General Question

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

What do you say to a person who's in the hospital because they overdosed?

Asked by WillWorkForChocolate (22658 points ) June 7th, 2011

My grandmother OD’d on xanax and wine and is in the ICU. We have no idea if it was accidental or intentional, and she’s not really divulging any details.

I’m going to visit her tonight, and I have no clue what to say to her! “How ya feelin?” “What the fuck were you thinking?” “Would ya like some more xanax, bonehead?”

I love her and don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I’m feeling angry that she did something like this, and I don’t know what to say to her when I get there.

Help?

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32 Answers

geeky_mama's avatar

How about you just walk in – grab her hand and say: “I love you.”

If she wants to elaborate on her actions she will.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, clearly she is in pain. Depressed, not happy, lonely for attention, socially isolated, afraid of her aging process, the list could be endless.

I’d opt for some quiet love, and let her speak about her pain, worries, fears if she wants to.

I am sure the hospital will evaluate her and probably suggest counseling.

At the same time, tough love, she needs to know that this is not the way to garner attention.

Judi's avatar

Just say, “I love you grandma. You really had us scared for a bit. ”

MilkyWay's avatar

Don’t you ever do that to me again! Say this with an angry face.
Then give her a hug.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

For the immediate present, I’d say stick to “Hey, how ya feelin?”. Let her know how much you love her, and then let her decide what to tell you. Take all the anger and put it in a letter (to read to her later, not send to her), and when you know more, then you can use it as a guide for how you were feeling right then – but do that in a couple of weeks, because right now the doctor’s are almost definitely just worried about getting her physical health back before they transfer her (if they do) to a psych ward. And if it is suicide, remember that her issues (chronic pain, maybe she has cancer and you don’t know about it, etc) are quite possibly going to be really different than the reasons you would have for killing yourself, so lines like “it’s only a temporary situation” may not really apply.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Another part of the problem is that she’s been majorly depressed ever since she was very young and she is now in her 70’s.

She does things a LOT to get attention. She’ll take her phone off the hook so that we get worried and drive over to check on her. She’ll plan to do something with the family and then back out at the last second, and say, “I think I’m dying”.

It’s so hard to know what to say to her, because we don’t want her to think we don’t love her, but at the same time we don’t want to mollycoddle her and keep her in this codependent pattern. This sucks.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Coloma They’re calling this her “4th suicide attempt” because she overdosed on ambien last year, and about 20 years ago, she tried to kill herself twice. I think they’re planning on admitting her to a psych hospital for a few weeks. Right now, they’ve got her on “suicide watch” in the ICU.

@MyNewtBoobs I think it’s just severe depression. If she had cancer I’d know about it. She never keeps anything to herself, at all. She’s the type of person who tells you when she’s gone poop. Also, my mother takes her to all her appointments and things, and she’d tell me if there were something abnormal.

creative1's avatar

Be there for her, show her your love and as @geeky_mama stated “I love you”, she will probably find someone to open up to whether it be a relative or a doctor but you all have to show her understanding and compassion what ever the reason this happened mistake or on purpose. Depression is quite common in the elderly especially if their spouse has died within a year or so of the other. She may need some counciling and may need other people her age as well that have been in her shoes.

Judi's avatar

At 70, you will not change her ways. All you can do is love her in the reality she has created. Validate her feelings. She is probably in her last years so the important thing is to make sure she knows that she is loved, regardless of her dysfunctional attributes.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Before you make any accusations, visit with the counsellor at the hospital.

You may need to get her admitted into a long term care facility before the hospital will release her.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

While she’s in the ICU, and until they transfer her to a psych ward, if you start in on her (not that you don’t have reason to), they can kick you out because dealing with those issues right then can cause the nervous system to do some things that are really, really bad if you’re fighting for your life. She can also request that you not be allowed to see her. So just be aware that until she gets to the psych ward, the number one priority for all hospital staff attending to her will be her physical wellness, not her mental health or the health of your relationship.

gasman's avatar

“Sorry to hear of your illness.” That covers mental and physical. If you actually care about the person it shouldn’t be hard to demonstrate sympathy and support.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

She doesn’t want to go to counseling and doesn’t want to even consider an “assisted living facillity” because they’re full of “old people”. Yeah, she has the health of a 90 year old but she thinks she’s a spring chicken.

@Judi I know we can’t change her ways, the problem is that she can’t see the line between accepting our love and support, and sucking us dry emotionally, and keeping us from working. It’s getting to the point where my parents are having trouble making their house payments because my grandmother keeps them hopping for her so much that my mom has to cancel her clients all the time, and dad has to call in to work a lot.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I wouldn’t be angry, that’s for sure. A person that age shouldn’t have to think what everyone else will feel when they try to ‘accidentally’ kill themselves or whatever. Maybe it’s time to really look into getting to know her.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate That is why you talk to the hospital staff before you see her. If they deem it is in her best interests, they can give her an ultimatum either go to the psych ward (nuthouse as my gramma called it) or assisted living. Then the hospital can play the role of bad guy and you and your parents can make nice with her.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Tell her you love her and hope she gets on the mend soon so you can all talk over what’s the best way to help her not end up like that again.

She needs attention from somewhere and she probably badly needs some variety of mood stabilizers. Could she benefit from moving into a seniors community of condo’s/apts.? Could she be prompted to join a seniors outreach/recreation program and see if it fills a need, maybe just a few friends to be able to talk to any old time? How many children does she have? Are they open to putting aside $25.-$50. each family, each month in order to send her out of town every few months somewhere she’d like?

everephebe's avatar

I’d just be warm and try not to make too many faces. First off, say hello, and then go from there. Be frank, but not emotive.

That’s my $0.02

bkcunningham's avatar

That’s a tough one @WillWorkForChocolate. I’m sure she’s feeling just as awkward and uncomfortable when lying there sorta defenseless and “greeting” her visitors. Sometimes people just need to a good sincere hug or a tender touch without any words being passed between them. I hate to hear your family is going through this and I sincerely hope it passes into the positive very soon. Stay strong.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Okay, so I kind of just winged it and everything seemed fine. She’s highly upset that they want her to go to the psych hospital, but I tried to not say anything about that other than, “hmm”. I just sat with her and we talked off and on and watched part of the NBA finals.

For everyone who apparently thought I was going to be mean to her- the hypothetical questions in my details were purely sarcastic.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Trust me, I know my grandmother very well and we’ve been close ever since I was born, which is why this pattern of hers is so damned frustrating. And I have every right to be angry, because she does things like this just to get attention. It doesn’t seem to matter how much attention we give her, it’s never enough. So she does dangerous things like this and has us take her to the ER all the time, and then basks in all the attention she gets from the doctors and nurses.

Well, she finally got her wish this time, and they’re not going to let her go back to live along in her house. And she’s pissed about it. She hurts herself and hurts herself and hurts herself to get attention and have people say, “Oh you poor dear, let me help you”, edging herself closer and closer to the point of needing permanent assistance, and then she gets pissed when it actually happens.

She’s not some doddering old biddy, she’s a damned smart manipulator. She’s in poor health with her blood pressure and diabetes, yes, but mentally, she’s sharp as a tack. She purposely manipulates people to surround her, like puppets on a stage.

I love her to pieces, and I’m going to be devastated when “her time” finally comes, but she keeps everyone dancing to her tune, to the point where my parents are having major financial issues because they keep missing too much work, and she does it all the damn time. She’s using her need for attention to bankrupt her children. It’s co-dependancy at it’s worst. You’re damn right I’m angry.

ANYWAY… she’ll be in a psych hospital for a few weeks, and then I think they’re going to recommend that she move in to an assisted living center nearby that has an on-site doctor 24/7.

blueiiznh's avatar

Sorry to hear this. I know it is tough to really know what to say. It sounds like she may have no answer of understanding of it either.
Just you being there is all that is needed. Its a case of actions are louder than words. When she is ready to talk, she will.
A big hug and your deepest most honest feeling is acceptable.

Prayers for her swift work towards what is best.

jonsblond's avatar

I’m reading your story @WillWorkForChocolate and I really feel your pain. You almost perfectly described my mother and her actions over the past 30 years. She is 75 now, not in the best of health, drinks and smokes way too much and then gets pissed at the doctor and walks out of the doctor’s office when he tells her she needs to take better care of herself. She’s been taken to the hospital numerous times for stupid accidents while under the influence, and has called me a few times saying she wanted to kill herself. She does it for attention, just like your grandmother.

It sounds like you handled the situation the best you could. Be there for her and tell her you love her. I know it is frustrating. I hope she finally gets the help she needs the next few weeks, though I know at that age it’s difficult to change a behavior that has lasted so long. At this point only a professional can help her. Our family has come to this conclusion also concerning my mom, because she won’t listen to any of us.

(((hugs))) Send me a pm if you need to talk.

wundayatta's avatar

I think it’s very difficult for someone who has never been clinically depressed to understand someone who is. You can not imagine the inside out world we inhabit when we are depressed. You think of us as intelligent people, so if we ask for attention in any way other than directly acting, you think we are manipulating you.

I don’t believe that people manipulate unless they have good reason to do so. Much of this depends on the individual family dynamics in your situation. If there is a history of certain kinds of actions and responses, and it has happened over and over, then it seems like it will keep on happening as long as it works. My question is whether anyone would pay attention to her if she simply asked, instead of creating a crisis?

I think it is not helpful to think of her behavior as manipulative. When I was depressed, I could not ask for help because I didn’t think I deserved it. I was not worth it. I knew that if I disappeared no one would notice. I knew that no one liked me. I was a drag. A downer. I hurt people. I was useless and worthless and the sooner I disappeared, the better. I believed with all my heart that this is how other people saw me.

I also knew that I didn’t want to manipulate anyone into anything. If someone wanted me around, they would have to come to me. But this was also incredibly painful—waiting to see if anyone noticed or anyone cared. Pretty soon, I was not only in incredible pain, but I was unable to think logically—or at least, what passes for logic amongst normal people.

I had my own logic. My logic was to push people away when I wanted help. My logic was to deny that anyone loved me when I desperately wanted to be loved. Why? Because I didn’t want to be faked out. I didn’t want people to pity me. If someone loved me, I needed to know it was real love—love that could stand up in the face of my unwillingness to be worthy of it.

So in the end you convince yourself that you are worthless and you don’t deserve life and the pain is too much and so it’s time to go. You don’t really want to go, because all you really want is for the pain to go away. But you can’t figure out how to make that happen except to kill yourself. You talk yourself into trying, although you really don’t want to die, so you leave an out. You try, but not hard enough so that someone couldn’t rescue you. Then you hope.

How do you comfort a person like this? Two things. One, you love them as fiercely as you can. Two, you prove that you really do love them by being there for them as much as you possibly can.

You do not accuse them of manipulating you. This will confirm their belief they are worthless. This plays right into their worst beliefs about themselves.

You have to do everything you can to show you love them. You let them know you think about them. You hug them. You take them to therapy. You help them exercise and eat right. You get them properly diagnosed and on the proper meds. You call them regularly. You do things with them. You show them you want their company.

I’m sorry if this seems unfair. It seems like it’s playing into her hands or something. The point is that she does deserve attention. She shouldn’t have to manipulate to get it. She isn’t manipulating, anyway. She is following the logic of the depressed. Which, no matter how much I try to explain it, is impossible for anyone to understand who hasn’t been there. It’s just too unbelievable. What can I say? We’re crazy. We’re fucked. 20% of us die from our disorder.

_zen_'s avatar

Sucks to be you granny.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@wundayatta Actually, I am depressed (going on 20 years now) and have terribly high anxiety and mild agoraphobia. I take medication for it and take life one day at a time. I came horribly close to committing suicide when I was 18. But thanks for the explanation and the assumption that I’m a dumbass who couldn’t possibly understand depression.

wundayatta's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate A) my diatribe was aimed at people in general who haven’t been depressed, not you in specific, nor at people who have been depressed. B) I’m surprised because the way you tell the story, it doesn’t sound like you have much tolerance for your grandmother’s behavior. Sure, you love her, but it doesn’t sound like you have any patience for her. Perhaps I misunderstood.

What is your understanding of depression? Do you see yourself in your Grandmother? How do you want people to treat you? Wouldn’t that be a good start on figuring out what your Grandmother wants and why she behaves as she does? You’ve got a lot more experience with depression than I do. You must have your own ideas. What’s your plan?

I apologize for making you feel like I was condescending to you. But you know how it is. So many people don’t understand. The way you spoke about it made me feel like you were one of those people. My general rule in these things is to look at what I want. Then I use that as a starting place for figuring out what others really want (not what they say they want). Very rarely have I found that to be a poor guide.

It can get harder to remember the further in the past my last episode of depression is. But I try to remember it often—both so that I don’t lose my compassion and empathy, and also because remembering it helps me inoculate myself from it. Kind of like some PTSD treatments.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta Not to get all “let’s diagnose a total stranger with very little info”, but it sounds like while she probably is depressed, she sounds like she has certain issues one might find in other disorders, like personality disorders. If it’s to the level of a personality disorder, I don’t know, if those are even the right issues, I don’t know, I just don’t think it sounds like this is just straight up depression – it sounds like the same behavior my mother does when she’s trying to get the emotional needs of her childhood met, because they weren’t when she was a child, and she can’t move past that. So that might be why @WillWorkForChocolate doesn’t feel much sympathy (not that I’m condemning that) – because it’s not the same thing. Plus, it’s important to remember that while the disorder might not be your fault, you’re damn sure responsible for it, and it is your fault if instead of getting help and trying to get better, you choose incredibly hurtful actions. Mental disorders/illnesses aren’t a free pass to say “Well, I have depression/schizophrenia/BPD/bipolar/OCD/whatever, so I just get to treat you like trash because things are harder for me than the average Joe”.

wundayatta's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs You wrote, “while the disorder might not be your fault, you’re damn sure responsible for it.” Did you mean to say you are responsible for having the disorder? Because that’s what it sound like the way you said it. Or did you mean you are responsible for trying to get better?

blueiiznh's avatar

@wundayatta the whole context of the statement:
“Plus, it’s important to remember that while the disorder might not be your fault, you’re damn sure responsible for it, and it is your fault if instead of getting help and trying to get better, you choose incredibly hurtful actions. Mental disorders/illnesses aren’t a free pass to say “Well, I have depression/schizophrenia/BPD/bipolar/OCD/whatever, so I just get to treat you like trash because things are harder for me than the average Joe”.
Its pretty clear @MyNewtBoobs is stating that she is responsible for proper treatment and actions if she in fact is diagnosed with that. There are far too many people who do not follow the treatment plan and what is described here is the fallout.
Also your behavior of seeking attention or not during your depression is not the standard for everyone. I certainly have seen the behavior described here align with various personality disorders. They are seeking attention and it is in the methods they do it in that are manipulative.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@wundayatta I have plenty of sympathy for her, and my heart breaks that she’s so upset about having to visit a psych hospital and then move to assisted living. Does that mean I don’t have a right to be frustrated and angry with her choices? No. I can sympathize with my oldest daughter when she gets hurt while playing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to be angry and explain to her that she only got hurt because she made a poor decision to jump out of the tree.

My grandmother has been depressed all her life. She wasn’t even a mother to her own children; my mom had to raise her little brother. She has always manipulated people to do things for her, so that she didn’t have to do it. And my understanding of depression is very detailed, as I mentioned I’ve been depressed for about 20 years now. But I don’t manipulate people like puppets and I don’t force my family to hover around me to their own detriment. Her behavior is not the absolute norm for depressed people.

I’m torn half and half between feeling really sad for her and feeling really angry. She did this to herself. My mother sets up her pillbox for every day, according to time of the day. My grandmother is perfectly capable of taking her correct medications when she’s supposed to. She’s also perfectly capable of knowing that taking 4 extended release xanax is fucking stupid. She did it and then turned her phone off, knowing that we would get worried and drive over there.

I’m in pain all the time from endometriosis, I’ve severely depressd, I have anxiety and I’m mildy agoraphobic. Trust me, I understand depression, and I understand feeling worthless and miserable. But I don’t do retarded things to make my family drop everything and come running to my side.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta I think if you read the whole statement like @blueiiznh suggests, it becomes pretty clear what I meant. But I’m saying that you are responsible for your actions and for not necessarily getting better, but making sure your issues don’t hurt anyone else (but if you decide to do that by going and living as a hermit in the woods who has no contact with anyone else instead of going more traditional “help” routes, I don’t care). But you don’t get to say “It wasn’t me that was cheating on you, it was my alternate identity”. Nor do you get to stab me because you were having a flashback and thought I was an enemy. It may not be your fault that you have the disorder, but it’s the hand you were dealt, and everyone has their own baggage and issues and personal crap, and having your’s recognized by the DSM isn’t a get out of jail free card on meeting some basic requirements of a relationship, like not treating me like crap and taking your whatever out on me.

wundayatta's avatar

I thought the responsible thing to do was to disappear and take care of myself, so I would be nobody’s problem and so I couldn’t hurt anyone any more than I already had. Of course, it’s not much further from that to the decision to disappear permanently. When I’m sick it’s very important that I do not place a burden on anyone else, and that I do everything I can to not hurt anyone. Since I always hurt people, the only responsible thing to do is to disappear.

Except I have kids. So the responsible thing to do is to stay and parent the kids. But I’m angry with them and with my wife and I’ve done unforgivable things, so how can my presence do anything except create more pain for everyone involved?

And even if I didn’t have kids, would disappearing be considered a responsible thing to do? Should I stick around and hurt people just because they love me and would be worried if I disappeared?

I’m not sick right now, and I still can’t answer these questions. I have no idea what being responsible means. Maybe you need attention in order to get better. But you’re not getting it, so you use the only mechanisms you know to get attention for worthless you. It’s called manipulation.

Maybe you think you need attention, but everyone around you thinks you don’t. They think you’re manipulative. But they still show up when you manipulate them with threats of suicide. Maybe if you got more visits you wouldn’t feel such a need to be manipulative. I don’t know.

There’s manipulation in not manipulating. There’s manipulation in saying you shouldn’t be around so you don’t hurt anyone. There’s manipulation everywhere you turn, even if you are faithfully taking your meds.

What does not taking your meds mean? Well, from what I’ve heard, the biggest reason why people don’t take their meds is the side effects. You all surely know it is devilishly hard to find the right meds that you can tolerate and that work.

I don’t know what’s going on with Grandma. But I do know this notion of responsibility is a double-edge sword. Manipulation is in the eye of the beholder. When someone is acting in an erratic way, more information is needed.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

It’s not the time to start preaching or lecturing to your Grandmother. She is probably embarrassed about what happened. Just go and let her take the lead after you kiss her and say, “I love you grandma and hope you will be OK”. Sometimes the less said the better. At least this early in the game.

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