How can I turn my unstable friend who wants to visit me down? [Redux]
December 20, 2010 8:08 PM   Subscribe

So, good news and bad news about my codependent conundrum. The good news is that I've grown a backbone and I'm now willing to tell my mentally ill friend "no" about coming to visit right now. The bad news is that I've been waffling for so long, and at such a cost to his mental health, that things have gotten more complicated. I want to know: am I morally obligated to let him come at this point, and if not, what kind of excuse/explanaton can I use to let him down easy? (Really long.)

(This won't make much sense unless you've read the previous question.)

So. In the couple of months since my first question, I've continued to string my friend along, even as I've slowly convinced myself that I can handle telling him "no" and the massive fallout that follows. But as it got late in the semester, I realized that I could pull off making him wait until after finals, and not have to deal with the resulting disaster during the school year, which would wreck my grades. It's very questionable whether this was an OK thing to do, but more on that later. My work with term papers will be done in a few days, and I've given him a hard deadline by which I'll let him know: midnight on Wednesday.

The line I've been giving him the whole time is "it looks like a go, but there's definitely stuff that could come up, so call it an 80% chance." If I said any lower than 80%, he'd worry about it even more and it'd be tougher to keep putting him off. If I said much higher, he'd be even less mentally prepared if it didn't happen.

My explanation for the 20% is that my separated parents are trying to sell their house (where I live with my dad) and there are some nibbles from buyers--all true--and that if anyone says "yes" we might have to start preparing to move almost immediately (which is really pretty unlikely). This excuse has gotten harder and harder to sustain, since at this point his visit would be just 2-3 weeks away, and it's hard to claim that a deal could close that soon.

His mental health has declined even further since my first post, and the issue of this trip has become an obsession; the central thing in his life. In the last few days he's reached a crescendo of anxiety/depression/dissociation that he says is "the worst he's ever felt in his life" (which includes several in-patient stays at mental hospitals). He tells me that if I say no, all of the stress that he's had to swallow from his family since our last visit would come down on him all at once. He now talks as if his suicide is essentially certain if I say "no." He says he's already collected the necessary items (based on the many threats and one attempt he's made over the years, he could mean pills, a noose, etc.). This is hardly the first time he's made threats this clear and specific over the years, but it's one of the most worrying. He sometimes talks about it in a creepily peaceful way. The other day he told me that I'm responsible for his present state of mind, because not knowing is the worst place to be. I said, "What, would hearing 'no' be any better than not knowing?" He responded, "Yeah, because then I could just go." ("Go" meaning... yeah.)

I realize that I need to help push him into getting a therapist, improving his psych drug regime, etc. (me and his only other fairly close friend tend to work on that in waves), but it's pretty clear how I should handle that. Right now I'm just trying to figure out what's happening in the next three days.

One good thing is that it now seems a little easier to get his family involved, namely his mom. She's still a flake who tries to control his life by forcing New Age remedies on him, making fun of his career plans, etc., but she seems to be more or less on his side lately. He lives at home, so she would at least be able to keep an eye on him, etc. He's very private, so she doesn't know the state he's in. My current plan is to call her tomorrow or Tuesday so she can be prepared, and break the news to him on Wednesday.

So, here are my two questions:

One, have I made such a mess of this that I have to let him come now? "You break it, you buy it" and all. I can tell myself that if I let him come, in the long run I'm just encouraging him to be dependent and manipulative and rely on other people to make him happy, etc.--all the reasons that were clear when I first posted--but at this point that seems too easy. I've set him up for so much pain, do I really have the right to pull the trigger?

Two, if I turn him down, what can I tell him by way of explanation? Of course, if I told him the flat-out truth (that I've been basically lying to him for months), he'd be extremely hurt and it would increase the risk to his life. Even if I play it pretty straight and just say that I no longer want him to come because I'm busy with my personal life, etc., it would be a jarring change from my previous stance and he'd be enraged at my pulling out on him this late in the game when he cares so much about it, based on something that I could have known the whole time.

So I suspect that the logical and morally correct choice here may be to come up with some sort of excuse. But I'm kind of drawing a blank. I can't actually tell him we're moving, because he'd eventually figure out that I'm still at the same house. It has to be something that would unequivocally keep me occupied for the length of winter break. Even with the move thing, he keeps saying "I'll help you move!" My mom has an ailing father, but pretending that he's in trouble feels really seedy. But I guess it's worth considering something really dramatic like that. I'm thinking of saying that I found out some of the credits I transferred in to my college don't count toward my major and I need to take a couple of intensive winter session courses to graduate on time. But even that wouldn't be enough to dissuade him on its own; he says things like, "Keep me in the closet if you have to, it'd be better than here." What can I do?

As before, you can send any private messages to Thanks in advance for your awesome thoughts and advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You need to call 911 and tell them that a friend is threatening suicide and needs immediate medical attention. If your friend is a danger to himself, he needs to be hospitalized. That is the best thing you can do for him and the only way you can help protect him right now.
posted by decathecting at 8:20 PM on December 20, 2010 [21 favorites]

I don't think you need to give him an answer at all. I think you need to call his mom or the authorities and have him put on a 5150 hold. He's specifically talking suicide and he says he's got the necessary items. He's a threat to himself.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:20 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yup. You're doing some kind of weird codependence thing with your buddy where you think you're keeping him alive through force of will - like, is he manipulating you, or are you manipulating yourself? Call someone who is professionally qualified to help this guy.
posted by facetious at 8:23 PM on December 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't understand how the situation has meaningfully changed since the previous question. As you describe this guy and your relationship with him, the waffling you've been doing seems rather irrelevant, even if it would make you a dick to be backing out in a normal situation.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:27 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The time has come to stop playing God with your "friend" (who treats a friend this way? Cut it out, NOW) and call the authorities.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:29 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know you mean well by wanting to help him. Reading through your previous question makes that clear. But I think you need to realize that HE has to want help himself, and as long as you keep coddling him and rewarding his behaviour by tolerating his threats etc, he will never develop the motivation to truly change for his own benefit. I know you feel responsible for his health, but look at what it's making you turn into - an anxious ball of person thinking about an ethical way to lie/tell untruth to a very mentally unstable individual. The morally and logically correct choice here is not how to make an excuse so this situation inevitably occurs again, it's to take the first step to getting your friend real help. And that will be saying no, you can't come visit, and no, your suicide threats are not appropriate, you are my friend and you need help now so I'm going to make that call if you don't. It would probably be prudent to seek help or further understanding for your own codependent tendencies - you can't fix other people no matter how hard you try, and I feel that's something you might not comprehend too well.
posted by Meagan at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

You are playing with fire. From your words I gather that there is a serious risk that your friend will attempt suicide in the near future. You need to have him committed. This is an emergency.
posted by prefpara at 8:40 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Call 911 now. I know it's not going to be easy at all. But you really have to call 911, or tell his mom and ask her to call. I don't have a ton of experience but I worked on a suicide hotline, and it sounds to me just from the question that he is very high risk ( thoughts + means) and needs help ASAP. This is out of AskMe's reach. I know it's hard. Good luck.
posted by sweetkid at 8:44 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Friend, I'm sorry, but I can't stop you from killing yourself and I don't want you to die or to continue to feel this misery. I am scared for you and I believe you need professional help, so that is what I am trying to obtain for you." Try something like that. When you call him or visit him in the ward.
posted by prefpara at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stop it, just stop. You're not this person's parent, spouse, keeper, or spiritual leader. You cannot fix him or his situation. Your friendship really borders on abuse on both sides. This is not normal or healthy. Tell him no, it will not be possible for him to stay with you and don't waffle. No explanations or maybes. Just say no. "Sorry, it won't be possible." Say that and cut off communication if needed.

Your moral obligation extends only so far as to alert his family and perhaps mental health services in his area. You are basically participating in the drama at this point, and any further entanglement will further harm your friend and yourself. Just disengage, that's the grown-up, rational thing to do.
posted by lychee at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

You know, I have a personal policy to cut off and call emergency on anyone who threatens to commit suicide if I don't do X for them. There are only two possibilities in that scenario: either they're trying some asshole emotional manipulation trick, or they're actually going to off themselves. If it's the former I don't want to know them; if it's the latter I can't help them.

(Well: usually I ask "are you serious?" first. If they say no, I roll my eyes at the 'joke' and continue as normal. If they say yes, I do the above.)

So cut him off and call emergency already.
posted by Xany at 8:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Follow the good advice above and call the authorities. You are in over your head. Get help NOW.

After you follow through and your friend is hospitalized or somewhere else safe... Would you consider telling him the truth? Would you consider telling him that his problems are beyond your ability to cope with? Would you tell him that maybe he can't see it, but he needs hospitalization more than he needs a visit with you? Might you consider always telling this person the TRUTH from now on??

You aren't helping by doing the codependent thing. You're just feeding the drama and making things worse. You're not keeping your friend alive, you are keeping him from the help he needs.

Go get him help.

(upon preview, looks like prefpara beat me to it)
posted by jbenben at 8:52 PM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding the 5150. He has the items and a plan. Just one of those would be enough to justify calling in the authorities. Even if he's just bluffing, it sounds like he needs serious help and is not getting it.

This is in no way fair to you, is not okay, and he needs help before he capitulates. It is not your job to do whatever it takes to keep him from carrying out his threat. Your only job is to get him on the radar and in the custody of mental health professionals ASAP. If you don't feel comfortable, make his parents do it, but make sure that they follow through.

My thoughts will be with you--I know this is not easy!!!
posted by smirkette at 9:01 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your friend is emotionally abusing you by threatening to kill himself if you don't do what he wants. You could point that out to him and tell him that abuse is why you don't want him to visit.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:03 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've read your previous post and it's obvious that things have gotten a lot worse for both of you. You said in your previous post you were going to start therapy soon - DO IT NOW, do not put it off any longer. They can guide you in this situation way better than most of here can.

You need to get out of this relationship AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This is just as much about you as it is about him, and it goes beyond simply wanting to look out for him. You are giving him an outlet for his deranged manipulative behavior and you know it. You continue to allow it after so many people told you to end the relationship in the last thread. You are the more stable one - you need to be the one who guides this relationship.

I've been in this type of situation before. I had an unstable friend who moved about 60 miles away and became way too attached to me. He threatened suicide and would send me pictures of his self-mutilation after we had argued or I had refused to see him. The real issue here is control. He manipulated me into doing things I didn't want to do because he knew his threats would yield results. If you allow your friend to come, you reinforce the idea that his manipulative suicidal threats will get him what he wants. If you make an excuse, you reinforce the idea that his threats would have gotten him what he wanted if something hadn't come up.

DO NOT write his behavior off as a result of his mental issues - he knows EXACTLY what he is doing and exactly what it does to you.

You need to tell him that he cannot come visit you, period. No excuse, no promise of a future visit. Just say "I'm sorry, but you cannot come visit me. I understand that you will be very disappointed, but this is for the best". You said in your previous post that the only time his family was any help was in light of a suicide threat. Contact them and let them know how serious his condition is.
posted by shoreline at 9:08 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

look at it this way - I have a friend who works as a counselor, and she is legally obligated to get help for anyone who expresses to her that they are suicidal. Even if it's a friend and not a client. If this is how a trained professional is expected to act, why would you do any different? It's really time to get emergency help for your friend.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
To everyone saying 911: I've done that many times before, whenever he immediate and unconditional intentions. If my standard were any lower, it'd be happening practically monthly. In this case, it's conditional on what I say about this trip--I have every reason to believe he really will wait to know--so if I do anything like that at all it should be planned in advance with his mom rather than locking him up instantly. Also, it's ineffectual: the last time, he just told the cops that he didn't want to go, and they just walked away, and told me on the phone that they have no legal power to do anything. After that time, he made me promise to call his mom instead next time if I insist on doing something (not that I actually feel bound to that, obviously--the stakes are too high).

I'm sure there'll be cause for more follow-ups, but I thought I'd clear up the situation about 911 quickly. Involuntary commitment might play a role here, but I shouldn't just lurch into calling 911.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:32 PM on December 20, 2010

He is trying to manipulate you into feeling bad enough to let him come. This is plain as day. And you are not responsible for his state of mind. Call the police in his area (probably easier than 911 since 911 will go to YOUR local dispatch and they will have to transfer you all over the country) and tell them he has a plan for suicide.

YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS STATE OF MIND. As much as he wants to blame it on you. He wants you to ask yourself what you're asking us... he wants you to think it's so bad (and maybe make you think that you have made it so bad) that you have to let him come. Because that's how he gets what he wants.

I once had an online friend that I'd never met in person threaten suicide in IM. When I called her on the phone, she refused to talk and hung up. I Googled the police department in her area, called them, and gave them her address. She didn't speak to me for 2 years afterwards (after a screaming rant) but today we're great friends.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, missed your reply.

Look at it this way. If you give in and let him come now, you've just taught him that he has to threaten suicide this much to manipulate you into letting him come to stay. He'll try even harder next time. This is an unhealthy relationship and I still think you should tell him no. Ultimately there comes a point where you have to realize that you cannot ignore your own life in order to keep him alive. It won't work, he'll just demand more and more attention. Keep us updated.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:40 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am going to probably go to hell for saying this, but...

If he kills himself, he kills himself.

There is absolutely nothing you can do anymore short of allowing him to ride around on your back like a monkey for the rest of his life because you are categorically not qualified in any way, shape, or form to provide him with the structure and support that he needs to pull himself out of the quagmire that is mental illness and depression. I mean, shit, emotional blackmail comes in many forms, and this is a classic example. We applaud you collectively for trying to do everything that you possibly can to make this better. But you can't. You must accept that. Rejoice in the fact that you are not responsible for him. In order to help him, you need to be brave and you need to let go of the thousands of things that could happen if you do what you've really been needing to do all along, which is STOP ENABLING HIM.

So let go. Stop letting him manipulate you. Tell him you love him and that you will remain his friend, but that you cannot get down in the hole with him. Then call his parents, tell them everything, inform them that if they do not do something about it, then they will lose their son, and tell them you have done everything you can within reason, short of substituting your own life, and then LET GO. Give the universe the chance to work out this situation on its own. And do not feel guilty for doing so. That's the universe's job. Just send him love, send him good thoughts, but stop getting involved.

I reiterate: if he kills himself, he kills himself. He could kill himself regardless of the amount of effort you put into this situation, because that is simply where he is at. If his parents are not capable of exerting the necessary amount of control over his life so that he can get help, then so be it. If the police are unwilling to check him into a hospital like they morally should, so be it. You are not in control. You cannot be.
posted by patronuscharms at 10:23 PM on December 20, 2010 [27 favorites]

How about saying, "Friend, I thought it would be a go - I was 80% there - but I'm having my own breakdown here, and I need to take care of myself. I've been trying to get it together so I could welcome you, but I'm sorry, I just can't." (Practice saying it until you believe it yourself - it's probably not that much of an excuse.) Then please, go and take care of yourself.
posted by peagood at 10:59 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

You yourself say, "This is hardly the first time he's made threats this clear and specific over the years, but it's one of the most worrying." But then you dismiss everyone else's advice to call the authorities, waving it off with "If my standard were any lower, it'd be happening practically monthly. . . . . Also, it's ineffectual."

This guy has got you believing that his mental health rests in your hands. You should not be trying to sustain his mental health and single-handedly save him from suicide any more than you should be trying to operate on his appendix. [this analogy assumes that you are not actually a surgeon.]

To your questions:

I want to know: am I morally obligated to let him come at this point,


and if not, what kind of excuse/explanaton can I use to let him down easy?

It sounds like there is no "easy" with this guy. Nothing you say will make him go "Oh, OK" and desist. I think the best you can do is say, "The way you've been talking about your state of mind and your suicide plans makes me concerned for your mental health. I don't think it's appropriate for you to come stay with me while you are in so much distress. I think you need to stay where you are and get back into treatment."
posted by Orinda at 11:09 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, it's ineffectual: the last time, he just told the cops that he didn't want to go, and they just walked away, and told me on the phone that they have no legal power to do anything. After that time, he made me promise to call his mom instead next time if I insist on doing something.

So actually it wasn't ineffectual. The cops came and he got annoyed by having an un-enmeshed third party as a witness to his drama. So what does he do? Tells you to make sure it all stays in the dysfunctional family.

Personally I think calling the cops each and every time he threatens suicide (or just every two weeks or so) will add a necessary reality check for both of you. Does he really want to keep threatening and having the cops visit? Do you really believe him enough to keep calling?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:26 PM on December 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

If my standard were any lower, it'd be happening practically monthly.

Where is it written that calling 911 monthly is unthinkable? Certainly there are plenty of people who have emergency services called to their door on a very regular basis -- a number of people with serious mental illnesses, for example. You know, like this guy.
posted by sculpin at 12:00 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do something unexpected to break out of the rut. Do the unthinkable and confront him head on.
"dude, it won't be possible. Because I can't handle your breakdowns and suicide threats anymore. I've tried to protect you, but now I need to protect myself emotionally. You won't be visiting me until you get your shit sorted. Does that mean you are going to kill yourself now? I see." and then call the cops regardless of what he says. You have ample reason to suspect him.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:40 AM on December 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

I had (had) a very ill, very suicidal friend. Regular 911 calls were part of the deal. As sculpin says.

This is very fucked up stuff here; you are not being a good friend. Comments re. 'playing God' and so on are quite on target. The time for you to admit that you couldn't handle this and that professional help was necessary was, well, quite a while ago. You 'lurch into calling' authorities because you are totally unequipped to handle this.

Your follow-up suggests you really do not have a good grasp of what's going on here; hey, if I let him come, he won't be suicidal so... Er, no. He is suicidal, end of story.

If you find that calling the police is not useful, and you wish to help, you need to devote your energies to working the phone until you find something that IS useful. With my friend I dealt with a lot of shrinks, the local mental hospital, and a handful of lawyers, over and over.

Develop and make clear some boundaries -- X behaviour will result in X outcome -- and stick to them. If you want to play the sane one, excuse yourself from the crazy instead of making yourself the lynchpin of it.
posted by kmennie at 4:33 AM on December 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

My suggestion stands: cut him off entirely.

It's hard, especially for people who are nice, to be mean to someone obviously ill and in need of help even if it's the right thing to do in the long run. It's especially difficult because you've been stringing him along for so long, which yes is pretty shitty, and I say this as someone who's done it in the past because I needed to work up the courage to say no. But you are not morally obligated to make up for being shitty by caving on it and being miserable for a couple of weeks.

More importantly, what you're doing right now isn't working. You know that. If you let him stay with you: what then? What will it accomplish? What has it accomplished in the past? If it was working he would be getting better, but as it is, it sounds like he's still threatening suicide every time it seems like you won't do what he wants you to do.
posted by Xany at 5:14 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you turn it around? Say No to the extended visit, but fly to see him for 3 or 4 days? That keeps him out of your life (literally), gives him a bit of connection with you, but doesn't give in to the drama.
posted by xo at 6:10 AM on December 21, 2010

I agree with the 'wash your hands of him' perspective. If he wanted to kill himself he'd have done it already.

I'm also a bit dubious about the situation with his mental health care. You don't usually go through the mental health ward without a lot of followup. I mean, it's certainly possible he's been in and out multiple times, but I seriously doubt it. I'd wonder if it's part of a fabric of lies he's been telling you to keep you ensnared in his tangled web of problems. But if he has been hospitalized then perhaps those are the people you should contact. It's entirely possible they've never heard someone else's side of the story.

Yeah, it sucks to be in this situation, but for your own mental health you'd do well to just end your participation in the process entirely. If/when he gets his act together and embraces treatment there's always the chance to revisit your friendship. Until then, RUN.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:44 AM on December 21, 2010

On a monthly basis, your friend is saying, "Do X or I'll kill myself"? He needs help that you can't provide, and you need to have some serious distance from him. You can't save him by making concession after concession after concession. You can't save him by giving in every time he says, "Do X or I'll kill myself." You can't save him that way because you're not controlling him: he's controlling you.

Call his mom. Ask her for some help: tell her you're about to give him some upsetting news (he can't visit) and that you're worried he might try to harm himself. Then call him and tell him, directly, that he can't visit ("Unfortunately, it's not going to be possible for you to visit." / "Why?" / "It just won't be possible, I know that's disappointing to you."). If he threatens to kill himself, call 911 and also call his mom again to keep her informed. You owe him compassion, not obedience. Compassion in this case means recognizing how unwell your friend is, and trying to get him some help; it does not mean giving in to his emotional blackmail.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:15 AM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry to be crude, but you either need to shit or get off the pot. You're playing mind games with this guy, which is a terrible thing to do to somebody already so messed up; your own problems don't really change that. Either you cut this guy loose entirely and stop playing games with him, or you fully invest in making an attempt to get him into treatment. That is: you go to where he is, print out all of his suicide threats and write up an account of the non-written threats, and get him committed.
posted by yarly at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Given the consensus that I am still morally in the clear to decline him (as I thought), what I am almost exclusively concerned with now is to figure out what to tell him. Me and his mom can likely handle getting him emergency help before/during his crash, although any tips about that are certainly welcome, particularly since 911 seems to be all but worthless.

I really think an excuse is in order here. I've been talking to him as if I'm totally cool with it, and it's just a matter of practical obstacles. It would really come off as a horrible betrayal to abruptly say "I don't think it's appropriate"--or whatever. I can't even easily tell him that I don't think it's appropriate/possible given his current mental state, because he says he'd have a dramatic improvement up to and during the visit, which is likely true, based on history (when he gets back is another story...).

Even if have to shut out all contact afterwards, this would come off much easier on all sides if I gave him some sort of reason that isn't profoundly offensive. This is what I am truly desperate for. I am at a loss for what to say. Any attempts to earnestly tell him I want a whole lot less of him in my life should not come in the middle of a suicidal crisis.

Don't worry that if I don't start setting things right now, I never will. In the past two months, I have cultivated a level of healthy indifference I've never had before, a process that started well before my first question. I am willing to do pretty radical things to straighten this relationship out (or end it), but doing them now would be a moral nightmare. I need an excuse.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:06 AM on December 21, 2010

See, that's the thing: you don't need to tell him not to come to catalyze the mental break. You need to contact his mother/911 IMMEDIATELY so that they can get him help right this second. If you don't do anything, and then tell him he can't come and hope you can catch him in time before he does anything to hurt himself, you're already too late. He has made a plan and is ready to enact it. That means he needs help right now.

Get him some help. Worrying about telling him he can't come is going to be moot once he's in treatment.
posted by scarykarrey at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you need to make plans for yourself so that you can tell him no, make those plans. Sign up for a class, make some kind of volunteer commitment, take on a project with a deadline, whatever. However, you need to be prepared to say something very simple and direct ("No, you can't come.") no matter how much he pushes back, no matter what he says--because whatever your excuse is, he's going to push back (with offers to keep himself occupied while you're in class, with threats of suicide, etc.). If part of his pushing back is a threat of suicide, you need to call 911 and his mom.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:37 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really think an excuse is in order here. I've been talking to him as if I'm totally cool with it

With respect, you are wrong. You have been negotiating and interacting with him as if you are both rational actors in this drawn-out drama. Your friend is in the throes of a depression, is not being rational and needs help from someone who is not you and not his mom. Whatever you tell him is a tiny part of the larger picture in which his wheedling to come see you is a SYMPTOM not the central issue here. You are needlessly putting yourself and your issues in a place of prominence here when you need to extract yourself from the situation and get your friend the help he needs.

Any attempts to earnestly tell him I want a whole lot less of him in my life should not come in the middle of a suicidal crisis.

You are buying in to this drama and letting him directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, set the timeline for your friendship with him. As the person who has more of, shall we say, a grip on reality it's up to you to be the responsible person, make the right choice and get help for your friend. Acting as if your friend wouldn't be suicidal and miserable if you only made the right set of choices is continuing this codependent mess. Please extract yourself quickly, say whatever you have to, and move forward getting your friend the help he desperately needs. There is never a good time to tell a suicidal person that you've reached your limits with them. Waiting for a good time just prolongs everyone's pain.
posted by jessamyn at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

You're focusing on something that does not matter. His life does not depend on the words you say. If you want to do something that does matter and has a chance of helping him, do everything you can to have him committed to a mental health facility. Try calling the hospital nearest to your friend, ask to speak to someone in their psychiatric department, and ask that person what steps you can take to ensure he is committed.

The words you say to him are some variation on: your repeated suicide threats are frightening me, I am afraid for your life, I believe that you need immediate psychiatric help to save your life, I am going to do everything I can to help you get attention from professionals. He can't come to you because you are not a mental health professional. You look forward to a visit from him when he is not in need of immediate rescue.
posted by prefpara at 9:07 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

we are doing, pretty much unanimously, the only thing we can responsibly do as a bunch of strangers on the internet: ask you to call 911. We can't responsibly tell you to do *anything* else. It's great that you find this a helpful resource; many people do. But we can't help you make excuses or continue this really unhealthy relationship the way you've been doing it. This is mutually destructive to you and your friend and it needs to stop. The only possible responsible thing you can do is call 911 and cut off contact with this person.
posted by sweetkid at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're looking for what's know as a graceful exit, OP. A way to explain in some socially acceptable way why you've been saying things are ok when they aren't okay, and a way to extract yourself from an ugly situation without rocking the boat, or his psyche. It's entirely understandable.

I think the counter intuitive thing about your situation that the only graceful exit is walking through the door you seem to be afraid to walk through. It's the door called "Honesty".

It's the one where you say that you are sorry, for pretending that things were okay on the phone when they weren't okay for you. You're sorry that he's hearing at this late date that you can't handle him coming to visit you-but that you realize you can't. part of you wishes you could, but you can't. That you are sorry to discover that loving someone isn't enough to stop them from threatening to hurt themselves. And that you want what's best for him, and believe that he can take care of himself, and that you need to take care of yourself. And right now, it includes setting a boundary, so he can't visit. It's pretty short, and can end right there. You get off the phone, or repeat as necessary until you've decided you've said as you're going to say (which might be different from the time when he agrees with you or understands your situation), and you walk out of the door, towards yourself, and what's true for you.

And then it's loving yourself enough and caring about your well being and health enough to stay on the other side of that door. That includes respecting his right to be to not respond in a rational, understanding manner. It's even letting him harm or kill himself, because honestly, it's his life, and he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. His life is his gift, and you can't tell people the 'right' way to enjoy or misuse it. Because it's not yours.

It might help to realize that a healthy friend would wonder what kind of pressure they've been putting on you to even make you behave in a way that wasn't true to your yourself. A person who is sick, will blame you, insult you, and try to use your honesty to manipulate you, as if you are the 'strong person' and they are 'weak'. Those really aren't meaningful terms. People are both, depending on the situation or day.

Walking through the door includes allowing yourself the space to feel crappy after you say these things to him. Just because it's the right thing to do, doesn't mean that it doesn't feel horrible, like a betrayal, or like you're bad friend, who is afraid he's going to hurt himself. But as you seem to know, it's about not letting any of those feelings precipitate actions that you know to be personally unhealthy for you - like letting him come visit. Jessamyn's right - there is never a good time to tell a suicidal person something you think that they don't want to hear - but ironically, it means that there is also never particularly a bad time. It will be equally fraught, and messy, so you can't use them as the decider as to when it happens. You have to decide when it is right for you. And it sounds like it's right for you now.

Even though you sound like you're in the middle of something messy, it also sounds like you are in fact becoming the strong person - not in the sense that you are taking care of him, but that you are taking care of yourself. If it was easier, more people would do it, including your friend. So consider not shying away from saying what is true for you, and what you need to say, just because it will be hard for you, and him. Courage!
posted by anitanita at 9:31 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

OP, contrary to what you've written it's hard to see ANY change in the sorts of positions you're taking between this and your last question. "Healthy indifference" is also at undetectable levels. Your resistance to the advice you're getting is so consistent that I wonder why you bothered asking for it.

You may be right that hospitals and the police and this guy's mom have only a 5% chance of effecting lasting, positive change in his life right now, but what you're apparently blind to is that you have less than a zero percent chance of doing so. By participating in and prolonging this drama, you are actively making the problem worse. As you've been advised innumerable times, you need to stop this craziness -- not his craziness, but yours.

That's it. That's all there is.
posted by jon1270 at 9:32 AM on December 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

In this, and the previous thread, you argued with the advice and made excuses. No one feels like "the rules" applies to their unique situation, but you need to cut it out.

Call 911, and end all contact with this person. You are buying into the drama he is creating in order to maniuplate you. If he kills himself, it will be for his own reasons and problems, it will not be over you. It's not your fault or your responsibility if he does.

There is no excuse you can come up with. It will be argued with, bargined with and waited out. Holes will be poked into it, inconsistences will be pointed out and solutions will be offerred. It will be used against you later, it will be used to guilt you now and it will be used to put you more into this imaginary debt to him you think you have. As for the excuses and denials you're thinking of right now to counter what I just said: that's the debt. You have been coerced into accepting an unsolvable burden.

Don't worry that if I don't start setting things right now, I never will. In the past two months, I have cultivated a level of healthy indifference I've never had before, a process that started well before my first question. I am willing to do pretty radical things to straighten this relationship out (or end it),

None of this is true. Sorry. This is what you want to believe. If any of this was remotely true, you would call 911 and end all contact with this unstable, toxic, manipulative person.
posted by spaltavian at 9:45 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok....excuses. How about you have an infectious disease and you have to be quarantined. You have to work extra shifts because you got an unexpected bill and you won't have time to have him stay. Your heating broke in your apartment and you're having to go stay with another friend. If you won't tell him the truth, then think up some semi-plausible excuse and stick to it. Don't get into arguments about it, just keep repeating yourself and telling him it will be impossible for him to come and stay.
posted by hazyjane at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2010

Any attempts to earnestly tell him I want a whole lot less of him in my life should not come in the middle of a suicidal crisis.

When will this friend not be in crisis? It sounds like he's in perpetual crisis. When will things ever let up so you can let go?

The only thing to do is to pick your own time and cut the cord, because he is not going to step back and old out the cord to make it easy. He is not going to give you the easy opportunity you want. You have to make your own.

I have cultivated a level of healthy indifference I've never had before

It really, really doesn't sound that way. You may feel like you care less, but if you really were indifferent, you wouldn't worry about him at all. You're still too deeply entrenched in his fantasy, in his unhealthy worldview, in his emotional blackmail, believing that the setup he's presenting is the only way to see it. The only way to get out of that, to get where you're not blinded by and overwhelmed by his fantasy (there are more options than either-or!), is to step back and GET OUT.
posted by galadriel at 10:18 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP, you need to get help for yourself, and for your friend. You can call 911, and your excuses are not cutting it. If he does succeed in killing himself you will feel terrible. If he is committed, the visit question will be moot. If he is just manipulating you, calling his bluff would be the best thing to do for both of you. I do think calling his mother would be a good idea too.

I am not sure if anyone has really directly pointed this out to you, but stringing someone along is really cruel. I know you are worried about the consequences, but this relationship is seriously a mess. You are prolonging his agony by not being up front with him. Clearly he knows something is up, or he wouldn't be making threats.
posted by annsunny at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2010

What's the payoff? There must be something you're getting out of this relationship, since you are so resistant to ending it. People do what they want to do. They make choices. You're making a choice by not cutting him off and not calling 911. So does part of you enjoy the drama? Are you trying to avoid guilt feelings that you're afraid might be intolerable? Maybe if you can identify and clearly define how this relationship is benefitting you, you'll have an easier time deciding if it's worth it to you.
posted by Rula Lenska at 3:02 PM on December 21, 2010

How Not to Commit Suicide. Great article. Read it. Send him the link.

If a person threatens suicide, the best thing to do is call the authorities. Otherwise, the person may end up using the threat of suicide as a way to manipulate others, which is at least partly what this person is doing. A threat of suicide is a serious thing. Do the person a favor and treat it as a Big Deal that requires immediate action. The immediate action requires psychiatric care.

You clearly do not have the skills, setting or desire to care for someone who is suicidal, and it is not a good idea to accept the responsibility of having a suicidal person visit you. Say this: "Your talk of suicide is frightening, and my family and I are not willing to accept the responsibility of having you visit until you are in better health. It's very important that you get the care you need. I can't provide that care." Keep saying it. It has the benefit of being honest.
posted by theora55 at 3:12 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
I'm calling his mom tonight. He's out at a football game with his dad, so I have a good window.

If I responded to all of your thoughtful replies it'd be two pages long, so I'll spare you, though I'll do another follow-up later about what happened. Right now I should start preparing to call her.

It seems to be unanimous that I should give it to him straight, right now. But just because it would be unhealthy and avoidant to make up an excuse doesn't mean I shouldn't still do it purely moral grounds. Things like "his life does not depend on the words you say" sound like platitudes to me. Just because my counseling doesn't do anything to make his life better in general doesn't mean I don't need to be very careful what I say in a situation like this.

I know him well. If I gave him some irrefutable reason--an illness in the family, say--he'd be plenty upset, but less likely to do anything immediately. If he feels extremely enraged and bitter at me for lying and "betraying" him, on the other hand, the chance is much greater that he'll sweet talk the cops, or talk his way out of the mental ward, and make an attempt as soon as possible. As codependent as I am, it's not like he has me in a trance. I am making a calculation here.

These more recent posts feel a little surreal to me. It seems to me that common sense is on my side--common sense about emergency mental health care. If you can minimize suicide triggers while trying to get somebody help, you damn well probably should. Heartfelt revelations can wait. The fact that it amounts to coddling him even more seems dwarfed by even a small chance (and it may not be so small) that it would help prevent an attempt in the immediate future. 8-10% of all people with BPD eventually commit suicide.

Moreover, his hyperreactive mom tends to think of me as a bad influence (not for any of the reasons we've talked about here; it's just a personality clash). Like every other minor thing she doesn't like about him, she's been known to berate him at length about it, without regard to his state of mind. If she finds out I've been stringing him along for no reason she'd flip out on him at length at the nearest possible opportunity, which he obviously doesn't need.

My biggest concern is that if I let him off easy with an excuse that elicits pity rather than anger, his reaction may be so much milder that it's harder to get him committed.

At any rate, I'm going to weigh everything some more and call his mom in about an hour. I welcome any thoughts, and I'll check in before I call if this goes up before then.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:38 PM on December 21, 2010

I'm glad you're contacting his mother, but with all due respect, I think you're still missing the point in an effort to be a hero. Your common sense about emergency mental health care is misguided and misplaced. I say this as someone who has both personal and proxy experience with suicide and suicidal ideation, and while I understand and applaud your desire to help, you are just not getting past some thing that I think will be mutually beneficial to both you and your ailing friend when you finally reframe what's going on here.

You have already done all you can. If you continue to make excuses, if you continue to lie, if you continue to let him off easy, all you are doing is further entrenching yourself in this mess.

Which, after reading everything you've had to say, leads me to wonder if you are inadvertently giving in to something akin to martyr syndrome, and honestly, if that's the case, you need to get yourself off that wavelength because it is surely compounding everything.

Consider this. Some people want to kill themselves because they view their presence on this planet as a burden and are determined to make the lives of others easier; others want to inflict pain on those around them because of unmet needs and an insatiable desire for attention. Your friend falls into the latter category -- he needs to be tended to, but you're the wrong person to be doing it now. What if you've been so entrenched in this situation for so long, you've been unable to notice that you are stuck in a feedback loop of liking to be needed?

I repeat: if he kills himself, he kills himself.
posted by patronuscharms at 8:04 PM on December 21, 2010

I had a friend like this once. Lots of grandiose gestures of self harm that never materialised. Lots of half mentioned problems in his life, vague hints at extreme depression, any attempts to gracefully disengage met with increased insistence that his life was falling apart.

I did the same thing you did. Spent a long time agonising over what to say, how to say it when I didn't want to do something he wanted me to do. Wording things just so to make sure it would have the least impact on him, agonising over every slight imposition.

You know what? None of it mattered. He continued to pull the strings he knew would work to get what he wanted (which was often just attention) until I basically pulled the band aid off, told him point blank what I thought of his manipulative tactics. He moved on to another friend in the social circle and repeated the same treatment with them.

If you want a life free of drama and guilt manipulation, thats my advice to you. Pull the bandaid off. "His life does not depend on the words you say" is not a platitude, and the fact you think it is shows how deep into his guilt (or your own feelings of power and control) you are. By all means, call his Mum, call the appropriate agencies to assist him with whatever may happen, but you are not the arbiter of happiness in his life. He is.

However if you enjoy feeding the drama as much as possible, then my advice is to continue on the path you are on. But think ... at what point will it end?
posted by Admira at 9:06 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Things like "his life does not depend on the words you say" sound like platitudes to me.

And yet approximately 33 separate posters in this thread appear to agree with the sentiment.

And I'll bet dollars to donuts that more than a few of them, like me, have gone through severe depression complete with suicidal ideation, gathering of tools and careful planning. Others have been trained specifically to deal with suicidal people. A lot of real life experience has been trotted out here.

Given that the unanimous advice of 33 people isn't sitting well with you, I'd say you're not ready to hear all this just yet. Please do think about it, and hopefully bring the issues to counseling with you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:54 PM on December 21, 2010

The thing is, you're not being helpful to him by not being honest in this situation. For one, he may sense you're lying (or discover you are) which will make things worst. But more importantly, you're not delivering the message he really needs to hear: "Friend, you are sick. So sick that I cannot deal with having you come here. You need to get help right away."

I agree that now is not the time to be brutally honest with him -- you don't sit him down and say you're through, you don't like him, whatever. You don't need to kick him while he's down. But that's much different from manipulating him through actual lies, and concealing a truth he needs to know.
posted by yarly at 10:06 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to second that the people commenting in this thread are not as naive as you may think. I can't speak for others, but I have had personal experience trying to help a suicidal friend who made credible threats as well as repeated sincere attempts. I suspect that many or most of the people posting have personal or second-hand experience of this kind. When I told you "his life does not depend on the words you say," I was not repeating a platitude. I was drawing on my personal experience as well as on the research I've done on suicide and depression. I'm not suggesting you attack him or unload years of resentment. I do think that the scripts I've suggested to you are absolutely "moral." I also think they have a far, far better chance of actually helping him (in combination with expert assistance) than you do if you continue to attempt to manipulate his emotional state with lies and half-truths.

I hope you are successful in getting your friend professional help as quickly as possible. I repeat my advice that you contact local hospitals until you find a psychiatric department where someone can tell you what your options are. They are the experts on what it takes to get someone committed (usually: danger to self or others) and can get you past the ignorant/apathetic policemen.
posted by prefpara at 1:16 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

jessamyn (for original poster): "It would really come off as a horrible betrayal to abruptly say "I don't think it's appropriate"--or whatever."

I say this as someone who was, in the past, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and someone who has been on the wrong end of this "I don't think it's appropriate" situation more than once, and I know how much it sucks. It's very painful. Sure, I considered suicide. But sometimes, people need a few of these "betrayals" to make them realize how out of line their behavior really is.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:39 AM on December 23, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
OK, so. Though I'm still fretting about whether it was the right call, I went with the excuse. I went for the whopper and said that my grandfather was taken to hospital with stroke-like symptoms a couple of days ago. (I can maneuver my way out of it later by saying it was found to be a false alarm from his med side effects or something of that nature.) I keep asking myself, "what do I know that I haven't gotten across to the AskMe people, that this seems so obvious to me? Or is this really just me living in his wonderland?" I decided that you guys may not fully understand the total, simple trust he puts in me, and how vengeful and erratic he could become afterward if that were disrupted. I decided I would honor your advice as much as I could and start telling him almost immediately that I don't think it was a good idea in the first place, the whole plan came out of a very unhealthy dynamic, etc.

I called his mom this afternoon (he got home early yesterday so I couldn't call her then after all), and told her about everything. I had to give her the lie too, because she could never keep a secret. We agreed that I would call my friend, tell him, and call her back.

He had a pretty standard shock reaction--a sort of befuddled calm. When I asked him what his intentions were for the next few hours (the subtext being obvious), he said "I don't really feel anything right now... I don't know what to think or do."

I called his mom back and told her what he said. She said she would just keep a very close eye on him for tonight. I grudgingly agreed, because it would damage my relationship with her quite a lot if I tried to go over her head and call 911 or anything. She checked throughout his room and didn't find anything in particular, so we would have little ammo for the 911 approach anyway.

I talked to him again later, and he said he would be safe for the foreseeable future. He said he felt greatly relieved, that most of his distress had come from the not knowing, and now at least he knows. (Excellent.) But then he gave me a routine he's given me before, about how this teaches him that he depends too much on other people to think for him (good so far...) and he needs to start thinking of people as acquaintances rather than friends, and generally cut himself off from others and focus on his work (yeah, no). My answer: "There's a grain of truth in that, in that you need to learn not to depend on other people to make you happy, but that doesn't require that you care about them any less, it just requires you to work on building your own reserve of emotional strength and calm, and generally become a better, more stable person." He'll snap out of it, I'm sure, but this time I'm going to continue to drive home that message even as he tries to go back to his old ways.

I just left a voice mail for his mom telling her all that, and I'll call her again tomorrow about booking an urgent appointment with a new shrink (he was briefly between psychiatrists and relying on a friend-of-the-family neurologist for drugs). Given that he's now stating convincingly that he has no immediate intentions, it'd be hard to make a case for locking him up right now.

So the result of all this is that he feels relieved, purports to not be suicidal, and is saying himself that this whole thing is a sign he's been too dependent (although drawing the wrong lesson; at least it gives me a chance to say "you sure have!"). Better than I would have ever hoped for. I can't say I'm sure it would have turned out so well if I gave him the opportunity to flip out at me for my "betrayal" and possibly feel entitled to vengeful self-destructive action.

I will honor you guys' heartfelt advice--and the promise I made to myself months ago--and start right now to explicitly redefine the terms of this relationship, or end it if he can't comply. I'm not letting him off the hook.

AskMe was an insanely big help in this mess, giving me an opportunity to get out of my own head and chew over the issue with the help of a bunch of wise, logical minds. Huge, huge thanks to everyone.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2010

OP: "I decided that you guys may not fully understand the total, simple trust he puts in me, and how vengeful and erratic he could become afterward if that were disrupted."

I think we (many of us, I can't speak for everyone) do understand and maybe (maybe, not definitely) you are missing our point. Vengeful and erratic = manipulative. I am speaking as someone who has very nearly *been* him at one point in time. That doesn't mean you should take everything I say as gospel. But it does mean I am putting myself out there and it's hard for me to even admit that I used to be that way.

jessamyn: "But then he gave me a routine he's given me before, about how this teaches him that he depends too much on other people to think for him (good so far...) and he needs to start thinking of people as acquaintances rather than friends, and generally cut himself off from others and focus on his work (yeah, no)."

I hope that you will do as you say and continue to redefine this relationship and not let him continue to manipulate you.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:15 AM on December 24, 2010

« Older Can you give me some NYC-centric gift ideas?   |   Where everybody knows my name Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.