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Faux Psychologist

I would really love to know what you and your readers make of the below story, which happened only yesterday evening. I will admit, it had me pretty shaken up at the time, and even now still has me baffled as exactly what happened here…

A bit of background:  My husband (an only child) is 20 years older than me (I am 30, he is 49), and for this reason my MIL, “Joan”, is also considerably older than my own parents. To cut a long story short, my MIL (a very sweet old lady, of who I’m very fond) has had early stage Alzheimer’s for some years, which this year was horribly compounded by her being rushed to hospital for major abdominal surgery in January, then, while she was in hospital, a pipe bursting in her home and flooding the place completely out (a fact we ourselves only discovered on bringing MIL home again after three weeks in hospital). My husband and I immediately took her into our own home (a one-bed flat, so we slept on the floor during this time), and I took time off work to care for her (she wouldn’t permit my husband to do any of the awkward stuff like toilet assistance etc, so I had to). After a few weeks, when she was more recovered from the surgery, I managed to get her into a short-term rental apartment deliberately just around the corner from us, while I took on the mountain of insurance bureaucracy and months of repairs involved in restoring her flood-damaged property (she’d never in a month of Sundays have ever been able to do this herself). During the time she was in the short-term let, I went round to keep her company every weekend while my husband was at work, helped her with the shopping, stocked her freezer with home-made food, looked after her administrative affairs, and just tried to keep her spirits up during what she also found a horribly stressful and disorientating time.

I don’t say this to sanctify ourselves or anything – God knows, there were more than a few silent screams on my part at the time (even still now on occasion – dementia is seriously frustrating to deal with at times), but just to put into context the story to come.

Six months on and things are mercifully back to what qualifies as “normal” with Alzheimer’s – my MIL is living back in her own house again (with support from us, she can more or less live independently, albeit with the short-term memory of a goldfish), and we have settled into a nice routine of taking her out for a country pub (we’re in the UK) for dinner twice a week. The conversation always runs on a five-minute loop on these occasions, but she enjoys seeing us and we are more than used by now to repeating ourselves ad nauseam over dinner.

It was on one such pub dinner last night that the ehell incident occurred – we were just leaving the pub after a lovely dinner, when we bumped into an army buddy of my husband’s, “John”, at another table, who my MIL also knows vaguely. MIL is always rather more repetitive after a glass of wine or two, and in her enthusiasm to see John again repeated the same phrase (“it’s been so long since I’ve last seen you!”) about ten times in five minutes. The only thing I said (in a nice way) during this short conversation was, “You saw John at the wedding, “Joan” (we got married 3 months ago), but it didn’t seem to register, so I just smiled at John and left her to it. She also told John several times over that my husband and I “always look after me”, “take me out every week” and that she’d “be totally lost” without us.

It was at this point that I noticed a woman on the next table looking absolute daggers at me (and me specifically), to the extent that even my husband noticed it. I thought that perhaps our conversation was annoying her, as we’d been standing have a catch-up with John and his fellow diners quite close to her table for about five minutes at this stage, so we said our goodbyes and left the pub – only to have dagger lady run out after us across the car park, shouting over and over, “I’m a PSYCHOLOGIST, and you (meaning me) were treating that lady with disrespect!”, and waving her hand in my face (my husband didn’t seem to have incurred similar wrath).

I would like to say that I responded with some dignified etiquette put-down, but I was so shocked and taken aback at the time (I’ve not been in any sort of confrontation like this since school), that in the event I didn’t manage anything more eloquent than, “Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t have the first clue of what we’ve done for this woman over the last year!”, and a few other things that annoying I now can’t quite remember (combination of shock and red wine), to which she just kept repeatedly accusing me of unspecified “disrespect to that lady”. I don’t even know why I felt the need to justify myself to a complete stranger, but I guess she must have hit a sore spot… Having put MIL straight in the car to avoid her overhearing, my husband then intervened (he has a bit of a short fuse when provoked), angrily saying that she was making ignorant assumptions, and that I had nursed his mother back to health this year (referring to the surgery), to which she replied that you can’t nurse someone back from Alzheimer’s (as if we didn’t know!) and did we want her to call the police on us…?!!??

Having discussed this today with my colleagues, the only thing we can come up with that the woman was a) more psycho than psychologist (a true professional would surely not go around berating relatives of the mentally ill, particularly not in said person’s presence…?) or b) perhaps took offense at a shared “affectionate” smile with John at MIL’s constant repetition, or interpreted my reminding my MIL about having seen John at the wedding as patronizing somehow…?

I am certainly not proud of my or my husband’s response to this woman, and I definitely shouldn’t have allowed myself to be drawn into any kind of altercation with her, but I really can’t see I did anything there to warrant such an outburst. And yet, despite being in a pub, the lady did not appear drunk or anything like that, and she must have felt she had some sort of justification to come after us like that, despite that fact that my MIL was actually saying positive things about my husband and I in her presence…. Am I missing something here, or was this woman just barking mad…?

The “happy” ending is that my poor old MIL was totally oblivious to the whole thing, and just accepted our explanation that the woman was some random drunk / crazy person – in fact, she kept repeating the whole journey what a wonderful time she’d had and how she’d loved seeing us!  1001-12

That woman wasn’t a psychologist.  It was a ruse to give her rant more credibility.   Somehow you touched a nerve with her, which isn’t your fault, and she let her inhibitions down in order to vent her displeasure.  Basically she stuck her nose where it does not belong.   Are you sure she wasn’t inebriated?  Not that being drunk excuses anything but I cannot image a normal person acting as she did without a little liquid motormouth grease.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sarah October 3, 2012, 9:41 am

    I don’t usually leave comments but I wanted to say that the OP has really restored my faith in people, just hearing how she cares for her mother inlaw- and seeing the rest of the comments about others who do the same makes me feel really warm and fuzzy inside! It’s obvious that while there are some nuts out there (like ‘psychologist’ lady) there are a lot more people willing to sincerely and lovingly help others.

  • Sandra October 5, 2012, 8:45 am

    There is a certain type of fuzzy wuzzy do gooder, as I call them, that CANNOT help themselves when they see a perceived injustice taking place. Whether they’re actual social services professionals or just insufferable busybodies, they MUST give you their opinion on how you should handle a certain situation, whether you asked for help or not.

    Years ago my mother started up a friendship with a former neighbour. I had always liked the lady well enough, but found her behaviour to be intense in that super liberal-minded, social worker-esque way, and indeed, she was both of those things. To be honest, I thought she was a big old flake, with a wicked, although occasional, mean streak to boot (she once offered me a ride to school, and knowing that she was tremendously scents-sensitive, I jumped through hoops to ensure I was as un-smelly as possible – she still kicked me out of the car halfway there, fluttering her hands around and declaring that I was just “too scented.”) My mom recognized all of these things in this woman, but they got on well enough and seemed to have a lot of fun together, so it wasn’t any different than any other normal friendship.

    Around this time a somewhat distant family member was going off the rails – drugs, alcohol, arrests, drama involving her minor child…it was all pretty far removed from our little family, but still immensely troubling. So one day my mom confided in her friend and told her all of the little worries that had been, well, worrying her regarding our family member. Next thing she knows, her friend has wildly swung her car off the road, thrown the thing into park, wheeled around in her seat and is now screaming at my mom that AS A SOCIAL WORKER, IT IS HER SWORN DUTY TO PROTECT THOSE IN NEED, AND IF A CHILD IS INVOLVED, SHE IS CALLING THE POLICE RIGHT NOW SO MY MOTHER CAN DISCLOSE THE FULL EXTENT OF OUR FAMILY’S SHAMEFUL INDIFFERENCE TO THIS HORROR SHOW GOING ON RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES.

    My mom somehow managed to get her calmed down and told her that no one was in danger, particularly the child in question, as another branch of the family had really stepped up to ensure that despite her parent’s craziness, her life was impacted as little as possible, but she was visibly shaken. This woman had just plain terrified her. My mother had confided in her friend as a means of unburdening, and this lady went off the deep end.

    That evening she tried to call my mom three or four times. My mom wouldn’t pick up, and so this woman left three or four increasingly frantic messages, the final one stating that she was calling the police on behalf of my mother, on behalf of our troubled family member, if my mother didn’t have the stones to do it herself (I realize that problems with drugs, alcohol and the courts are nothing to sneeze at, but this particular family member had been living this kind of life for decades, and no amount of intervention on our part was going to change that – it sounds sad and indifferent, but sometimes you come to make a weird sort of peace with these situations.) My mom finally called her back, and I remember her crying and pleading on the phone, begging her friend-no-more not to say anything, that she hadn’t gone to her for action, she had gone to her for solace in a confusing family situation. It took a while to calm her down, but finally the message seemed to get through, and that was the end of that.

    Until she began calling my mom again to, I don’t know, resume their friendship. My mom wanted nothing to do with her, which could not have been more apparent, especially since she told her she didn’t want to see her again. A MONTH of ignored phone calls later, the ex-friend called me to find out what was going on. I am not as kind or as patient as my mom, so I simply said, “My mom told you those things as a friend, and you very nearly screwed her over. My family has its problems, but they’re under control to the best of our ability. You knew nothing of the situation, and yet you felt justified in bringing the authorities into it because you know best, even while my mom sat there begging you to keep it to yourself. Then you hound her incessently after she told you she didn’t want to see you any more. Give her time, and if she wants to resume your friendship, she will.”

    She didn’t, and I couldn’t be prouder of my mom. Long, long story short, there is just a certain type of person that will not listen, that must give their professional opinion or concern-trolling opinion on matters that alight on their social justice radar, and there really is no polite way of dealing with them.

    OP, you did the best you could in a tremendously awkward and infuriating situation. In fact, you did better, as no one wound up with an assault charge on their record. All that matters is that your MIL is happy and well taken care of and appreciative of all that you and your husband do for her. I’d take that kind of kindness any day over the faux-concern of nutjobs like my mom’s friend and your parking lot avenger.

  • Allie October 6, 2012, 1:18 pm

    This reminds me of one of Aesop’s fables about an old man and a boy taking a donkey to market. At first they all walked and a passerby said they were stupid for not riding the donkey. So they both got on and another passerby said it was cruel for both of them to be riding the poor donkey. So the old man got off and a passerby said the boy was wrong to be riding the donkey and making the old man walk. So they switched and a passerby said the old man was wrong to be riding the donkey and making the boy walk. Finally, a passerby said they were wrong to make the poor, tired looking donkey walk. While attempting to pick up the donkey and carry it, the donkey was dropped over the side of the bridge and lost forever.

    You can’t please everyone all the time. It sounds like you are doing the best you can for your mom-in-law (and your best sounds pretty darn good to me). I hope you can put this regrettable incident out of your mind. Sounds like this woman was just a common, garden-variety boor. Sadly, the world is filled with them and they rarely need much of an excuse (if any) to butt into other people’s business.

  • GleanerGirl October 12, 2012, 6:06 pm

    I’m so glad you took care of her the way you did. Kudos! It is so difficult.

    Yes, with such a short term memory, I am concerned about her being alone. My mother is starting to lose it, and she frequently forgets to turn off the stove or oven, when she is done. However, I am right by the kitchen, and can smell if things get too hot, and always check the stove/oven whenever I am in the kitchen, out of a newly developed habit. In other words, I don’t worry Mom will burn the house down, because I won’t let that happen. Now, if Mom were living alone, I’d be worried sick about her dying in a fire.

    Your mother obviously values her independence and wants to keep it as much as possible, and you want to keep your privacy, too. May I suggest looking into some really good safety equipment? Sensors with automatic shut-offs, and the like? It may be expensive, but much cheaper than replacing the house if it goes up in flames. Or replacing the water damage, if she leaves the tub running for hours on end, because she forgot she was going to take a bath. With a few safety devices, she could maintain her independence much longer.

    Keep your chin up. It’s such a trial you’re facing. However, you WILL be blessed for your efforts. Karma will reward you.

  • Shea October 15, 2012, 3:34 pm

    It’s entirely possible that the woman *was* a psychologist. There are complete nutters in every profession, including psychology. For instance, a man in my hometown was recently arrested and charged with a string of rather bizarre crimes (fortunately no one was seriously hurt as the result of his actions, but that was luck as much as anything else). Apparently he confessed as soon as he was arrested and there appears to be little doubt that he is the responsible party. His profession? Licensed, practicing clinical psychologist.

    However, I don’t think it matters much if the woman was or was not actually a psychologist; the most relevant fact is that she’s off her rocker and extremely rude. Clearly you and your husband are doing very well by your MIL, so don’t take to heart anything she said.

  • Nate October 26, 2012, 3:34 pm

    I was shocked to hear you describe your MIL’s memory as that of a goldfish. It is a myth that goldfish have a memory span of just a few minutes. They can actually learn and retain information for weeks to months. This was a topic on the television show “Mythbusters”. Please do some research of goldfish on your own and help educate the public so that they do not continue to keep poor goldfish in tiny bowls with the excuse that they can not remember past a few minutes anyways. I hope your goldfish does well in the future.