Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

"headmates" and problematic friends

Hey y’all,

So, this forum is pretty well-populated with people who are face-to-face with the realities of how debilitating mental illness can be. Most of the posts here are made by people who are overwhelmed by the needs and demands of caring for or supporting a person, as well as navigating the stigma around mental illness. I see a lot of posts about the stigma of mental illness, and I take a lot of comfort in them because sometimes it feels like I fight half the battle with my SZA spouse, and half with the misconceptions of other people about SZA.

But now I have a weird new problem. What do you do when you encounter someone who seems to want REALLY BADLY to be mentally ill, but isn’t? (not with schizophrenia, at least…)

Here’s the background: I have a friend who seems to WANT to be mentally ill, and I’m completely lost on what to do. We were friends in undergrad, and then were roommates in graduate school. We were both quirky and nerdy, and I loved her. I supported her as she started to get depressed and struggle through her grad program. Eventually, she dropped out of grad school as a direct result of her depression. She went to a psychologist, who said she had executive dysfunction disorder. At first, having a name for what was wrong seemed to help, but she slowly stopped taking care of her own responsibilities. I started “covering” her half of the rent more and more. I cleaned the apartment, did the dishes, cooked meals, etc. She insisted the disorder kept her from doing these things. Eventually, I drew a line and she moved out of the apartment and in to her parent’s basement. She never finished graduate school, and was unemployed for 3 years. Now she has a part time job.

We keep in touch, and she tells me about her latest diagnosis or development, and things keep shifting around. Most recently, she has apparently started something called “plurality processing.” This seems to involving having 6 “headmates” or alternate personalities, all with different names, genders, and habits. One “headmate” is apparently not a human, but a rabbit.

Y’all, if my SZA spouse starting talking about this kind of thing, we would be in the car on our way to the hospital. To me, that’s some MAJORLY symptomatic behavior. But when I reacted by being alarmed and concerned for her mental health, I am accused of being toxic, ableist, and unsupportive. When I try to find research on “plurality processing” and headmates, I come up with two things:

  • Dissociative Identity Disorder info pages,
  • and Tumblr websites talking about things like Otherkin.

What the heck? What do I do? I feel so topsy turvy. I want to help my friend-- I’ve known her for years, I love her, I want her to be well. I know that doesn’t have to look like what I think wellness looks like, and I want to support her.

BUT… I can’t shake the feeling that she is making some kind of game out of mental illness, and when I start to think about it that way, I get mad. Having a headmate or dissociating to process trauma is a different thing from having hallucinations and psychosis. Needing to self-care by doing laundry and showering is different from needing daily functional support.

What do I do? What is my responsibility as a friend to this person? What is my responsibility as an advocate for someone (my husband) with truly debilitating mental health needs? Where do I start? I’m so angry!

Disassociative Identity Disorder was written off by the APA for a long time. As I understand, it was recently recognized again.

It’s possible that she’s legitimately experiencing that. More likely that she is convinced that she is, I guess.
Either way, she has issues she is dealing with (poorly or well being up to perspective, I guess).

The real question is:
Are you being harmed by this type of relationship?
Even if just emotional/intellectual, a destructive person is just that.
Or
Do you have something good to offer and get something good in return?

Bonus wordplay fun:
In the Navy, a “headmate” is a person you share a bathroom (called a “head” universally in the Navy) but not a bedroom with. Some barracks rooms had a pair of rooms that shared one bathroom.

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hey, thanks for your reply!

I don’t know if I am being harmed by this relationship, thought I think I know what you mean.
It’s true that the easiest path to self-preservation is to cut this person out of my life. It would be pretty easy at this point, since we no longer live together, she is across the country now, and we have increasingly few things in common.
But also, she’s one of my oldest friends. She has helped me in the past when I’ve struggled to process the social stigma of mental illness.
It’s part of why it hurts so much now and it’s just so baffling when it’s thrown in my face that I am being “problematic” by being worried that she is expressing, essentially, multiple personalities.
But it doesn’t just make me worried, it makes me mad. Like, my husband can’t work when he’s paranoid. He can’t eat or drink, he sits in a dark room for hours. It’s palpable pain, like you’re in a hospital room with a sick person and you can’t help.
So hearing her talk with glee about her “adorable bunny persona” is very disturbing, to say the least.

p.s. i love the wordplay! i didn’t know that, thank you! were you in the Navy? :slight_smile:

Hi laughingsteps,

We all have to pick our battles, so to speak. If you are not convinced that your friend is truly ill, you might need to distance yourself from her or keep your conversations light. If you decide she is ill and can accept that her illness is unlike your husband’s and needs to be considered from a different angle, then you are looking at educating yourself more and putting energy into finding how to best support and help her as well. In my life, advocating for my husband takes up enough time and energy that I would not want to invest in helping another person aside from staying in touch and providing basic friendship and advocating for them when I could.

My family member who I live with and the majority of my close friends all believe my husband is not actually mentally ill, despite his official diagnoses from multiple hospitals and doctors. They think he is a manipulative jerk who has verbally abused me for years and only wants to be around me because I can give him money (which, at my income level, is a pitifully small amount) when he needs it. My family member, a very kind and empathetic person, wants nothing to do with my husband, not even to see him ever again. That was their choice in deciding how to deal with all the trauma my husband caused in our lives.

Perhaps you could ask your friend to provide more information about her disorder? Or ask her what her future plans are to get an idea of what kind of help she might need? Then you might get a better feeling for whether or not she is exaggerating.

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This is a super kind and thoughtful approach.
I guess I was just caught sideways, a little bit. My friend and I used to discuss the difficulties of mental illness stigma & social identity, and so it’s caught me by surprise that she is engaging in behavior that I feel is exactly the kind of thing that makes it harder for people like my husband to seek treatment and be taken seriously. It’s hurt me. but I am making the mistake of letting my hurt feelings come before my friend’s voice.
Thanks for your kind words and your suggestions! I’m going to try to communicate more evenly with her, and see if I can be more understanding. I don’t want to lose a friend. I don’t have that many to lose! :sweat_smile::laughing:

Small Update:

I’ve picked at this mental scab a bit more and realized where some of my hurt feelings are coming from.
For most of our friendship, my friend was/is a staunch atheist. I am not an atheist, and was open about struggling with questions of God and suffering. There were times when having a ‘rational’ perspective was really helpful, and we had some really good formative conversations about religion and God.

But…she also sometimes made a point of being derisive regarding religion, making “jokes” about my “imaginary friend,” “Jesus was a zombie,” and that prayer was just “talking to my imaginary friends,” etc.

So the assertion that she is unironically “plurality processing” is bothering me.

As someone with sza I would take her issue seriously and not doubt how she describes it. There was a guy on the sz forum that had SZ and DID. If she is having conversations with these personalities then it is what it is. There’s no medication that works for DID as far as I know.

Ah, but she probably still thinks your “imaginary friend” is imaginary, while her “imaginary friend” is real.

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My daughter has imaginary friends from a place she calls her mind palace… they are mostly humanoid creatures who also have either a dragon or wolf form. One of them is a cat that has an alternate human form. She does recognize them as imaginary… and she writes stories about them. She would have conversations with them in her mind… she described it to me as a vivid daydream. There seemed to be a thin line if this is part of her Illness or just her creative mind as a writer at work… maybe a little bit of both?

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Have to say I love the term " head mates". I have never heard this term before but that is a good description. My son has headmates, his girlfriend. :heart_eyes:

The problem is, I have tried to take her seriously. I’m not trying to tell her she’s lying or that I don’t believe her. But when I suggest that her descriptions sound like psychosis or symptoms of illness, she accuses me of “not taking her identity seriously.”

Psychosis is not a state of mind, it is the mind. Who she is is who she is, psychosis is just a label. Until she gets medication to take that away it is not a temporary state

@Moonwalker
I get that. And I’m not trying to argue with her reality. She doesn’t want medication. She, in her own words, is intentionally creating “personas.” She says the alternative person is healthy for her to do.

I’m frustrated because she is insisting that this is “the way she is” and I’m “being pluraphobic and hating against mentally plural people.” (her words)

I don’t know how to deal with this. I’m frustrated because she’s either not getting the help she needs, or she’s making it harder for seriously MI people to get the help they need.

This seems to fall into the realm of the sick personal not wanting to get better. It seems more common than I thought before. Some people revel in their psychosis. It gives them meaning… I don’t understand it

That’s a good way to put it. So what is my responsibility, as a person who wants to be a good friend? What are my options? I really, truly want to help my friend… be happy? healthy? I’m not sure. Usually those things overlap more.

When my husband’s psychosis is telling him things like he needs to hang himself, there’s a pretty clear direction for me to go as far as supporting him. When my friend is telling me that I need to call her “Bunny” because her rabbit personality is “fronting” now, or that her “Stormcloud” personality made that mistake, not her, I’m a lot more unsure of what to do.

I have to say here that I don’t know. DID is not sz. Rationalization doesn’t always work. Be her friend I guess. Don’t try to save her. Encourage her to see a dr and get medication if she can

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That sounds really complicated.
I don’t think I would personally have the patience to be friends with someone who changes their name frequently and insists that their actions are not their own responsibility.
Honestly, those are some of the fundamental red flags I look out for.

I couldn’t begin to imagine how difficult that kind of interaction would be, let alone how to try to handle it as a fair and rational adult.

I’m not say it’s what you should do, but I’d personally bail with some final words like, “I don’t know how to talk to you and a lot of the things you do really confuse me.”

If you choose to stay in touch / close, I guess all you can do is try to be the kind of friend they want you to be.

Hey, I know this was posted a while ago but I just want to give my two-cents as someone who has the same issue as your friend and sees a therapist for it. She probably isn’t faking it. I personally wouldn’t want to give up my headmates for the world, since they’re a coping mechanism for symptoms that would otherwise take over my life, but with them here I can actually function.

There are also people with diagnosed DID who don’t want to integrate, but instead want to learn to function as separate parts-- integration doesn’t work for all systems, since it can produce further issues for some people (like headmates making their existence a secret to avoid perceived death, which makes it suddenly harder to keep track of what happens when they’re fronting).

However, if your friend is trying to blame issues on headmates, that can be a red flag for other toxicity. If someone in a system makes a mistake, it’s everyone in the system’s responsibility.

I wish you and your friend luck.

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Hey, your comment was SO HELPFUL!!
It helped me pinpoint what was really bothering me about my friend’s behavior-- often their headmates seem to exist to take blame for bad behavior. Most of their headmates seem to exist for deflection, especially for major choices that have impacted other people (sexual and financial)
We actually ended up having a really intense, but good, conversation this past weekend.

I don’t take issue with headmates. I don’t beleive that my friend is “faking it”-- I know they need help for several different issues But the blame-shifting is something I can’t deal with. They lost their job, and
Thank you, your comment was really really helpful. <3