make things better. People  often mellow as they get older, and you’ll get older and get more autonomy and resilience and build up your skills in boundary-setting (and more able to afford hotels/rental cars and a place in the Fuck Its). There is no moment where they acknowledge your grownupness*, but there is actual power for you, to be accrued over time, in treating your parents as if they are reasonable parents and giving them whatever information you would give a reasonable parent and letting them have whatever unreasonable reaction they’re going to have. And then, when the tantrum or whatever is done, you go back to treating them like reasonable parents who will do the reasonable thing, as if the tantrum did not happen and you don’t give a single shit about it. And there is power in “I will stick around if you are nice to me, but if you are not nice to me and you disrespect my boundaries, I actually do not have to be here/answer this email/call you back.” People like your folks don’t really understand boundaries, but they do understand consequences, eventually. It’s a long journey, but since you are going to have the conflict anyway, deploying scripts can be a part of your own leveling up process as you practice resetting your relationship along more adult lines. Think of it as you extending an invitation to your mom to come function in the Reasonable World, with you. She can come over and hang out with you, or she can stay where she is, but you are not coming back to her world, ever.

Ok. Good luck. Have fun at the wedding. You’ve got the rest of this, and don’t be shy about checking back into this thread at any time if you need a place to vent about what’s happening throughout the trip.



*”Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just… take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that’s hard.” – Ekaterin, A Civil Campaign 

291 thoughts on “#606: How do I come out to my abusive parents about being on antidepressants?

  1. I emphasize SO MUCH. My parents are a lot like this, too, down to the dad who doesn’t Believe In Therapy. My question to the OP is: can you lie about what it’s for? This might even work even though (maybe because?) your mom has medical knowledge. I’ve been prescribed anti-depressents by my PCP (for sleep issues) and my GI doctor (for GI issues). Basically, there are reasons you could be having these pills that aren’t Because Therapy, but because of another reason they might be being prescribed. Can you say, “sorry, mom, I didn’t tell you, my doctor thinks I might have developed a GI problem and that this med could help. I didn’t tell you because it’s kind of gross and we’re still not 100% on what’s causing it. Sorry it’s gross!” and be as much “I’m a bad person with bad health issues because I’m a *bad person*, so I’m on bad meds”, so to make it about yourself so your mom can’t make it all about her, while also pre-emptively giving her a “reason” you’d be having it, because you’re bad? (note: I am not saying you’re bad! but this kind of tactic might work, depending on what your mom is like.)

    1. I totally understand the instinct to latch on to alternate reasons for the pills, the way that birth control also has multiple uses besides sexy fucking, but both antidepressants and birth control ALSO do exactly what they are supposed to do. Especially with a medically-trained mom, the risk is that she will zero in on each detail with laser-like precision to try to catch the LW in a lie, and she will also make the entire visit about “Are you sure you should be eating that? WITH YOUR GI ISSUES, I MEAN.” There will be a minefield whatever the LW says. A lie might just create more difficulty down the road, and require just as much work and defending as the truth.

      1. My sister has developed a means of “handling” our mother and her mother-in-law that relies on self-destructive language like this, and I think it is a pretty bad habit to get into. When every piece of news about your life has to be framed as you failing to do something they would have preferred you do and “having” to do what you actually want to do instead…well, that’s not what winning looks like to me. That’s not even survival, just you dancing around beating yourself up for her enjoyment.

  2. The Captain (as always) gives great advice. My family sounds a lot like yours, which is why my added advice would be BRING ONLY AS MANY PILLS (I assume they are pills) as you need and leave the rest far out of the reach of your parents. When I was in college my mom was displeased that I was using their insurance to see a therapist, would not let me use their insurance to see a doctor about my insomnia and also would not let me use hormonal birth control to control my dysmenorrhea because only horrible people who sleep with anything and everything use birth control! Because of the insomnia and other issues the therapist recommended a low dose of benadryl at night to induce some drowsiness, and it was working fabulously! Until my mom found it, flushed the benadryl, then searched my stuff and flushed anything else she could find because “you don’t want to end up like Heath Ledger and I’ve never had to use these so you shouldn’t either.”

    That experience was a lot of things, none of them pleasant, and that’s why my knee-jerk reaction is to keep as much of it as you can stashed far away from them, because obviously you need to use it with the prescribed frequency but I’d hate for you to have a necessary medication forcibly taken from you.

    1. That’s a good point. It might also be wise to keep all medication on your person or locked safely away, especially if you know (like for me and some of my friends on SSRIs) that missing a dose will result in horrible withdrawal symptoms.

      Dear LW, please accept my jedi hugs. I second everything the Captain says and I really hope you have a good time at the wedding.

      1. Oh god. Yes. I’m on Effexor. Miss one day of that and everything is terrible. EVERYTHING.

        When I travel I have a few different systems depending on where I’m going and how long for. I might put each day’s pills in a small pill bottle, or in one of those boxes with a separate compartment for each day, or just bring the trays they come in. I’ve also kept the bulk of my meds in a lockbox sometimes, mostly when I’ve been in a really bad place, because finding the key and getting it out is another layer of effort. If your mother tries to go through your stuff and finds a lockbox, it would open up a lot of “BUT WHY ARE YOU HIDING THINGS WHAT IS IT THAT’S SO TERRIBLE YOU HAVE TO LOCK IT AWAY!” but it does also keep her from tossing them (unless she takes the whole box, I guess).

        1. Excellent advice. Also, if this happens, it’s another chance to go Reasonable, Reasonable, ESCALATE RIGHT BACK. Observe:

          Reasonable Me: Because they’re my things that belong to me (holds out hand for box)
          Unreasonable Parent: WHY WON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT IT IS???
          Reasonable Me: Because it’s my box, and what’s in it belongs to me and not to you. (hand is still out, exuding patience)
          Unreasonable Parent: I’M KEEPING THIS UNTIL YOU **TALK** TO MEEEEEE!!!!!
          Escalating Me: If that’s how you feel, let’s call the police to sort out this issue of ownership (whip out cell phone, do exactly that if box is not handed over)

          Horrible escalation? Yup, and (I’ve been there!) tensions around the house will reach a new level if the police are actually called. However? 99.8% of the time with this sort of drama-llama, it’s not going to come to that. She doesn’t want that kind of scrutiny on her own behavior. Cases like Mansplainer Dad, Expert On All Things Ever, will maybe let it go that far, and will smugly announce that anything you brought into their home is their property. This is incorrect, and things will get ugly so only go there if you really need to. In the case of someone holding your necessary medications hostage, you probably need to – please do whatever it takes to keep yourself healthy and safe.

    2. From personal experience dealing with abusive relatives who think you’re taking evil meds — when I had to stay overnight with them, I had a few pills hidden in my pill bottle in my suitcase. And when they inevitably went through my suitcase, I had a small bag of pills secreted away that stayed on my person at all times. (For me, it was in the lining of a coat).

      This probably sounds crazy and paranoid and over-the-top for anyone who hasn’t had to deal with it, but trust me. It’s a way (not the only way!) to keep your access to your meds secure. Alternately, if you’re spending a lot of time with your friends for the wedding, see if you can keep a small bag of things with them?

  3. I don’t want this to become a natural medicine/anti-natural-medicine derail, but I DO want to state as a PSA that Saint John’s Wort *is* an antidepressant that has gone through clinical trials and is classed as “Likely Effective” by the National Institute of Health in the US. It (like all antideressants) works for some people, but not others. I’ve used it with great success and I also have friends who have tried it unsuccessfully.

    1. Cool, and since you’ve clarified this perfectly, the LW can say “Dad, St. John’s Wort is just one type of antidepressant, they’ve studied it” and also there won’t need to be any more comments about it in the thread! 🙂

      1. The stuff actually has a nasty side-effect: It’s contains hyperforine, which is an CYP450-3A4-inductor. In non-med-nerd-terms: It makes your liver process select chemicals way faster. Unfortunately, that means that e.g. the safety of hormonal contraception can be reduced. Or if taken in combination with SSRI it suppresses their effect…

        “Natural” is not always “harmless”.

        1. I know multiple people who have gotten pregnant when their doctor(s) failed to inform them that St. John’s Wort interferes with HBC. I always get grumpy when people act like something that’s “natural” means it doesn’t have side effects (including the FDA, who doesn’t seem to think it necessary to require this stuff be printed on the bottle)

          1. I don’t know how much is put on St John’s Wort packaging but when I was on hormonal birth control (combined pill) they were very clear in the information that St John’s Wort would interfere (similarly for some antibiotics).

      2. is it okay to add “and thus, just in case the LW or anyone else is under pressure to Just Try It, it is actually really dangerous to combine it with prescription anti-depressants”?

        Because of the three people I know who’ve gotten badly ill from taking both together, two of them were trying to be polite to/shut up a “well-meaning” person with a “natural” fetish.

        1. Sharing anecdata:

          My friend and I were in a drugstore when I was picking my SJ’sW up, and she said, “Would taking this with my SSRI make me extra-sane?”

          I answered, “I don’t know, let’s ask that pharmacist three feet away from us.”

          The pharmacist told us, “NO DON’T DO THAT, SJ’sW is dangerous when you take it with SSRIs because [science reasons like MisMis said], also don’t take it with hormonal birth control.”

      3. Maybe they could add “and I tried it and it didn’t work for me!” Even if LW hasn’t actually tried maybe that acknowledgement of validity could get dad to grumble quietly to himself instead of harassing letter writer about it

    2. Well, “likely effective” is not the same as “demonstrated effective.” Years of trials have only ever produced mixed results, with many trials showing no effect.


      The other problem with herbal supplements is that you have no idea what you are actually taking. They aren’t regulated the way drugs are. The bottle you buy could contain grass clippings instead of the herb on the label. They can also contain contaminants which sometimes are actual drugs. There was one case of grapefruit seed extract, commonly taken for bladder infections which was completely effective in those who took it. It turned out to contain antibiotics, which are not a thing you want to be taking unawares. Even in the best case scenario where the supplement contains exactly what it says and has no contaminants, there is zero control of dosage.

      This is probably not where CA wants this thread to go, but since we are offering PSAs, this is another one.

      1. This is definitely not where I wanted the thread to go, especially since I asked people not to derail into St. John’s Wort discussions. St. John’s Wort: Has some actual antidepressant properties (studies show). Not for everyone. Has side effects and can be dangerous. One side effect is that it is completely irrelevant to the LW, as they are not taking it and do not intend to.

        No more PSAs about St. John’s Wort! Captain Awkward Dot Com’s official stance on it is “Run EVERYTHING you are considering taking by an actual medical professional you hire to sort this out for you, not internet commenters or your abusive parents.”

        1. One way it does seem relevant, building on your first comment on this subthread, is that the fact that St. John’s Wort has not only some evidence of effectiveness established by clinical trials, but also potentially serious side effects, and known medication interaction issues really does put it more or less like any other antidepressant. If the LW wants to confront their father, this could be useful: “St. John’s Wort isn’t a magical cure-all, it has side effects and drug interactions just like other antidepressants – so if it’d make sense to you for me to try to take it, it should make just as much sense for me to take the antidepressant my doctor actually prescribed!”

          1. Ah, but there is no logic in the Land Of Unreasonable Parents. Hence the unreasonable. Engaging like that… that’s not how you get out of a conversation in which All Your Life is up for debate. LW isn’t being harangued by unreasonables because LW lacks facts, and unreasonables aren’t haranguing LW because they just haven’t thought the situation through. Unreasonables are arguing from a place of their own emotions and how other people’s behavior should somehow support those emotions. I’ve seen them completely switch sides on an issue, mid-conversation, and it had nothing to do with sudden agreement.

          2. But there is no convincing the dad, there is only getting him to STFU when the LW is around, maybe.

  4. It may be too late for my contribution, but I will say it anyway just in case it’s useful either now or at another time or for someone else: if a pharmacy mistakenly puts a prescription through insurance, they can run it through again “as cash”—that is, not through the insurance. This cancels the claim to the insurance company. If you do it soon enough, it won’t show up on any insurance statements. Another preventative measure (no help this time, but could help avoid future incidents) is to have a separate pharmacy used for cash prescriptions than the one used for insurance prescriptions. At the pharmacy where I used to work, we had a teenager doing that for her birth control pills, so there’d be no chance of them going through her insurance (we didn’t even have her insurance info in our computer) or of a clerk accidentally saying to her parents, “Oh, and here’s another prescription for ‘Hillary’ at your same address—do you want to pick that up too?”

    1. That is PRECISELY how my mother found out that I was taking birth control when I was in college. And thankfully the conversation we had was much more along the lines of the Captain’s “Reasonable Parent” example, even though my mother is more like the LW’s in general, because my mom is also strongly pro-choice. She filled the scrip along with my other meds, handed them over when I was home for break, and then tried to have a woman-to-woman chat about side effects. Awkward.

    2. This was my first thought – treat it like an administration error (which it was) and tell your parents it was an admin error if it shows up (because that’s the truth). No need to say more than that to them. This admin error does not mean you have to disclose anything to them except the admin error. Good luck and enjoy the wedding!

      1. Yes, that was my first thought too—but I think there’s some risk with that, where LW’s mother may follow up really aggressively with the insurance company. I think this would only work if LW follows up with the pharmacist and gets a positive answer, or follows up with the insurance company and knows, before going home, that it will be reversed (and that the bill for reimbursing the insurance will not go or get copied to the parents).

        1. But if LW goes to the pharmacy to correct the admin error, it will all check out. I hope it all turns out well.

          1. Ignore my last message – i was hastily responding to your first sentence but i see we’re very much of the same mind! Should have read more thoroughly 🙂

  5. This letter/response almost made me cry because I identified with it so much and then the quote from Ekaterin at the end!

    That stuff has stopped, and it all happened so long ago that it doesn’t seem real, which is part of the sense of unreality/disassociation that adult survivors of this stuff carry with them. We always feel like we’re overreacting, because we spent so much time under-reacting to truly bizarre things when we had no power to do otherwise.

    Yep, yep, yep. One thing that helped me in my specific circumstances was finding someone who knew my parent and could say, “Yes, that was messed up. No, you’re not making it up.” If that’s a possibility, LW, it’s really helped me keep a sense of perspective.

    1. Those books are so very quotable, and Civil Campaign especially. That one, and the thing Aral says about honor vs. reputation just stick with me.

    2. That part made me tear up too. Therapy really helped reinforce the “no that was really messed up” thing for me, and also (now that I’m more confident about it, and in my 30’s), it helps me to have conversations with my dad where I REFUSE THE GASLIGHTING. “No, that was not normal.” “Yes, all families have problems, but our family in particular has a mother with severe mental illness.” “Yes everyone gets depressed, but mom has severe untreated mental illness.” Again and again and again until he stops talking. Refusal to eventually sort of make an affirmative grunt in these discussions felt like REVOLUTION to me.

    3. This advice was absolutely perfect, and then it got to the Ekaterin quote and it was EVEN MORE SO. Bless you, Captain.

    4. EJ, that sounds brilliant. I never even considered that, someone who knows my parents saying ‘yes that was messed up. No, you’re not making it up.” My therapist can say it, but it’s not the same, since she never actually saw it.. so I still kind of feel like I’m making it up.

  6. LW, I am so, so sorry that your parents behave shittily.

    Is it possible to let your mom believe what they wants about how you feel about her? Like … if she thinks she’s a terrible mother because you have depression, that is not actually your problem? It’s her problem, as an adult, to deal with on her own. When I was dealing with a mom who acted in much the same way, I found, “Because I knew you would react like this.” as a catch-all answer to why-didn’t-you-teeeeellll-meeeeee???.

    It didn’t necessarily solve anything, but it did feel really good to say. Being “less close” and easing that into a new norm was actually useful — we now talk once a week, and I’m visiting home for the first time in 3 years this Thanksgiving.

    Also, open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act* for coverage starting 2015 should open in November. Now is a good time to start researching that, so you can have continuity of coverage if you choose to leave your parents’ plan before you’re 26.

    *LW uses “mom” and American English, so I’m assuming USA here.

    1. Yes to this for sure. LW, obviously you know your mom better than we do, but my mother has similar narcissist/martyr issues. One of the most effective lines I have used on her when she gets into one of her “I AM THE WORST MOTHER EVARRR AND I THOUGHT YOU HAD A HAPPY CHILDHOOD” howling fits (because of course, laughing at Christmas about how I thought Santa would take my toys back if I peeked because I was such a weird neurotic kid was totally about how terrible she was) has been simply to say, “Huh. Nope, that wasn’t what I said. I think that’s something you’re wrestling with that I’m not aware of. Anyway, so back to what I was saying….” and in one case, “Well, not where I was going with this, but yeah, there have been some times where I feel like what you needed and wanted things to be was more important than what they actually were, but I’ve actually done some legwork to get to a point where I’ve realized it’s okay that you fucked up some.” It worked SO WELL when I turned it around and *actually* made it about her and therefore hers to deal with. YMMV, but the dead silence I was met with was the sweetest music ever.

    2. ALL of the Jedi Hugs to you, LW, if you want them. I am living proof that things can get better with narcissist/martyr moms and shitty mansplainy know-it-all dads. All of the Captain’s scripts here are great, and so many other awesome suggestions as well. I promise you, even if they don’t get better, it does get easier. The first time I did the, “Huh, don’t know how we got from talking about something going on with me to how terrible you are, Mom,” was terrifying. The first time I got up and left when my dad tried to Conservative-logic me into realizing birth control isn’t a real “need,” I thought I would pass out. But the moment I realized the floor wouldn’t open up and swallow me whole for standing my ground, I felt invincible. And I got better at standing my ground. Eventually my voice quit shaking and rose above a whisper. Eventually I didn’t have to run into the other room and cry as soon as I’d made my stand. I fucked up a couple of times and crossed some lines that, in retrospect, I was probably better off not crossing. I took stands on things that maybe didn’t matter and became defensive at the slightest provocation for awhile. But I got better at it. And my relationship with my mom is much better now – not perfect, and probably never will be exactly the thing I want it to be, BUT THAT’S OKAY – and my relationship with my dad is at least conducted…at a safe distance.

      I think one of the things that happens to kids who grow up in heavily-monitored, you-define-my-existence, I-have-a-right-to-make-you-about-me households, where one parent (generally the mom, it seems, I’m sure because gender roles and other bullshit about childbearing being the pinnacle of womanhood) feels that the Venn Diagram of parent+child should be a pair of concentric circles, is that we tend to have a lot of pressure to be perfect, because one wrong move means that we’ve not only screwed ourselves over but we’ve rendered our parent’s life meaningless if we stray too far. We know, sometimes without being told, that we will not just disappoint that parent but destroy all sense of worth. And that’s a lot of pressure. Even in realizing that’s what was done to me, I still felt like the first time I set the groundrules of “This part here is mine. It’s not yours anymore. It never was,” I felt in some tiny part of my brain like my mom was going to melt like the Wicked Witch in a rainstorm. The moment I realized that wasn’t going to happen was more of a relief than I ever dreamed of.

      1. Your second paragraph gave me chills, as that is exactly the situation I was in until I moved out of my parents’ home at 23. I had also gotten the idea that my mom might kill herself if I wasn’t there to entertain her (she had no friends and has nothing in common with my father) and from a young age I had been her emotional spouse.

        There’s a question that has been trying to formulate in my mind, yet I can’t quite get it to where it wants to be, but the gist is this: how did you know who to trust? If anyone criticized my mother, my response was that “she loves me too much”. I feel tremendous agony that I defended my abuser for so long, that I made major life choices based on the poisoned thinking with which I was indoctrinated.I feel like I handled the situation far less successfully that a lot of others in similar situations.

        On boundaries – the first time my mom started in on me at my own place, my response was “you can either shut up or leave”. That changed the dynamic quite nicely.

        1. The concentric circles, not overlapping lives, is exactly what’s discussed in Karyl McBride’s book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough”. Reading it the first time made me cry, because I’d never had anyone understand what was happening to me, how my mom had enveloped me and everything I was and wanted to be. Years later, I’m okay (and my relationship with my mother is something very distant, which is what I prefer) — but I do notice a repeating tendency for people to expect that they can bulldoze right over me, and being really surprised when they realize they can’t.

        2. I just froze up for a minute when I read your first paragraph. I stopped contact with my mother a year ago and she’s completely failed to respect any boundaries I’ve set before or since then. She keeps calling and I refuse to answer the phone, is where I’m at.

          A few months ago my grandmother died. She was largely complicit in my emotional abuse and neglect (and surveillance, really,) so it was difficult but kind of a relief in some ways. She was also a big emotional support for my mother, whose calls to me became more frantic and riddled with invisible threats. I was terrified she’d kill herself and that she’d make it my fault somehow, for not throwing myself back into the role of caretaker and emotional support. I was terrified, and spent entire days paralyzed by that fear and guilt.

          I left her a voicemail reiterating my boundaries and saying I didn’t feel safe coming home for the memorial service. She’s tried me a few times since then, but she’s still alive and I’m less terrified. It wouldn’t have been my fault; how could it be? But she and my grandmother trained me so well for this emotional servitude that it’s really hard to question, because obviously EVERYTHING I did was about them, so everything I do has to be FOR them somehow, and there’s never ever any way to actually be a good child.

          Almost no one has seen how crushing they could be to me. The first (of a grand total of two) was a counselor in the hospital I was in after I attempted suicide myself, as a teenager. He’d been nearby while my mother was visiting me, though I didn’t realize he was paying attention. After she left, he came over and suggested he could write a case study on her passive-aggression toward me. It was literally the first time anyone had suggested to me that my emotional pain might be a thing inflicted on me and not some intrinsic fault. It was an incredibly important moment for me, and I try to remember it when I catch myself second-guessing or downplaying how scary my childhood was.

          Circling back to your almost-question: I think this sort of abuse is so normalized and invisible that few people know what to make of it when they see it. I can say that the people I could trust with my history had reactions to it that felt the same as that counselor. People you can trust will validate your experiences without exhaustive demands for “proof” or going devil’s advocate on you. Memorize the feeling you get when someone offers you that validation and seek it out. It’s been working for me so far. (And, it’s ok to mourn those years you spent defending your abuser. It’s a terrible feeling, and you are getting better now.)

          1. My life fell apart in 2001. I attempted suicide in 2004. Due to conditioning and mental health issues I’ve never been too good at making friends, so in my 20s my parents were just about the only people I consistently spent time with that weren’t work related. It wasn’t until I’d been with my current girlfriend that I started figuring out this boundary stuff.

            From 23 years-old to 33 years-old or so I’d call mom everyday because I knew it would make her just a smidgen less anxious. She still cleaned my house and did my laundry until last year; I had tried several times over the years to get her to stop, but she’d come back with “I just want to be helpful”. She’s always equated being needed with being loved, so I felt like a monster for trying to take the housework away from her. I can’t deny that it was very nice having a free (money-wise) maid, but I was basically emotionally blackmailed to keep it going.

            Then I learned about enmeshment. I learned that I was so dependent on my mother because I had been groomed to be. I realized that calling her made me grumpy. I’d often be short tempered when my folks were around, which previously I had attributed to depression instead of them triggering me. I decided to cut the apron strings last summer. I knew that if she cried or otherwise acted out in anyway I’d relent, so I had my girlfriend break-up with my mom for me.

            Mom has been pretty good about respecting my boundaries. I went 6 months of no contact last year and I’ve seen and talked to her a handful of times this year. The thing that confuses her the most is why I got upset with her so long after the actual issues were at their peak. My therapist thinks its because I finally felt safe.

            My therapist has also encouraged me to think of times when I was actually heard, when someone saw that I was suffering. It’s been hard to do; my memories of my childhood are few, and the ones I do have are vague. I think I have trouble remembering a lot of my life due to some kind of mental defense system.

          2. Invisible is exactly the word for this type of abuse: not only does it leave no physical marks (other than when my ribs were showing or now that my thighs don’t so much rub together as cling desperately to one another) but people just don’t SEE it even when it’s happening right in front of them. One of my oldest friends, who knows full well just how bad things are and were with basically every single member of my family, still says things like, “at least maybe she’s trying” or “Oh my god! But…. could that have been an accident? Like, he didn’t realize you were standing so close?” and “Yikes, that sucks. But hey, he called! That’s something!” Because she really believes, in her heart of hearts, that my family is full of wonderful and loving people just like hers, they just have some issues or whatever and we all need to TALK and then things will be FINE. (She’s now dealing with the reality that no conversation with her own Problem Parent will ever go the way she wants because she’s a girl and therefore not a Real and Rational Person. It’s not going well, because it goes against everything she believes to be true of faaaaamily)

      2. Or maybe not even concentric but just overlapping — like, sometimes I think part of the problem is that these parents don’t have enough circle separate from the kid, and thus, end up too invested in knowing and controlling ALL THE THINGS about the kid, because the kid him/herself is in fact ALL THE THINGS.

      3. Ugh yes exactly! The destroying the worth of your parents thing, yes. My mom took it even further, so that whatever I was doing (grades in school, forced public musical performances, whatever) was directly related to -her- mom’s worth. That I was somehow responsible for upholding all my living ancestors (and probably my dead ones too) with my day to day life. Way too much to put on anyone, way too much to put on a kid.

    3. Also, regarding ACA coverage: if your parents remove you from their insurance during their open enrollment period (which they can do), that should be a HIPAA “qualifying event”. This allows you to enroll in an ACA plan outside of the open enrollment period.

  7. Sidebar: Props to the Captain for the Lois McMaster Bujold reference!!! She writes some of my favorite models ever of healthy relationships. (Also of horrible bad ones, but that’s less rare.)

    1. One of my favorite things about the Vorkosigan books (besides the fact that even if women aren’t usually the main characters, they’re often the people who have their shit the most together) is that her models of horrible bad relationships are OBVIOUSLY horrible bad, and meant to be read as such. We’re not talking Twilight here.

      1. They’re so terribad that I’ve known women who read Komarr and gone, “Wait wait wait, that isn’t how it’s supposed to work?” because a depiction that starkly accurate finally made them see what was going on in their own lives.

          1. When I first read Komarr, I nearly broke the selector button on my kindle, highlighting every passage that perfectly described my marriage. Magical Claws, you put it so aptly. I was crying in the back of the gym during my kid’s martial arts class.

            Mine hasn’t gotten better. Has yours? (And where the hell can we go to find reasonable Miles-analogues? Eh, never mind, I’m so not Vor enough.)

          2. @Lucifugus I stuck it out for a while and then got an great offer from a doctoral program in another country. I took it despite his arguments, he refused to come with me, I moved anyway, and then he died. So, uh. Yes and no.

  8. LW, I don’t know if this is something your mother would do, but I know when my relationship with my mother was at its worst (like running away and cutting contact for a year at age 18) one of the things I did to cover my ass was to make sure all my health care providers had it on file that they were not to disclose any information at all to anyone else who called, no matter what. I know technically they’re not supposed to, but I’ve since had some experiences that made me happy I had taken that step (for instance, my mother being able to waltz into my pharmacy and pick up my prescription without my having called them first or them calling me to verify – this was once our relationship had started to heal a bit, so it wasn’t an issue, and it was only an antibiotic, and I had asked her to get it for me, but still). So if you have the time, it might be worth it – if only for your own peace of mind – to call your pharmacy/doctor/therapist/Team You/etc. and emphasize that you have NOT authorized your mother to receive any medical information from them.

    Also, it seems like you’re forming a pretty awesome Team You in your new community. How is your Team back home? Is there a friend, faith/community organization, or social group that you can lean on for a bit if need be?

    Hope everything turns out alright, LW. Good luck!

    1. LW, If you are an adult, your parents should not be allowed to see your medical information without your express consent, even if you are still on their insurance. When my daughter turned 18 last year, all her medical information automatically disappeared from my online drugstore and mail order prescription accounts online. It would say “prescription” but not give the name of the medication. She is still on my insurance, but i don’t get the medical details any more. Maybe you can clarify / revoke permission with the pharmacy, doctors, and insurance company, that no one sees your info but you. Good luck and I am sorry you are going through this.

    2. I work at a library, and it always amazes me that at my library you need a signed form on file in order to pick up someone else’s requested books, but I can pick up any family member’s prescription at the pharmacy without even having to show ID.

  9. Abuse bingo FTW. I wanna add the ”well, I’m paying for it so I think I have a right to know”.

    Cap: you’re not alone with the snooping and the monitoring. My parents made friends with my teachers just to monitor my time at school, not that I had any problems with my grades. Also there was a few times when they couldn’t get a hold of me so they found my adress bok and contacted EVERYONE on the list. And the times they read my diary and interrogated me about it. Yeah…

    LW: I wonder if pre-empting the conversation could help you? If you control it you can spin it, or something else pre-jam Olivia Pope would say.

    I know it’s not easy and I’m so sorry, LW. Many Jedi hugs.

    1. I was thinking the same re: pre-empting the conversation. If LW is sure her mother will bring it up later, perhaps she should just bring it up herself, as lightly as possible, as if you decided to try out a new diet or some other minorish lifestyle change, not as the major break-thru the pills have actually been for you. Which, yes, will totally suck as a conversation, but I’d recommend the white lie that this is newish medicine LW is *trying out* (LW’s mom doesn’t know that this isn’t the first time LW has been prescribed these pills). I’d also blend in another minor lie about stress at school, which you are now handling well thanks to the therapy/medication. Even if you never have stress about school, and therapy is always about your family, that’s a believable enough reason that she can chew that to the bone rather than fixating on how your “problems” relate to her. Maybe that will work?

    2. I would offer Sith Inquisitor hugs back at many people in this thread, but only when Khem Val wasn’t looking.

      Add another to the “my parents had me under constant surveillance until I moved the f*** out of Dodge and went to grad schools that knew FERPA chapter and verse.”

      1. Ahaha — I like to think that Khem Val would approve of Sith hugs for abusive parents.

    3. ” I wanna add the ”well, I’m paying for it so I think I have a right to know”. ”

    4. With bingo, can we also add “one of these days you’ll wish I was around to look out for you”?

  10. A weird thing that helped me was actually point out to my mom that her requests/demands didn’t make sense. I think parents like ours don’t actually know that what they’re doing is odd. They see it as normal or better than what other parents do. It may be because THEY were raised that way. My mother used to monitor my conversations with my friends too, and even school me on appropriate topics of conversation. If I came home and didn’t know exactly where Becky was applying to grad school obviously hadn’t listened/was a bad child/no one liked me.

    Finally one day I said, “Everyone talks about their patents, mom. No one talks about the things you want me to talk about. If I say those things people will think I’m the weird kid who talks like their mom.”

    “Really?” She said. “You think that?”

    “I know it” I said.

    And then…she never did it again. Well, not never, but it was way less and I could always bring up the ‘weird’ thing again.

    1. Maybe you could point out “It’s odd that you need to know so much. It never occurred to me to tell you about my private medical stuff! I’m an adult making adult decisions and I thought those were the sort of things health insurance was for.”

      1. I like this! Once my mom found my birth control on a visit home and tried to get me to “promise” that I would run my options by her doctor friend (while she had cornered me in the bathroom, btw). I looked her in the eye and said that it was between me and my doctor. She harrumphed, but she didn’t bring it up again. Could something like that be a helpful part of your script, LW?

    2. My mom still does that to me! “Where did they grow up? When is their birthday? What was their first ever job? Why didn’t you think to ask these questions to this new acquaintance the first time you met for coffee? Obviously you are bad at conversation and WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE AND THERE WAS NO FACEBOOK…”

      I just tell her, “well, it just didn’t come up. We talked about other things,” and change the conversation. Just because I didn’t have the exact conversation you would have had with them doesn’t make our conversation wrong!

  11. Oh lord, Car Conversations. While I have a pretty good relationship with my dad right now, we’ve had some Uncomfortable (for me) Car Conversations in the past, and a lot of our ability to get along now is from the fact that I just don’t want to talk about certain things with him because I know they’d be awkward and upsetting topics. This meant I chose to sit through a few comments I found really uncomfortable when I spent time with him last week, but I couldn’t bring myself to try to redirect the conversation or ask him not to mention those things, for fear of triggering some Car Conversations.

    LW, I wish you the best in dealing with your family.

    1. I used to call my mother’s car “The Smallest Lecture Theatre In The World” thanks to many of these kinds of conversations.

        1. Me too! With an extra helping of… oh, what a bummer that so many of us know exactly what a Car Conversation is.

      1. For various reasons I was unable to make a trip back to where most of my family lives at the beginning of the year for a sisterly event. I begged off because of timing and cost, and my sister said that our mother could come get me at the airport, saving a few hundred dollars, and I was like NOOO because 3 hours in a car with my mother would end in my death or hers. My parents know *nothing* about my life and saying that I like it that way is like saying that I like to breathe air and use gravity to stick my feet to the ground.

    2. There were Car Conversations with my father where I had to seriously consider how badly I’d get injured if I just opened the door and did a jump-and-roll. (Answer: always too badly to do it. But I thought about it.)

      Eventually, he had the EXTRA clever thought of making me the driver, so I couldn’t even think about escape.

      (Unfortunately for him, I then decided that going on the offensive was going to be my strategy of choice. One of my proudest moments was when he complained my mother wouldn’t sleep with him and I said “Well, I was going to fuck my boyfriend tonight, but I have to study for a final.” AHAHAHAHAAHAH I can still get a laugh out of thinking about the shocked noise he made. Go to hell, Dad.)

        1. It’s been about 16 years since then, and I am still all proud of me when I think of it. Like, YEAH, younger me, GOOD ONE. 🙂

      1. Yikes!! My long-distance partner’s son was worrying Partner because Son seemed to be doing poorly in college and was evasive and defensive when Partner tried to discuss this with him. He told me about a 5-hour drive they would be taking on Thanksgiving to visit extended family members, and boy, wouldn’t that car ride be a great time to have A Talk about it? I had the nopenope nopeity-nope talk with Partner, along with the He’s An Adult talk. I don’t have a good sense of their relationship, but the Car Lecture isn’t a good place to start with Son who is already being defensive and eavasive.

        1. Not a car conversation per se, in that I don’t think he got in the vehicle with the intent of doing it, but I was once having a discussion in which I was forced to utter the phrase, “You’re saying stuff that you KNOW is making me angry, when I’m driving a car at highway speeds, and you have the gall to claim that I’M irrational?!”

          1. Oh man, I once got in a fight with my mother while I was driving (which she picked with me, because she can’t help herself) where I found myself, in the fast lane, on the highway, literally screaming in rage. At which point I stopped, slowed down, and pulled into the slow lane, and told her to just not say a damn word till we got back or I was going to pull over onto the shoulder and walk home. (We were only a few miles from my house.) She managed to hold her tongue for two full minutes. Two.

            This is the same woman who had the “so, you’re a lesbian, right?” conversation while driving me home from school one day. (The answer was, no, bisexual, to which she was disbelieving at best. It was not a fun car ride.)

        2. That was a good move on your part! I can certainly understand why your partner wants to have *some* kind of talk, but it definitely doesn’t sound like a good car-talk situation. That might just dial up the evasiveness in the future.

    3. Who can forget the amazing 6 hour drive where my dad wouldn’t stop asking me (a female physics major) “Why do you think there are so few women in physics? Do you think white men are awful or is it that women are stupid?” after a holiday weekend where he spent an hour angrily complaining about specifically female Indian telemarketers calling him. Or the drive home on my first weekend pass after the suicide attempt where I was told “You know, I guess I’ve been depressed too!!!!” in a bizarrely chipper tone!

        1. After I got out of the hospital, my parents both got on the “you think you have problems, but actually I’M the depressed one around here!” train.

          1. When I got out of the hospital, my dad took me on a long walk (walking is painful for me!) to discuss How My Depression Was Hurting The Family, Have I Considered That and Am I Really Trying To Get Better (so I can stop hurting my family). A few weeks later, he screamed at me for not making my mother a handmade mother’s day card (my mom hates mothers day and I was still mostly catatonic anyway so I didn’t exactly prioritize it).That was one of a few times his behavior upset my therapist so much that she broke her Professional Voice for a few seconds “THAT IS NOT A… developmentally appropriate activity for you. Eighteen year olds don’t typically make handmade cards anyway, those are for younger children. Ahem.”

          2. Erin: Eh, it might have been OK if things had been left there. Instead, my mom would have 30 minute chats with Dr. How-Are-You-Employed-Anywhere after my appointment, and at one point got into a screaming, crying rage at me, furiously asking if I thought she was “being mean”. My dad completely checked out which was a lot easier to deal with.

          3. That’s about when my brother or I would add, with a smile, “and THAT is why we’re now on medication!” (bonus points if you add jazz-hands)

    4. Car Conversations are THE WORST.

      I went to a boarding school for my junior and senior years of high school (it was a public magnet school and I ostensibly went for academic reasons, but believe me living away from home two years early was the real draw), and though on balance it was great for getting me out of the house, the fact that it was a three hour drive from my parent’s house and that we were forced to go home for a long weekend every 4-6 weeks led to a LOT of awful conversations with my parents–mostly my mother. I worked very hard to keep conversation light, but sometimes the most innocuous comment could set one off.

      The one that still makes me cringe the most though, hurts in part because I invited it and I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. Basically, my mother had told me when I first started dating my boyfriend that she really preferred that I stay a virgin until marriage, BUT that if I ever decided to have sex, she wanted me to come to her and ask for help getting birth control, and she would not judge me. Towards the end of high school, I decided that I was going to have sex in college, and despite the fact that I really should have known that a) I shouldn’t trust my mother’s promises of non-judgement in the first place and b) bringing up a contentious topic when trapped with a parent for an extended period was a BAD idea… I decided to bring this up with my mother less than an hour into a car ride home.

      She spent the rest of the ride telling me about how profoundly DISAPPOINTED she was in me, and that I must either be a weak-minded pushover who was letting my boyfriend manipulate me or just a disgusting slut.

      1. Aw geez. I do sex ed work for teens/young adults and we hear that a lot – that folks are getting “you can talk to me about this!” messages from their parents and when they trust in that and do open up about their sex lives/interest in becoming sexual, usually so they can protect their health by accessing condoms, STI testing, birth control, etc, their parents turn around and shame or punish them.
        It’s really upsetting every time I hear that kind of story. I’m sorry your mom reacted that way.

        1. Thank you. I’ve since been told by other family member’s that my mother’s mother did something similar to her, so it seems to be something of a family tradition at this point. :-/

      2. I’m really sorry that your mom acted that way, megtuigse. I mean… you were a teenager and you were making a big self-determining decision and you believed your mom when she said she would support you and wouldn’t judge you. I know you feel like you should have known better, but it’s not your fault that your mom basically set up a trap for you to walk into. Can you find a way to be nice to yourself about this?

        1. Aww, thank you. I probably should be nicer to myself about this, and about trusting my mother in general–after all, I was just a kid, and trusting your parents to have your best interests at heart and to keep their word is something you should be able to expect as a kid. Part of the “omg I so should have known better” is that I developed a habit, at some point, of reminding myself at every opportunity that my parents have given me every reason not to trust them–because like LW’s parents, mine have always pulled the “but why don’t you trust me????” thing and generally try to convince me I’m crazy for having any issues with them. I started doing this mostly to help keep myself grounded in my own sense of reality, if that makes any sense.

          You are right though, that it’s sort of become something I beat myself over the head with (you only got so hurt by your parents because you were stupid enough to trust them, dummy!) more than it is any kind of reassurance, and I should probably knock that the hell off. Believe me, my therapist and I are working on it.

    5. Another terrible place to trap people into conversations: while exercising. For a while, my father and I were meeting up to walk a 2.5-mile trail loop halfway between our houses whenever we had time, and while it started out as a good way to catch up, the conversations during these walks rapidly turned into referenda on my career, my health habits, my parenting habits, my communication style, etc. It’s important to note here that my father is an ex-Marine and a natural athlete and, since retirement, has spent a lot of time doing things like playing golf and hiking and doing landscaping work on his properties, while I’m a natural… large person, and have spent the past decade-plus trapped behind desks or in cars.

      So by halfway into the walk, I’d be breathing hard and falling off the pace while my father would be striding along in full lecture mode, and the combination of exertion and humiliation does not lend itself at all to thinking and speaking carefully and I would wind up just conceding everything, making future conversations even more difficult. It’s only reinforced my terror of talking to my father (which he claims not to understand), not to mention ruined my enjoyment of a trail where I previously had fond memories from my teenage years.

    6. When my parents were getting divorced, my mom INSISTED on driving me home one night and tried to have a whole car converstaion about how I should hate my dad and how he was a horrible person. And I got out at a red light… after telling her I was going to do it and take the bus home… and I remember thinking to myself that we were four lights away from the highway and that I didn’t know what I would do if none of them were red.

      I think thats the moment my mom realized that I was a grown-up. I got out of the car and found my own way home instead of listening to her rant for the next 30 minutes (and drive erratically because she was upset). After that she took my “I love you both and I’m not having this conversation” way more seriously.

    7. Virtually every parenting forum and/or book I have ever read talks about how the car is a great place for parents to start Difficult Conversations. I’m sort of boggling at how much hate for them I see here. Is all the parenting advice wrong?

      1. It might be great for the parents – they can start a conversation without a child being able to avoid it by leaving the room, having to conveniently be somewhere else, etc. But for the SAME reason, it can be extremely stressful on the child. Sometimes it’s important NOT to have big conversations with parents when parents are being abusive or pushy, or want to talk about something the kid hasn’t sorted through yet (or wants to keep private), or lots of other things. It’s especially hard if the parent is someone who needs to “win” arguments or play devil’s advocate.

        This wasn’t in a car, but on a family vacation my dad said “take a walk with me” and took me to an isolated area on the beach and grilled/badgered/guilted me into coming out to him, when I was NOT prepared at all. It was a terrible experience and while things are ok between us now, as I said before a lot of that is because I do my best to avoid uncomfortable conversations and situations where those conversations might arise. But I’m still really stressed before every visit because I never know if they’ll come up.

        If a parent wants to start a big discussion in a car, at the very least they need to back the fuck off if they notice that things are becoming uncomfortable, awkward, etc. But there’s no guarantee that someone initiating a talk like this will be aware, or will care enough to stop.

        1. No, I’m really not. It is advice that I have seen many, many times. But some of the comments below have been clarifying. In particular, it is indeed advice usually directed at parents of preteens and young teens, not adults. But since one of the fairly common ways that parents can badly-parent their adult offspring is by failing to acknowledge that they are not teens or tweens any more, it sort of fits together. It’s just bad use of a tool, like it would be bad form to send your twenty-year-old to go sit on the stairs in time out, even if it was OK to do that when she was ten and mouthing off.

          1. Ahhh okay, I see where you were coming from. I read that as you thinking this was still appropriate behaviour for adult children and being confused at how much people hate it. (Though honestly I hated it as a teenager too, but conversations with my mother are not fun by definition.)

      2. That advice is referring to young children. Kids that are still actively being taught and parented in a way that should not happen once the child is grown. Having a Difficult Conversation with a pre-teen/young teenager is a different animal than a I’m-Disappointed-with-you Lecture given to an adult-aged child. The dynamics in the relationship should shift significantly between those ages. Also, the “have the Difficult Conversation in the car” advice usually counts on the child being in the back seat, this provides a buffer zone that can give the child a feeling of less pressure, so they can hear and think about the topic. Also, from what I recall of that sort of advice about those conversations they usually say not to pressure the kids to respond, the goal isn’t to force the kids to have the conversation but to provide chances for the conversations to organically happen. The two things are truly not comparable.

      3. My Mum had a lot of car conversations with me when I was a teen and although a lot of them were awkward I think that this was something that I will do with my own kids because it worked well for me and my mum. But having said this I am fortunate enough to have a mother who respects my boundaries and treats me like an adult.

        I think the idea behind having such conversations in the car is that you don’t have to make eye contact which can make it easier to open up about sensitive topics (my mother explained all about puberty and menstruation to me whilst driving back from my grandmother’s house). I’ve also had a lot of conversations with the back of her head whilst she did the washing up or ironing.

        Car conversations can work for some parents but only if there is mutual respect and a history of open communication where the child is given the opportunity to end the conversation if they feel uncomfortable. Using the car to trap someone into a conversation that they don’t want to have is no-good-very-bad

        1. When you have a not-good relationship, the Car Conversation is another big reminder that you can’t escape, you have no power, you just have to sit and listen endlessly. My mom, well into adulthood, saved up big things she wants to say (about how she is worried about me because I am fat/ugly/stayed single too long/unsuccessful/will end up alone if I don’t pair off/will die alone and unloved if I don’t have kids, etc.) for car conversations when she picked me up at the airport. Solution: Fly into a different airport, take the train until I’m 15 minutes from our house. No more long car trip where I’m trapped!

        2. Yeah my mum and I would have car conversations too that were a lot more like your experience with them. Sometimes I even initiated them, because as you said, not having to make eye contact was a blessing. In addition, it meant guaranteed privacy which in a house with a bunch of other people in it was not always easy to come by AND it put a time limit on the conversation – the trip will only take half an hour, so the conversation can’t really go longer than that.

          I definitely agree that the mutual respect/boundaries thing is crucial. Even when we were having some really difficult conversations about me coming out to her (and ngl, as much as I love my mum and know she was doing the best she could, this experience was hell and she handled it v badly in a lot of ways), she never used car conversations to pressure me and once we’d moved past open communication into less healthy territory she would change the subject and try to end things on a positive note. Some of those conversations sucked hardcore, but they were conversations that would have sucked no matter where they happened.

  12. You should be prepared for this talk either way, but I do want to mention that I’m not sure whether this information will actually be revealed to your parents. I look over everything the insurance company sends me pretty dang carefully (after an incident of them not paying a thing they were really supposed to pay, which took a year to get corrected), and I have never seen individual prescription names listed on anything. In order to access this information, I need to talk to the pharmacy directly. Similarly, when I was on my dad’s insurance during college, he did not get a notice that I was on birth control.

    I obviously do not know whether this would be true of every insurance company, but it is true of mine/has been of others in the past.

    1. On this same point/for future reference or other folks who may be in this boat, this article does a good job of summarizing this issue and outlining ways that at least some insurance companies will let you change who can see your EoB. http://bedsider.org/features/275

  13. I think there’s an extra bonus points addition to the list that you missed, CA: “you’re being mean/abusive to me by trying to have/set/enforce a boundary (any boundary)!”

    There is a reason that I don’t talk to my mother as much about my health care anymore, if I ever tried to stop her from the train of what she thought I should have already done on her schedule instead of mine, I got that fun bit. (mean, not abusive, I don’t think she ever said abusive. Once I was being hypocritical because I criticized an organization for one thing and then tried to set a boundary about something else. My husband was there for that one, and afterwards he asked if I was overreacting. I don’t think he recognizes the signals, coming from a way less effed up family than mine)

    (I’m used to thinking of my stepfather as the abusive one, but maybe I should check out that book, because MAN that memories thing? she has done that for as long as I can remember.)

    1. I might need to read the book, too, because the memories thing is positively systemic in my family. It spans generations. My grandma’s mom did it to her, then grandma did it to my mom, my mom did it to her mom and also me and my sister. My sister and I try *really really* hard not to fall into the trap of “well I remember it this way so you’re wrong” but damn. Breaking familial patterns of invalidation is HARD.

      1. Yes! My perspective on my own mother’s revisionist history really shifted when I realized that her parents had done the same thing to her, normalizing the idea that kids make things up, childhood memories are unreliable, etc.

    2. I should say, my stepfather totally does all this too, I don’t know why it’s always the mothers who are tagged as narcissistic and never the fathers. Well, I probably do know…..

      1. My dad fails to remember any past event where he obviously screwed up. Not just a female thing.

      2. Yup, the narcissistic mother stuff blew my mind at first because my own experience was a completely narcissistic *dad*, to the point where when I was younger I assumed most narcissists were men (/most men were narcissists) just because it was such a foundational dynamic for me. I’ve since met people with narcissistic mothers and I completely get that that’s a thing, but I haven’t been able to bring myself the McBride book yet because it would be so hard and I’m not even sure how much of it would resonate anyway. It seems like it should be a more gender-neutral phenomenon overall? I mean, the gender dynamics would affect how it all plays out, but I’m wary of the idea that narcissistic mothers are SUCH a bigger problem than narcissistic parents in general. All of the Captain’s advice here is amazing though.

        1. I think it isn’t so much that narcissistic mothers are a bigger problem, as it is that the intersection of narcissism/a martyr complex, gender roles generally, and specifically the notion that a woman’s value as a person is intimately tied to how her children fare in life, has a tendency to produce a specific syndrome of abusive behaviors. Father’s can totally also be narcissists, and narcissistic fathers probably share at least a subset of those same behaviors, but the fact that father’s lives/self concept’s are [on average] not as intimately tied with their children’s life choices means that it tends to play out a bit differently in most cases. At least, that’s how I conceptualize it.

        2. Yeah, when I contradicted my dad on anything he told the whole family that I had “a personality disorder” and was mind-controlling(!?) my mother. So you’re not the only one who’s noticed this….

          1. Maybe we’re X-Men? My mother accused me of controlling and “brainwashing” my boyfriend into not liking her during our last fight. I’m also passive-aggressive, overly sensitive and I need to wear pants more. I almost wish that would fit on a t-shirt.

        3. Apparently McBride is working on some stuff about narcissitic parents now, as opposed to the earlier focus on just mothers. In the meantime, hooray Brené Brown?

        4. McBride is not saying that narcissistic mothers are more abundant/bigger/worse than dads, she’s just writing about the mother-daughter axis. A lot of the advice about how to handle it (boundary setting, distance when you need it, keep expectations low) and the patterns are applicable to many kinds of emotionally abusive families.

          1. I didn’t mean my first comment just about McBride, nearly everything I see recommended is talking about narcissistic mothers (books and websites, etc.)

          2. Check out The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, might be more up your alley, it’s not one-relationship specific and is a good (sad) good read. For dad stuff, specifically, House Rules is a memoir by Rachel Sontag that will ring some (sad) bells.

          3. It won’t let me reply directly to your recommendations, but I will absolutely check those books out, and I’ll take a whack at McBride, too.

    3. Oh yeah. I still have a kneejerk reaction to the term ‘gaslighting’ after someone accused me of gaslighting by disagreeing with them. FUN.

    4. Oh, this one. I know this one. I got told as a teenager that I was “abusing” my mother multiple times, by doing such terrible things as disagreeing with her or trying to set boundaries. In retrospect, I’m not sure she even knows how abuse works. She had all the power in that situation and she knew it; I couldn’t have created an abusive environment for her even if I’d wanted to.

      Nowadays, I realize that abusers co-opt the words of abuse victims because they want to disempower us as much as possible, but boy did it fuck me up at the time.

  14. LW, I am silently cringing on your behalf at the thought of your situation. I am lucky enough not to have unboundaried, over-involved parents, and to live in a country where, when I was on anti-depressants in the past, there was no need to worry about insurance or affording my treatment. But I absolutely do have the sort of parents who scoff openly at the idea of anti-depressants and have basically no concept of what mental health problems are like. (Ironically, my work involves a hefty dose of supporting people experiencing mental health problems; quite what my parents think I do all day is beyond me.)

    They extend this into physical health and have decided I am ‘always ill’ and that it’s somehow the height of feebleness to, say, take an anti-histamine to stop my mouth swelling up, or a painkiller to not have to lie queasily in a darkened room when I get a migraine once or twice a year. Strangely, I wasn’t moved to tell them about it when I took anti-depressants for a while; and even now I would be uncomfortable with them knowing about it. I’m sorry you find yourself in the situation where your privacy has been compromised.

    Others have suggested only bringing as much medication with you as you need for the trip. Is it worth asking a local friend to hold some of your medication for you, in case of any drastic flushing incidents at your parents’ house? And, taking that one step further, is there a friend or relative nearby who you trust and could keep on the bench as a backup place to stay for a few nights if it all gets too much? Someone who can be relied on to really, really want you to stay for a couple of nights to hang out/babysit/cat sit/house sit/help build some really complicated IKEA flatpack furniture/whatever? A month is a long time, and some opportunities to be Elsewhere for longer than the duration of a movie/walk/important wedding event could be helpful.

    (And I’d just like to say that I really want to go to an afternoon wedding high tea with wedding things wedding wedding. Someone please make this happen.)

    1. I dunno if it works the same in other parts of the world, but in Canada, if I have prescription repeats on file at one pharmacy, I can have another pharmacy phone them and fill it for me. I did that once when I was travelling. I just phoned the nearest pharmacy, the pharmacist there made the calls and then I went and picked it up. Hiding a backup supply is probably not necessary. Just have the prescription info and phone numbers handy.

      1. This is at least theoretically possible in the US, but not always trivial, so not a thing you want to be counting on for meds that you will be in dire straights without. And, not an issue for the LW, as they said they can pay for their med without insurance, but part of the problem is often that insurance companies will fight you about refilling prescriptions too close together. Basically, they pay for a month’s supply once a month, and if you fuck up and need more than that, you get to pay for it.

  15. That would be my parents exact photo copy. I’m not on antidepressants but I don’t tell them I’m in therapy much for the same reasons. I am by now at a point where I can comfortably ignore a lot of questions and evade when cornered. The scripts given above are really awesome. I wish I could remember them when in the situations.

  16. I feel the need to point y’all at Carol Ann Duffy’s We Remember Your Childhood Well, with the note that it was this poem that made me realise age 15-16 that I… wasn’t yet an abuse survivor, because I was still living it.

    And also: while my mum thinks therapy’s great, my dad approaches it with the attitude that he’s paying someone to tell him he’s right; dialogue in my childhood home on the topic tended to… be more of a monologue, involving Othering people who “needed to go to a shrink”, and extremely negative views of anti-depressants.

    I’ve been on my meds since January 2012. I don’t expect to come off them. I am so glad you have found a thing that works for you, and… solidarity, and things.

    1. oh, my! THANKS for the poem. I wish I didn’t recognize those sentences that begin, “Nobody did that.” Or the questions that followed, sometimes, like, “Why in the world would you make up a thing like that?”

    2. oh, kaberett, jeeeezus christ that poem. i’ll be over here in the corner gibbering for a bit. (I can only imagine the terribad sitcom of doom that would have been me and my parents *actually* doing family therapy. My Dad flat-out refused and my mother didn’t flat-out refuse, but was very determined to know that no-one was “blaming” her for my depression. I predict that actual attempts at family therapy would have been…bad. Possibly it would have involved the therapist and me constructing a liferaft and paddling away to safety and sanity)

      1. oh <333 I, uh. It got to me way before Larkin did.

        (Family therapy w/ my dad was exactly as much of a trainwreck as you’d expect. He… seems to take the attitude that he’s paying the counsellor to tell him that he’s right and everyone else in the room is wrong. Repeatedly. Over the course of decades. It’s… fascinating. Especially fascinating was the point at which, the one time I was subjected to this, the counsellor caught on, caught on that I was play-acting Being A Good Girl in sessions as a survival mechanism, rather than telling the truth, and implicitly encouraged me in it.)

        1. It’s a big part of Lundy Bancroft’s book – don’t go to couple’s counseling with your abuser, he’ll just use it as another venue to abuse you! A captive audience.

          1. This will be a terribly naive question, I’m sure, but aren’t therapists supposed to get some kind of training that will help them see through an abuser’s manipulation?

          2. Yes, but that doesn’t help the abused person when they are in the room with the Abuser Show. They can’t talk honestly. If the therapist sees through whatever it is, the abuser will take that out on the victim. Solo therapy, not couples counseling.

        2. Our family counseling actually did that, reinforced my stepfather’s belief that he was right and we were all wrong.

          And I later found out from my mother that in the couples counseling with the same therapist, the therapist told her that she was a bad person who was causing all the problems in the relationship (not the abusive asshole she was married to, natch…), and that if she would just be normal, my stepfather would stop doing the mean things.

  17. My father tried to interrogate me about what I discussed in therapy once. He tried to smooth and ninja about it. “So you were out later than usual, everything ok? Oh had a therapist appointment? Hope that’s going well. You’ve been seeing her awhile, you sure she’s really helping? What do you guys even talk about?”

    I laughed, like he’d told a hysterical joke and said that we were bound by doctor/patient privilege and couldn’t reveal what passed between us. He did try to point out that it only kept her from talking about stuff, but I said it wouldn’t be fair to her if I was sharing everything she said. And at that point I was stuck in “pretending to be stupidly moral” mode (his personal refuge) so the conversation wasn’t going anywhere. Like the Captain says, sometimes when you become a broken record, people loose interest in talking about a particular subject. It’s frustrating & I’d much rather have told him the truth (that I was talking about all the years of gaslighting and spiritual abuse my family had subjected me to) but it wasn’t a hill I was prepared to die on that day.

  18. A word about medical privacy if you are in the US: at 24 you are an adult and entitled to have your medical information kept private by your insurance company, even if the insurance is paid for by your parents.

    If you are not in the US then this won’t be helpful. If you are, HIPAA applies. Call your insurance company and explain that you do not want your parents to get Explanations of Benefits for your medical care. You can explain why but are not required to do so. The fact that you don’t want your parents to get your EOBs is enough reason for your insurance to not send your parents EOBs. Insurance companies should have a process in place by which to divert your EOBs to a different address of your choice so that your parents don’t get them or see them. There should be a process in place by which you can lock online access to this information as well.

    You may still catch some flak for being secretive about all of this if they find out you did this, and if your parents are truly terrible they may threaten to drop you off the coverage for asserting your privacy, so even if you are in the US you may not want to go this route. It is a option, however. HIPAA is your friend. It created extra red tape but that extra red tape is there for your benefit.

    1. Ok, thank you! I was wondering about this. It seems like having an insurance bill with an itemized list seems like all kinds of a HIPAA violation. The LW’s situation is one of the things HIPAA was designed to help with.

      1. A couple of sections of HIPAA were written with situations like the LW’s in mind, specifically.

    2. One thing to keep in mind about making a request like this: my stepdaughter in on a medication. On the online thing where we see what was filed, it is listed as “private”. We know what the medication is, but when her mother found out that we could see it online (thanks, Mother In Law who loves to stir the dramz and carry tales! Guess who never gets to hear any details on our lives EVER AGAIN!), she called and reamed out our insurance agency, and they changed it to “private”.

      Seeing “private” on a statement thing or online might set LW’s parents off even more.

  19. So, this should come garlanded with disclaimers. Big ones.

    I went the full confrontational route with my family, eventually, and it …didn’t actually work out any worse than the softer approach, and may have worked out better.

    So here are some other scripts, which should only be used after a lot of very, very deep thought and possibly an emergency therapy-by-phone session:

    They paid for (This month’s) pills (so they get to X):

    “Yeah, the pharmacy messed up. I know Dad disapproves, so I’m coverig them. Here.” (Place money on nearby flat surface. Do not try to hand it to them. Do not accept it back.)

    “But why didn’t you tellllll ME”

    “Mom. Are you listening to yourself right now? Because that’s why.”

    “You didn’t say anything about how you feel to me BECAUSE I’M A BAD MOM”

    “I know you’ve done the best you could, and still do. But no, I didn’t think you’d handle this well, and you’re not.”

    “You obviously don’t think that I AM TRUSTWORTHY ENOUGH”

    “I’d like to feel like you are. I’d like us to work on that. But you’re right, I don’t right now.”

    “(Arguments against taking meds from your Dad)”

    “You screwed your life up my way. I’ll screw my life up mine.”

    Again, I don’t know your parents. At all. In the case of my family this kind of thing resulted in them freaking out more, which they were going to do anyway, then backing away in horror when I stuck to my guns and let it be awkward, and then (once I’d demonstrated that I would in fact do this in front of other people if they tried to use that) … A long, weirdly peaceable period in which THEY were actively wary of setting ME off, because they didn’t like the consequences.

    And now we enjoy each other’s company. Angry awkward became fragile awkward became friendly awkward, but it was not fast.

    Generally, ime, this treatment will get almost anyone to either hang around and treat you nicely or go the fuck away, but: a) you can’t choose or predict which b) they’ll raise an unpredictable and exhausting number of times trying to make you fold before they change their behaviour c) it will nearly shatter your last nerve and you’ll need a lot of support.

    But, it is an option that you have. You are allowed to have private and secret things from your parents, and you’re also allowed to just tell them the damn truth they keep asking for but do not want, too. To keep the Bujold theme going, you’re allowed to choose an action, and the consequences thereof, based on your needs, the basic rules of non-abusive decency, and nothing else.

    1. Oh, god, I love these! I also find it works for me to give direct answers like yours, or even more direct, like “well, no, I didn’t tell you, because you’re very unhelpful with situations like this” or “You’re not invited to stay at my apartment because you’re bad at boundaries” or “I am not telling you when that funeral is (on other side of the family, after divorce) because no, I DON’T entirely trust you to not show up.”

      Obviously ymmv, though – this works for me because
      1. I live halfway across the country and have my own place, which I pay for, and
      2. My mom is bad at boundaries – but not as spectacularly bad as some. It’s not so much abuse as utter cluelessness plus the inability to ever learn, or to admit fault of any kind, or to notice her own hypocrisy… but since I now have the ability to enforce boundaries and embrace the awkwardness and I’m okay with her being unhappy with my responses, it works.

      One more script: once I was going to hang out with Favorite Aunt on dad’s side of the family, shortly after my mom & dad’s divorce, and mom asked me repeatedly why she wasn’t invited, so I said, “Can you tell you’re making me extremely uncomfortable?” – which put her in a lovely double bind of having to admit that either
      a. She lacks the interpersonal skills to tell when her only child is Extremely Uncomfortable, or that
      b. She could tell that she was making me really uncomfortable, but somehow HAD to keep asking – she went for this one, and I said “I see. Can you tell me why it’s so important for you to know why you weren’t invited that you have to make me Extremely Uncomfortable????” and then she let it drop. Victory!

      Sending much bullet-pointed luck and well-wishes your way, LW. You can do it. Let them own the awkwardness.

  20. Is there really a need to disclose that you’ve been taking them for a year? Or to mention therapy at all? You can use the “My doctor thought it would be helpful” line without mentioning that your doctor thought it would be helpful a year ago. You’re still stuck with Parents Who Will Make It About Them, but at least that’s one little thing that you don’t have to address.

    1. Yes, this. I personally would go with this is the first filling of the prescription. Then when they start with the “whyyyy didn’t you tell me see?” I’d respond with “I thought I’d just have the conversation here since I was coming home for a month anyways”. I have no idea if that would work on your mom, LW, but if it did then you’d only have the “why are you taking them” left to deal with.

  21. If I’m right about the type of guy I imagine him to be, he wins when he draws you into a protracted discussion where he gets to demonstrate his “superior” man-logic and cow you into at least lip-service agreeing with him to get him to shut up. You win by making the conversation as short as possible (even if you end up conceding/agreeing, like, ‘Yep, I’m so weak! Time to take my Lexapro, tho”) and by not giving a fuck. You can win this one.

    LW, if the Captain is right about this being your father, I have to second this method of dealing with it. Works like a charm on my father, and I wish someone had told me about it years ago; I had to work it out on my own, and was in my 30s before I perfected it.

  22. Oh wow, this is relevant… or at least it would have been five to seven years ago when I was still attempting to treat “brain things” medically before basically giving up on any of that. With my parents, it was all wrapped up with a weird idea that anything I did as a teenager, I did to be “cool” or because I wanted to live in the city. Cut my hair? You’re trying to be cool, stop it. Say I think I might be queer? What TV show did you get that from? Have anxiety so bad I can’t make it to class? Oh, now you think you’re really cool. Take pills? Is that so you can be like that rock star you like, who lives in that city you want to live in, which you won’t because you’re stuck here forever? Of course, my parents (especially my dad) have their own “brain things” which aren’t treated because that’s for Rich People who may or may not be Faking their “problems” to be Cool. Any higher-level discussions with my mom inevitably fall into the whole “I’m a simple country person, I don’t understaaaand” line, I have never had a deep conversation with either one of my parents.

    I also grew up in a tiny town before the Internet happened, so I had no idea that there even was such a thing as medical depression/anxiety, or ADHD, or anything. In retrospect, I said some really shitty things to people also going through “brain things.” Because when all you hear growing up is “you’re faking, you’re lying, you’re a wannabe city person trying to be cool,” it’s damn hard not to parrot that back. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t believe other people’s problems are fake, but I KNOW mine are. And I can’t be convinced otherwise!

    And, I’m not gonna lie, it hurts to see people who are open about things when I can never, never be, and it makes me kind of a shitty, shallow friend to people. Because I figure, if I’m not “allowed” to have depression/anxiety, then why should other people “get to” have it, and talk to others about it, and treat it medically, and get support, when I got none? Which leads to shame for being a shitty person and also shame at being the kind of person who doesn’t deserve any support. I tried to explain the self-shame to a therapist one time and she just didn’t understand the concept of “I can’t take the pills because they make me feel like I’m a teenager who’s trying to be cool, and talking to you is basically the same as being a rich city person. Feelings are fake.” To say it was a roadblock in my treatment plan is an understatement, and that’s why I gave up, because believing that the treatment works is an important part of the treatment and that’s a bridge I couldn’t cross. Here on the West Coast (I live almost as far away from my hometown as it is possible to without crossing an ocean), it feels like people are a lot more open about “brain things,” and while I think that’s wonderful for them it just brings up way too many bad memories. Because I didn’t have this support, ever. And if things fall apart in the future, I also will not have any support, mostly because I have too much self-shame to ask anyone for it.

    TLDR: I’m a terrible person to ask for emotional support because I never got any, didn’t understand the concept of mental illness until I was twenty despite growing up immersed in it, and am also trying way too hard to be cool.

    To the LW: I would solve this by leaving the house if you can, whenever the topic comes up, and spend as much time with your friends as possible. You don’t have to have a conversation with them if you’re not there!

    1. I don’t get the problem of your therapist, you explained everything very concisely? I dare to say this person may not have been a good fit.

      1. Agreed, I have/had similar feelings about therapy when I first started in earnest, and my therapist didn’t seem to find it incomprehensible/impossible to work with. It can be tough having to try again with a whole new person, but perhaps it could be a good investment? You more than deserve the support a compassionate therapist can give. It’s work to find the right one, but you’re super worth it.

      2. Haha, I come off MUCH better in writing than I do in person. Basically, she said she couldn’t understand why anyone would have shame about seeing a therapist or taking meds because it’s an entirely legitimate thing. Which, given my background, came out translated as “this huckster wants me to trust her, well I’m not gonna.” So really, as much or more my fault than hers.

        1. Hm, in my experience lots of people have shame about seeing therapists for lots and lots of reasons (it being coded as a “rich and idle” thing being a big one), and a good therapist should be aware of that. Even if they privately hold a different opinion, that’s not a good reason to alienate a client by saying you just can’t understand their fear. I have a lot of anxiety and I KNOW it’s irrational and that’s the point, so if I found a therapist who said they just couldn’t understand why I would be concerned about those things, I’d be looking for a new therapist right away. Part of being a therapist is being compassionate and empathetic even with people who have totally different experiences and perspectives than yours. It’s a big part of the job! Finding a therapist totally falls under the ill-fitting pants metaphor–it’s about finding someone who fits *you*, not trying to fit into something that’s made for someone else. The problem is those were the wrong pants for you, even if they look great on someone else.

          It’s gotta be hard on you to look though. I’m sorry about all that. If you do want to look again and you’re worried about expressing yourself clearly, it’s totally okay to write something out ahead of time and share that with your therapist or read it to them.

          1. (Sometimes when you’re well into the process, a therapist will try challenging some of your negative thought patterns and encouraging you to do so, especially if they’re cognitive behavioural therapists. But you do that AFTER you’ve established the relationship and the trust and all that good therapeutic alliance stuff. Also they should explain that that’s what they’re doing.)

        2. Yes I’m with thaxted. A therapist who can’t even understand why you would have a shame reaction about this? No way. If a therapist cannot understand your fears, they are supposed to ask until they do. And I’m really sure the problem wasn’t your lack of proper explanation, but their lack of empathy. I’m not saying you should try someone different, that’s totally up to you. But I do think that therapist failed you.

    2. Your parents’ accusations bother me so much. Of COURSE teenagers want to be cool. It’s totally natural to want to be important, to want to matter, to want to define who you are. We all need support and attention, and we all deserve love and attention. So the thought of telling a child that all these things are HORRIBLE BAD WRONG NOT FOR YOOOUUU makes me so mad.

  23. So, I have kind of a follow-up question to the awkward army that is pretty related to but not directly answered by this post. Do you guys have any scripts/advice for voluntarily coming out about antidepressant/anxiolytics/brain meds?

    Although my parents usually live in Reasonable Land, and are generally like “oh, you have a vague headache, here’s some paracetemol”, they are weird about brain/mental health things. When I started getting anxiety issues in varsity, they (and my doctor who had been my doctor since I was a baby) were like “I’m SURE you have perfectly reasonable things to be stressed about, it’s not really a problem, you just have to calm down” etc. When I had a spat of insomnia, they both FREAKED OUT about me taking some like super weak over-the-counter pills that were indicated like ‘take one for anxiety during day, take three to help with sleeping’. I was having like breakdowns and panic attacks at home but they didn’t think I needed any help. My mom definitely said to me at least once, “You’re handling it fine”. (Hint: I wasn’t). Any mentions of wanting to see a therapist were met with, “Well you *can*, but it’s so expensive/useless/a waste of money and time/you don’t really need to.”

    I moved out of home about four months ago, got a new doctor after two months, and I’ve been trying out SSRIs and seeing a therapist (which is in part due to the encouragement that I have seen on this blog to do so, so thank you guys so much) since then.

    Apart from this, my relationship with my parents is pretty good, but when I chat to them/visit, my mom often asks “Are you dealing with stress okay? Are you still crying/throwing tantrums for no reason?” and I really don’t know how to respond to that. I don’t really want to subject myself to the “But that’s a waste of money you should be saaaaaving” (hint: I am earning way more than is actually reasonable for a recent graduate in this economy, thank you computer science degree, and I am saving a fair bit anyway) and other discussions of how I shouldn’t be messing with my brain. But I don’t really want to keep pretending that everything is just magically okay and that she was right and I could handle it and I just magically got better on my own.

    Any advice/anecdotes/perspectives on this kind of situation? I would *like* them to know because it’s a significant thing in my life, and I’d like them to understand that it can be effective/helpful in case my little sister ever needs brain chemistry retuning, but I have been struggling to think of good ways to ‘come out’ or if it is even worth the effort.

    1. Well, I think you’ve got two options. Either you tell them that there was a reason, and your doctor and therapist have been very helpful in treating the cause, and respond to any “but whyyyy?” objections with “Because it’s working for me” and a subject change. Or you just tell them everything’s fine without getting into details, let them think what they want, and let your sister know that if she ever needs someone to talk to about mental health issues, you’ll do your best to either help or point her toward some resources that can.

    2. I talked a lot about the good effects and my own reluctance to try it. “I didn’t really believe the doctor, but before ___ happened, but now ____, it’s incredible!” (my increased ability to focus on studying was particularly effective) Or I compared it to other chronic conditions (asthma, or diabetes) to say, yes, I could manage without the preventative medicine, through drastic lifestyle changes, or I could live a normal life by managing it with preventative medication, and I chose normal. It’s totally worth the money, you wouldn’t believe the difference!

      Also helpful was explaining that medicine wasn’t a crutch-it was a preventative treatment to bring me back to the same baseline “normal” people usually start from.

      In the end, talking about it like normal, including the non-medication coping mechanisms helped change a lot of family views on medication. In the middle was less comfortable. The less ashamed I acted and the more normally I treated it, the more people around me accepted it as normal.

      But I was lucky in the people around me, and in my parents being pretty reasonable people.

      1. Yo – I do in fact use mobility aids including crutches, and they do indeed bring me back to the same baseline “normal” (or at least, make me a better approximation to “normal” function than I’d otherwise manage). Stigma around use of mobility aids caused me about the same severity of problems as stigma around mental illness.

        1. I just wanted to thank you for your post; it’s a REALLY good point that hadn’t occurred to me before but makes perfect sense. Why is that such a popular metaphor, when crutches (et al) ARE genuinely useful and needed by those who use them? Man, thank you for expanding my brain. 🙂

    3. I remember long ago reading a famous person’s coming out story. He said he was told “don’t come out in response to PR – come out when it is happy news for you.”

      When it comes to parents, I think that is always good advice. Even if they don’t receive it well, persisting in the “omg this is GREAT” theme makes quite a difference.

    4. The script I’ve used in this situation is roughly:

      I can possibly (probably, maybe, if everything goes really well, other) handle this without meds/therapy/both.

      I can also get by without painkillers, my cane, and my (much beloved) kinesio-tape when my knee’s acting up badly. I’ve done it. It worked out.

      But it is tiring and unpleasant and I get way fewer things not directly related to managing my knee injury done, and I’m sort of difficult to be around.

      So I’ve made the choice not to do it that way, because I don’t want to spend that much of the only life I’m going to get actively and intensively managing my pain and incapacity.

    5. If your parents are generally in Reasonable Land, and this particular issue is giving you stress, odds are good that you can talk to them about it and take off the pressure you’re carrying.

      Coming Out scripts to somewhat receptive audiences look something like this:

      “Mom, Dad, there’s something important going on in my life, and it’s important for me to keep you in the loop. I’ve been seeing a new doctor, and the new treatment and medications I’m getting have been really helpful. This is really good for me, and I’m really glad I’m going this, and it’s important to me that you know about it.”

      Once you’ve got through that, some points you want to touch on are:

      * “This is really helping me. I feel the difference, and it’s terrific.” (Or, if you’re just at the beginning, or more ambivalent: “I don’t know yet if this is going to be helpful, but I’m optimistic, I trust my doctor, and it’s really important to me to try.”)
      * “I know you’ve got concerns about this kind of treatment, but whatever downsides there may be, I’m dealing with them really well. This is worth it to me. I’ve made my choice carefully and with consideration, and I’m happy with my choice.”

      I think those two cover about 90% of the territory.

      Anything beyond that is your choice – how much you’re willing to invest in comforting/persuading your parents, or in letting them argue with you in any form. If you want to stop there, you can absolutely say “I know you’re worried; we’ve talked about this before and we’ll talk about this more, but right now, I just want you to know about it and be here to support me.” Most parents from Reasonable Land will understand and respect this. If you’re up for it, you can also go into “I really do/did need help with this,” talking a bit about the before/after improvements (it sounds like your parents are very aware that you’ve had problems; they just expected you to be able to cope with them without meds or treatment – so describing the change your feeling/expecting might make this more real and clear for them).

      Also in the “if you’re up for it” category, “I know you’re worried about this; why don’t you tell me what it that bothers you so much” is a good line. It lets them vent and it lets you listen. Don’t respond; don’t feel criticized or compelled to defend yourself – just listen. Knowing that you’ve heard their concerns could be really helpful to your parents in accepting your decision, and in keeping them close to you when your life’s changing. You basically close this with “I completely understand; brain meds are a scary thing, and *needing* brain meds is a scary thing. At the same time, I hope you understand that they’re also part of normal, good health treatment, and that they’re really helping me.” That’s it; end of conversation. You don’t need a point-by-point rebuttal and you don’t need to convince your parents; this part of the conversation is purely for the benefit of “I want you to know that I’m attentive to you, and I’m not doing this in ignorance or in protest against what you think.”

      Hope this helps 🙂

    6. Good on you for getting the help you need!

      I think one important thing is to accept that they may never understand, however much/well you explain it — in which case MsM’s suggestion to tell your sister you can be a resource for her is gold.

      But I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the conversation! MsM and mehting gave good suggestions: the combination of acting like this is a completely normal and healthy thing that you are doing for yourself, so why wouldn’t they support it and be happy for you? and being a broken record of “it’s working for me” without engaging in discussion/argument/justification is probably your friend.

      One thing I’ve had to learn to say to my dad (about lower-stakes stuff tho) is “actually, this was not me asking for your advice or permission, this was me informing you of this thing that I am doing” (heavily implied: and the fact that I am doing it is not up for discussion). Delivered cheerily, but still.

      I’ve got some side-eye for the “you should be saving” comment if they do make it. You’re an adult now and you get to spend your money however you want to (and including “unwisely”). I mean, you could reassure them that you’re saving money anyway, but it really isn’t something they have a say about.

      Keep taking care of yourself!

  24. Heh – I used to keep a diary and write to my pen friend (back in the ancient pre-internet past) in the elven script from Lord of the Rings.

    LW, as a fellow owner of difficult, probably emotionally abusive, parents I know exactly why you’re reluctant to have this conversation. Our parents have a lot of power to get into our heads because we grew up believing they a) knew what they were talking about and b) knew us. So when the get into their diminishing BS it’s hard not to wonder if they have a point. Also, if they’re into the no-boundaries, privacy invasion stuff it can make your skin crawl to have personal discussions with them because you just know they’ll ask a million intrusive questions you don’t know how to avoid answering.

    Here are some tricks I’ve learnt.

    Don’t be afraid to be repetitive. You can answer every escalating question with “I’m not going to go into it” or similar. Over and over and over again.

    Don’t be afraid to walk away. I don’t mean dramatically storm out (though you could if you wanted a show of anger of your own) – I mean just casually change the subject and if that doesn’t work you need a drink or to go to the toilet or to leave to meet someone for a thing. Whenever they bring up the stuff you don’t like just get out of there. I didn’t really understand how easy and perfect this was until I tried it. People like this sometimes feed on drama (my Mum does) and if you deny them the opportunity to wheedle and yell and be hurt and manipulative it really sucks the wind out of their sails. Of course my mother is somewhat tricky to walk away from as she’ll continue grilling me through the toilet door and thinks it’s hilarious when I complain, but going and talking to my brother means she would have to talk over our conversation which she can only keep up for a short time.

    Start with being less close – if your parents are like mine then they’re big subscribers to the idea that family share everything with each other and are really close and don’t have secrets. So when stuff comes up they use this to make you divulge every detail. This isn’t reasonable – share only what you want to share, even when they grill you. It’s easy to say, and simple to do, but it’s never *easy* to do. Remember they don’t have a right to this information.

    Toxic Parents by Susan Forward is another good book on this subject. Understanding how it works has helped me enormously in not getting sucked into it. That and living on the other side of the country. :-/

    1. I forgot to say – obviously LW you know your parents and know if they’d cut off your insurance if you set boundaries around this. If you think they’d do that then do what you have to to keep being able to afford medical care. 😦

      1. All too true. Also, parents who cut off medical care as a means to try to control you are parents who are asking basically to never see you again.

        1. Footnote: abusive liars tell abusive lies.

          It is worth doing some private research to find out if they *can* cut you off, how hard it is for them to do so, and if it has any consequences (like reducing their ability to claim you as a dependant) for them.

          1. FWIW, being on your parent’s health insurance but not being financially supported by them in any other way is NOT sufficient for them to legally claim you as a dependent. They have to be providing some significant amount (more than 50%) of your financial support for you to actually qualify as a dependent. You also cannot generally claim a child over 24 as a dependent unless they are permanently disabled and 100% reliant on you.

            I know this because my parents effectively stopped supporting me beyond health insurance and buying me plane tickets home about halfway through college (and even before then, enough of my support was coming from scholarships and part-time work that my dependent status would be debatable). Initially I let them continue claiming me anyways to avoid a fight, but eventually I could not afford to do that any longer. Thankfully, my mother is terrible with both finances and computers and therefore avoids doing taxes like the plague, while I have no problem doing them as soon as possible after getting all the appropriate documents. So one year I just went ahead and filed as an independent without telling her. She of course called me in April freaking the fuck out, telling me I’d screwed up and that it was unfaaaaair for me to file as independent because Health Insurance. I played dumb, like I had no idea it was going to be an issue for her, and was like “oh, I just did this questionnaire thing provided by my tax software and according to it I would need to have gotten more than X amount of money from you last year to qualify as a dependent. I know, I was surprised too, but I didn’t want to illegally file as a dependent and get you in trouble! I didn’t even think to discuss it with you, I assumed you’d do something similar and find out the same way.”

            She of course proceeded to huff and puff about how that “didn’t seem right”, but I just kept sort of shrugging and being like “I don’t make the rules, I just followed them, sorry”.

        2. My parents did this to my sister. I didn’t know about it at the time, but when she said she wanted to take a year off after high school to work and figure out what she wanted to do with her life, they did the “BUT YOU NEED COLLEGE OR YOU WILL BE NO ONE AND NOTHING” thing at her and threatened to kick her out of the house and take her off the health insurance. She still talks to them, but their relationship has never been the same.

          My mom threatened to cut off financial support for me in college after promising that she would pay for my apartment off campus to get away from my roommates/bullies, with the caveat that I maintain my grades. After arguments over politics and curfew on vacation at their house, she threatened me twice to stop paying for the apartment. At that point I told my father that if she did, I would never speak to her (and by extension, him, because he tells her everything) ever again because she was going back on her word. I don’t know what he said to her, but she hasn’t tried that again since.

        3. Truth. My parents used to threaten to take away medical care, school tuition, whatever property of mine they could get their hands on… the list goes on. They just could not handle the idea of me becoming an adult capable of making my own decisions. Well, now they haven’t seen me in two years and I pay for my school and medical care on my own, so bully for them.

          1. I cannot even express how much I wish I was where you are now. My father recently took my car- that I am paying for- because I was late on a payment. As in he came over with the spare keys during the night and I woke up to not having a car. He’s cosigned on the loan/title and even though I’m completely paid up now, he refuses to give it back unless I make my boyfriend cosign with me. I’m just… proxy-proud of you? Let’s go with that. Congratulations. 🙂

    2. I also used LotR alphabets for code for letters/notes in high school! So glad to hear others did, too!

  25. I can sympathize so much with this. My mom is exactly the same way, and I spent a good part of my young adulthood in dire need of mental health services that I was too scared to get because of INSURANCE COMPLICATIONS of this nature. It really hurt me long term, as those were some important years that I can’t get back. I don’t really have much to add on to the Captain’s spot-on advice, but I just wanted to say good for you for taking what must have felt like some very scary steps given your situation! Your older self will thank you. And you will survive your mother’s feelings about it.

  26. Oh goodness, LW, I am so sorry your parents behave like that and want to send you so many Jedi hugs and pictures of gentle cute animals of your choice.

    I want to get behind everything the Captain’s said. I grew up in a very similar household and the nonsense mostly stopped when I just packed up and left without telling them as I shocked them with my audacity.

    Like CA and several of the commenters, I can confirm that parents’ responses can be horribly predictable. When you were little, if you upset your parents, you were IN TROUBLE, and that was the worst thing. It meant screaming and lectures and deprived of things which made life bearable, and being alone with their anger and control. It was and is all about your parents’ self-image of themselves as parents. They define themselves against you as a knife to a whetstone.

    It’s awful. It’s awful when they throw temper tantrums, it still affects you as an adult because it’s an objectively awful experience. It is doubly effective as it probably triggers terrible memories they’ve spent years laying inside you.

    I think I read in another CA post that you really don’t have to deliver cool, calm answers when you confront someone and set a boundary while they’re acting like hooting pissholes. It’s normal if you shake and cry or your voice comes out funny, it’s scary shit even if you have a script and know the shape of the conversation. What matters is that you do say it. (And even if you don’t manage to say it in the moment–I find it still helps if you have the words as defensive wall in your mind, but it’s good to do both things.)

    I’m also yet another person who’d like to recommend ‘Toxic Parents’ by Susan Forward, she’s very empathetic and thorough.

  27. My mother was not nearly as controlling at yours, LW, but she did have this one thing. If I was late, no matter the reason, I got the silent treatment. When I was about 20, I was with a friend, and we got two flat tires, one right after the other, on the freeway. There were no cellphones back then. By the time I finally got home to my car, I decided that it would be quicker to just go to Mom and Dad’s direct, and not stop to call. When I got there, she wouldn’t speak to me. So, after about ten minutes, I stood up and said, “I thought you wanted to see me, so I made a 30 minute drive to see you, in spite of having to deal with two flats before I could get here. But if you don’t want to talk to me, I guess you don’t want to see me.” And I walked out, got in my car, drove home and wouldn’t take her calls ’til the next day. My heart was pounding and my hands were sweaty when I did it, but you know, she never ever did that again. We have a much better relationship now, since I realized that I’m an adult and no longer have to take it. Good luck. You’ve got this.

    1. Yes – dramatic boundary setting is very possible. I recall the first time I hung up on my mother and let her go through to voicemail until the next day. Or once when she refused to call ahead before dropping in and started “calling ahead” from the end of the street as he way of obeying my request – and I told her it wasn’t a good time (because it wasn’t) and then refused to let her in.

      Both of these things had a measurable impact on her behaviour. They felt terrifying when I did them, sweaty palms sick to the stomach at being so rude to her. But actually her upset was no worse than all the upsets she has anyway, and the rewards in terms of *really* sticking to a boundary were worth it.

  28. LW, not having to deal with parents like yours I can only sympathize, but I will make a deal with you. When you are faced with dealing with your parental units and are trying to dust off that script CA just gave you, I want you to see me sitting on a couch with a huge bowl of popcorn flung in the air as I am screaming at the top of my lungs, “Go, You, Go! YAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!” Got that? Popcorn every-effing-where and a middle-aged woman screaming to support Team You.

    1. Oh, hell to the yes! Here’s another — I’m the one with the “Science: it works, bitches” T-shirt howling and getting peanut M&Ms all over AutumnFire’s nice clean floor.

  29. So many good things have already been said, I just have one thing to add that I’ve said to people who get pissy/sanctimonious/concern-trolly about my antidepressants: You drink caffeine and alcohol. Why is it okay for YOU to alter YOUR brain chemistry for your convenience or amusement, but it’s not okay for ME to alter MY brain chemistry to help keep me alive?

    1. Yeah, you know what is super unhealthy? Untreated clinical depression. Even worse than conventional produce, no lie.

  30. I also find its hard to remember that this awful behavior is NOT normal, or at the very least, NOT acceptable. Its hard because the whole family now is bought into the lie that its normal, and desperate to maintain that illusion to maintain the status quo. And most social connections I have who haven’t met my family have no idea how awful parents can be without ever causing a bruise.

    This is actually why I think I read this website. Now that I’ve left them and life is so much better, I sometimes feel like maybe I just should have been more reasonable or patient and I was overreacting. Its not regret; life is so much better. Its… guilt maybe? And I come here and read the definitions of not-ok behavior and I feel much much better that I’ve made the right choice and its ok to choose to be happy at the cost of someone else needing to adjust.

    LW, I’m so so sorry we’re from a similar class of family. It is incredibly undermining. The economy sucking makes it worse. But, the further into adulthood you get, the more possible it is to become autonomous, which gives you the option to LEAVE FOREVER. And, you don’t have to take that option, but just having it as a shield and sword can be really powerful.

    Best of luck remembering that its not you, its their behavior. Just remembering that helps in so many little ways.

    1. Empathy-high-five from another person who reads here precisely because I need the constant reminder a) of what not-ok behavior is and b) that it’s not just okay, but AWESOME to set boundaries, use your words, and generally not put up with people being awful, intentionally or no . In my case, it’s part having a family similar to the LW, and part experience with abusive romantic relationships, that makes that important to me, but yea… it’s so incredibly validating to come here, and it helps me stay strong and keep living my [WAY BETTER NOW] life.

      1. high-five right back at you! 🙂 I’m so glad you also found a path into a way better now life!!

    2. And it’s so nice (for a weird value of nice) to talk to people who get this stuff. Who don’t think you must be lying or blowing it out of proportion because a parent would never do that. Who know about Car Conversations and no closed doors and everything being about someone else. My sister went through a very short window when she wasn’t drinking the kool-ade, but she’s back on it now so I don’t have anyone to back me up.

  31. I was glad the Captain said that bit about sometimes you’re justified in breaking things off but nevertheless for whatever reason want to keep that channel open. But in extreme cases like these what could that reason possibly be? I have a version of this conversation with various family members who keep (and are inevitably driven to intense psychic pain by) a relationship with my father. I understand that folks may feel an innate or socially imposed desire to maintain family relationships, but are those also the reasons they tell themselves? Or is there no reason you tell yourself, just an urge that you can’t overcome or don’t even want to overcome? Genuine question, it’s really hard for me to fathom this.

    1. Well, a bunch of reasons. Perhaps your experience was worse – there are degrees of emotional abuse. Also, to cut off my mother I would also have to cut off my father and brother which I don’t want to do. Also, it would feel terrible to do this because yes, she’s my mother. I do still care about her. Like most abusers she isn’t all bad all the time and has her positive qualities. But also I just plain care.

      I am currently low-contact. I don’t see them very often, and I’m far enough away they can’t just drop in unplanned. I usually call when I know mum will be at work (Dad’s retired and brother is unemployed). When I visit I focus my time and attention on my dad and brother and walk away from any conversation with her that gets weird.

      And finally? Family support is a big deal to walk away from. They recently helped me financially when I was out of work for too long, and not having that would have made a very unpleasant situation much much worse (homeless worse). Giving up the family network isn’t a trivial thing.

      Having said all that, I get why people do it, and know people who’ve done it, and have thought of it myself. It just isn’t for me right now. I’m having enough success managing her behaviour and setting boundaries.

    2. “Or is there no reason you tell yourself, just an urge that you can’t overcome or don’t even want to overcome? Genuine question, it’s really hard for me to fathom this.”

      Maybe you don’t need to fathom this. Maybe it’s not your place to fathom it. Especially not if you ask in a way that implies that those of us who don’t cut ties with our abusive or dysfunctional families have some explaining to do.

      “Genuine question” does not take the sting out, or stop another round of “maybe he’s right, maybe it’s not that bad or I’d be able to leave. Maybe it really is my fault” from starting in my head.

      1. It wasn’t my question you’re replying to, but it could have been.

        Because I second guess my own decision (to cut off) all the time. Because there’s so much cultural narrative that tells me to make up with my mother no matter what. But so many of the reasons given as to why I should have her in my life are, I think, the kind of reasons given by people who don’t really understand what’s going on. As if this were just some sort of teenage rebellion gone on too long or something.

        It helps me to hear reasons to stay given by people who DO understand. Who have reasons that are more thought out or nuanced or SOMETHING beyond “BECAUSE FAMILY” as if that were the ONLY thing that needed to be said. For me, it helps to see those reasons and say, “that makes sense but doesn’t apply to my situation,” because then I can tell myself that when I’ve thought about it, I’ve considered better arguments? Aargh, I don’t want to make this about good reasons v. bad reasons. But there are reasons that come from people who seem to, not only fail to understand the situation, but don’t even believe in the possibility of situations like mine, and there are reasons from people who understand and believe, and have come to different conclusions about how to manage. There are reasons that are based on concepts I can’t quite understand or believe, and reasons that seem based on my own reality. And when I can think about reasons that seem relevant to me and my situation, then I can feel like I’m making better decisions.

        I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I really don’t want to sound like I’m judging anyone. And I know the endless doubt. For me, hearing other people tell me about their thought processes helps me with my self-doubt.

        1. I cut off my mom (but not my dad) for years until her illness got to a horrific “seems like she might be dying sometime soonish” place, and then I got back in contact for my own well being / to stave off future regret. (She’s still alive — she’s been in “going to die any minute now” land for two plus years).

          Immediately before the cut-off, I had a long conversation on the phone with her and told her (super-emotionally) all the problems I had with the way things had gone, and after she derailed a few times, while I was sobbing, she said “well, I’ll let you talk to Dad now.” And I was livid livid livid. And then I decided I would have no contact with her except in writing. I told my dad this. He thought I was being silly and childish, but I held the line (except for being polite and civil at family gatherings). Whenever my dad lobbied me to talk to my mother, I reminded him that she could write me a letter whenever she wanted.

          She never wrote. Just sort of pretended like this wasn’t really happening. And it kind of broke my heart. It lasted a few years before she got sick enough for me to say “Fine, I’m shelving this because dying.” But I still remember. And knowing that my mom didn’t care enough about me to put pen to paper — that’s never going away.

          1. UGH THIS SO MUCH. Relatives who won’t conform to the way of communication you specified and then you are the one feeling guilty because there’s no communication. *solidarity fistbump* It’s not fair.

        2. “Because there’s so much cultural narrative that tells me to make up with my mother no matter what.”

          I feel this. What has helped me is, this place and the few other places like it? This is my culture now. I now belong to a culture where the consequences of bad behavior are the burden of the people who created them. In my new culture, cutting someone off is the sad but logical and therefore inevitable conclusion when they hurt you over and over.

      2. I definitely don’t need to, but understanding this would help me understand part of my family better. That was my motivation for asking.

    3. Some of my reasons:

      –a desire to stay connected to siblings and extended family who would be upset by my decision to not talk to my parents
      –now that I lack financial dependence on them, the ways they can hurt me aren’t as severe as they used to be, so cutting them off now seems extreme
      –some lingering doubt that maybe they really aren’t that bad, and that I’m overreacting
      –some guilt that I gave up trying to actually have meaningful dialog (in terms of getting them to understand why certain things they do are hurtful, or admit to their past failures) with them some time ago, instead focusing on just avoiding conflict/pain (hanging up or ignoring calls for awhile when they cross a boundary without a direct confrontation about why, giving non-committal responses when they tell outright lies about past events and change the topic rather than calling them on their bullshit?), and maybe in that time they’ve grown up a bit and could make meaningful progress, but I’m stopped giving them chances?

        1. From the age of sixteen through the age of twenty-four, I had two reasons for keeping a truce with my (wealthy, abusive) parents:

          1. Younger siblings, with whom I would have less contact were I to cut ties with my parents entirely.

          2. Money, particularly for education. My mother’s employer paid about half my tuition, and as much as I hated her and hated giving her the opportunity to harm me, that cash was tremendously useful.

          This is cold and mercenary, but when you hurt people for most of their lives, they get to have no interaction with you, or frosty mercenary interaction, or whatever they think will best help them move forward.

    4. To this I just say: You are ready to leave when you are ready. That means, there is no logicking into it, which you come kinda close to.

      1. I agree with Erin. When I decided to leave my mom, it felt very sudden and… done. Over. It was just a matter of implementation after that.

        With my Dad and sibling, nearly all the same logical reasons apply as did to my situation with my mom. I’m at the point where I want to leave and logically can’t come up with a reason not to. But, I’m just not ready to yet, so I’ll keep putting it off and staying at low contact/avoidant. I’ve given up hope of any relationship with them being better than “mildly awful”, but not the desire for the apology and reconciliation and the desire to be the bigger person.

      2. I think most people (maybe this is wrong and I’m in the minority) operate on a continuum between logicking and feelinging. I have to use one to check the other because either on its own leads to trouble. When a situation has me in (or close to) the kind of agony the LW describes, that’s a good time for checking in and doing a little psychic reconnoitering. I can’t possibly make any kind of reasonable judgment about whether the LW is making a good decision or not, I was trying to learn more about the process (which the commenters helped me do) to inform my own experience and my experience with my family.

        1. Ok, then this was simply a matter of misunderstanding. I read your comment as going in the direction of “why don’t you just…” A lot of people tend to phrase their advice as “curious questions”, which can be obnoxious. I can totally get behind having to think your way through stuff. In the absence of reliable feelings that’s very helpful.

  32. One of the things I’ve had to deal with from family and friends is people who say “Well if you are feeling better, why do you need to keep taking antidepressants?”

    One script I have found useful state that the general medical consensus seems to be that antidepressants are more effective if you take them over a period of AT LEAST 6-12 months, and for some people the benefits are greater if they continue taking them indefinitely.

    This may not work with your parent. My mother still likes to send me stuff about various natural remedies for depression, and these days I tend to reply with a vague “Thanks, I’ll look into that.”

    1. Wow! My neighbor’s blood sugar has been within normal ranges for months at a time! Hey, maybe she should stop taking insulin!

      Oh right! Her pancreas stopped producing insulin when she was six, and she would suffer horrible consequences if she tried to stop taking her medication. MAYBE THAT’S WHY NOT.

      It took me a very long time to come to terms with the idea that between chemistry and various other issues, my brain just plain does not bounce back from ordinary low moods under some circumstances, not without meds that allow my brain to reset itself. The “Hey! I feel better! MAYBE I’M CURED!” thing is so insidious even without friends and family backing it up.

    2. I’ve recently realised that I’m probably going to be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life. That freaks me out, because I worry that they’ll get less effective if I keep using them, but it is an undeniable fact that every single time I have stopped taking them, even after several years of stability and happiness while medicated, I have had another round of crushing depression within three-four months of stopping. Each time, there’s been an obvious triggering event or set of circumstances, but… they are events and circumstances that are going to keep happening in my life. (For example, winter!) I’ve started framing it as being kind of like having really bad hayfever… yes, in theory, the ideal solution would be “avoid inhaling birch pollen” or ragweed or whatever, but in practice, if you ever want to go outside at certain times of year, you take the antihistamines. And even then you might sneeze a bit.

      1. Brightwanderer, that has been my experience too. But apart from the inconvenience of having to renew my prescription every 6 months, it’s really no more hassle than taking the contraceptive pill every morning. Your hayfever/antihistamine analogy is a good one too.

    3. My mother was and continues to be very anti-medication; she doesn’t even like to take anything for headaches. Somewhere along the line I got the idea that taking medicine and/or seeing a doctor for anything other than a checkup was a moral failure of strength. For that and other reasons, I didn’t seek help until it was too late so save a relationship that was very important to me.

      To give an idea of the kind of person I modeled after, when my mother had an issue with dizziness, she said it was because she had changed toothpastes. When I had a biopsy and was shown to have Fabry Disease, she couldn’t be convinced that I didn’t simply have a thyroid problem. I finally started asking her where she got her medical degree, and that seems to shut her down.

  33. Maybe if you weren’t dependent on your parents, you’d have a better perspective. Get your own insurance, pay your own bills, and support yourself.

    1. Wow, you’re a jackass. Because everyone can totally afford to support themselves in this shitty economy, of course! Gumption! Bootstraps! America! Freedom!

    2. Wow. That was really inappropriate and rude of you to write. How embarrassing for you, to be so insensitive in a public place like that. I feel badly for your total lack of understanding.

    3. So…not everyone can do that. There isn’t always a job to get, or there are health/disability concerns or whatever.

      Secondly, while yes I have found financial independence is *helpful* it doesn’t even come close to solving the problem. It’s helpful to your own stress levels if they have nothing to hold over you, either with threats or guilt trips. But they can still be a nightmare to interact with.

      As someone who recently had to ask for financial help from family after a decade of independence I know how much I prefer not to have to do that. And how it is in fact the top of my list of debts to pay off because I’d rather pay interest to the bank in money than in weirdness with family.

      It’s one of the hidden costs of an abusive family, not always being able to (or wanting to) draw on a support network for help/money/effort that most people can take for granted.

      So yeah. A goal to aim for, sure. But entirely understandable if you can’t for whatever reason.

    4. Uh, could you fucking not. And by the way, LW WAS paying for the medication, so congratulations on both being a judgmental assbag AND having poor reading comprehension.

    5. Hah, exactly, because we should all be unfailingly loyal and unquestioning to people who treat us like dirt if they hold a monetary advantage over us! So wise!

    6. I get the impression Thom enjoys being a dismissive, entitled jackass in pretty much every interaction he ever has, as all of his posts at CA follow the same template.

        1. Wow, just two? His douchetabulousness must have made an impression out of all proportion to his ability to have an interesting point.

    7. So. Did your parents work you over and convince you that it was all your own fault because having people in positions of power actively hurting an sabotaging you was damaging enough to make fighting back harder, so now you can’t stand the idea of anyone else getting away half-intact, or are you just mimicking shit you’ve heard from abusers because it makes you feel all safe and warm to pretend you’re on their team so they won’t come after you?

      Either way, the amount of time you have spent dutifully bullying and abusing others will NOT actually be counted in your favour when the other bullies get bored and decide that you’re up.

      Just because you’ve decided to be on their side doesn’t mean they’re on yours.

      I mean, that’s not why you should stop it. You should stop it because it’s wrong, but you clearly know this and don’t care.

      So I may as well try pointing out that all you’re doing is ensuring that you’re going to have to hang out with other bullies pretty much exclusively, and there aren’t going to be many decent people around to help you out when the shit hits your personal fan.

    8. I think financial independence from parents is GLORIOUS, and was honestly, one of the most personally useful ways I had of reframing my relationship with my folks. If someone was like “I have this money, and I can use it to pay for us all to go to family therapy & fix our relationships or I can use it to get my own place” I will be the first person at the GTFO party.

      But it’s not easy or even possible for everyone, so thanks for reminding abuse survivors of another way that they might be failing It’s not like moving out has ever occurred to them, until one day the waves parted, and there was Thom!

      P.S. My banhammer is a ball peen hammer, the most humorous hammer.

      1. I’m sorry Thom showed up and Explained Everything To Us, but everyone’s responses to him really made my day.

    9. Don’t forget about learned helplessness, of which I was an excellent student. Looking back now, I can’t imagine why I didn’t run as fast as I could as far as I could. I feel tremendous guilt and shame for “allowing” myself to be treated so poorly for so long. I know I didn’t “allow” anything, but that doesn’t stop the feelings.

  34. LW, I’d advise trying a tactic I like to call ‘taking the fun out of winning’. With a lot of abusive people, they want to turn every conversation into a power struggle and a protracted fight where they eventually get you to cave.

    With your dad, the Captain already covered the technique, but I’d second it strongly. Just skip ahead to cheerfully, scripted-ly agreeing with whatever his wrong conclusion is. “Gosh Dad, you’re right, all of Western medicine is a crock!” the second he begins to hem and haw about ‘well shouldn’t you be taking St John’s Wort’ and leave.

    With your mother, who does the whole ‘doooo youuuu think i’m a bad motherrr’ thing, I’d say either give her what she’s asking for (“Yes, you’re a terrible mother whom I enjoy never talking to,”) or else make her win in the least fun way possible: blankly, flatly say something along the lines of ‘every grievance you’ve ever had with me is legitimate. i’m terrible’ and leave.

    Whatever tactics you lose, avoiding them and leaving conversations once you’ve shut it down once are the most valuable of all. They want to fight it out with you and get their rush of power, but they can’t win if they can’t start.

    1. My father is full of Important Opinions and Helpful Advice, and that technique works pretty well. His usual response is to drop the topic and comment on the sarcasm, and…gee, Dad, I wonder where I got that from?

      1. This technique will never be helpful to me with my mother, because sarcasm is to her what a red cloth is to a bull. (“You’re Being Sarcastic aka Making Fun of Me, Woe is Me for my Daughter is A Terrible and Mean Person who Enjoys Hurting Her Frail Mother!!1! Why Must You Torment Me So?!”)

        I dream of the day when I will be able to gracefully step aside and make her look silly when she charges, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that.

  35. That 7 step breakdown ending in “the wedding that is the only reason you are coming to town at all vs. YOUR MOTHER WHO LOVES YOU AND JUST WANTS WHAT BEST FOR YOU” is about to make me cry because I’ve had that exact fight beat by beat with my mother. Not about pills, but this is nearly every fight we have. She just found out I changed my name professionally and had an emotionally manipulative meltdown. Then she decided she didn’t like the name I picked and tried to pick one for me and had another breakdown when I said I was sticking to my plan. She’s so exhausting and I can’t deal with her anymore. Thank you for posting some scripts, they’ll be helpful.

    (The fight ended without resolution but later she brought up “Oh, when you change your name legally you’re still keeping your legal middle name.” Which is her name. I declined to answer.)

  36. LW, I would just like to offer my reassurance that IF your parents take your medical decisions in the worst possible light, and IF they cut you off, the situation is survivable. Does it suck? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. But (judging from context clues) if you live in the US, at least, there are ways of adapting and still getting your needs met. A good place to start is (google)(your city/state)(health services). Look at how you’ve been paying for your own meds already, that’s awesome!

  37. Dear LW,

    I second the idea of having a place to go for a couple of days. It is ok to walk out. Before going home, would it be possible to check with friends with whom you could stay a night or two or a week? That way, you can let your parents be awkward, and you have the way out. After going though all of the positive and productive scripts here, and you are still living with the emotional blackmail, be the adult and say “I’m going to stay at a friend’s house, maybe we can talk about this when you’re ready to accept this.

    It worked for me on the anniversary of my father’s birthday ( he had died 8 years before, and my sister, mom and I were at a fine dining restaurant.) My sister had my father’s wedding band along, which I hadn’t seen in several years. I asked to hold it. My mother then says “You’re never getting that ring…” *I was completely in love with -the one- and had been on cloud nine the whole visit home. “Your father believed marriage was only between a man and a woman.” ( possible he had said this to her at one time, but he had always supported me in the strongest ways and had he been alive, would probably have married us if I had asked. )

    I silently put down my napkin on the table and walked out.

    It was a beautiful summer evening, and I could have gotten home and left for a few days.

    I went back to the restaurant after about maybe a half hour, my sister met me at the door. She had backed me up and told mom how not-right her comment had been. Mom said a quiet “sorry”

    Flash forward to the last time I visited home last October. Since I live in Korea and don’t get face time with mom and sister very often, I requested to my mom that we talk face to face when we talk. A simple request right? She talks at me from the bathroom while I’m in the kitchen, or any other number of combinations. I go up to her and say again, could you please talk with me while we’re in the same room. The response I get is that I am trying to control the conversation. I have since decided that I do not need to go home anymore. Short visit, maybe, but not a month.

    It took me a long time to discover that I have “boundary issues” where I did not respect other people’s boundaries. Thank you Captain Awkward, for this site, where I’ve been able to see where I have gone wrong in my life, and how to act correctly.

    1. Right there with you on learning bad boundary stuff from my mother. It took me a while to realise they existed, both for me and other people. There are many things I’ve done that make me do the cringe-dance. :-/

  38. Hi LW,

    I fucking love the Captain’s advice and scripts here. I’m sending Jedi hugs, sympathy and some understanding of what you’re going through.

    I’m from a family with past physical and emotional abuse issues, I have mental health issues, as do my two siblings, and I have done for about eight years. I also have parents who used to be very “bootstrap!”-y and “depression is just laziness, you’ll feel better when you’re focused and working harder”, “depression is a reflection on us as parents”, “but you’re not REALLY depressed, you’re just going through a rough patch at the moment”, or my personal favourites:

    – “Where did we go so wrong with you?” (the last quote an *actual quote* from my mother)

    – “You’ve upset and worried your mother when you told her you were depressed; apologise and tell her you’re okay now” (my dad)

    There was once a time when I was 18, living at home, and somewhat geographically isolated (and broke), and my mum was heading into town and I had a therapy appointment to get to. I asked her for a lift to a place in town near the clinic, where I could have walked from. I wasn’t going to mention where I was going, and I didn’t have to lie. Anyway, she kept asking and I finally said, “I am going to a therapy appointment”, and she burst into tears and asked me why I was doing this. Like it was something I was doing AT her.

    For many years I didn’t tell them what was going on and was on my own with it in terms of paying for my own therapy bills even though I was on my parents’ insurance, etc. And I felt like a very small, sad, lost person.

    Look. It sucked, OK? It sucked, and it was lonely, and isolating, and I felt like I was facing this huge fight on my own, and that’s because I was fighting this huge fight on my own. And I just want to say, I’m so glad you’ve written in, because you’ve engaged the Captain (who is a million awesomes all on her own) and us, and we’re all here for you.

    And I’m so glad you sought treatment. I was so terrifyingly ashamed and anxious about admitting I needed help with mental health, and it’s only this year that I felt comfortable taking pills because it always felt like a huge, permanent admission of weakness. It’s so not. And I hope, even if you don’t end up saying it to your Dad in those conversations, that you know in your gut-of-guts (somewhere near your heart-of-hearts), you’re not weak for taking pills. You are so strong for getting help, and so smart to figure out a way to pay for your pills on your own, and so wise to have moved away, and so capable for doing grad school, and such a great friend, to be spending a month in a really tough environment to be going to your friend’s wedding. You’re doing so well, okay? I hope you can remember that and try to have a voice in your head that says “Actually I am rocking this shit, so, fuck you” (or some milder variant if you prefer) if your parents start on about the anti-depressants.

    You shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed about any of this. You shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for having mental health issues, or for not telling them about the anti-depressants, or for moving away, or for trying to be happy. And you might, in the month that you’re there, be made to feel guilty and ashamed – and as the Captain says, it’s survivable. You’ve survived it before. You’re a fucking kickass survivor, and you have so much to be proud of, and you and I are the same age, and have very similar families, and similar struggles with mental health, and I really relate, and I think you’re so great, and I wish you the best for the coming month. The Captain is so right that it might feel like a step back visiting them and falling into old patterns of interaction and behaviours – and also maybe having challenging memories invoked by being back in your old house. Jennifer is right; you’re not taking a backward step; if you feel way worse in their house than you have done recently whilst living away from them and working actively on your mental health, it’s not a sign that you’re less well than you thought you were / are “fucked up” or anything like that – just that that environment has a certain affect on you.

    The only other possibilities I’d suggest are:

    – A password-protected journal like a 750word style option to get feelings out

    – The number of your therapist / some sort of 24-hour mental health line on speed dial (if they go through your phone, they’re not going to notice a thing)

    – Putting your anti-depressants in a vitamin jar – this is obviously depending on what you’re choosing to tell them about the pills

    – Either mentally preparing, or writing and emailing to yourself, a relapse plan for what happens if you have a downswing while you’re staying with them – what are the known triggers and warning signs, where do you go, what do you do, who do you talk to

    – Having a think about old friends who you can peel off with and vent to and distract yourself with if things are hard at home. Luckily the wedding provides a great excuse to be out of the house and if you wanted to volunteer for any helpful wedding-ness picking-things-up or other chores that might be a great way to Escape The House. I think if there is a particular good friend you’ve kept up with, maybe looping them in (“Hey, Sandy, I’m going to be staying with my parents for a month for the wedding and I’m thinking it might be pretty hard and stressful; mind if we hang out in that time a fair bit? I’d love to see you anyway and it would be lovely to have a place to go to that is Not Home”) and then if you feel the mercury rising you could always be like, “Dinner at Sandy’s, bye!” or “Sandy and I were going to discuss wedding outfits, catch you later!”

    – YMMV and I don’t know the nature of your mental health stuff, but just in case your depression is comorbid with anxiety, I also found that asking for an extra script of valium / something to calm me the fuck down when I am having a very challenging time actually means that I end up being able to handle way more things way better – sometimes there’s a placebo effect in even just having something to stop panic in emergencies. Might be worth checking out that option with your prescribing Dr.

    Finally: just a reminder that you got this; we’re all here for you; and I hope it’s a smooth trip. All the love X

  39. I didn’t get on SSRIs until this spring, at which point I had been out of college almost two years, gotten a job, and had that job’s insurance kick in. (I did experiment with St. John’s Wort a few times with some small success, but I was dumb and stopped taking it.) I tried to get my EOBs changed around so my parents wouldn’t see them, but I remember it involving multiple long, grueling phone calls and to this day I’m not sure if the changes actually went through. So much for that. I feel pretty lucky that I was able to get my own insurance through work because I wasn’t expecting to be able to for years yet. (Many colleges offer student insurance plans, but they’re something like several hundred dollars a semester, which may be a lot to cough up if you’re depending on scholarships/loans/work hours that are limited by your class schedule. Plus sometimes they only work at the student health clinic.)

    Like you, LW, I probably should have gotten on the meds years ago. I don’t really have any scripts to offer—my parents still don’t know and I’m not about to tell them if I can help it—but lots of jedi hugs.

  40. Dear LW,

    I feel for you. This is awful, and sucky, and when you are depressed, the last thing you want to do is justify your meds. I have been in a situation a little like yours. The first time I told my father I was on antidepressants, he asked if I’d tried champagne, presumably in an effort to fill out some kind of problem child bingo card.

    Then, this spring, I ended up with a lot of relatives finding out that I was depressed and suicidal. Some of them were actually helpful. Some of them dispensed ‘help’ that left me even worse.

    Do you have a Team You in your home town who are not involved/minimally involved with the wedding? Can you enlist them to help you deal with this/get out of the conversation? A text gets a call to tell you that there is an emergency/niggling issue that Only You have the power to solve? (My family call this ‘the budgie has taken a turn for the worse!’)

  41. Look up off-label uses for your drugs! Some antidepressants are also used to treat headaches. Others can help with PMS. Find something plausible like “oh yeah I’ve been having some headaches and my doctor wanted to try ___ to see if that would clear things up because there was a study by ____ that showed some improvement in that area.”

    1. It was suggested upthread. I think this is extremely risky. It creates a lie that becomes harder to maintain/defend, and it creates more worry for a “medically trained” mom and gives them MORE incentive to want the LW to get off them.

  42. I’m still working through my issues with my parents because everything is so damn vague and implied. OK, maybe not my dad, who just says mindboggling things while not wearing his hearing aids (so there’s no way to reply), but my mom works through implications and facial expressions and hints. So it’s hard to pull up examples for people (and myself) of why I get sad every time I deal with them. Have any Awkwardeers dealt with this situation, and figured out ways to make the gray fog of bad more concrete?

    1. One way to get around all the implications is to act/respond ONLY to things your mom fully articulates. Like, ignore all subtext/expressions/tones and respond only to words. And also to respond as if whatever was said with only the most positive possible implications. For example, my mom: “Glad you could finally join us!” (said sarcastically, with raised eyebrows of disdain commenting on my sleeping ‘too late’) Me: “Good morning! I’m glad too!” (enthusiastic and sunny). Basically I Pollyanna that shit to death, and if she’d going to say something about an adult sleeping late…on vacation…she’s gonna have to come out with it.

    2. I’m not sure whether you’re asking how to respond to your mom’s hints and implications, or how to counter the effect they have on you. If it’s about how to respond, then I totally agree with the Captain’s advice to only respond to the words you get. It’s an enormously effective tactic on passive-aggressive people, and (bonus!) it frustrates the hell out of them because they can’t work out why you’ve suddenly stopped interpreting “Oh, don’t mind me!” as “don’t mind me!” instead of “focus all your attention on me!” which is how they meant it.

      If it’s more about knowing that your parents drag your mood down without ever being able to put your finger on *why*, but you know it’s because they’re thinking [thing they’ve been thinking/saying/hinting for going on twenty years], then one thing that works for me in this kind of situation is to actually visualise myself as having a shiny bouncy reflective wall around me, and then consciously noticing the behaviours that are attempting to manipulate you and imagining them flying out at you and just bouncing off. That sigh? Ping! That worldweary look? Ping! The hidden undertone of “but you wouldn’t care about that anyway, you never do”? Ping! You are shiny and reflective and it’s just not getting through! If they have a problem, they’re going to have to come right out and say it!

      And when you’ve spent a day or a week or a few days or whatever doing that, make sure you have somewhere safe to go and flop and ideally someone trustworthy to talk to, because it is EXHAUSTING. I can make it sound very easy here, but to do it takes loads of energy and concentration and it properly wears you out, and you need somewhere to go and relax and recharge afterwards.

    3. Ooh, definitely good tools from both Jennifer and Mary – thank you both!

      I think what really bugging me (and I am working on it in therapy) is that I get enormously triggered by my mom in particular, and I somehow don’t feel justified to have negative feelings. Like I need an actual story to tell myself and others to explain why I’m not close to her. Then again, the stories that I do have are from times when I refused to engage with the Gray Fog of Mild Disapproval for one reason or another, so she had to say that my clothes were the ugliest in the world and that my guestroom smelled bad (after 2 days of her staying in it without a complaint).

      1. My mom is an objectively terrible person who does and says terrible things to hurt me. Maybe yours is the same 🙂 Not meaning to sound glib, but honestly, some people are just awful (or awful to you in particular) and it sounds like she’s pretty mean to you. If someone goes out of their way to be mean to you, that’s not being triggered, that’s literally someone going out of their way to be mean, and feeling bad about it is normal. We’re human, and humans feel bad when someone is mean to them.

        Also, the sheer scope for awfulness made possible by the kind of power dynamic inherent in parenthood is really stunning. Mothers have the opportunity to train you *from birth* to respond to certain stimuli. Mothers who use this power for evil are capable of inspiring what look like irrational responses with the smallest stimulus *because they’ve trained you to do it*. The work it takes to unlearn this stuff is HUGE, and even once you’ve got it under control in regular circumstances, it’s much harder to control when the stimulus is being provided by the person who did the training.

      2. “I get enormously triggered by my mom in particular, and I somehow don’t feel justified to have negative feelings.”

        So, I’m not sure if this is what you are talking about, but I’m at this point with my family where they’re being better than they used to be (not because they have really changed, mind you, but because I am largely independent of them and set firm boundaries so they know they will lose access to me if they are shitty), but I’m still getting really, really upset by them sometimes, sometimes over things that seem pretty innocuous. For instance… my mother demands trust, but is also super unreliable/untrustworthy in a bunch of ways that have had significant negative effects on my life. Recently, I called her at our usual time (I speak to her about once a week, during a brief break between two firm commitments, so that she can’t get more time out of me than I intended to give her), and she said “oh, I’m so sorry, I have to run into a store real quick, but I will call you RIGHT back, I promise.” She then didn’t call me back until several hours later.

        Now, I didn’t even really want to talk to her (I rarely do), but I got SO PISSED. Like, livid. Because for me, this was like ALL OF THE TIMES MY MOTHER PROVED HERSELF TO BE UNRELIABLE. And I felt fucking ridiculous for being so mad. Like, taking longer than you meant to in the store can be an honest mistake that could happen to anyone, right?

        But I talked through this in therapy, and realized that what I was really angry about is that I had “trusted” my mother’s promise, in that I had not started doing anything else in the time between when we were supposed to talk and when I had to be at my appointment. I could have listened to music or read a book, but instead I sat in silence waiting for my phone to ring. And when time was up, I was angry at myself for being dumb enough to trust her, thus wasting that time, and this brought up for me all of the times that I was screwed over for trusting my mother, and how fucking betrayed I felt. And because I’ve never gotten any closure regarding any of those things (my mother is the type who insists that all the awful things I remember NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED, and I am just a crazy person/horrible daughter who wants to hurt her for no reason), those reminders still tap a deep well of anger and hurt.

        And basically, I feel like this is what is happening all the time now in my relationship with my mother. She’ll do little things that aren’t in and of themselves that bad, but because they are part of larger patterns of bad behavior that have never been addressed between us, hurt out of all proportion to the act itself.

        I don’t really have an answer for this, other than to keep reminding myself that I have reasons for feeling the way I feel, and working through those things in therapy. My therapist would like for me to also start speaking up even about the smaller things, to protect my own sense of agency even if if they don’t actually change my mother’s behavior, but I’m not sure yet whether I’m ready/willing to go down that road… we’re still discussing it. So maybe that will help down the line. But for now, I just try to remember that my feelings come from somewhere, even if that “somewhere” isn’t obvious in the immediate situation where they first arose.

    4. You know, reading your comment makes me think that this “gray fog of bad” is a feature, not a bug. If all she has to do is lift an eyebrow to make you dance a jig, that’s gotta be a power trip, right? That’s gotta be on purpose. There’s no way to make it more concrete, because the fog is *intended* to be a fog. Your confusion and uncertainty are the intended result. My mom isn’t as bad as you describe, but in addition to Jennifer’s excellent Pollyanna number, I find that a frankly blank (as opposed to cheerfully blank) expression and a refusal to decode can also help return the frustration to the sender.

      1. Hmm. Leonine, I have to seriously think about this because I never thought about it as a strategy before…but I think it is. Not so much a chosen one but one handed down from generation to generation. Hmmm….

        (And I am anon above – still learning the WordPress ins and outs!)

        1. It probably isn’t chosen or deliberate or conscious, but I agree with Leonine that when someone repeats [behaviour], it’s usually because they’re getting something out of it. I do believe that someone who constantly picks fights does it because there is some kind of reward: even if they claim to hate conflict, there’s something about being the centre of attention, or distraction from some other problem, or confirmation that they’re a terrible person whom nobody likes – even if it’s something that looks negative, they’re getting some kind of reward out of it.

          I think that’s why changing the script can be so effective: just disrupting the “if I do X, I get Y” feedback loop even on a small level can surprise both of you. But it can also be exhausting because people will fight very hard to get you to provide Y if that’s the only thing they know how to do.

  43. If the LW has friends in the area, which it sounds like he/she does, maybe they can get assemble some Team Them as well? If they’ve got friends they trust, maybe they can have a pre-arranged signal where a friend can swoop in with some urgent wedding-related thing and scoop up the LW.

    My father is also one of those “try nutrition and exercise and a good night’s sleep!” to treat my crippling depression and anxiety. It took a full-scale, involuntary hospitalization breakdown to convince him that yeah, maybe my brain chemistry was out of whack enough to require some professional intervention and that this wasn’t something I could jog-and-protein-shake away.

  44. I relate to so much of this and the comments. I have bigger issues but I don’t really feel like going into them right now, however there’s one thing that’s a constant annoyance that I would like some advice on. I live with my mother (I’m studying at uni) and when I have days off and she’s out she always asks what time I got up. Because I tend to sleep in late (often not completely intentionally…) I really don’t like answering because half the time when I answer I get some kind of “you should go to bed earlier” or “you wasted the day” and the other half I just feel judged. But then if I refuse to answer she just guesses really late times and unless I explicitly deny them say even later ones with a judgemental tone until I break down and tell her. I tried telling her that I don’t like her asking and I don’t think it’s any of her business but basically all the things with LW happen, she thinks she has a right to know and it isn’t a big deal, why am I being so defensive, she just wants to know, etc. I guess it’s just a microcosm of other aspects of our relationship, like I can’t even have this one boundary about something as trivial as the time I got up. I don’t know what to do.

    1. So you are stumbling on a really common dynamic, where excessive monitoring and control by parents sets kids up to lie, and then resent having to lie. I would try countering with a direct question: “Mom, what time do you wish I had got up? Please just tell me what the appropriate time is, and then I will tell you that time from now on.” Ugh, I’m sorry.

      1. I have taken to, when I think I’ve stumbled into a scripted encounter, saying “This is a scripted encounter, and it is unreasonable to ask me to participate in it without giving me the script. What do you want me to say, because I got shit to do.”

        Weirdly enough, no one ever actually takes me up on my willingness to monotonously repeat whatever lines they’ve given me in their head.

    2. Oh, just lie to her. She’ll never know and you’ll avoid an argument. Of course, it would be better for her not to ask at all, but if ever there was a place for a harmless lie, it’s here.

      1. Or lie in a way where she knows, but like a broken record.

        “What time did you get up?”

        “Six million o’clock.”

        [Repeat “Six million o’clock” to LITERALLY EVERYTHING SHE SAYS until she drops the subject. This may take a long time. If you can, keep the tone pleasantly flippant.]

      2. I wish I was capable of lying to my mother. I have been explicitly encouraged to lie to my mother by mental health professionals. I just can’t do it. When I try, I am obvious and bad at it. I think it’s partly an autistic thing. /o\

  45. “What time did you wake up?”
    “When I felt rested enough. How was your day?”
    “What TIME did you wake up?”
    “I woke up when I felt rested enough. What’s for dinner?”
    “We are not going to discuss my schedule. I’d love to talk about this exciting class I had, though!”
    “We are not going to discuss my schedule.”
    “We are not going to discuss my schedule, and if you keep asking me about this, I will go into my room.”
    “Goodbye. I’ll see you at dinner!”

    (Repeat 1000000000x)


    (Dan Savage once said that sometimes the only leverage you have with family is your presence in their life, but it can be a big huge piece of leverage. USE IT!)

  46. I find it helpful to think about some of these issues as “Parenting upward.” Like, these are moments where you really have to parent back at them by a) gently correcting, and b) giving consequences, to the end of healthy behavior modification. When I think about it like this, it makes me feel more confident/powerful/rational, and less like a sulky teen (which is how my mind always wants to tell me I’m acting, despite being in my 30’s).

    1. I think that is fantastic. Frankly as a parent of two kids it’s can be difficult to see when they’ve moved to the next level (mine are little). I do see some of this with my very bright teenage niece and nephew, and it’s funny to see it from the outside in. Like oh, you are ready to do x or to have access to y. The parents are often the last to know. And if you’re the parent dealing with your own issues parenting upward might be the only way for the now growing or grown child to get the parent see the change.

  47. Wow. I read through the list of bonus points and ticked off all of them in my head.

    I’m still living at home, so I’m still in the process of dealing with ‘Am I overreacting?’ I still get stuck wondering if my mother’s actions are actually reasonable and I’m just being a drama queen (which is what she always says). It helps so much to read something like this and realise ‘no, it really isn’t okay for her to say/do these things’. I was very much like you growing up, down to the room/bag searches and the secret notes between me and my friends (also about totally benign stuff). I wasn’t allowed closed doors, and I pretty much never had friends over. The body/life-shaming continues to this day (I am 22).

    Reading this really helped me feel better about my situation, and confirm that it’s not all in my head. I had a similar situation to the OP when I went on birth control. Of course, my mother had to know about me going on it and making the doctor’s appointment and she told me all about how I was going to end up barefoot and pregnant when she saw I’d missed a dose one time…

    But anyway. Thank you, Captain.

  48. Oh boy. Like lots of people upthread have said, this letter hit really close to home for me.

    LW, I wish you all the best. Please know that I will be crossing my fingers and holding my thumbs and doing all manner of luck-bringing things in your favour. Yours is a terrible situation to be in and it’s not fair that you have to deal with it. Still, I hope you can get through it without getting sucked into Unreasonable World and forgetting that you are actually completely in the right here.

    As for actual advice, much helpful stuff has already been said and I don’t have much to add, other than emphasizing what homeruncommitment said about preparing for a possible downswing during your visit. It may be that it won’t happen to you, which would obviously be preferable. Personally, I always get shaky and sad after I’ve interacted with my parents in any way, and if I were to live with them longer than my self-imposed four day maximum I’m scared to think what it might do to me. Enquiring with friends about whose home you might be able to escape to for a breather is a great idea. Making sure you have someone you can talk to is also really, really important – whether it’s your therapist or a phone line really depends on what you’re comfortable with / what’s available. If you have a comfort object (and aren’t worried that your family might confiscate it) now might be a really good time to bring it with you.

    My situation way back when was similar, but not identical. It was better, in that I got to choose how and when to come out to my mother about using anti-depressants, but worse in that I had to do it because I needed her to pay for them. I won’t lie and tell you it went well, but I did it and got the medicine I needed, which was the most important thing. And while the choice about telling your parents was taken from you, you have a choice about how to react to their reactions. It’s not going to be easy, but you will get through it – as the Captain says, you have already got though bad things, so you know you can survive.

    That couch full of people cheering for you? Imagine me on it.

  49. LW, I’ll add one bit of advice for you – you say the meds are working. When you are listening to the guilt and the criticism and the sniping comments suggesting that you are somehow ‘weaker’ because you went on medication – REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE WORKING. I waited until I was in my early 30s before seeking help and I lost out on a LOT of my life because of that. I struggled for months with taking those pills because I truly felt I was somehow ‘giving in’ or ‘admitting’ that I wasn’t able to manage without them. And then… then the meds started kicking in


    I have never been so happy in my entire life. I had no idea before I started medication what it was going to be like, I had no faith in those pills, but when they kicked in I goddamn knew it, because suddenly I was able to face life without having panic attacks and throwing up every morning and coming home every night to crawl into bed with two bags of microwave popcorn and four cans of coke, hoping to god that that night would be the night I finally ate myself – literally – to death.

    So here’s the thing. Even if it were true that taking those pills somehow means I’m ‘weaker’ than others – even if it were true that I was ‘giving up’ – I don’t give a flying fuck. I am *happier*. I am *healthier*. I am *in control* of my life now and in the five years that I have been on that medication I have turned so many things around, and even though life is still a struggle – a struggle with my continuing troublesome relationship with food, a struggle with my continuing debt that I racked up over years of depression – I am *happy* because I am now standing in a position where I have that strength necessary to face those things and to deal with them instead of throwing up, crawling under a blanket, and sleeping as many hours a day as I can just to avoid thinking about all the ways in which I’m fucking up my life.

    Anybody who would judge someone who takes antidepressants should goddamn well *have* to spend a day – hell, an hour – in the mental shoes of the person taking it. I guaran-fucking-tee you they would *not* come out the other side still arguing about your right to take whatever steps are necessary to get that beast under your control.

    1. Preach. If you read this follow-up, do you deal with any feelings of guilt over things you did while unmedicated? I feel a tremendous sense of loss and regret that impacts my daily life. Before I was medicated I saw seeking help as a weakness; after I was medicated, I saw not getting help sooner as a weakness. I’m pretty good at seeing things in a way that whatever I did, I was wrong.

      1. I’m not the person you’re responding to, but…

        I struggled for years with this. My therapist finally told me: you did the best you could with what you had. As smart as you are you are not perfect and you did not have perfect knowledge to make all the perfect decisions. Everyone screws up. (Seriously, this was in reference to seven-year-old me not reacting as an adult to my abusive father. I blamed myself for decades for not being perfect at age seven.)

        It’s not a contest, where whoever screws up the least wins. If it was a contest, you’re winning! You sought help, you got it, and you’re sticking with it. Try to forgive your past self, and understand that that person did the best they could with what they had.

    2. All of this. LW, this is a script for you, not for your parents (unless you decide you’re completely had it and the Hell with it)

      Again, even if you CAN handle your symptoms unmedicated/without therapy – and most people can some of the time, some people can most of the time, etc, etc: do you know what the prize is for doing mental illness or mood disorders The Hard Way?

      Gold-Plated Fuckall With A Silver Handle, that’s what. You get NOTHING.

      Except very probably a lower quality of life.

      1. This so hard. My dad thinks nothing he touches is ever wrong, so of course his kids aren’t depressed. My mom thinks she failed as a parent, or blames it on my dad’s defective genes. I tried really hard to Be Strong, to Rise Above and be Bigger Than My Past Abuse… and it sucked.

        Now I’m “weak” and “defective” but I am still alive, and I might not have been if I was still busy Being Strong. I lived to start the job of my dreams on Monday and marry the partner of my dreams next fall and I have never been happier.

        Gold-Plated Fuckall. That is beautiful.

    3. This this this this this. Your comment made me remember what it felt like the day I realized I was actually happy, this good clean light awake feeling was normal, I could keep feeling like this…

      Dammit, crying a bit. The good way.

      LW, I am so glad the meds are working for you. I will cheer for you from that couch.

  50. Variation on the Car Conversation: the Car Fight! Let’s trap all our kids in the car with us and then scream at each other all the way to visit the grandparents’! Then let’s quietly threaten our kids for not being happy enough at the grandparents’ place! And then yell at each other/the kids all the way home after! And hand out punishments once we get home! What a great family outing!
    Although in my situation it was a mom-instigated thing, and she was the only one threatening our lack of happiness.

    1. Someone’s been to my family get-togethers! I had no idea we were related!

      My mother used to Stepford her way through almost EVERYTHING and would give me no indication she was displeased with me (her natural way of speaking to me was always plastic and slightly irritated, so there was no difference) until she got him and started to shriek, usually picking the very second I finally breathed a sigh of relief and figured I’d made it through the day without waking the beast.

      I find it really interesting that parents (mothers in particular) seem to think that going “BE HAPPY” actually makes you happy to be somewhere. Because all it does is turn children into performers who are way more preoccupied with not being poked and prodded and quietly chipped away at than they are having a good time with their relatives. Every time. You think they’d notice eventually.

      1. I love the Simpsons episode, Moaning Lisa, about this thing exactly. Marge realizes she’s been pressuring Lisa to perform happiness and cheerfulness, because it’s how she was raised. And she decides to stop and let Lisa be sad.

  51. This is familiar, and you used my favorite LMB quote from Ekaterin!

    To give you a little hope, LW, I went through a similar thing: a parent who didn’t believe in depression, much less medicating it. I followed similar scripts, repeated over a series of months wherein my father got more and more frustrated about my continuing to use “expensive placebos”… until one day, he called me and apologized.

    To back up what Dawninghorror said re: judging people without walking in their shoes, it turned out that my dad’d been fighting depression, and he’d tried exercise, etc., but only got on an even keel after finding the right medication.

  52. LW, I feel for you and get the emergency letter to Cap. (Wise move! I hope you’re able to follow the discussion here and feel the Jedi hugs for you.)

    I caught myself getting more and more tense as I read through the comments (which are wonderful and supportive as they always are), and my mom is nowhere near this level of problematic. But I’m going home for a visit in a couple of weeks, and there’s always the chance. She’s had her own depressive issues and had what were quaintly called at the time nervous breakdowns (treated, btw). Yet she has let it be known in the past that my going to therapy is some kind of judgment on her parenting. (My fave, as I walked in the door after work when she and my brother were visiting: “I was watching Dr. Phil, and he said if you hate your mother you should have it out while she’s alive, so why do you hate me enough to be in therapy for years?” I managed not to scream THIS!!! and instead said, “I don’t hate you!” which satisfied her.)

    She manages to ambush me in some way on every visit. The topic of going to church with her is another frequent flyer. She’ll do that one in front of other people, too. When we do talk about the fact that I am not a church-goer anymore and I was not happy with the rigid fundamentalism of my childhood church, she says, “I did the best I could!” which prompts me to give up the topic entirely.

    The absolute worst was during a visit shortly after my father died. We were watching Phil Donahue’s talk shoe (yep, a while ago), and the topic was abortion. We disagreed, but it didn’t get out of hand at all. But the next morning as I was shuffling into the kitchen she handed me a letter (knowing full well I am not high-functioning first thing in the morning), which was all about how I didn’t love her. After I got back home to NYC, we had our weekly phone call and she asked me not to show the letter to anyone. (O RLY, Mom? Why?) I said I had talked to my therapist and my best friend about it, and she said, “Oh, were you upset by it?” I told her yes, I was, who wouldn’t be to be accused of not loving their mom? Later that same day she called me in tears and said, “My heart is breaking!!!” because she had upset me. So guess what, I ended up spending the rest of the call comforting her while my eyes rolled up so far I could read the top of my skull. I’m still pissed about that when I think of it, 24 years later.

    So I don’t feel nearly as bad off as others posting here, but these stories do kick up my own stuff, particularly since I’ll be gearing up for a visit and potential booby traps, even the fairly innocuous ones like “I like those pants much better than the ones you had on yesterday.” (“These are my fucking pajama bottoms, Mom!”) I feel for you all who have it worse, or get it in stereo.

    Oy, give me strength.

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