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Depressed, stressed, anxious MIL blames me...

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 

Long story short - (seriously, this is the short version)

 

FIL has stage 4 prostate cancer that is being effectively controlled with hormones. This won't last forever, though. Once hormones stop working, chemo starts until he dies or refuses it. FIL told only immediate family (3 kids, me, and wife) about his illness and forbade us to tell anyone else.

 

MIL started having panic attacks a year ago because the future was so uncertain (they never know when the hormone treatment will stop working). She hid her emotions from FIL (her DH) because she didn't want to upset him. FIL is dealing with own guilt about not taking action when symptoms started (and potentially saving his own life). MIL had only her kids to talk to - but doesn't have many close friends anyways, she's a complicated person.

 

MIL's panic attacks turned into severe anxiety. She pretty much stopped sleeping and eating, and now has a serious case of depression (where she talked about suicide). She admitted herself to hospital this March.

 

I had a very rocky start to the relationship with my inlaws. They've done some pretty crappy stuff to me, and as I'm learning, feel like I've done crappy stuff to them. At Christmas, there was a huge blowup and my DH had to leave my parent's family xmas dinner to go deal with some issues. Inlaws were so upset about the unequal time we spend between the two sets of parents. They blamed me for not "pushing" to be with them like I push to see my parents (even though it was both DH and I who don't love spending time there). They also talked about a bunch of things that I did that hurt them. DH listened to their concerns and agreed that things weren't that fair and that we would make an effort to change. Then DH told me about the convo, and listened to my side of the story. It was important for them to understand my side, so DH calls MIL up in January to give my side, but concluded with, we understand where you were coming from, we will make more of an effort, let's move on.

 

So DH doesn't hear anything from MIL (his mom) for a long time, which was unusual but they were travelling. Anyway, DH should have guessed something was wrong. Finally, we get a call to learn that MIL is in hospital for her anxiety and depression. Through the course of DH asking what he can do to help, he learns that MIL is focusing on a few events regarding me, and now resents me with a passion. I'm sure FIL does nothing but exacerbates the situation by agreeing with her.

 

The crazy thing is that MIL and I got along fabulously at Christmas this year! We had a really nice time, but then all these conversations happened (without me involved) and now, MIL can not bear to think about seeing me. She is thinking that I hate her and she hates me and as a result, will be all alone when FIL dies and won't get to see her closest son (my DH) or grand daughter (my DD).

 

There are two main issues floating in MIL head. My behaviours Xmas 2009 (where I was mean because I din't show interest in looking at DH's baby pictures, or making a necklace with the beads she sorted out for me, or going shopping with her, nd sitting on the couch watching TV (I was pregnant xmas 2009)) AND when I refulsed to talk to them on the phone after DD was born. They are so insulted by that, but it was pure self-protection as I was a traumatized mess who spoke to  no one but my mother the day after DD was born.

 

Now FIL wants me to apologize to MIL (with no preamble - just a straight apology) for the above indiscretions because he thinks that will help her on her road to recovery. DH wants to help his Mom. I don't want to apologize for 'sins' I didn't commit, but would be fine talking about the issue - however, I mostly think that MIL isn't in right mind to talk about these issues at the moment.

 

To those who have experience with anxiety/depression. What is the best course of action to help my MIL? (while preserving my own self-respect if possible)

 

Also, to make matters worse, FIL has just sent an out of the blue email discussing how I have been a horrible person to them since I came into the picture. He blames me for many, many things which were completely over the line. 

 

Please help!

 

 

 

 

post #2 of 31

Wow, what a situation.

 

I am just going to throw some thoughts out there, maybe others can add on.

 

1) You are not responsible for MIL's anxiety or illness. You know that, but it's good to be reminded. NOT responsible.

2) You are right, do not do anything that is not true to yourself.

3) Capitulating to their demands will not solve anything.

4) Then again, neither would escalating anything (not that you've implied you would).

 

I am thinking something along the lines of: MIL, I'm sorry to see you're having such a hard time. We both send our very best wishes for you to feel better. I realize we had some conflict around Christmas. I ... ok, that's where I'm getting stuck. I was thinking about how the conflict went both ways, and it was also not the cause of her illness, it was a pretty typical in-law squabble. I'm also wondering if it's even a good time to even attempt to resolve it, or if it will be even possible, since she seems set on an unadulterated straight apology from you, and will accept nothing else. Therefore, she's not interested in actually resolving the issues, she's interested in winning, and will go to great lengths to achieve a total win for her (and a lose for you).

 

I also winced a bit reading about your DH's promises for you to try harder. Get thee to a library and check out Susan Forward's Toxic Parents (and Toxic Inlaws too). You guys need to back each other up. Your DH's heart was in the right place, trying to be "fair" to his mother, but we're looking at an illness here. She's not going to meet you halfway.

 

A couple points in your story are similar to experiences I've had with MIL, though not the overall issue. She also blamed me for not pushing to visit her as much as my own parents. I told her that was DH's job. We obviously are both connected more to our OWN parents, right? Also, I've been demanded to give an unadulterated straight apology too, and while I was willing to own up to my part in the conflict, I refused to own it all. That was bloody awful, I want to forget all about that episode forever. The conversation didn't go very well but over time we just moved on and it's been left in the past. So I'm guessing you're under a lot of stress and have a knot in your stomach. I would, anyway. And I'd be simultaneously pissed that I was scapegoated here, but also a little bit caught in the snare.

post #3 of 31

Your MIL is a hot mess. You are not to blame for any of her problems, but if I were in your shoes I would apologize (as dying FIL has requested) and do whatever I could to help MIL recover. Does she deserve it? No. Do you want your DH to have to deal with a wrecked shell of a mother after his father has died? No. The idea of losing her husband is traumatizing, and she is blaming everything on you, because the way she feels has to be someone's fault. Its ridiculous, and one more reason to hang out with your parents more than her.

post #4 of 31

I've thought about just apologizing (if I were in the OP's shoes).

 

I'm not above setting aside my pride to smooth things over. At work, sometimes I take the blame for something that went wrong just so the customer feels better and has trust in us, even if I was entirely not to blame. I'm not as good at this in my marriage, but I think in a good marriage sometimes just saying "I'm sorry honey" even when it's your spouse who is being cranky that day, can serve to put the marriage first (as long as it's not a pattern).

 

But the big question is, what would it serve in this case? Would MIL then feel better and be able to deal with the issues at hand and FIL dies in peace? If yes, then sure, maybe it's the right thing to do.

 

But I'm thinking the demands will increase, that more drama will ensue and OP will be called upon to shoulder it again and apologize. And MIL will become wrapped up in directing her venom at the OP. Which not only does not help the OP, but also doesn't help MIL or FIL either.

 

Maybe... "MIL, I know you're upset about our conflict over Christmas. Let's set it aside for now, because I know there are so much more important things you are going through right now. I'm sure we'll be able to work through this, and you should know that I care about you. I would like to support you guys through this time, and we are praying for you both" (or thinking about, or sending best wishes, whatever).

 

The point being that this situation is a red herring. You don't want to get in the way of the real problem (FIL dying). Maybe communicating to her that you care about her (if that's at all true) might help a lot. (Or maybe not, I dunno.) But something like that is caring and giving, without capitulating to their bizarre demands. At the very least, even if it doesn't go over, you can feel that you did not add to the drama during their difficult time, that you came from a position of caring.

 

If they insist you flat out apologize, then they are the ones insisting on playing out the drama - and you could, if it came to that point, actually say that. "You are looking for me to take on full ownership of a more complicated relationship conflict that has roots on both sides, and I'm afraid you have asked me to do this knowing that it would be impossible - and knowing that you could focus all your stress and anger on to me during this difficult time. I am willing to try to work this out mutually, but I don't think that's possible right now. If you are looking to resolve it, we can talk, but if you are looking for a scapegoat so you don't have to face what's happening, I can't stop you from scapegoating me, but I can call you on it."

post #5 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post

I've thought about just apologizing (if I were in the OP's shoes).

 

I'm not above setting aside my pride to smooth things over. At work, sometimes I take the blame for something that went wrong just so the customer feels better and has trust in us, even if I was entirely not to blame. I'm not as good at this in my marriage, but I think in a good marriage sometimes just saying "I'm sorry honey" even when it's your spouse who is being cranky that day, can serve to put the marriage first (as long as it's not a pattern).

 

But the big question is, what would it serve in this case? Would MIL then feel better and be able to deal with the issues at hand and FIL dies in peace? If yes, then sure, maybe it's the right thing to do.

 

But I'm thinking the demands will increase, that more drama will ensue and OP will be called upon to shoulder it again and apologize. And MIL will become wrapped up in directing her venom at the OP. Which not only does not help the OP, but also doesn't help MIL or FIL either.

 

Maybe... "MIL, I know you're upset about our conflict over Christmas. Let's set it aside for now, because I know there are so much more important things you are going through right now. I'm sure we'll be able to work through this, and you should know that I care about you. I would like to support you guys through this time, and we are praying for you both" (or thinking about, or sending best wishes, whatever).

 

The point being that this situation is a red herring. You don't want to get in the way of the real problem (FIL dying). Maybe communicating to her that you care about her (if that's at all true) might help a lot. (Or maybe not, I dunno.) But something like that is caring and giving, without capitulating to their bizarre demands. At the very least, even if it doesn't go over, you can feel that you did not add to the drama during their difficult time, that you came from a position of caring.

 

If they insist you flat out apologize, then they are the ones insisting on playing out the drama - and you could, if it came to that point, actually say that. "You are looking for me to take on full ownership of a more complicated relationship conflict that has roots on both sides, and I'm afraid you have asked me to do this knowing that it would be impossible - and knowing that you could focus all your stress and anger on to me during this difficult time. I am willing to try to work this out mutually, but I don't think that's possible right now. If you are looking to resolve it, we can talk, but if you are looking for a scapegoat so you don't have to face what's happening, I can't stop you from scapegoating me, but I can call you on it."



Nice wording :)

post #6 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much ladies!!! It mean a lot to me to have some unbiased opinions. 

 

This is an insane situation. I feel like a scapegoat - and since I'm not the one ill or soon dying (it could be 10 years) I'm ok to let the insults to the quality of my character go... as long as it is temporary. I think MIL just needs to talk about her situation, but can't talk to FIL about the most important one (his sickness) so she's found something else to talk about - me. FIL is on female hormones (permanent pms??), facing death, and has a sick wife who's anxiety comes from me (because that is what she says to him so as to not upset him that she's stressed about him!). FIL has also never apologized, to anyone, ever. He hold grudges. He's even said to my SIL, "I should just forget about (my) DH altogether - I don't care if I don't see him again". I'm not certain if he meant it or not. 

 

Both MIL and FIL don't understand how anyone could not see the world as they see it. They never think about how things they do are perceived. (eg/ in my kitchen, my MIL asks while I was getting a snack: "how much do you weigh?") So they just go back and forth reinforcing to the other how horrible/wrong/rude this or that was since it isn't what they would have done. They are also the most selfish parents I have met, but they would never think that. 

 

With all our baggage I have a hard time thinking about apologizing straight-up. I do care about my MIL and I want her to get better. I am less fond of my FIL - mostly from what he has most recently said and the speed at which the conversation gets mean and personal. I couldn't apologize and then have any real relationship with my FIL I think... I'm just not that good of a person. The apology would be fake and I would feel so manipulated and defeated. MY DH thinks the only resolution is for my FIL to let go of the past, but has a hard time believing he will ever be able to do that... 

post #7 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by HonkyTonka View Post


 

To those who have experience with anxiety/depression. What is the best course of action to help my MIL? (while preserving my own self-respect if possible)

 


 

You've got it ass-backwards order. First comes your self-respect. FIRST!

 

Second (or much further down the list) comes anything you can actually break off to send her way.

post #8 of 31

Your MIL is in treatment right now, right? I would get in touch with her psychiatric care providers and ask what you can do to nurture a healthy family relationship with your inlaws and everyone involved. Let him/her lead the way.

post #9 of 31
Thread Starter 

MIL is in the hospital. She's getting new meds but I'm not sure she actually has a therapist at this moment, but I like your suggestion.

 

An update to the situation.

 

DH and I decided to ignore the second email FIL sent and just focus on sending our message of, "we care, we want everyone to get better and get along, and we don't want to rehash the past". So took that position and chatted with FIL on skype. The conversation got out of hand really fast. FIL is SO angry with me. He talks about the issues they are pissed about and says things like, "don't kid yourself, MIL and I feel exactly the same way on these issues". The convo got heated several times, FIL got personal (talked about how my behaviour showed my true character), and threatened to cut the conversation off (and us from his life). I tried to stay out of the issues, but failed. DH was more composed than either of us. Anyway, walked away from that conversation feeling like I could never be civil with my FIL again because he was such an a-hole. 

 

Since then, MIL called DH (for the first time - she was avoiding him because she thought he would remind her of me) to discuss the conversation we had with FIL. To me, if FIL really cared about reducing stress for MIL he would have shut up about our terrible convo - but instead told her that he thought things were irreparable. Anyway, it was good that she called because she and DH had a good convo. MIL said she could see things that she could apologize for, could I see things I could apologize for, and I said yes. It was easy to talk to someone who was willing to see that there was a second side to these issues (mine). So that was good. I'm sure that made FIL soooooo mad. But I digress. 

 

DH is now finally not so swamped with work that he can go visit (we're 10 hours drive away), so we leave on Wednesday. I'm not welcome in the house or at the hospital - because, so MIL and FIL say, "it would cause too much stress/bad feelings etc." Fine, I'm ok with that. They can have DH for a bit without me, this one time. He will make that clear. However, FIL has suggested bring my DD to see MIL in the hospital. This would involve me dropping DH and DD at hospital (at the end of a 9 hour driving day), waiting around outside until DH delivers DD back to me and I continue the 1.5 hours to my parent's house.

 

I think that MIL and FIL can't exclude me only from their life and expect to see DD. DH thinks I'm being selfish. Should I let MIL see DD?

Please help. Thanks.

post #10 of 31
Thread Starter 

please, someone...

post #11 of 31
I don't know what is a good answer, but I will send a hug your way...
post #12 of 31

In reading your posts, I was starting to wonder if you were talking about my in-laws.  I'm so sorry, OP.

 

After years of dealing with their behavior - which is exactly like your dynamic - we have chosen not to have anything to with them.  This decision came after my FIL told us (like yours threatened) that we were dead to him.  However, if there was a terminal illness/serious hospitalization involved and DH wanted to go see them, he would go alone.  There would be no, "We want to see the kids, but that woman is not welcome." Um, NO.  I'm sorry, we are a package deal - the kids and I.  Their son is their son, and I've never stood in the way of their relationship, but I draw the line at being separated from my children for their games.

 

I hope that somehow you can find peace within yourself with the situation, and that you and your dh can come up with a solution that works for all of you.

post #13 of 31

Have you read Toxic InLaws?

 

 

I cannot imagine choosing to participate in the situation that you are describing.

post #14 of 31

If it's that important for them to see her and not you then you can drop DH and DD off and continue on to your parents. Whenever they're done visiting with her (who knows how long that will be) they can lend your DH their car or drive him and your DD over to your parents. The fact that you're even willing to go out there at all shows that you're being MORE than reasonable. The least they can do is meet you halfway. I don't see how it could possibly help your relationship to be made to wait in the car like a chauffeur.

post #15 of 31

I'm so sorry that you are going through all this.  They are treating you HORRIBLY, and you certainly seem to have already shown a lot of patience, forgiveness, and insight.  I do agree with the importance of self-respect and being true to yourself.  That said, I think I'd handle it differently than some of the previous posters.  Personally, I don't think there is any "victory" (though I don't mean exactly that word--it makes you seem as if YOU want to be in this battle, and I know you don't) or "success" in trying to force some amicable- or at least fair and reasonable discussion/agreement with people who are NOT in a position to be fair/reasonable/generous/insightful/patient, etc.  FIL is looking his own mortality straight in the face, and knowing that it is only a matter of time (and maybe a short amount of time) before he has to decide to know he is declining and will eventually die or decide to undergo intensive treatments which will make him feel awful and drastically change his life as he now knows it. He is likely dealing with every single end-of-life issue that you can imagine... fear, anger, grief, guilt, and so many more that I can't even think of.  It really doesn't matter what kind of person or FIL he is-- this has got to be beyond horrible to face.  and as for MIL, she is currently in the throes of what sounds like significant mental illness.  As a psychologist and as a person who has close family members with long-standing anxiety and depression, I can tell you that needing inpatient mental health treatment is a pretty good sign that someone is really suffering. Anxiety and depression (especially as severe as hers sounds), lack of sleep, not to mention the effects of medications all have definite impacts on cognition.  The brain is so overwhelmed by the battle it is fighting to deal with the overwhelming emotional issues that everything else gets pushed to the back of the line- its just a matter of allocating the resources.  There is no way that someone who is going through what she is going through has the cognitive resources available right now to have the self-control, insight, perspective-taking ability, mental flexibility, ability to see shades of grey (etc) that are needed when adults get "into it" over family dynamics issues.  I've seen this time and again in practice, in my family, and even on neurocognitive testing of patients who are severely depressed, etc.

 

Sorry to be so long winded.  Personally, when my mother is at her least mentally/emotionally stable (she has a long history of anxiety/depression and maybe some mild personality disorder issues) there is no victory to me- no personal satisfaction- in "doing battle" with her over the things she does or has done that hurt/offend/annoy me.  Even if "doing battle" means having a nice long conversation.. its just not worth it.  I know she isn't in a place where I'm really connecting with the HER that is able to BE the person who can see my side, care how I feel, and be able to introspect.  It doesn't matter that it isn't fair.  It doesn't even matter that I'm right.  It wouldn't even make me feel better if she finally just said that she'd been wrong all along.  I've had to decide that sometimes my interactions with her are just designed to make life smooth.  I don't need her to understand or compromise with me-- to take responsibility sometimes, because I can tell that there are times she is not capable of what is needed to do taht.  and me trying to require it- no matter how kindly and fairly worded does no good- just further frustrates both of us and keeps whatever bad fire is burning alive.

 

In your situation (and I've done this, to a lesser extent) I'd probably cut out the middle man and send MIL a nice card- either blank or thinking of you generic stuff.  I'd put in a few pics of DD or a little art thing she's done- a hand print, something.  And just write a short note saying something like, "I'm so sorry to know that I've caused you pain.  I'm thinking of you and wishing you all the best.... Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.  DD sends her love and can't wait to see you guys!"

 

I don't feel like it is being un-true or un-self-respecting to make a conscious and deliberate choice to give in or not to engage in a particular battle.  I don't feel bad about myself for "allowing" my mother to sometimes do/act/be in a way that hurts my feelings... on the contrary, I feel great about myself for being able to know that she is doing the very best she can... even if her very best at that particular moment is pretty shoddy.  and I feel good being able to choose to be the grown up and to NOT engage in any way that keeps the problem alive.  I feel so much calmer and so much less angry deciding to only do what I can to make things better without feeling like I have to get some particular type of response from her.  This may sound condescending (to my mom) and I don't mean it as such... she is a wonderful and intelligent woman!  But there are times that I get the same feeling dealing with her as I do when I'm dealing with my 5 year old.  There are times that DD1 has been an IMPOSSIBLE HANDFUL for the day and has really been out of line and treated me poorly.  At the end of the day, I can feel really proud when I just remembered that she and I are not in the same place emotionally/cognitively/etc and that I was able to step away from how I WISHED she was able to act that day and just do my best to stay in control of my own self and just step out of the line of fire (so to speak).

 

hope some of that makes sense....

 

 

post #16 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thanks very much everyone for your responses.

 

Chiefmir, you make a lot of sense. 

 

I'm at my parent's house now, and DH is with his FIL. During our 10 hour drive here, I wrote a letters to MIL and FIL. Each letter said: "i did not intend to hurt anyone's feelings, lets leave the past in the past, I'm here for support - let's move on" but with different words. FIL letter was really diplomatic, straightforward, not very warm, but not cold either. MIL letter was more heartfelt and sensitive. DH had a good talk with his dad and gave him the letter. He seemed to agree with everything I said. DH has not given MIL her letter yet because he didn't want her days at home this weekend to be any more stressful than they already are, and wanted to wait for one of her 'good' days... but perhaps there will never be one...

 

FIL talked with DH again today about me. He's had enough time to think about my letter and now not be so ok with it. FIL brought up one of the issues again which made DH and I feel like it is hopeless to think that FIL can move on. FIL doesn't think DH should give MIL my letter. After Chiefmir's response I think I might agree, but for completely different reasons.

 

DH is now trying to get in contact with her doctor to get some answers about MIL. Whether she'll be advised to get therapy, what the plan is, how long the meds take to kick in, etc. It seems that FIL is not asking these questions, nor has he done any reading about depression. I know FIL is concerned and wants his wife better (for selfish reasons as much as for her), but I think he's doing a really crappy job and now the burden of chasing doctors and getting answers is falling to DH. I think MIL needs to talk to a therapist desperately, but I'm not sure that will happen. Right now it seems that they are just giving her medication... I don't even know if they know that FIL is sick!

 

 

I don't really think that there is anything for me to do now, but eventually I'll have to see them (I think). Then who knows what I'll do?! What if MIL doesn't want to see me again? DH and I have said that we wouldn't split up our family again... 

 

Oh, and I did send a little card and photobook to MIL but it was intercepted by SIL and FIL because they thought it would upset her. DH has sent flowers from us as well....

 

 

 

post #17 of 31
Thread Starter 

Forgot to mention that I did drop DH off at the hospital and he brought DD in to see her while I sat in the car. Unfortunately, after the 10 hour drive, she was ready for bed and not that happy a camper. I had waited because my parent's are 1.5 hours away from my inlaws. DH has been with them since I dropped him off. It sucks.

post #18 of 31

sigh.  you really are doing the best you can in a very rough situation.  On top of everything else, I'm sure its all pretty awful for  your DH.  I can't imagine what I'd be going through internally if my father was facing a pretty grim cancer prognosis and my mother was simultaneously suffering from anxiety/depression enough to need hospitalization... talk about overwhelming!  Even if your in-laws are totally non-deserving of the kindness and tact you've been showing, hopefully you'll be able to continue to draw strength from knowing that any effort you make to keep things calm and smooth will be a gift to your husband so that he has one less source of stress and pain.  I think its really generous of you to be acting the way you have been with them-- and I hope if I'm ever in such a bad place in my life that I treat decent, well-meaning people as horribly as you've been treated that there will at least be one person who is as gracious to me and is able to stand out of my path of destruction well enough to help me avoid causing more damage.

post #19 of 31
Thread Starter 

thanks so much.

post #20 of 31

hug2.gifOh so sorry you are dealing with all of this crud! I have been there a bunch of times with my own dad and it can be horrible. 

Just remember, you are responsible for the happiness of your family (dh, dd, you) and you shouldn't feel guilty to protect your dd from such a dramatic mess. 

And, honestly, poor DH. It must be VERY hard for him since it is his parents. I hope you two can really cling tightly to one another right now.

I hope it smooths over soon. 

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