MIL bedridden by choice

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Totoro

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MIL bedridden by choice
« on: October 11, 2018, 11:50:21 PM »
Hi all,

I could use some advice.

MIL, who I believe is uBPD/NPD, has been mostly bedridden for the past 5 years or so. This is against the recommendations of her medical team. She has a chronic health condition and about 10 years ago had a medical emergency, a long hospital stay and recovery. I believe she may have PTSD from past medical issues, as well as chronic pain.

She has access to many specialized doctors including a cardiologist, pulmonologist, PT, OT. However, she has chosen to cope by staying in her bed most of the time and has refused/ dropped out of services like PT and counseling. She refuses to see doctors regularly and does not exercise or remain active.

The bottom line: what I’m asking is: how can I manage, set and enforce appropriate boundaries in the face of the narrative that she is “ill” and catering to her. I do not want my son to grow up thinking that this is a normal way of interacting with the world. I also am very uncomfortable with the expectation that I will accept and parrot the family narrative of her “illness.” What are some limits that I can reasonably enforce about this? How can I be kind but not buy into the enabling? I don’t want to minimize her distress, but I will not enable any longer.

More background and an example of how this looks:
My FIL and extended in laws have enabled this behavior. They use the narrative that she is “unable” to get out of bed and frequently talk about how she can’t attend functions outside of the home because she is “having a rough time.” About a year ago he started setting up a table at the foot of her bed in her room and expecting us to eat meals in there when we visited. They bring her food in bed, tea, water, whatever. They moved my BIL into the house and are employing him to be her “caretaker” (ie prepare her meals, bring in packages, bring her whatever she needs when she rings a bell...literally rings a bell).

About a month ago, she began to refuse to eat. She began to talk about dying, begging my FIL not to let her die in the hospital, etc. When he couldn’t get her to eat for five days he took her to the ER where they found nothing wrong with her except self imposed dehydration. I don’t know why they didn’t do a mental health evaluation since it seems to me that she was clearly a danger to herself.

At that point I set a firm boundary that until she gets her mental health under control she is not safe to be alone with my son and that my son and I would no longer eat dinner in her room. I know that this second boundary might seem particular but it really feels symbolic and super enabling when MIL and FIL expect the whole family to gather and eat at the foot of her sickbed. I set these boundaries with my husband—we didn’t share them with MIL, only with my husband’s siblings, when they asked how we were handling this.

For the past couple of months we have only visited when she is well, up and about, and active. She’s been high energy and we haven’t had to do any boundary setting other than the usual (minor parenting type stuff like buying too many gifts). This week was the first time she has been in bed when we were planning to visit, so my husband emailed his dad to say that we are not comfortable eating in her bedroom. A huge meltdown ensued, “hurt feelings” included, and enabling rage from FIL. We still maintained the boundary and they begrudgingly set up dinner in the kitchen.

As we approach the holiday season (with expected visits) it seems clear to me that this situation is going to escalate and I want to be proactive.

If you’ve read this far, thanks so much!!

-Totoro

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all4peace

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Re: MIL bedridden by choice
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2018, 07:14:23 AM »
What an unusual situation, and what a creative and effective way you have developed to cope with it! I appreciate your motives (setting a healthy example for your son, not enabling) and your behavior (not having meals in the bedroom of someone who is able to get up and eat in the kitchen).

I think you're being very fair and kind. You are still willing to visit her, just not eat in the bedroom. You have reason to believe she is behaving far more incapacitated than she actually is and cannot stomach enabling and encouraging that. I think you're right on track. Your visit frequency sounds generous and fairly frequent. Of course FIl is angry since it doesn't fit the narrative they both have going here, but I think many people would actually see it as considerate to not infringe upon someone who is so poorly that they cannot get out of bed.

If Mil values her time with your family, perhaps this is a needed motivation to "get better." What is the insight of your Dh and his siblings regarding this situation, their mother's behavior and motivations?

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Totoro

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Re: MIL bedridden by choice
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2018, 01:37:55 PM »
Thank you so much! It’s so hard to balance my personal frustration and anger toward the situation with kind yet firm actions. It’s exhausting, frankly.

My husband and his older sister are on different pages. She was the scapegoat and he the golden child, so she has a deeper understanding of the pathology that is there. She’s also a nurse so she understands the reality of medical issues better. She has a perspective similar to mine, but it’s harder for her to set boundaries because her dad (FIL) raised her to not make waves and not talk about these behavior patterns do MIL wouldn’t be upset. I think her sense is that this is an attention seeking/ PD related behavior that gets enabled by FIL and many others (friends who post “get well” on her social media, for example).

My husband has started to come Out of the FOG, mostly as I have asserted my boundaries (past 4 years or so). In the past he has told me “she is crazy so we just avoid dealing with her and go through my dad.”  His position now is: she is severely dysfunctional, she is choosing to harm herself by staying in bed and (we suspect) taking too much pain medicine, but we are powerless to stop her and it is not possible to have a conversation about it. He has intense fear of making his mother and father upset, like a true panic response where he usually lashes out at me or shuts down. I’m the past he has usually complied with their demands to keep the peace or he has just not been around them. He really struggles to understand why her behavior could be harmful unless I (or someone else like a friend or his sister) points out how bizarre her behavior is and how it could impact our son.

My BIL is relatively removed from the conversation as he has anxiety and is on the autism spectrum. The family had a narrative that he “can’t handle/understand” things like this (which I find incredibly problematic...a whole other can of worms). It seems to me that he genuinely believes his mom is very ill and could die whenever. He is the one who lives at home and is her “caretaker”.

So far my SIL and her husband have been on the same page about setting boundaries and expressing concerns about her mental health, but they’ve acknowledged that in the moment it’s very difficult.

It sometimes feels pretty lonely and I have gotten a lot of blame for “making waves” and whatnot.

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openskyblue

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Re: MIL bedridden by choice
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2018, 04:26:38 PM »
This is certainly a handful to deal with. I don't want to seem uncharitable, but there's a lot of dysfunction going on at your ILs. I don't blame you for wanting to put boundaries around that and protect your son from it.

For what it's worth, I had an aunt (mother's sister) that was very similar to your MIL. (Though she never wanted anyone in her bedroom eating.) There was this family attitude that she was somehow (pick one) infirm, delicate, ill, life weary, etc. As I grew up, she left her home very seldom until she would not even go past the front door. I can't remember when she wasn't always wearing a bathrobe. What was really happening was that she became an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser.

Like you, my father began putting his foot down in terms of our visits. If we arrived and she wouldn't get out of bed or looked super disheveled, he just said that this looked like a bad time for her and we would come back another time. Then, he'd whisk me and my sister and brother and mother right out the door. For a while my mom would stay behind, but after a while she stopped that too. I was a kid, but boy did I feel relieved! And I know my mother was too, because she told me years later how much she appreciated my dad stepping in and helping her make a boundary with her sister.

When you MIL is having the vapors or they are carrying the dinner plates into her bedroom, my recommendation is to keep things light and vague, as in. "Gosh, sounds like Mom isn't feeling so hot. How about we visit another time when she feels better?" Or you can use the "I think I/son am getting a cold, so we can't stay long and I'd hate to leave our germs in your bedroom." Then, scoot out the door.  I'm betting if you do that a few times, she'll be out of bed more for your visits.

Good luck!
Even a blind man can tell you when he is standing in the sun.  (Percy Sledge)

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Totoro

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Re: MIL bedridden by choice
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2018, 11:42:24 AM »
Openskyblue, thank you for this story! That sounds like MIL to a T. Now I’m wondering a lot more about addiction.

I think this is a great idea and I plan to move ahead just like you suggested. I will probably have to continue to support my husband through it since he gets a lot of FOG from his Dad about visiting, even when she has the vapors.