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!