Advice for getting back in contact with my Dad

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Advice for getting back in contact with my Dad

Postby Of-The-Antipodes » January 13th, 2016, 7:04 pm

Hi everybody,

I need a bit of help.

I have been out of contact with my Dad since the beginning of November 2015. He lives in the United Arab Emirates and I in New Zealand. He has been living there for about 12 years when my parents divorced (I was 12 at the time, now I am 24 soon to be 25). Apart from the occasional visit there over my summer break and the even less frequent visit from him to NZ, our major source of contact is his weekly phone calls to me.

For whatever reason, these phone calls give me an intense sense of anxiety and dread and usually result in me spiralling into a long cycle of avoidance and panic. Just to make things clear I think I’ll quick jot down how this cycle pans out:


-> My Dad calls me.
-> I panic, have a huge rush of anxiety and nausea and don’t pick up.
-> He calls me soon after and this happens again.
-> Then he leaves me an email saying he called and wanting to schedule a time to call.
-> I then proceed to avoid all phone calls, eventually turning off my phone. And hide or delete any emails from my Dad. This usually lasts a few days to a week.

Then, if my depression/anxiety is under control or my life is going OK I usually get the courage to email my Dad an “I’m sorry for not picking up {insert made up reason here}”
message then schedule a time for him to call me.

But, if my depression/anxiety is not under control what usually happens is this:

-> More avoidance, anxiety, GUILT and dread (more often than not, excessive alone drinking occurs to numb these feelings.
-> My Dad may call my girlfriends phone to get through to me (this really pisses her off as she doesn’t really like him and doesn’t think he’s a good father to me). She usually ignores these calls and tells me to get in contact with him.
-> Then my Dad sends me an angry email saying he is “sick of this happening again etc etc”.
-> If feel even worse but then the guilt gets too big so I send him an email apologising, tell him I’m “stressed” and then eventually pick up the phone to a lecture and a promise to pick up the phone next week.

This time round (around November) I was pretty depressed, as I had just finished up my masters after having experience the biggest depression of my life and was looking for jobs. My girlfriend has been in two years and recovery from type 1 diabetes (she was misdiagnosed, hospitalisedand nearly died). We were both in a pretty fragile state and that continues to this day.

During this time I was going through the usual cycle of not picking up phone calls from Dad. I eventually got the usual angry email. Here it is:

“Dear ******

I am getting increasing frustrated by my inability to establish any form of contact with you. I understand that it may be a bit depressing to have to report that you have no news on the job front. Thats fine. All you need say is 'no change' and we'll talk about other stuff. I love you and miss not being able to talk to you. I'm off on Tuesday so hopefully we can talk tomorrow (Monday). I hope I don't have to proceed with my last resort 'fuck it' option to flush some sort of response out of you.
--
Dad xxx”


I replied to say that I will pick up but I didn’t, as usual.

He then sent me this:

“Well I've just called and you haven't picked up. WTF”

This time, I was really upset. I had been drinking that day and my girlfriend came home to find me curled up in a ball in the closet (she doesn’t know about my drinking). When she came home I couldn’t stop crying and really didn’t want to answer any more phone calls.

So my girlfriend sent him a quick message.

“Hi J****,

It's L**** here. C******* can't stop crying (which is why she hasn't picked up).”


My Dad then tried to message her and call her. Cunningly, she had now given him the number of her parents home so when he called he got my girlfriend’s Mum. She is a very kind and nurturing women and knows of some of my problems. I’m not quite sure of what they discussed, but eventually, my Dad messaged me to say that I don’t have to contact him until Christmas if I need some time.

That month was so nice, relaxing and free of that ever present phone anxiety. I was still struggling with my own and my girlfriends problems but they felt easier to deal with without the looming threat of my Dad’s phone calls.

Then finally, on Christmas eve we had the call.

Luckily, he caught me at a moment when I had been hanging out with Sister and her friends and I was very stoned when the phone call occurred. I can’t remember what we talked about but I remember it was just about everyday things and what each of us were doing for Christmas (he promised he would not discuss anything “heavy”). I remember my voice and body shook.

After that call I think he thinks that we are ready to start talking on the phone again. He calls and I don’t pick up. He writes me emails to say he called and I instantly hide them before I can see what he wrote.

I feel so guilty do this to him as I still talk to my sister and Mum on the phone. (And I’m sure he knows this). I don’t want him to know that my phone anxiety is all about him as that will ruin the illusion that we have a good relationship.

I’m not sure how to bridge contact with him again (and I’m not sure if I really want to). I thought about writing an email to him again and let him know that I haven’t been contacting him because I am a bit depressed and that I have gone through some difficult times. I thought to bypass the whole “why no contact with me in particular?” question from him, would be to say that I was embarrassed that he found out that I was experiencing difficulty. And that Mum and I my sister don’t know this - which is why I find it easier to contact them (so…….. a half truth).

I really don’t want to tell him the truth and I wish we could just go back to the days when we would just chat on the phone and never talk about anything real. This has up to now mostly been our relation. I never talk about my struggles, and he is pretty much only a “holiday Dad”. I struggle intensely with perfectionism and letting people in. My sister was the difficult child so my parents support and attention pretty much went mostly to her. I was always modelled to be the golden child. This has always made me feel angry and like I’ve never had support. But asking for support and letting people in makes me feel SICK and I don’t know if I am ready for that (especially with my Dad).

Sorry for the length of this post.

I really don’t know what to do and I feel stuck. Where can I start? I don’t want this to continue as I’m afraid it will go on forever and I’ll be stuck in this depression and guilt.

Any advice would be so much appreciated!
Thank you.
Of-The-Antipodes
 
Posts: 2
Joined: January 13th, 2016, 5:15 pm
Location: New Zealand
Gender: Female
Issues: ANXIETY, depression, alcohol abuse, bpd mother, aspergers sister
preferred pronoun: she

Re: Advice for getting back in contact with my Dad

Postby Fargin » January 13th, 2016, 11:46 pm

Great post and thank you for going the lengths to paint such a detailed picture, I so relate to.

Below is a wall of text.

Based on your history with your dad, it makes perfect sense, why you're feeling this way and why there's so much anxiety and guilt connected to just seeing his caller ID on your phone. It's a catch 22, knowing that you haven't got the courage or desire to pick up the phone, but also knowing that if you don't, your parent might increase the calls and the pressure, which you also know, you're unable to cope with.

A phone call can be a pretty intimate thing, I mean, I easily get overwhelmed by guilt and anxiety, just from taking a call from a telemarketer, but having a "casual" talk with a parent, who've physically been gone for half your life and still demands to have easy access by phone to your life, can trigger all kinds of thoughts. You're trapped between not really wanting to be intimate with this stranger, yet also suffering from that instinctual connected between parents and their children.

I think guilt and fear is a natural element of the development of a healthy child. This instinct is controlled by anxiety and guilt, so the little child look to it's provider for safety, but also can correct it's behavior by the parent by feeling shame. Shame is as powerful as physical pain, which is why bullying or absence can be as painful as a beating. There's a lot, that's going on, when my parents try to contact me. Strong feelings are set in motion: Fear and anxiety, also anger, guilt and shame. One side I don't want to pick up the phone, because I'm afraid of dealing with my parents, because I know that taking the call, opens me up for even more calls/pressure. Because I'm are afraid to be honest, telling them how I feel or feel about them. The other side is pressuring me into picking up the phone, telling me it's no big deal, that if I don't, they'll increase their calls or go around me, calling people close to me and pressuring me thought them.

So I know my anxiety wont let me pick up the phone, but I wont accept, that my anxiety is so strong, that I'm simply unable to "just" pick up the phone. This lends me to berate and shame myself, which again increases the stakes and the fear. So in some sense, not accepting the strength of my anxiety actually makes it worse. I know I can't pick up the phone, but I'm telling me, that I must. This conflict is causing great havoc and damage inside me and it used to control my life. It still does to some degree, but I've also had a lot of success with accepting my anxiety and the limits it has on my life, which has helped me to understand it, sometimes decrease it and overcome it, but most importantly to accept, that when it's too strong, I shouldn't berate or shame myself. This takes a lot of practice and I benefited a lot from CBT, but I also took a few steps on my own.

One of the things I did, was telling my parents, that sometimes I was unable to pick up the phone, but that it didn't mean I was unsafe or that they should be worried. I also told them, that if they couldn't get in contact with me, increasing the calls/pressure had the reverse effect on me, making it even more difficult for me to contact them. I learned, that even though they accepted this, they were still stuck in their old habits and it took them a long time to actually understand, that their "increasing concern" didn't help me, but just put increasing pressure on me, pressure I was not equipped to handle. It took a lot of courage from me, just to attempt to put down these rules/guidelines and it took a lot of repetition and every time I had to do it, it felt almost as uncomfortable and the very first time. But it helped, a some point my phone could light up and I could convince myself, that I had told them several times, that me not picking up the phone, was something they had to expect and accept and remembering that agreement, decreased my anxiety and guilt for not picking it up. Other times the anxiety and guilt was so low, I was able to pick up the phone, but I also knew picking up the phone came with a risk, because they'd then sometimes assume everything was okay and they'd then forget our agreement.

For me, acceptance of the way things were, turn out to be a key to slowly and safely change the way things were.

I have to cut this "short," so I wont have to reread this post 15 times, searching for typos and punctuation, my anxiety is telling me it's either unreadable or that I'm overwhelming you with psychobabble advice, which you can't use or makes you feel bad ect. ect. That I'm coming off as, telling you how easy it is. "You just have to stop worrying and welcome the new day with a smile."

Sorry for going so long winded and then maybe stopping so abruptly. Everything you wrote and what you're going through, makes sense to me. Best of luck, you deserve too less anxiety and guilt! Anxiet and guilt is something you can work with, but both are "dangerous" feelings. ;)
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Re: Advice for getting back in contact with my Dad

Postby Murphy » January 15th, 2016, 12:18 pm

Antipodes,

Just want to say that I totally get where you're coming from with the job stuff and not wanting to talk about it...that was me on and off for a few years, and I totally get it. Mostly my parents and I would talk about regular daily stuff, but if they asked me about job stuff, I'd end up depressed for at least the rest of the day, if not days. I'm the older sibling of a special needs child, so while my relationship with my parents is mostly pretty good, I have an idea of where you're coming from.

I have a lot of thoughts about the rest of what you said. There's a few things to consider. Obviously first and foremost is if whether you want to actually have a relationship with your dad. If you don't, then you don't. Whatever you decide though, I think you should be honest and upfront with him. And I think you should do something sooner, rather than later, since these calls are a regular occurrence and clearly very stressful for you. I think maybe writing him an email and saying you need some time to yourself may be a good way to buy some time for you to consider what you need to do for yourself, and still be honest with him. But don't leave him hanging forever. Maybe also suggest to him that he not call your girlfriend's phone. I know that's all easier said than done, but it won't get better if you do nothing.

Another idea is that maybe you can tell him that you just want communicate via email for a while. It doesn't seem to be as anxiety provoking for you, and it has the benefit that you can take time to process his words and think about what you want to say before you respond.

Good luck with everything! Lean on the supports you have. This shit sucks even more if you have to go through it alone.
Any care that keeps you from your feet is a care that carries your defeat
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Re: Advice for getting back in contact with my Dad

Postby Of-The-Antipodes » January 15th, 2016, 6:07 pm

Hi Fargin & Murphy,

Thank you so much for the thoughtful (and incredibly helpful) responses!

I have to confess, that I did read these posts almost as soon as they were written. But I was still feeling too overwhelmed by letting myself open up about these feelings that it took me a couple of days to let it settle and reply…

And oh god, is this reply a long one!

The majority of my short lived experience with CBT was about specifically dealing with my phobia around phones which lead to my therapist treating me with a type of exposure therapy (she didn’t call it that but I’ve read enough to realise what it was). This therapy was mostly about me starting off with answering ‘easy’ phone calls or voice messages then building up to the hard ones. I.e. from say, a telemarketer to a friend then onto a parent. This strangely to me, seems to be the opposite for what most people deal with. People who I’ve talked to or read about seem to fear the unknown or “unlisted” numbers. This I do actually understand as I still have the classic anxiety fear that an unlisted number will bring about something bad like a credit card debt, bills I can’t pay or even things as unlikely as the police! (That fear in hindsight still makes me laugh!). I didn’t quite get to the stage in these therapy session to understand the most of this phone anxiety stems from my relationship with my Dad.

Unfortunately, I cut these sessions short as I at the time was not ready to acknowledge my issues and take any sort of action. I felt like the sessions were moving too fast and I was not wholly comfortable with the specific therapist. Once I have the money again, I think I would benefit more from a combination of CBT and talk therapy. Personally, I would love therapy that can both deal with the everyday anxiety related troubles as well as let me talk through the why and accept my deeper-seated issues.

Anyway! Fargin, I liked this advice you gave:

“One of the things I did, was telling my parents, that sometimes I was unable to pick up the phone, but that it didn't mean I was unsafe or that they should be worried. I also told them, that if they couldn't get in contact with me, increasing the calls/pressure had the reverse effect on me, making it even more difficult for me to contact them”

I think that might be a good place to go from when I finally feel comfortable enough to get back in contact with him. And I think it would be a good rule of thumb for both of my parents actually, as I certainly have this problem on and off with my Mum as well. With her though, I more don’t want to engage with her when she is being unstable (when she is in this state she tends to call me when she is drunk and emotional - it makes me cringe and feel nauseous). I am certain my Mum has undiagnosed BPD (my girlfriend also believes she has NPD but I find that hard to admit to myself). She can have incredibly erratic emotions, she is self-involved, she abuses alcohol (which makes her even more unstable), she constantly victimises herself and she is incredibly emotionally immature. I like to think of her like a sulky, hormonal 14-year-old girl. She has very little emotional boundaries and can be very inappropriate.

I could talk for longer about her but to basically sum up it, my family dynamic involves:

- An unstable, self-indulgent and inappropriate mother.

- A father who has been distant half of my life, who I have always bonded with more but I have recently come to realise that I have been repressing a lot of anger and anxiety towards. These feelings are now finally surfacing which is probably why I can’t seem to force myself to contact him.

- And finally, a sister who has struggled with quite debilitating Aspergers. My parents used to focus all their parenting and attention onto her (and still do…) as she more outwardly struggles. I was always thought to be “OK” and could handle life myself. I used to be angry at my sister for sooo long for the parenting and emotional attention she denied me. I now realise that was not her fault but the fault of my emotionally neglectful parents. We are building back our relationship now and sometimes even acknowledge how our parents dis-serviced BOTH of us. I believe she feels pressure from them always trying to fix her and “handle” her and she struggles to become independent from them, and undertaking everyday, general life activities she was never taught or able to teach herself. While I always felt neglected, like my feelings and struggles were too much for my parents, that I was always trying to be the caretaker to my mum and sister while doing my best to look perfect for my dad.

I had a listen to the latest and AMAZINGLY TIMED mentalpod episode about emotional neglect. Here it is: http://mentalpod.com/Dr-Jonice-Webb-Emotional-Neglect

I think it had some good tips on how to about how to confront parents who have been emotionally neglectful.

Murphy, your idea to just talk to my Dad via email for awhile sounds like a good one and I could start to feel a bit safer doing this before setting up the phone dynamics Fargin mentioned.

I think first though, like Jonice mentioned in the latest episode, that I should tell him that I need a bit of distance and then I can go back and relate to him in a different way. Maybe after a bit of distance, I could begin with email then phone after.

I want to eventually talk to him about how I have been feeling (not all of it) but how I have been unable to express how I am really feeling and how I find it hard to talk about life struggles with him as we have never had that relationship. He does care for me so I feel like this could eventually happen. I believe it hasn’t because:
For one, his parents were very emotionally neglectful to the point where they would say things like “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or would pressure him to be an alpha male and even encourage him to get into fights with boys at school. My grandparents have even sadder and abusive family backgrounds (my grandmother had a destructive alcoholic mother and we believe my grandfather was almost certainly sexually abused by a priest when he was a child).
And for another reason, my parents were absolutely exhausted raising my sister so had little time else to deal with any issues I was having.

We just need to start relating to each other differently and I hope this eventually happens. I can’t change the fact that he is physically distant from me but I can hopefully change how we relate through the medium we have.

Once I have enough energy again (hopefully that is tomorrow, as it is my birthday on the 19th and he will most likely get pissed off if I don’t contact him then) I am going to write an email to him explaining that I need distance.

I may post it here for any tips from you amazingly helpful people!

Anyway, I really appreciated the advice and loved hearing that you have similar issues! I hope I can help you someday :)
Of-The-Antipodes
 
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Joined: January 13th, 2016, 5:15 pm
Location: New Zealand
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Issues: ANXIETY, depression, alcohol abuse, bpd mother, aspergers sister
preferred pronoun: she


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