#847: “I’ve become an impromptu therapist for an internet stranger.”

i.e. “Your Old High School Friend Is Not A Pacifier”

Dear Captain,

I have a dilemma I hope you can help me with. I seem to have acquired an internet friend with needs a bit beyond my capacity.

I’ve struggled with depression all of my adult life. Fairly recently I decided to go on medication, and wonder of wonders, it’s helped so much. Because of that, I’ve been able to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

I wanted to share about my experience, so I wrote a Facebook post. It was overwhelmingly positive. Many people reached out to me to share their experiences as well, including an extremely distant acquaintance from high school. Call him Fred.

Fred has also had challenges with depression. From what I can gather, he’s having some challenges with drinking and drugs too. Ever since my post, he’s taken to checking in with me every couple of days.

At first I thought that was nice–people supporting people in their shared experience. But his check-ins have turned into demands. Call me! I’m triggered! Call me! I’m suicidal! Call me! I’m in trouble.

I know how hard it is to ask for help. I get that he’s not in a place where he’s going to be graceful at it. I would really like to be supportive. He’s in a lot of pain, and he’s isolated. However, he’s stressing me out.

When he contacts me, it’s with demands that I stop what I’m doing immediately and talk to him. We’re not on equal ground–he isn’t willing to schedule a call to talk to me at a time where I have time and energy to pay attention. And his check-ins aren’t about me, they’re about me asking how he is.

Last night I stayed up (far past my sleep time) trying to get a sense of the territory of his dilemma. Two hours in, I asked him a question to try to understand, and he responded, “Plz stop analyzing it. It’s not helping!!!! You can analyze on your own time.”

Of course I am open to hearing that what I am saying is not useful. However, I’m not his therapist. I’m not even his friend. I’m just a concerned fellow citizen. This was at 1 am in the morning, after I had spent the entire afternoon worrying when he told me that he was drinking and thinking about killing himself. It really bothers me to be told that I am on payroll.

I don’t want to be a bad human here. I want to be supportive as I can. However, I need a way to set some boundaries so that I don’t have to feel worried, guilty, and sleep-deprived all the time.

Any suggestions?

Impromputu therapist
(preferred pronoun she)

This is not okay. It is not good for you or for Fred. Good job you, for recognizing pretty quickly that this dynamic is bad. I am still boggling at “You can analyze on your own time.” (Um…this is your own time? All time is yours?) That’s beyond sad, or sick. That’s “entitled asshole” territory, and while Fred is in pain and not his best self right now,  it doesn’t mean you have to put up with any of it.

Good news, I have suggestions.

1) Immediately: Become unavailable and hard to reach. Use security settings on the sites where you interact and your phone to mask your presence from Fred. Remove the element where he can monitor you and draw you into conversation unawares. Don’t pick up calls from him. Delay replying, if you reply at all. Break that pattern where he expects you to respond immediately to his needs. In addition, take a look at your social media profiles and remove/hide information about your home address & where you work if those things are visible. And tell other people around you what is happening. Don’t be alone with Fred or the information about what he is doing.

2) Either with the help of the links below or Google or your therapist, write down a few helplines or other mental health resources that would be readable and accessible to Fred where he is. For example in the USA:

You don’t have to do this, by the way, but I suggest doing it because it gives you somewhere to point him when you disengage. It helps you say to yourself “I genuinely tried to steer him toward good help.

3) Believe this: Fred needed help before he came across your post online, and he’ll need help after he came across your story. You did not become responsible for him the second you told your story or the second he decided that you would be a good unpaid on-call resource for him. You didn’t become responsible for him by listening to him so far and you don’t owe him more of the same. He’s survived this long, and whatever he does or doesn’t do about getting help is not up to you. Run this all by your own mental health team, too. They’ll tell you that Fred is not your responsibility and you owe him nothing – not more attention, not more attempts to help, not more of your time.

4) Tell Fred in so many words to stop contacting you about mental health crisis stuff. He most likely will not like it or take it well. He does not have good boundaries right now and he has been acting extremely inappropriately toward you, so, stay strong and email (definitely use a written medium here) what you need to say:

Fred, I’m so glad you could relate to my story about getting help for depression and I hope you’ll follow through on getting a diagnosis and some good treatment for yourself. Here are some resources that helped me when I started looking into this for myself (include links).

I am not a trained counselor, and I can’t be your sounding board about this anymore. It’s not good for me, and I want you to you to stop contacting me. If you start feeling like you might hurt yourself, please call (links: emergency services, suicide hotline, go to the emergency room and check yourself in, call your doctor, etc.). You deserve care from a real professional who will know exactly how to help. I have done as much as I comfortably can, and I won’t be responding to further calls or chats or texts. I wish you well.

This isn’t you being mean or selfish. This is you doing the best you can for a stranger while also taking care of yourself. You are steering him toward actual resources that might help him. Emphasize self-care when you write to him, if you want. “This isn’t good for me, so I am ending it.” You are allowed to prioritize your own well-being! You’re recovering from a bad mental health place right now, and you need to go slow, not take on a giant burden of someone else’s issues, especially not for someone you don’t even necessarily want in your life!

5) Brace yourself and enforce the boundary you set. Fred may start to spiral when you give him this news. He may escalate contact, make threats about self-harm, or say terrible things about himself or you to try to get you to react in some way, like, “I knew you were only pretending to care” orEveryone pulls away from me when they find out about my illness” etc. Like he’s daring you to prove you’re the exception by giving him what he wants. It’s a manipulation tactic, even if it is the depression talking, and you gotta ride it out. If you think he’s in immediate danger of following through with self-harm threat when he calls you, direct him to immediate care- “Fred, I’m hanging up, please call 911 and get some real assistance”  – ONE TIME. After that, institute a policy of not picking up the phone and non-response no matter what he says or does, and block him from contacting you at all, which I know sounds cruel but it really is about your safety and peace of mind. If Fred calls you 37 times and you answer on the 38th time to tell him to stop it, you’ve taught him that it takes 38 calls to get your attention and you had to deal with the anxiety of all 38 of them as they rolled in. Keep reminding yourself that you asked him to stop contacting you and that you don’t actually want to be in contact with him, at all. He has the choice to stop contacting you and call one of the numbers you send his way instead.

Why do I mention your safety? It’s very telling (and scary) to me how quickly Fred made this all your problem to take care of and how quickly he latched onto you. You’re using language of “permission” – he won’t accept talking when you are free, he won’t accept you interrupting him to ask questions, he will keep you up past your bedtime and expects immediate responses from you. You don’t even know this guy and he doesn’t know you, like, he’s lucky you take his calls at all, so what else won’t he “accept” or “allow” once you’ve known each other a while? Professionals have set schedules, hours, fees, and rigid ethical codes to guide them, whereas Fred seems to think he owns your time and attention out of the blue. Every safety instinct I have says that you need to disengage completely from contact with him as soon as possible. I want to be clear – I don’t think that Fred’s controlling behavior is a manifestation of depression or any other mental condition – I think he’s a controlling dude who thinks he’s found a woman he can control, and he is pulling on the levers of your shared diagnosis to get your constant attention and sympathy. It’s already wearing you thin. You were so smart to realize it and ask for help. Now direct him to some real help and disengage.

You are a kind, brave person who tried to do a good thing. You did not set Fred in motion. Please be very good to yourself and don’t be afraid to lean on your Team Me.




107 thoughts on “#847: “I’ve become an impromptu therapist for an internet stranger.”

  1. “You can analyze on your own time” is outright terrifying. It is him saying that he is entitled to some of your time. It is him saying that some of your time belongs to him and is his due, and that you shouldn’t do things that he doesn’t approve on that time that he has decided is his property.

    And that certain things having to do with him–analyzing his feelings–are not even part of his time.

    Reclaim your time. And be very, very wary. Someone who is not a close friend (or, really, a friend at all) who feels this entitled to a chunk of your life (because that’s what time is, at the end of the day) is potentially a scary and dangerous person.

  2. Hi there! I volunteer at Crisis Text Line. I’m an irrregular Awkwardeer, but I’m not using my regular awkward name in this comment because I don’t want people to come and ask for me on the line. Our text line is accessed by texting the word START to 741741 and we’re here 24/7. It is 100% free if he has a major cell phone carrier and won’t even appear on his phone bill. We can help him develop coping skills and contact other resources because we have training, and we are trained to make boundaries with him around the amount of time we talk to him and around hurtful comments like the one you mentioned. Please feel free to give him our information.

    1. Wow, that is huge. Thank you. In the short term LW send it in response to an urgent text, like, “Busy! Contact Crisis Text Line instead (+ instructions).” If he does, a win for everyone. If he bristles, like, “NO. YOU ALONE” then it’s an indication that it will be necessary to disengage sooner and more cleanly.

      1. Also, LW, if Fred says anything to the effect that yours is the only help which will fix him or that he will accept, that is a clear indication that he’s not hounding you because he needs help. He knows how to get help, and he knows you can’t offer it to him, because you just told him both of those things. So if he continues to claim that he needs *you*, please see that for what it is: he’s hounding you because he wants to control you and wants your attention.

        I don’t think that Fred’s controlling behavior is a manifestation of depression or any other mental condition

        I completely agree with this.

      1. Google says: Crisis Text Line is a United States not-for-profit organization providing free crisis intervention via SMS message.

  3. I had something very similar happen with a guy who made his mental health issues my own with our vague connection through a particular fandom. He was needy, demanding, and wanted constant reassurance. The Captain’s advice is solid, but I also want to give you permission to ghost this guy. It’s perfectly okay to say, “Hey, I can’t help you right now, here are some numbers for crisis helplines, good luck,” and then just go invisible. That’s what I had to do with my semi-stalker. Support given to strangers on line is voluntary. I’ve been in a lot of different fandoms where it’s understood, but there still has to be a two way street.

    1. Just a FWIW: I ghosted on someone once, and he still came and found me (six months later) to ask me why I was ruining his life. Thankfully I was in my two weeks notice period, and no one at that job knew where I was going, but ghosting without saying “stop contacting me” gives me no real recourse if I should need to take this to authorities. No matter what, I would block him from everything and only then send the letter the Captain recommends, and make sure that all emails are dumped into a separate folder just in case this becomes a problem later.

    2. Could be my story too, except a funny thing happened when he pushed too far. A long-time people-pleaser, I somehow saw the mechanics and manipulation in his script that he rolled over me. It was so rehearsed, he wasn’t even waiting for my reply to continue wailing.
      Like LW’s guy, my attacker wanted me to lavish the care on him that he refused to do for himself.
      I have never yelled “How dare you —- with me!” -ever, didn’t know I had it in me, what a delightful surprise.

    3. I give this permission as well! I had to the same with someone who was kinda my friend. I was 16, and I had told her, my then-boyfriend, my older sister and my mum had all told her to stop telling me whenever she was experiencing suicidal ideation and using me as free therapy, and to stop telling me about lying to her actual therapist (!!!), and she didn’t. So I ghosted. Whatever this guy does is NOT YOUR FAULT. He is trying to make it so you feel enough guilt about what’s happening that you remain under his control, but ultimately you have no control over what he does to himself.

  4. That is really awesome! I didn’t know a resource like that existed. Thank you for sharing.

    As another possible resource, I know some employers have EAPs — employee assistance programs — that provide this kind of help for their employees and certain family members (the specific family members depending on the employer and their terms). Also, you said at the beginning that you’ve struggled “all of your adult life” which makes it sound like you’re a few years past 18, but if he happens to be a student at all, many schools have support programs, counseling, etc., that might be available. Not sure if any of that is an option (certainly not something universal like what CTLVolunteer suggested), but maybe something like that would help. Because if he’s at the point where he’s constantly in danger of self-harm, he’s probably needing professional help. And I know many people hate that idea and won’t, but sometimes it’s the only way. (And as CTLVolunteer pointed out, it’s also helpful to have someone who is trained to make and enforce boundaries, because sometimes people in crisis don’t know how to stop sucking the life out of those around them, and need someone to help them figure that out.)

    1. This is valid information: HOWEVER, it is emphatically not the LW’s job to sort this out for Fred, or to advise him to find out if his employer or whomever offers this kind of support, or to look up their phone numbers or URLs or other information. Being helpful like this feeds the bad dynamic the LW is trying to escape from.

      The LW needs to cut Fred off and the text line given above is the perfect sendoff. LW, that text line is a godsend! Send Fred that and then hit BLOCK on your phone and everywhere else.

  5. Great advice. I particularly liked the point that Fred’s controlling behaviour is not caused by his depression. I have had lots of depression in my life. I have behaved in some very cringeworthy ways out of loneliness and neediness. No doubt, I exhausted people with my clingy attention-seeking. However I was not suddenly blind to their boundaries. Though I sometimes felt a little buttsore about it, I was nevertheless capable of hearing “no” in its various forms and respecting the fact that, though I sometimes wished it weren’t so, people’s lives were complex, multifaceted and not all about me and my pain.

    It was a real turning point for me when it finally hit home that no one could rescue me but me. They could love me, support me and cheer me on but they could not save me from my feelings. I had to learn to do that myself–just as you did, LW, when you decided to try medication and to make those positive lifestyle changes. Fred can do that for himself also if he chooses to.

    1. I worked with a life coach for a few months and her approach is amazing. One thing she said about my mom who constantly crosses boundaries and is emotionally abusive is:

      “PEOPLE NEVER CHANGE.” (Aka “your mom will never change.”)

      It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was freeing. I finally realized that there was nothing I could say or do to make her change. I would never be good enough and nothing I did would ever be considered enough. Just like nothing you say or do will ever be enough for Fred, LW – he has made that abundantly clear already.

      People can only change of they CHOOSE to change. Only they have that power.*

      Remembering these lessons has helped me avoid and disengage from people like Fred. Following the life coach’s approach and reading CA has helped me learn how to set and enforce healthy boundaries. I advocate for people to set healthy boundaries frequently.

      *I’m not claiming that people can choose their way out of depression. Mental illness does not work like that. But as CA pointed out, Fred’s controlling behavior is not caused by his depression.

      1. Good caveat! Depression makes our worst qualities come out, but as a person with MDD who struggled through a several year severe episode I learned a lot about being kinder… not just to myself, but other other people. I can be really mean! And it’s not okay. Sometimes I slip up, when I’m having a bad day. But it’s the follow-up that counts in those situations. You really do have to confront the worst of yourself, take responsibility, and then CHANGE how you behave.

        Depression is never an excuse for bad behavior. No mental illness is, no more than an addiction, but addicts and mentally ill people alike sometimes use their issue as an excuse for their actions. But it’s not–it’s a cover to absolve them from responsibility for their actions. These people suck. Some people can grow out of it, but a lot…don’t. And it’s okay to shut the door on those people.

        Always be on the lookout for a real apology + *followed by changed behavior* instead of the fauxpology or the guilt-trippin’ misdirect of “I messed up because I’m so worthless and terrible, console me about how I’m not terrible instead of focusing on the horrible thing I did.”

  6. Thanks so much for this. Similar situation happened to me 2 years ago and there’s one relationship I’m in currently that trusted friends tell me are showing early red flag signs.

    1. glad to hear you’re talking to your friends about this–the sort of outside-perspective feedback that friends can give is so valuable! i learned that the hard way, not confiding in friends about a problematic relationship because i felt like they wouldn’t understand, and it would make me look bad. now i try to be more open–my friends want the best for me, and can see things that i’m overlooking!

  7. I’m going to be the resident asshole:

    “Believe this: Fred needed help before he came across your post online, and he’ll need help after he came across your story.”

    Unless he didn’t, and won’t, and actually doesn’t even now. I know a fair few people who only have problems when there is someone watching. They are only desperate for help when help is there; the rest of the time they get on with their life (not always well, but they do). So they only binge-drink when someone’s there to mind them, only pop the pills when there’s someone they can call right after, only cut when someone’s there to panic at the blood, etc. They are not looking for help. They are looking for an audience to their sufferings, or puppets to play with in a twisted power-play based on their alleged weakness. Not saying that they’re not messed up, and in need of help; but their problem and the help they need isn’t what’s immediately obvious.

    Not saying this Fred necessarily qualifies, but it’s a possibility.

    1. Goddamn, though, do I hear this right now. I moved a friend in with me recently because of some truly legitimate struggles, and as soon as she was in the door, all the talks and agreements about the shared space and boundaries and all the preventative measures we took (in the name of responsible adulting) went out the window. She just went boneless with helplessness and refusal to respect my boundaries or my own mental health struggles, and now I have to kick her out of my house and my life because she has been so toxic. 10 years of friendship and watching her be a resourceful survivor, thinking I knew who she was, and now I can’t even stand the sight of her because of how much contempt she has shown me. Also, she started abusing her cat and refused to accept responsibility for it. That was the final straw, and now that I have solved the cat’s problem. (I set boundaries about “no animal abuse in my house and I will intervene with law enforcement if you do” and she took the cat to a relative’s. At least the cat has someone who will give it water now.)

      (First comment on the CA blog, which I found while looking for resources to help me manage that exact situation. The advice here and the commentariat are stellar and have been amazingly useful to me. Thanks so much to Captain and the rest.)

    2. 100% a possibility, but I don’t think it is relevant to the LW.

      (FWIW, I also think this is true of Captain’s comment about whether Fred’s behaviour is a manifestation of his mental illness or whether he’s a controlling jerk who finds mental illness a handy topic for controlling women: Fred’s behaviour could be 100% depression-related, and he might be a lovely, caring guy between bad mental health episodes, and refusing to be his unpaid therapist would still be the absolutely right thing for LW to do.)

      1. Thinking more about it, I think knowing one way or the other, or at least being open to the possibility, may help LW not feel as bad about disengaging. It works like that for me, anyway.

    3. I will be co-asshole, then, because this is my read on the situation, too. Sounds like you have tangled with someone with the same personality disorder as the person who immediately popped into my head when I read the LWs account.

      But why do we feel like assholes at all? The disordered personality who wanted to make me dance like a puppet and have me put her happiness and health ahead of mine was the asshole, and I make no apologies for making sure I never have a person like this in my life ever again and warning others so it doesn’t happen to them.

      My life, wants and needs didn’t matter, only my participation in her manufactured dramas. I was lucky – while I was still in this person’s thrall I asked a friend who was a LCSW for advice on how to help her … my friend instead showed me how to help myself. At first I didn’t want to believe my LCSW friend was right, but when I found myself being told by this person that if I hung up the phone she would kill herself, that I was the only person who understood, that not helping her was as good as killing her myself, that I was worse than all of her abusers combined because I was abandoning her in her hour of need … I knew my LCSW friend was correct. This person is still quite alive despite all promises to the contrary. Even tried to reel me back in by admitting she had been diagnosed with exactly the personality disorder my LCSW friend suggested, how it wasn’t her fault and I HAD TO understand and forgive her. And help her. Because I was the only one who really understood …

      Not saying Fred has the same personality disorder as the person I knew, just saying RUN LIKE HELL if anything godsbastard and I said rings a bell …

  8. Speaking as a diagnosed PTSD-haver … I’m somewhat side-eyeing the ‘Call me! I’m triggered!’

    Look, I can’t speak for everyone with PTSD. But if I’m having a flashback, what I need is quiet time to get myself back on track; being required to deal with someone else just makes it more difficult.

    Coping with flashbacks is a self-soothing skill, and I really don’t think that demanding someone else step in, and then sitting around waiting for them to call, is going to do that.

    If he’s only got depression, he’s misusing the term … but it’s a very convenient misuse, because you notice how it puts the cause of the distress *outside* himself? Not, ‘I’m getting into a ruminative spiral’ or ‘I’m having an episode’ (i.e. I need to sort my head out), but ‘I’m triggered! The WORLD did this to me! Not my responsibility!’

    A person can reinforce negative thought patterns by doing the wrong thing about them, and it sounds like he may be doing that. Draw a line. He needs professional help, and it’s up to him whether he seeks it or not.

    1. Is it possible that what’s being triggered is not PTSD? There are other conditions susceptible to that particular occurrence, and they can involve different types of self care.

      1. Possibly, yes, but ‘triggers’ is a phrase that, at least from what I’ve experienced – both me and people I care about who’ve had depression – is particularly associated with PTSD, and not with depression. I’m not a psychologist, so more knowledgeable people may wish to correct me. But in this particular context, it’s a use of the word that gives me the creepy-crawlies.

        1. “Triggers” is associated with a huge number of mental health conditions, including anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, psychotic breaks, eating disorders, and addictions, to name a few off the top of my head (not a clinician but grad-level training in psychology). Unfortunately in the struggle to have the validity of PTSD recognized in the face of a gate-keeping ableist society, there has been a tendency for people to develop really rigid and exclusionary definitions around what constitutes a “trigger” and who is allowed to be “triggered” in order to promote the legitimacy of PTSD by the standards of that same gate-keeping ableist society, resulting in people with other mental health conditions (or non-standard manifestations of PTSD) being thrown under the bus. So in the interest of promoting recognition of the validity of *all* mental health conditions, it’s really important to me to not let it stand when people suggest “triggers = PTSD” though I recognize this is a deral and hope it doesn’t need to go farther than this. But any emotional state can be “triggered” by a stimuli, in psych parlance.

          1. Thank you, that’s helpful information.

            Regarding gatekeeping: I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus. The reason it gets to me is that in the early years of having PTSD myself, I couldn’t get any doctors to listen to me and refer me for a proper diagnosis, so I had to rely on the Internet for information. And a lot of it was so inaccurate – not because it was from a different school of thought, but because it was explanations made by people who’d read someone who’d read someone who’d read someone who’d read someone who had read a psychology article once upon a time – that for several years I was too hopeless to bang on doors for help, because what I was suffering didn’t sound like the (ill-informed) descriptions I was ready. I had PTSD, but I didn’t have the symptoms described by ill-informed people, so I despaired of getting help. Which did me a lot of harm.

            Which is why I take it seriously that terms be used correctly. I have no quarrel with a term being used for different conditions; that’s just a different kind of accuracy. But there’s that at one end, and at the other end people saying ‘triggered’ when they mean ‘pissed off’ or ‘upset’, and the latter is no less pernicious than excessive gatekeeping, because it does the same thing: makes it harder for people to get the accurate diagnoses they need. Again, not trying to hurt anyone else, just talking about another way people get hurt, including me.

            But probably that’s my personal issue, so if so, sorry.

            The connection here, such as it is, which I pretty much regret starting now, is that Fred appears to be relying quite heavily on the Internet, given that he’s spending his time pestering a near-stranger he tracked down online, which might increase his chances of being one of those read-something-by-someone-who-read-something people; since LW feels guilty abandoning him in his distress, I might suggest that she’s entitled to a little self-protective cynicism about how he describes himself. But since her course is the same whether he’s being completely accurate or completely inaccurate – it’s not her job to let him devour her life – it’s not a very major piece of advice.

            And as I’m sure Captain has enough to deal with with WordPress acting up, her own life and everything else, I’ll drop the subject here rather than drag her into a derail. Sorry, Captain.

          2. I’ve had depression my whole life, and I can only speak for myself, but I also do not commonly use “triggered” in that way, as you pointed out, and as another poster commented, I, too, require alone time when on the verge of a depressive funk, as the energy required to communicate with a friend is excruciatingly draining at that time. Your mileage may vary and all that.

            At any rate, I do know what you mean: certain negative happenstances or situations or stressful activities will grease the slide into that depressive funk, especially if (as in the recent past) I couldn’t afford therapy or medication that my illness needs in order to be managed. Things as wide-ranging as a sad news story, a friend having a rough time, menstruation, even certain foods occasionally contributed to a bad or low mood, from which it is easier to slip into depression.

            I think the general public has a bad habit of co-opting terms from psychology that many do not fully understand (e.g., claiming to be “bipolar” when having a moody day, using “depressed” as a synonym for “really bummed out,” casually slurring specific mentally ill people by claiming to be “schitzy” or “crazy” or calling other people “psycho,” and so on), and “triggering” has become one of those buzzwords that is not well understood, and about which people who do not suffer from a mental illness which can be exacerbated by triggering stimuli scoff or complain. (Perhaps if you don’t understand the need for “safe spaces” or “content alerts” or “trigger warnings,” they are not FOR YOU, right? Note to little brother: Your memes about how eighteen-year-olds back in the 1910s and 1940s were all uniformly ready to shoot Nazis and jump out of planes but today’s eighteen-year-olds are all milquetoast crybabies needing “hugboxes” and “security blankies” are really inaccurate, insensitive, offensive, misogynistic, obnoxious and reinforce the false narrative that men shouldn’t ever be emotional. So cut that out!)

    2. Hi, I also have PTSD and at times must call a counselor, rape crisis hotline, or another person prepared and willing to assist. This is a common symptom and helps explain the prevalence of crisis hotlines– some people really do need to speak with another person to get grounded during a panic or flashback, or come down from hypervigilance. PTSD has complex manifestations in different people requiring different forms of support, as does depression, anxiety, and many other potential diagnoses he may or may not have. We’re not qualified here to make blanket statements about the kinds of support different people need– we’re here to support the LW set boundaries in line with what she needs and wants, and provide a few alternate resources for this dude to handle his expressed need to call someone in a trigger.

      1. I’ll put it another way, coming at it more from LW’s point of view.

        Just speaking for myself, if I do have a flashback, I have to acknowledge that I can, in that state, be a COMPLETE PIG. No fun at all. Somebody it is very not nice to be around. I don’t intend to speak for you, Tinea, or for everyone with PTSD, or anything like, but I, personally, can be a complete pig, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

        And while I have needed both medical and personal support, in a variety of ways, I would not blame anybody for not wanting to be around me while I was acting that way. I don’t blame family and close friends for it, never mind some random ex-schoolmate with a blog.

        So speaking from behind the trigger, I’d like to give LW full and free permission to really not want to be this guy’s support system. This traumatised person doesn’t think LW owes every passing traumatised person unconditional access to her life.

      2. Yes. I do find it immensely helpful to talk to someone when I am triggered (and in my case, yes, it’s PTSD, although as noted above ‘triggered’ can apply to many situations–I heard it with regards to eating disorders and addiction long before I heard it with regards to PTSD). It helps move me out of my irrational head-space and into the real world.

        But with that said, I don’t think it even makes a difference to the LW. Even if “Fred” is like me and really does benefit from talking to someone when triggered, that someone does not have to be the LW. Having a real need does not entitle you to get that need fulfilled from a specific other person. (Kind of like, to use a non-mental-health example, my friend with crushing student loan debt has a real need for money to alleviate that, but I am under no moral obligation to cash out my 401k to give her the money.)

        1. Having a real need does not entitle you to get that need fulfilled from a specific other person. (Kind of like, to use a non-mental-health example, my friend with crushing student loan debt has a real need for money to alleviate that, but I am under no moral obligation to cash out my 401k to give her the money.)

          ohhhhhhhhh something just clicked there…

          says the person who feels morally obligated not only to listen to everyone’s distress but also to contribute to everyone’s gofundme whether i know them or not

  9. Oh boy. I think this is another one of those situations where the very best thing to do is disengage as quickly and completely as possible, laying down concrete boundaries as Captain A suggests. If you try to meet him halfway, chances are he will push and push and manipulate until he’s bullied you back into giving him exactly what he wants.

    If you are anything like me, you will be amazed at how good it feels to make and put into effect the decision to simply stop talking to Fred. I don’t know how much this will help you, but I had a Fred not too long ago. Like you, we both had our share of mental health problems, but whenever we talked it had to be all about Fred’s. He only spoke to me when he wanted something from me. He never wanted to take my advice, he just wanted to wallow and be miserable (and I absolutely know that depression can do that, because I’ve been there myself) with me as the Misery Facilitator.

    If I told him things weren’t so good with me and I wanted to talk about me, he ignored me and carried on about himself and never once in our years of “friendship” did he ask about me. If I didn’t check in with him as frequently as he deemed appropriate, he would throw a tantrum, block me on social media, send horrible messages and block me again before I could respond, wait a few weeks or months and then friend request me again. It came to a head when he saw I’d wished a friend happy birthday on Facebook – I only remembered because she has the same birthday as me, I hadn’t been online in 2 weeks as I was busy preparing for my wedding and apparently the fact that I hadn’t remembered his birthday a few days before mine meant I was a terrible person. He yelled at me and said I was “no friend at all” and that I “obviously never cared in the first place” about him, despite the hours and hours of my time I’d spent completely draining myself emotionally for him (and remember this yelling was happening on my birthday, which he didn’t acknowledge although the problem was apparently that I had missed his). He didn’t care about my wedding – that shouldn’t have been as important as looking after him. And then he blocked me, and that was the moment when I decided I would never again speak to him or accept his friend requests.

    And it felt amazing, like a huge weight had been lifted off me. Sure, it was tinged with sadness, but nonetheless it was a massive relief.

    I tell you this because I want you to experience the relief BEFORE you get to the tantrums stage.

  10. Speaking as someone with diagnosed PTSD, that ‘Call me! I’m triggered! line is suspicious. You don’t deal with a flashback by calling someone and sitting around till they call you. That’s a pretty good way to train your brain to stay sick.

    If he’s depressed rather than having PTSD, he’s misusing the word. And he’s misusing it in a telling way: it’s putting the blame on the external environment for ‘triggering’ him, rather than saying, ‘My mind’s doing its thing again, I need to deal with this.’ That is not a guy making good use of the help you kindly offered.

    What this is is a guy who’s locked into unhealthy patterns of behaviour, who’s trying to lock you into them as well. They won’t help him, and they’ll hurt you.

    Suppose someone e-mailed you and said, ‘I’m trying to deal with my own mental health issues, and this guy is calling me at all hours and being really aggressive and ungrateful about it’? You’d be telling them to protect themselves, right? Protect yourself. It’s already putting you under strain, and the longer he relies on you the harder it’ll be to get away, and this could get dangerous – to your own wellbeing, if nothing else. Point him in useful directions and pull up your drawbridge.

    1. People should probably ignore this comment of mine, as it’s kind of a paraphrase of a comment upthread that got caught up in the technical issues of the day. 🙂

    2. Exactly! If I’ve been triggered then I’m not in a fit state to bloody demand anything. I usually don’t realise what’s happened until afterward. During? Nothing, mind has checked out, there’s a little sign saying ‘Out for lunch!’.

      He sounds like yet another person who’s co-opting certain terms as a means of control.

    3. With as much kindness as possible, I just want to say that your explanation of PTSD and mental health ‘triggers’ is not representative of the diversity of experience and manifestation of post-trauma symptoms, nor the myriad different mental health crises that someone may interpret as coming on with an environmental ‘trigger.’ Many people do need outside help and crisis intervention to make it through a crisis. The LW is not the right person to give that help, and the dude is using mental health symptoms to control her, but we can address these issues without declaring that there’s only one way to manifest symptoms or to heal or ask for support for them.

      1. I certainly didn’t want to suggest there’s only one manifestation. I’m twitchy about the over-use of the word because I have seen it misused, but obviously I’m not Fred’s therapist, so point taken.

  11. If the dude is in the UK, Samaritans is an organisation that offers counselling to adults for free (email and phone, I believe, and also free.)

    And everything the Captain said: disengage! Disengage! Disengage!

    1. Samaritans also do textphone (that’s not the right term any more but I can’t remember the current one) for d/Deaf and hard of hearing users.

    2. Hi, I volunteer with Samaritans, and although we are absolutely there to listen to people and help them to explore their feelings when they are struggling, we’re not trained counsellors in the “mental health professional” sense. I suppose the main difference is that we don’t give people advice or guidance, we just give them a place to talk about the difficult stuff:-)

      You’re right that our service is free though, and we do phone, email, and text.

      And LW is definitely not obliged to be this guy’s crisis line, especially not at the expense of her own mental health! There are actual crisis lines with people who are deliberately setting aside time for it and are well supported through any emotional fallout that he could be talking to.

  12. I have mental health problems and I’ve chosen to be a campaigner and peer mentor. I am blessed to have a tribe of friends who gave their own experiences of mental ill health/caring for someone who does. At any one time, I could be unwell, a friend could be unwell. I might have compassion and offer some listening or resources. But there are times when I don’t have the capacity to do that. And there are times when it would be unhelpful for me to do that; the friend deserves a professional ear. None of that means I don’t care about my friends.

    If you have reached a point in your mental health experience where you want to share, that is fantastic. By being in the world and being visible, that is enough. It is a precious asset to see peoole offer the hope they found. Everyone is entitled to self care and not everyone has to be out and proud about their struggles. You don’t have to save anyone who relates to your story. Telling your story means you need to protect yourself more, because ideally you can do more to raise the profile of mental health survivors when you are well and your boundaries mean you stop before you hit empty.

    Brene Brown is a good speaker for talking about vulnerability and what circumstances it is safe to share your story.

  13. I would suggest an alteration to the letter. Instead of “I won’t be accepting any more calls, chats or texts about this”, just “I won’t be accepting any more calls, chats or texts.”

    I can see Fred reading the words “about this” and deciding that means he can contact you about other things (which will then inevitably lead to bring about this). It just leaves a tiny crack in the door which he might try to twist and exploit. Good luck, LW.

    1. But also, if Fred *does* find a loophole to exploit, LW should remember that she isn’t obliged to honor it; e.g. if she says “don’t call, chat, or text,” and Fred sends a singing telegram, she doesn’t have to reply just because he’s *technically* right.

  14. LW, you are the opposite of a bad human being in this situation! Please don’t feel in any way bad about cutting Fred loose – it’s not only the right thing for you, it really is the right thing for him too. Use the Captain’s super-fantastico scripts and walk away without a smidgen of guilt.

  15. Just a side note: If you know his home address and he threatens self harm or suicide (and even if you don’t but you know his cell number), call his local police department and request a “well check”. They will go to his home (or to where his phone’s GPS leads them) and check on him, with the following effects 1) you will have peace of mind because you did everything you could for him with regard to preventing harm, and 2) He will realize that you’re not successfully being manipulated by his behavior, and be upset, possibly reducing contact with you.

    1. This can be a solution (and I have used it with a manipulative person in the past), but I want to say that this is HEAVILY mediated by race & class. Calling the cops on someone, even for a “wellness” check, can be a life-ending deal – a young man and his neighbor were both shot to death during what should have been a wellness-check in Chicago over Christmas. I am no longer a big proponent of this.

      1. My ‘wellness check’ last summer began with me happily and healthily working at home out on the porch and ended with my being locked in a police car parked in the sun for two hours during a heatwave. I was nice as pie the whole time too, which frustrated the police no end. Yes, it actually did destroy my health. But with three officers looming over me and threateningly informing me that if I had a problem with their actions I could talk to their lieutenant… right then… I eventually accepted the permanent leap in my Parkinsons symptoms – after I got over the heatstroke – as the price for not being a rich white male.

        1. Oh my god, I am so sorry about this. Against better knowledge, I hope that some kind of justice comes to these people.

    2. >>where his phone’s GPS leads them

      Wait, the police can access someone’s phone GPS on the say-so of a concerned third party without a court order? That’s pretty alarming. Going to check whether that’s the case in the UK too.

      1. UK person here – pretty sure the police need a court order to get a user’s location from their mobile provider. My partner works for a telco.

      2. In Canada, the police can find a cell-phone’s geographical location, not by directly accessing the GPS, but by contacting the cell-phone provider and requesting that they “ping” the phone: triangulate a rough position based on closeness to various cell-phone towers in the area. They don’t need a court order because the cell-phone provider is providing the information freely, and they don’t actually have to access anything inside the phone to get the information.

        Not sure what the limitations are on their ability to do this, though. The contexts in which I’ve heard it be used (I know someone who works as a 911 call-taker) have all been about someone who’s considered a danger to themselves or others.

        1. A bit off-topic but from my understanding of how cellphones work, triangulation doesn’t give a very specific location, so it works better in rural areas where things are more spread out, vs in urban ones, where a small area can contain lots of homes.

          FYI, in case you were counting on 911 being able to find you in an emergency that way. They sometimes can, but often can’t.

      3. ClearChannel Outdoor Advertising’s new service reads the phones in the vicinity of their billboards, and then where the person goes next, -to see if the billboard ad worked, they claim. Reported by the New York Times

        But, *****Noting the Captain’s warning,***** sending emergency services to someone who sounds in crisis may save a life and let them know that this action matches the threat level of their request for help.

  16. Agreed that cutting Fred loose is the best option. I had a ‘friend’ that pretty quickly went from ‘bonding over similar experiences with depression’ to ‘you must be my therapist whenever I need and if you aren’t, you’re horrible!’ The constant ‘need’ for me to be there for them to just listen to them complain (and refuse to get any help of any kind) was draining. So yeah, cut the ties you can as quick as you can, imo.

  17. This post resonates so much with me right now. Some five or six years back when I was in high school, I had this friend from the church youth group called Rob. Rob was very sad and had a lot of issues and he liked to talk them over with me, because I was “so good” at listening and being sympathetic. He had issues with self esteem, so I made him feel better and told him that girls will like him for who he is, not for his looks. However, when I was feeling sad or had moments of low-self esteem, he informed me that there was nothing he could do to the fact that boys liked girls with bigger boobs, and mine were just too small to be cute. What an asshole, I know. He also had the habit of not talking to me for a long time during the times when he had a girlfriend, but the minute they broke up I was the only person who he could talk to. Luckily, by the time I was around 17, I had gotten more friends and we fell out of touch, even though we still hang around occasionally in the same social circle.

    Four weeks ago Rob broke up with his girlfriend of roughly 2 years and lo and behold, he contacted me (I am now 22). This time it was in the guise of asking me tips on getting in the same place of study as I am. I was happy to give some tips on studies and it was a pretty decent conversation. But then he messaged me on the next day. And the next. And the next. And the topics changed from “hey I know we haven’t met in a while, but can you help with this thing you are way more knowledgeable than me” to “hey I’m bored at work and I want to tell you all about my day and how I think the world is a rotten place and how I am so cynical and moody”. I probably would have fallen back to the habit of being his sounding board, but my partner became confused about who is this guy I am suddenly talking to via Facebook all the time and who I haven’t mentioned once before during our 18 month relationship. When I tried to explain it, it sounded so creepy and weird even to myself, I decided to cut contact. I don’t want to just tell Rob to go fuck himself because the aforementioned social group, but I went into “sorry can’t talk now, busy” and/or “one-line-answers” mode. I think he’ll get the hint, he only contacted me once during the weekend and that discussion didn’t even begin before it ended.

    Anyway, best of luck to you LW. Making yourself a priority is not selfish or horrible, it is the smart thing to do. Don’t light yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.

    1. Heh. I’ve been there. The difference is that I usually also slept with Sad Cynical Oh-So-Deep Guy and then got sad when he demeaned me and dated around. Eventually I figured out something remarkable, which is that They Always Come Back. And then I realized I can’t be as pitiful as they inform me I am, because years later I’ll still get occasional “I miss you :)” kinds of emails/texts.

      I’m glad discussing it out loud with someone helped you understand what was happening. That sounds like a bridge you can pretty cheerfully burn.

    2. Wow, this is weirdly familiar! Is Youth Group Rob someone you’re required to meet in Teenage Quest or something? Either that or there are just so many sad Robs in the world…

      1. I think this is a common experience for nice and shy-ish girls. Moody, cynical guys with bad self esteem seem to target that kinds of girls, because the girls are too nice to tell them to get lost and are easier to manipulate into giving emotional support and even sex. And I myself was particularly flattered that a GUY was talking to me, since at least in my youth group the popularity of a girl depended on how many guy friends she had (and not necessarily even in a romantic setting).

  18. LW, I don’t know if this would be good or not in your case, but in high school, a friend of mine’s girlfriend called him saying she was going to kill herself and then hung up on him when he tried to talk to her about it. He called 911 and she had cops and an ambulance show up at her house and I think ended up having to go to the hospital. She was furious at him, and at the time I thought he was ridiculous for getting the authorities involved instead of trying to help her himself, but looking back on it now I think he did the right thing. If she was an immediate suicide risk, then she would get help. If she was just messing with him for whatever reason, then she learned that threatening suicide was a very bad way of doing that. I don’t know that this is 100% applicable in your case because you don’t want to be in contact with Fred in the first place, but I’ve had a couple non-depression-related times where the other person did a one-eighty with their behavior once cops and/or EMTs got involved so it’s worth a thought.

    1. This is true, but also see the Captain’s reminder above that intersections with race and class can turn this kind of situation deadly. People can be killed during what was supposed to be an attempt to keep them from harming themselves.

    2. Yes, if you’re not someone who might not be safe around the police. I did this for a friend of mine who phoned me and said he was walking by a local river trying to decide which bridge to jump off and just wanted to hear a friendly voice for the last time (he chose me because he knew I was 50 miles away with no transport and physically couldn’t do a thing about it). I tried to talk him out of it, but he was adamant. So I called the emergency services, then called his parents (he lived with them and had a good relationship with them) and told them where he was and what was happening.

      He hated me for a while after that, didn’t speak to me for ages but a few years later introduced me to some friends as “the girl who saved my life” and we’ve never spoken about it since.

      Point is, if he does need that intervention then he’ll eventually appreciate it. If he doesn’t, then maybe he’ll realise how ridiculous he’s being. Either way, he might end up avoiding you for a while.

      1. Yes, I also learned this as a teenager. I had a friend who used to take mild overdoses of painkillers (eg. 2-3 times the normal dose), and then phone us to tell us. Being teenagers, we’d usually panic and worry about her but keep it secret. Once she phoned a friend who immediately turned around to his mum and said, “S has taken an overdose of paracetamol”. His mum immediately insisted that she go to A&E and get a bloodtest or she’d call an ambulance which would arrive in the middle of the night. So my friend phoned me and I took her to the hospital at about one in the morning, and we were there until about four in the morning.

        Anyway, she was fine, it was a giant pain, and my mum was furious with me for leaving the house in the middle of the night without telling anyone where I was going (and looking back as not-a-teenager, I feel a lot worse about that than I did then! Sorry mum!) But my friend never took an overdose again, serious or otherwise. I am not sure about calling the police, but I don’t think there are any circumstances where I would hesitate to call for medical help if someone made a suicide or a serious self-harm threat.

        1. I need to leave a REALLY IMPORTANT warning here WRT taking any-sized overdose of APAP (paracetamol/acetaminophen) or any APAP-containing medication.

          Do not take 1500mg instead of 1000mg at a time, always wait at least four hours between doses, and never take more than 4000mg in a 24hr period.

          If you, or someone you know, has ingested too much APAP – this is a situation requiring medical help. Always. APAP is a great analgesic for mild pain, and it’s superb at tackling fevers, but it is Bad Shit In the UK call 111 if you’re unsure if you’ve taken too much. If someone tells you they’ve deliberately OD’d, or you’ve done it, it’s a 999/A&E job, I’m serious. You know why? APAP OD will leave you feeling fine and frisky for a couple of days but, usually, once you’re symptomatic? You are entirely beyond help.

          If you OD on APAP you will not just go to sleep and not wake up, you will suffer. Your family will suffer, your friends will suffer, but you will suffer most. It is a horrible, painful, hideous way to go

          So if anyone tells you they’ve done it? Get help immediately. Could Awkwardeers from other countries detail procedures for their country? I’m guessing poison control/ER/911 for US residents, but not sure on the others!

          1. Yes, 100% agreed! Paracetamol is scary stuff: the danger is not that you won’t wake up, but that you will wake up, possibly having changed your mind, but already have suffered irreversible and fatal liver damage. My friend was very lucky that her blood tests came back fine.

          2. So was I. I took 35 of them. They gave me a 30% chance of survival. It was a miracle that I suffered no lasting damage. For such a commonly sold, easily accessed drug this is REALLY dangerous stuff.

          3. In the US: Paracetemol is mostly called Tylenol. Overdosing on it kills people. If someone you know might have take too much, this could be a life-threatening medical emergency.

            If there is a walk-in urgent care facility nearby and the person and loved one(s) can get there themselves, go there. If you don’t have access to walk-in urgent care, and you can’t get to an emegency room yourself, call 911.

          4. My mum was a doctor, and she told me a cautionary tale about the time a 15-year-old girl come into A&E, having overdosed on Paracetemol and had a change of mood about the whole thing a few hours later. Her parents had to watch her die of liver failure because the damage was irreparable.

            Do not ever take paracetemol, even if you seriously intend to end your life, it will not be a pleasant death for you.
            And always be careful with the dosage, even if you’re just taking it for pain. Especially when giving Calpol to children. Despite its wide availability and syrupy flavour, it is not a drug to be fucked with.

        2. FYI, parecetomol is know by different names in different countries – in Canada (and I believe also the US), this is Tylenol.

          And yes, it’s known to be a drug where the margin between a safe dose and a dangerous one is a lot smaller than with many drugs.

          And as someone else has already mentioned, you will feel fine until you actually have serious and often irreversible organ damage.

          If someone’s taken too much, whether on purpose or by accident, they need medical care. It’s treatable but only if caught early.

          1. Generic version in North America most commonly being called “acetaminophen” for those of us who never buy name brand.

            It’s also in a lot of things like vicodin and prescription painkillers, and probably more dangerous than the actual painkiller.

  19. Often some of the ways that suicide crisis line workers think about a suicide threat is in terms of questions like, does the caller have a plan, are they are drunk/using substances, how willing they are the talk about their feelings, whether they have sorted out their affairs, are they keeping their plans secret etc. That is not to create a ranking of genuine vs insincere suicide threats but it helps a caller to see that they can have suicidal thoughts they do not want to act on, or overwhelming thoughts and emotions that thyey are afraid they may act on, or the call might be a means to communicate something they cannot articulate other than in terms of suicide, or they feel very little but have a concrete plan and feeling suicidal means different things.

    My view is that as a society we tend to look at suicidal feelings in a very simplistic way (real vs fake ‘threats’) and actually that creates a burden on people like the OP to try to figure out what is real or fake. The reason suicide crisis line handlers have training and ask the questions I mentioned is because there is a spectrum of suicidality that a non professional cannot be expected to assess. Even those crisis call handlers need supervision to deal with how stressful it is to hear strangers talk about suicide.

    OP, you do not have to take responsibility for his suicidalness and his welfare. I have had a loved one attempt suicide and make repeated statements about it to manipulate me. It was hard because there was no way to 100% know if they would follow through. But the reality was, that person still needed professional care and all I could do was keep directing them to that. Complying with the manipulation was hurting me and it was also keeping them from getting the help they need. I also had a period of attempting suicide and nothing anyone around me did could have dug me out of the pain; I needed to do that myself.

    Even if you did genuinely want to put hours of your life into being a crisis counsellor for a stranger who is not an active friend and is very difficult; you aren’t in a position to do so skillfully. And no one expects you to try.

    1. This is so true.

      I’ve talked to suicidal callers who, after a long conversation and some small talk about something important to them (talking about our mutual dogs turned around so, so many calls) would get to see the sun come up and say “You know what? I feel so much better, thank you!”. Others have needed intervention from the local mental health crisis team, or a visit from the emergency services. You just never know

      I often found, contrary to popular opinion, that the calmer someone was, the higher the likelihood that they would seriously attempt/commit suicide. The term ‘dead calm’ was eerily appropriate.

      1. Thank you for being a crisis line worker/volunteer, they have kept me alive through some agonising nights and anyone who does that kind of work has my gratitude.

  20. Dear LW,

    You wrote “I would really like to be supportive”- which is good and kind.

    Here’s the thing: it is not possible for you to be supportive to Fred. Fred has decided that “support” from you consists of all of your time that he wants, when he wants it. As this will not actually help him, and will actively harm you, cutting him off serves both of you well.

    Additionally, please remember, it’s not necessary to set yourself on fire just because someone else is cold.

  21. I had a boyfriend like this many years ago. Somehow I became his personal therapist, even though he actually did have one already. After two or three months I became fed up with the way that he’d quickly excuse himself if I wanted to talk about having a bad day, and the ways he’d abruptly bail on plans we’d made at the last possible minute because he suddenly decided he wasn’t feeling up to it. It was always about him, him, him. I don’t know why it took me so long to twig onto the one-sidedness of the relationship, but like many women, I was brought up to be a caretaker and soother.
    The Captain is right, an abrupt breakup is best with people like this. Dragging it out in an effort to be kind and let them down gently never works.

  22. LW here. Just wanted to chime in to say thank you very much! It was a tremendous relief to hear my spidey senses about safety articulated so clearly, and I’m really glad I didn’t wait. I took the advice offered. His reply was polite, but left no doubt at all that he relies pretty heavily on women to do the emotional labour of making him feel okay. This experience has given me so much information about boundaries, and a lot more clues about how my body feels when I’m going through something that is likely not okay. I’m grateful for your shared experiences and support.

    1. Good news! I hope he leaves you alone. And that he gets some help if he needs it. In that order of importance.

    2. Oh wow, congratulations and good job and I’m glad that you were able to take something useful away from this as well as get the hell out of it.

    3. Good for you! Glad to hear you’re out of it, and props for acting so quickly and decisively. Here’s hoping you get the best out of all the time and energy you just won back for yourself.

  23. If you were helping him and just wanted to stop because it’s a bother … But wait, you’re not helping him. If you were helping him, he’d have said long ago, “You’ve been a great help, and I’m not feeling bad anymore, ergo, I no longer need to chat with you.”

    I notice something else in your letter. You were helped with prescription medication. There would be something logical in telling Fred “In my experience, prescription medication was the best thing. I can’t prescribe so talk to a professional about that.”

    I think that as we (as a society) learn more about depression, we’ll come to the conclusion that similar sets of symptoms (that empty hopeless feeling) can have many causes and therefore many different treatments.. When Fred saw your facebook post, he latched on to it, but it’s entirely possible, even likely, that you’re talking apples and oranges. What helped you might have nothing to do with what will help Fred.

    1. IMHO, substance abuse + more drugs (even prescription ones) don’t really mix well. It’s a little like trying to repair a house while it’s actively on fire. Unless we are talking meds to strictly treat alcohol abuse, of which there are some, though kind of a mixed bag.

  24. Two hours in, I asked him a question to try to understand, and he responded, “Plz stop analyzing it. It’s not helping!!!! You can analyze on your own time.”

    Holy crimson flags, Batman!

    This is so wildly inappropriate I can’t even fathom it. This would be inappropriate even if you were a paid therapist (and if you were, you wouldn’t be taking calls at all hours of the night either).

    I also want to call something out. Your time is always your own. Nobody else gets to force you to spend it one way or another.

    There may be consequences to spending it certain ways. For example, if you play on Facebook at work instead of doing the projects you need to, the consequence may be that you no longer have a job. But that’s still your decision to make: you decide that you’d rather spend your time doing work so you can continue to get paid.

    This is true in a relationship too. You have the right to decide that you’d rather spend most of your time alone in your room. Now, this may have the result of your partner breaking up with you because they don’t feel emotionally fulfilled from the relationship as it stands. But it’s still your right to decide that’s what you want to do.

    Fred feels that he has the right to control how you spend your time, and that’s a HUGE problem. It would be one thing if he said, “For us to be friends, I need you to be able to drop everything and talk to me at any time.” That would be weird and out of touch–but it would still be providing a choice: ‘This is the condition of my friendship–can we be friends in this situation?’ The way he phrased it makes it clear that he feels you don’t have the right to determine how you spend your time. I think that’s why the Captain and others are worried about your safety; if he thinks you don’t have the right to decide how you spend your time, what else does he think you don’t have the right to control?

  25. When I was a kid I absorbed the 80s/90s messages about ride-or-die friendships like a sponge, and (in addition to having unrealistic expectations of what my friendships would look like) I became very used to the idea of boundary-less servitude as something a normal thing a “friend” would do. This, of course, extended to helping friends in moments of emotional crisis. I’ve also dealt with clinical depression, and I think part of me thought that my efforts would be reciprocated and I wouldn’t feel so lonely and isolated all the time. LW, you’d think that my years of fizzled heroic attempts would have taught me that boundaries were good, but what it eventually took was a situation similar to what you’ve described. I had to sever my oldest friendship because they kept making poor choices and calling me in a panic to help bail them out. The last straw happened late on a work night. I got a frantic series of texts begging me to drive two hours out of my way to drive them home because their ride bailed on them. They couldn’t afford a taxi because they’d already spent one night at a motel (read: they spent money on a motel instead of a taxi, and waited a whole day before deciding to ask for help). I felt SO GUILTY saying “no,” LW. I tried to talk them through other options (public transit, had they called friends who lived closer, etc.), but no, I was their default anchor, they really needed my help. It can feel good to be needed, but if you aren’t in the helping profession and on the clock, there is only so much time and emotional energy one human being can expend.

    1. Oh gosh, yes. There was so much about “real friends” and “always being there for you,” and how many times was there a Very Special Episode of something-or-other where the main character had a moral crisis because they were at a party and their friend called feeling bad and they didn’t leave the party to go help. What an asshole, man, there will always be more parties but your friend ~needs you.~

      (Even worse, sometimes it was things like “your band has their first big break! but oh noooo your childhood friend is having a bad night. clearly if you are a good person you will give up this massive opportunity to further the career that you are passionate about, right?”)

      And if you have a healthy relationship with good give and take, and if you don’t do it all the time, then sure, yeah, once in a while a really close friend can say, “I’m sorry, I know you’re doing a thing, but I’m having a crisis, can you help?”

      But the idea that the default state of friendship is to prioritize one person’s feelings over everything else is… not, IMHO, healthy.

      1. One of my teenage cousins shared a Facebook meme a few weeks ago about “the people you would stay up all night talking to just because they said they needed you” and I was kind of … aargh. It’s hard to know where that kind of fallacy falls on the “myths about the world you have to learn for yourself” vs “myths about the world that desperately need to be corrected”. For me, staying up all night to talk and look after friends who were having a bad time was a formative teenage experience that I gradually grew out of (as did they.) But as this post shows, sometimes it can turn into something a lot nastier and more damaging.

        1. This is interesting to read phrased as a fallacy. When I was in therapy in the early 2000s, my therapist told me this as gospel fact, and that Real Friends don’t tell you “I’m sorry, but it’s past my bedtime on a work night, can we talk about how Cute Guy doesn’t wanna go out with you during normal chatting hours?” She told me to *stop talking to* anybody who attempted to set boundaries like that, because Real Friends Are Always There For You even if your upsetness is about something kinda trivial.

          She is one of the main reasons I am adamantly opposed to going back to therapy, because this is only one of many highly inappropriate ideas she used to undermine the actual real life social skills my lovely friends had taken the time to teach me as an autistic young adult.

      2. My closest friend really pushes this boundary I’ve set with them over talking late. They avoid their partner by staying up all night, so Friend is just getting their day’s wind up when I’m trying to wind down. I’m in therapy and Friend refuses to explore it, saying it’s too much drama… Hmmm. It can take me hours to get to sleep after one of those “chats.” My solution–At 2200 hours all my household’s magical devices have a tiny crescent moon appear in their menu corner, -do not disturb- and I smile and feel safe. Can’t get me until 0700.

    2. Argh, being the Rescuer Friend. It’s coming back to bite me this week.

      I just got an email from my best friend from college, finally admitting that for the last three years she’s resented me for not coming to see her when she was going through a divorce with her emotionally abusive husband. Or rather for “offering to come see her, then changing my mind.” I looked at the old emails to find out whether my memory of the event was right, and it was. We’d exchanged two emails each about the suggested visit, and she not only had brought up several (clearly real) issues: “I don’t know where I’m going to be yet,” “I won’t be able to be very sociable b/c I’m working full-time & packing,” she never said one positive word about my coming. She never said “OK, what dates?” let alone “That would be nice.” The absolute most positive sentence in those emails was “You know you’re always welcome, but I can probably handle the packing with my aunt’s help.” What was I supposed to think??? I could barely afford the travel and it sounded like she was trying to be polite about my wish to come at a really terrible time. I’d invited myself after all. I wrote and told her it sounded like I’d be more of a burden than a help, but if she did really want me to come, to please tell me. She never answered. Now she says “When I needed you most, you weren’t there.”

      The fact is, I was her emotional caretaker our whole senior year. I thought I could go into it consciously and not get burned, I set very firm boundaries that I would always be there but would stay grounded and not let myself be manipulated. She really put me through a lot. Passive-aggression and all. Couldn’t get away from it b/c we were roommates too. But I thought I was doing something that would help her long-term & it was worth it. Later (after grad) she seemed more grounded and I thought we moved into more of a give-and-take friendship. Now I wonder if my mistake was in regarding my rescuer role as temporary. Maybe things would’ve worked out if she hadn’t married Emotional Abuse Man. But she did, sadly, and then when the crisis point came she thought I was going to rescue her again and I didn’t, and that’s what she remembers. I was supposed to show up and do my job no matter how little enthusiasm she showed.

      And the email’s full of mixed messages. She says “I know it’s not all about me” and “I know you’re busy now with your family” as if she wants something from me, but doesn’t ask for anything. She says how hard it is to be a single parent (I believe it) and how she still feels alone and unsupported. She says things about her counseling & growth and “evolved” friendship that suggest (I think) that she wants to be friends without leaning on me anymore (whether because she shouldn’t or because I let her down?), but I’m not sure I believe it in light of “I know you’re busy,” which a person just doesn’t say if they’re not asking for your time.

      I wrote back and mourned with her about how hard that time was for her, thanked her for being honest with me, and then told her exactly why I’d thought she didn’t want me to come visit and asked her to be straight with me about what she needed from me now. And talked specifics: options for more communication between us (since we’ve barely been in touch, guess I know why now), and a blunt offer of a visit if she wants it, and she better tell me she wants it this time goddammit (I didn’t say that last part.)

      Eh… could someone just remind me that I don’t deserve condemnation for not visiting her, even if that did cause her a lot of pain? I always struggle with guilt, over dozens of things, and it’s a good darn thing my baby’s not nursing at night anymore so I can finally take melatonin for my insomnia because this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that keeps me awake. And there are all these extra thoughts. When I said I wasn’t coming I said I should come later, and I never did that—why? I don’t quite remember, except that I was pregnant. But I could have gone in the next month or two (it wasn’t a hard pregnancy) & she wouldn’t have been packing & it would probably have fixed it for her. Maybe I didn’t go because she’d never said she wanted me there, not even “I’d love to have you but later.” But maybe I also didn’t want to spend the money. And then I told her I was sewing something for her kids (b/c I asked her for color suggestions) & never finished it, still haven’t finished it, I just couldn’t get going on it, it is a flaw of mine to say I’ll do something and not deliver. Argh.

      1. Eh. You told her to let you know if she really wanted you there after she came across as unenthusiastic. What else could you have done, and what difference does it make if you were happier not going anyway? You offered.

      2. You are not this woman’s therapist nor should you be her emotional caretaker. I’ll point out you didn’t go and the world didn’t end. She didn’t need you to ‘save’ her, and honestly if she’s trying to get you to play that role in her life then you should NOPE the fuck out of there.

        I mean I’m not even sure what she expected you to do. Wave a magic wand and make her marriage better? Haul boxes, something she could do herself and had help with? I get the feeling that what she wants is for you to feel guilty so she can use that guilt to manipulate you.

  26. Soooo I have actually been dumped by a friend at least partly because of something like this.

    [CN: Suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression, I’m not sure what else to add…)

    Among other things that caused a group of at least four people to get together and decide they would no longer speak to me essentially because my social justice tendancies were too loud for them and I wasn’t nice enough about it, one of them was who I considered my closest friend at the time, and a big reason on her part? She had an episode of suicidal thoughts, and when she told me, I said I couldn’t handle it and suggested a hotline or her therapist.

    So she stopped talking to me.

    Meanwhile, looking back, I was HUGELY depressed at that time, and frankly I’m shocked nobody noticed how bad I was because wow, that was not good. I also had actually attempted once years before that. I almost felt like asking, “Did you want tips?” (I didn’t, because that’d be too cruel.) I was supposed to play therapist, but she didn’t notice I had lost myself? That’s not really an equal friendship.

    [End CN I think.)

    *jazzy arm gestures* So on the plus side, in my experience, you’re probably off the hook once you do the thing.

    (Apologies for the rant… the negative side of these things is you’ll probably be pretty raw about it for a few years.)

    1. Wow, Barlow, jedi hugs. That sucks. I hope you’ve been able to assemble a good Team You.
      Sometimes people can’t see past your “role” as person-who-works-to-make-things-better, and they don’t realize that what they’re seeing are actually cracks of impending collapse.

      1. Thank you. Team Me has improved for sure, and most everything else has now.

        It’s been a few years so unless I get going like that, the most annoying thing is she stole a book from me.

  27. I cut off a Fred before it even got to this point, back in college. It was hard. I cried. I worried that my absence would kill my erstwhile friend…But it didn’t. He got help. Sometimes (maybe not always), this is what it takes.

    Good luck.

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