The Ambassador

I managed to avoid ambassadorial games until I had my bi-polar parent’s number blocked. I call her every other day, but it was a necessary step to block calls from my parent’s telephone as she was ringing between half a dozen to 18 times a day.

Advice like ‘Just don’t answer’ sort of ignores the problem. A dozen calls a day is 360 calls a month and the total was often higher. They’d also come at all hours of the night.

My bi-polar parent loved voicemail. The maximum length of my phone company’s voice mail recordings was fifteen minutes. Yep, she’d often monologue for minutes on end, winding herself into a frenzy. Or she’d leave three or four messages in a row about end of the world emergencies such as ‘They’re sending me junk mail’ messages every afternoon when the postie made his rounds.

The following paragraph is from a reader’s book review about abuse and not bi-polar caregiving and how making the decision to reduce contact radically will suddenly cause the reappearance of estranged family members. I encountered a sudden spate of ambassadors shortly after I restricted her ability to contact me via telephone.

*Expect to be contacted through third parties. Your abuser will often enlist a friend or relative to approach you for her, and deliver news that she is ailing, depressed, getting old, sorry for all that’s happened, or whatever else she can think of to make you feel guilty and relent. The best response is to cut this right off at the pass, by informing the “ambassador” that he is not to convey any messages to you from your abuser or tell you anything about her. As soon as he starts talking about her, hold your hand up, palm facing him, and say, “Stop right there! I don’t want to hear anything about my mother, so let’s change the subject.” If he persists, enforce your boundary and end the conversation. When you do this, you are actually doing the Silent Partner a big favor. If he feels caught in the middle of your disagreement, now he can go back to the abuser and truthfully tell her that you refuse to listen to anything he says about her, and there’s nothing more he can do about it. This will get him off the hot seat and force your abuser to cross him off her list as a go-between.

Again, the context of that quote is estranged family abusers, not geriatric bi-polar relations for whom you are a caregiver. However, should you find it necessary to manage telephone contact, then you should anticipate the enlistment of ambassadors to run messages.

Practical Advice

  1. It may be that they haven’t been exposed to quotidian bi-polar behaviour. Explain that your mobile phone bill has gone stratospheric thanks to the hundreds of phone calls per month. People will think you are exaggerating so have specific numbers. ‘According to my statements, she called XXX times last month, and XXX times the month before that…’
  2. Tell the well meaning person that you are in contact with your relation once or twice a week in a schedule that better suits you; and the nursing home is free to call you.
  3. Assure the ambassadors that the needs and general administration such as banking and legal stuff, are being looked after.
  4. Expect ambassadors to come in the first month any time there is financial stuff, some trivial government letter or the like. Really, any excuse will be used. Other times to expect ambassadors are any time there’s a social calendar event such as the holidays or birthdays, religious feasts or critical life events such as funerals or emergencies like the sun is up or a dog barked.

The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein

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