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October 27, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to gently (but effectively) cut a mentally ill person out of my life when the usual detachment methods aren't working? (Warning: long, distressing explanation)

Six and a half months ago, a really close friend killed himself. While I, personally, have been somewhat unable to allow myself to deal with my own emotions/reactions, I have been a major source of support for those closest to him. I moved his girlfriend in with me and have been a shoulder/ear to a lot of those left behind (including people I was previously not acquainted with).

The girlfriend, my roommate and I drove out of state for the funeral where we met another of his friends (we'll call him R) who lives about half way between here and there. R arrived at the airport with no place to stay, so we let him crash on our hotel floor for the couple of nights and dropped him off at his place on our way home.

R is very likely a sufferer of schizophrenia and/or dissociative identity disorder. During the four days we visited with family/friends, attended the viewing/funeral/wake, R was nearly silent, often staring off into space and pulling disappearing acts. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, so we were understanding, gentle, and as supportive as he'd let us be.

A few days after returning home, we started to realize just how out of touch with reality R is. The girlfriend and I started to receive emails and text messages which made little to no sense. He's created very grand delusions including having a full relationship with me (upto and including getting me pregnant, us having been engaged, me having an abortion and not telling him, breaking the engagement, etc) which couldn't have possibly happened in the four days we spent in each other's presence. We finally convince him that none of this happened, and he and I try to be friends. Some days, he's still convinced that all of this happened, other days he's not even sure who I am.

He sometimes claims to talk to our dead friend, once even telling me that our friend was afraid of me and had warned him that I, and the girlfriend, were out to steal/destroy his soul.

I received a text message from him last week asking who I was and why I had a dead girl's phone. Apparently, I'm dead. That one was forgotten by the next day.

A lot of our conversations are repeats, as if he doesn't ever remember having had the conversation before. A lot of what he says is completely nonsensical; including referencing conversations he supposedly had with me but I have no recollection of.

I'm drained, I'm tired, and I'm only now *starting* to deal with my own emotional reactions to our friend's suicide. I know R doesn't have much of a support system; he's 25, and lives with his parents, who I have no way of contacting. If he has friends in his area, he's never mentioned them. So I feel *extremely* guilty about just wanting him to go away, but... I do. I'm sick and tired of being the target/subject of his delusions and I honestly have no way of helping him. He's terrified and paranoid of mental health "professionals" (quotes his).

Previous attempts to extract myself from his life have been met with a week or two of silence followed by an onslaught of text/emails as if the "go away" conversation never happened.

Hive mind? Help? Can/Should I just ignore him? Stop responding to him at all? The complication with that is that he'll decide I'm dead, ask the dead friend's girlfriend (motherly sort, also can't figure out how to deal with him) and when she tells him I'm alive and well, he'll decide I hate him, and create some new (and temporary) reality to justify/confirm it.
posted by MuChao to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is way over your head for something you should be dealing with. Is there any kind of mental health crisis hotline you can call and ask them what you should be doing?

I don't think you should just suck it up and keep trying to put up with it, but I also don't think you should just do a disappearing act either - ask someone exactly who should be handling it and have them get this guy some help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on October 27, 2009

Get this guy out of your life.

I'm sympathetic to mental health issues. I've had enough of my own. But you cannot deal properly with someone who cannot remember from one day to the next whether you are alive or dead. A trained mental health professional would probably be able to handle it, but I'm guessing that you aren't one.

You need to look out for yourself, especially right after such a traumatic loss. You can't help him, and he apparently refuses to help himself. He made the choice to not get help.That kind of situation doesn't end well. You are in no way responsible for that, or him generally. Grab yourself a copy of The Gift of Fear, read it, and follow it's advice.

Please don't feel guilty for looking out for yourself. If you don't do it, nobody else will.
posted by Solomon at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yes, you're instincts are right in protecting yourself. Since phone/txt is the way he contacts you I would recommend getting a new phone/number (that you give to trusted friends with the explicit instruction to not give him the number) while keeping the old one active so you can have someone you trust monitor his messages if he becomes harrassing/threatening (a small chance, but still there). Please give the girlfriends mother the heads-up and agree on what she should say to him. Believing you are dead may be the best strategy.
posted by saucysault at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing trying to cut contact with this guy, but I suggest you first contact someone with mental health expertise-- hotline? psych department at a local hospital?-- to check on the best way of doing it. If you're a key figure in this guy's delusions, some of which have cast you as an antagonist/dangerous figure, then it may not be safe for you to simply stop returning his calls.

You also might want to talk the situation through with the girlfriend, so you can have each others' backs in dealing with this. Although it's not really your responsibility, arranging for some sort of intervention by medical or social services might well be the best way of ensuring that this guy doesn't continue to spiral down to the point of becoming a danger to himself or to you.
posted by Bardolph at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2009

i think you need to get the police involved. anything else probably won't be enough, and won't help him get the help he needs. file a restraining order and enforce it when breaks it.
posted by lester at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: You are overly-involved. Moving people in with you? Coordinating responses? You are taking FAR too much on yourself! You need to confront the possibility that you shield yourself from your own emotions by attempting to cater to other people's.

Furthermore, you need to understand that a qualified mental health professional would unequivocally tell you to break off all contact immediately. This takes the form of refusing phone calls, emails, IMs, texts, etc. This also takes the form of making a plan for how to respond if he escalates, including a willingness to change telephone numbers. You may even want to prepare yourself for the possibility of a restraining order. Hopefully that will be unnecessary, but preparing yourself for difficult decisions is always important. You are not responsible for anyone but yourself.

I highly suggest that you consult a mental health professional, firstly to receive and accept authoritative permission to cut this individual off, and secondly to receive and accept training in sufficient self-regulation to ensure you don't endanger yourself in the future.

No one has as much a vested interest in protecting your mental health as you do.
posted by jefficator at 2:13 PM on October 27, 2009 [11 favorites]

As for getting advice from professionals, I would suggest talking to your local chapter of NAMI. They will have information specific to your jurisdiction and they will have advice about what to do. Most of the chapters are staffed by volunteers and there should be a few who have handled similar situations from the perspective of R's mother, but they will be able to give you information that will help you choose a course of action.

You are also entitled to file a restraining order if you feel harassed or scared. While this won't keep him from contacting you, it could help get him into the system if the situation escalates.
posted by Alison at 2:14 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Last week, he was thanking me for being such a wonderful and supportive friend. Today, he's accusing me of lying to him about my relationship with our dead friend (who's warning against me as we speak, btw) as well as hacking his [dads?] computer.

I should make a few clarifications. He lives 200+ miles away from me. I know the city name, but not his address or parents' names. All I have is a cell phone number and email address. He has no driver's license, and I'm not exactly jumping at the opportunity to drive up to his city. Thus, I have no fear of this becoming a violent situation.

He's extremely paranoid of mental health professionals; won't be *convinced* to go. I have no way of contacting his parents and asking him for such information triggers a downswing.

I'm afraid he might become a danger to himself, but I'm willing to accept that it's not my responsibility nor within my abilities to prevent. I'd rather not live with knowledge that my exiting his life triggered such a downswing, however.

[on preview:]
jefficator: the one I moved in with me was the suicide-friend's girlfriend, who is also my best friend in the entire world. I have no regrets there. She couldn't stay in the apartment they shared, and I can't imagine myself having handled it any differently.
posted by MuChao at 2:18 PM on October 27, 2009

I'm afraid he might become a danger to himself, but I'm willing to accept that it's not my responsibility nor within my abilities to prevent. I'd rather not live with knowledge that my exiting his life triggered such a downswing, however.

I share your concern in this -- that's the biggest reason why I suggested contacting the police or someone in authority in the city where he lives and asking them to help you with this. I know he doesn't trust mental health offiicals, but they are trained to handle situations like this (as in, getting uncooperative people to a place where they can be treated). Call them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2009

I know R doesn't have much of a support system; he's 25, and lives with his parents, who I have no way of contacting.

Are you absolutely sure this is the case? You know his name, right? First and last? Or at least a first name, plus his approximate age, plus how he knew your mutual friend? I'm hesitant to say "get the police involved" because I don't really know the best way to deal with delusional people (here's where the advice above about calling a mental health hotline seems apt), but if it turns out that this is the sort of thing that is best handled by notifying his parents, I'd be surprised if the police couldn't track down the parents for you and at least let them know what is going on here.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Dangit! This is already too long and I realize I forgot to mention that I don't even know his last name. I guess this kinda changes the question to something more along the lines of, how do I brace myself for the seemingly-inevitable worst?
posted by MuChao at 2:30 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: Dangit! This is already too long and I realize I forgot to mention that I don't even know his last name. I guess this kinda changes the question to something more along the lines of, how do I brace myself for the seemingly-inevitable worst?

You know his first name.

You know the city he lives in.

You know his cell number.

I promise you that is enough for the police in that city to go on to be able to track him down and get him help. At the very least, they will be able to help you decide how to handle this.

No, seriously, you have enough information for the city to work with. My own local police force was able to track down the identity of a guy who called and threatened me when the only information I had to give them was the exact time he called me. They were able to track down a full address and phone number based on that information alone.

There are people who are trained to handle this. At the very least, they are trained in advising you what you should do. Contact them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:35 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Change your email address and phone number and don't give him the new ones. Tell people you know in common to tell him that you moved and they don't know where you are.
posted by Dasein at 2:38 PM on October 27, 2009

Yes, I totally agree with EmpressCallipygos. It sounds like you are a wonderful, caring person who has taken *way* too much on herself and can't recognize that this is something you don't have to deal with alone, and indeed shouldn't deal with. This sounds like exactly the sort of thing you want to get the authorities involved with, not least because this guy's parents are probably more likely to actually be motivated to get their son help when the message about his problematic behavior is coming from the police, rather than a young woman they've never seen.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:41 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Police in his city are "unsure" what they can do with the little information I have. She's going to talk to the dispatchers and see what they can do to track down him/his parents. Of course, I got the spiel I already know by heart, "if he's not saying he's a danger to himself/others, there's really nothing anyone can do". He's, unfortunately, still a bit too intelligent to verbalize that.

In the meantime, I was told to call their local MHMR.
posted by MuChao at 3:00 PM on October 27, 2009

If you really want to get in touch with his parents, call any PI in his town and pay the $40 it would take to go from his phone number and first name to a positive ID. It's really not that hard. You could even do it online with any number of data brokers.

What you should do with that info is file a restraining order, as has already been suggested. You should also get a new phone. If it is important to you to do so, contact his parents and mental health professionals near him, but definitely file the restraining order and get a new phone number.

On preview: what EmpressCallipygos said.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: You are a helper/fixer*. You can't fix this. In some parallel universe where you can do everything and still get your own stuff done, you might be able to do something, somehow. But I guarantee you that you can't fix this. Disentangle and do not enable. Don't call him back, filter his emails, have a friend check your texts first, whatever. Don't try the losing game at trying to save him, with the idea that you somehow failed your original friend in the first place. You sound like an amazing friend, a genuinely good person, and intuitive to boot. Turn some of those graces on yourself and take a step back here.

*I am too. I know it's hard to stop, but treat it like an addiction and start practicing 'no' and defining your own boundaries. Be your own mother hen!
posted by barnone at 3:12 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: I just heard back from his local police department. The address his cell phone company has on file is apparently out of date and he's answering his cell phone but claiming not to know anyone by his name.

This may be entirely uncooth for MeFi, but it was part of the original question; now that I've honestly done all I can for him, how do I disengage... *without changing my phone number*?
posted by MuChao at 3:33 PM on October 27, 2009

Why won't your mobile provider just block his number for you?
posted by jeffburdges at 3:37 PM on October 27, 2009

Nthing NAMI up.

Can your phone provider block his number?
posted by jgirl at 3:39 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, yeah, my brain blitzed. I'll call my phone company. It's been a long stressful day.
posted by MuChao at 3:47 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: I've been the center of a schizophrenic's delusions, somewhat similar to what you are experiencing. He and I were best friends for 8+ years when suddenly something "snapped" and he started coming up with scenarios about the two of us which never happened. He lived about two hours away, but I dealt with constant texts 24-hours a day. He accused me of hiding my pregnancy with his child (we never had sex and at that point hadn't seen one another in about 10-11 months). A few weeks later he told me he knew I had a daughter that was his (I have a son, not his). Totally out of control delusions.

I made the mistake of ignoring all this. We continued to talk occasionally because I thought I could convince him this was just insane. One night he called me at 2AM and told me I had to come see him *now* because someone was after him and I was the only one who could stop them. I told him to shut up and I hung up and turned off the phone. He killed himself shortly thereafter. I was the only one who knew he was on the edge, and I didn't do anything to help. I do believe he could have taken me with him if I had seen him that night, and I don't regret telling him to bug off.

You say he lives far away and doesn't have a license. If he is schizophrenic and he needs to see you, he will find a way. I know our situations are different, but there is a definite danger in allowing yourself to be in this person's life. If he is going to hurt himself or kill himself, he may not realize what he is doing and he may take someone with him. Call a local mental health line or even 911 to ask what to do. Someone local to him may be in danger, or he may be able to come find you.

Good luck. I know I can't really help, but mefimail me if you need to. I've dealt with suicide and severe mental health issues and it's a horrible place to be. I will never be the same again.

Also, look for a Survivors of Suicide group near you. They help.
posted by Lullen at 3:56 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've also been the subject of a person's delusions. I wanted to warn about getting the police involved unless you *really* think he is a danger to you and yours. He might see it as a betrayal. Too late I suppose.

My advice is to do as I did and cut off all contact completely. I hate to say this, but if you simply block his number, he might just get a new phone (they're a dime a dozen and any department store). I would really look in to getting a new phone if you really want him to stop calling you.

Does he know where you live? Does he know your last name? I hope not...

I really hope things turn out well for you, being the focus of delusions is not fun.
posted by patheral at 4:09 PM on October 27, 2009

I'd suggest writing a log of what you can remember of his phone calls, saving the texts he's sent you, and keeping them in case you end up ever needing a restraining order or some other more serious action -- or if his own parents need some help in getting him professional help. I know, he's 200 miles away, no drivers' license, but you never know - and it probably won't take that much effort to just get this stuff saved.
posted by amtho at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: This is so sad, and I understand wanting to help, but I hope you realize your primary concern should be protecting yourself. This person has fixated on you, and as Lullen said, if he feels compelled to, even with tremendous obstacles, he will find his way to you. People in the throes of delusions are unpredictable, and it's hard to even imagine what they might do next because their thought processes differ so extremely from ours. As much of a pain as it is, you really should consider changing your number and setting up a new email. You can still leave your current cell & email active so you can retrieve messages and catch anybody who may not have received your new contact info. Trust me, the peace of mind you will find when you are not having to deal with this person will be worth the hassle.

I'm glad you contacted the police. I agree that keeping a log and any texts, emails, or voicemail is really important. That way you can demonstrate a pattern of behavior if he escalates, and you decide you need a restraining order. Lastly, I would stop responding. When someone is obsessing over or stalking you, all they want is your attention, whether its negative or positive. Ignoring him might trigger more drastic behavior or he may just shift his attention elsewhere. It's hard to say, but each interaction you have with him right now, regardless of content, is feeding his delusion and strengthening his attachment to you.

I'm not trying to scare you or make you feel worse, but I think this is a really dangerous situation that defies logic or what we consider to be the norm. It sucks that you have to contend with this on top of grieving your friend's death, but the sooner you limit his access to you, the sooner you will be able to focus on your needs and your emotional and mental well being. Best of luck.
posted by katemcd at 5:39 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not your job to be the linchpin of someone's already fragile mental/emotional state.

You need to cut this person off, no excuses. Hang up on him if he calls. Refuse to speak or communicate with him. Yes, it may feel harsh to you, but it's not. He's already intruded upon your life in an extraordinary way. You need to restore the correct and appropriate relationship --- which is none. If he kills himself, too bad. You didn't agree to parent him, counsel him, take care of him, or spend time worrying about him.
posted by jayder at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: You've had plenty of good advice stated in a nurturing, supportive way. Here's another perspective, hopefully helpful, definitely blunt, for you to compare and contrast. This might be bad advice, but someone gave it to me and it helped. Then I read something similar by W. S. Burroughs titled "Words of Advice for Young People." I hope these kurt words help you. If they do not, forgive me and move on.

'Dear AskMefi: The other day I stepped in a big mud puddle. Seeing my problem, I then stuck one hand in a bee hive and the other I used to pour gasoline on my clothes. Then I lit a match. How can I get myself out of this situation without getting muddy, stung or burned?'

Well, we all step in the mud sometimes. But your drive to be a helper and a savior is what got you in so much more trouble and drama and danger than you needed to be in. The best thing that can happen for you is you learn not to do this again. The best thing for the other person? Wait, you're still asking that? You didn't learn what you needed to learn.

Document what has happened so far, block calls and texts (change your number / address if you have to), and if you still hear from this person YELL AT THEM! YELL! Say NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN EVER! Don't explain or forgive or work things out, end it. They will or won't comply but you will have done your part.

When you have a pre-existing relation to someone who goes off the deep end, it's a tough one. If you have a pre-existing relationship, to a partner, child, parent, friend... all I can say is get professional help and good luck to you.

But if they're just someone who latched on to you, it's easy. Slam the door shut, immediately. Your drive to be a helper and a savior is fed by how special they make you feel, even if it's e-special-ly in danger. Cut 'em off and know, know very deeply, that they will latch on to someone else right away. That's what they do. Turns out you're not so special after all.

I've been the helper and the savior, and I've stuck my hand in the beehive, and I've set myself on fire. Hearing that I was to blame for much of my suffering afterward didn't feel good, but it helped me not make that mistake again. You're a good person, keep being a good person and start with being a good person to yourself. Immediate and total end of communication.
posted by eccnineten at 6:48 PM on October 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Did you tell the police everything you told us?

"This guy thinks our dead friend is talking to him. He says the friend is telling him I'm trying to kill him."

I think that is about 0.00005 of a step away from his becoming a danger to others (i.e., you).
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:32 AM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for your timely and compassionate responses.

I received an email from him about half an hour after the police called to tell me they couldn't find him. It was a thinly veiled threat combined with the expected anger at my violation of his trust.

I will be changing my email and blocking and/or ignoring his phone calls/texts, though I don't expect any for a good long while.

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by MuChao at 8:12 AM on October 28, 2009

I strongly suggest forwarding that e-mail to the police along with your explanation.
posted by amtho at 10:38 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I received an email from him about half an hour after the police called to tell me they couldn't find him. It was a thinly veiled threat combined with the expected anger at my violation of his trust.

Send a copy of that email to the police you talked to before. Now you have a documented threat on file.
posted by heatherann at 11:16 AM on October 28, 2009

I know my situation was different in that I was very emotionally tied to my schizophrenic friend and he was to me as well, but I actually have the opposite thinking that you do. He believes you violated his trust--now he is angry. He is seriously emotionally unstable, probably schizophrenic, and he's mad at you. His reality is unlike any other reality, and there are no boundaries. This is not a good place to be. Nthing the others, you need to have one contact at the police station who is aware of all aspects of this, and you need to forward that email along. Just watch yourself, please.

I'm probably more paranoid than the average person since my friend killed himself in a schizo frenzy and I sincerely believe he wanted to take me with him, but that also gives me a different kind of insight. At least you know what you need to do (by not talking/changing your contact info).
posted by Lullen at 1:29 PM on October 28, 2009

I dunno, this just worries me. If the police can't find him he may be on his way to you. It's not hard to do a reverse look up and find someone's address. Now that he's actually threatening you, I would proceed with caution - extreme caution. If he is convinced that you've betrayed him and he builds on that, you could be in very real danger, and blocking his emails and doing all the things you should do may increase that.

Send everything he sends you to the cops, but be vigilant and open to the possibility that he *may* be a threat to you physically. I really do hope that things have not escalated, but it doesn't hurt to take some precautions. Maybe it's my past experience that makes me paranoid...
posted by patheral at 5:43 AM on October 30, 2009

Response by poster: I've marked this question as resolved. There has been no more contact from the schizophrenic since the day of the original question; either to me, or my best friend.

I want to thank you all again for your kind words of support. You all are the reason I joined MeFi. When I don't know, and my google-fu fails, MeFi has almost always had the answer.
posted by MuChao at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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