Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Over the past four years, I’ve watched my mom turn into someone I barely know. She’s always been a bit sensitive and emotional, and depression runs in our family. I treated my own depression with therapy and antidepressants in my 20s, so I know how valuable those two tools can be to help you deal.
My mom has become SO sensitive that you can barely talk to her — if you say one thing she doesn’t like, she goes into a major passive-aggressive snit or cries hysterically.
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My dad, brother and I feel like we have to tiptoe around her, but if we bring up our concerns for her well-being, she says we blame her for everything and refuses to talk to us. It’s greatly affected our relationship. Where we were once really close, our conversations are now mostly superficial. She is just so angry and unhappy.
I’ve tried to talk to her about getting help, I’ve offered to research therapists for her, but she won’t budge. It’s affecting her marriage and her relationship with her children, and I don’t know what else to do. It makes me unbearably sad to think about how close we used to be, but I have to keep boundaries up now for my own sanity. Is there anything else I can do?
— Missing my Mom
DEAR MISSING MY MOM: Talk to your dad, find out just how willing he is to take up the cause of getting her some help. Also try the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI, and website, nami.org. If you find it helpful, then you can not only apply their suggestions, but also urge your dad and brother to call.
RE: EMOTIONAL MOM: Before calling NAMI, wouldn’t it be helpful to call her doctor? Depending on the mom’s age, this sounds a lot like what happened to my mom during menopause. She didn’t get treated, my dad didn’t try to get her to go, and now my sisters and I have VERY strained relationships with her. It’s easy to look back now and realize what was happening — and why she seems different now — but at that point all I knew was that my mom was capricious with a wicked temper and weird sensitivity to anything that might possibly be negative.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: The call to NAMI is about exploring possibilities and finding ways to help — including calls to doctors. So, yes, you’re right that menopause might be the culprit, but it’s one possibility. The staff at NAMI will have experience at spotting common problems, will be able to hear the details of the mother’s age and behavior changes, and then will be able to suggest concrete approaches her family can take.
Just in general, the reason I suggest hotlines often is that they’re a step you can take that involves virtually no commitment — no money, little time, no obligation. So the whole mindset of “before you call the hotline” makes no sense to me, because it’s not this bad thing you need to avoid unless you’ve exhausted every single alternative. Call. Learn something. Make that next step, whatever it is, with a little extra information from someone who very likely has dealt with your problem before.