Tough decisions

***Trigger warning*** mentions suicide

We often see the headline statements that advise you to eliminate toxic people from your life. At first sight, this seems like good advice – make a clean quick break. In real life, it isn’t that simple. The lines are blurred.

Some six months ago I had a friend request on Facebook from a person I vaguely remembered from that different life I had before the stroke. The name rang a bell, so I accepted.

They messaged me. It became apparent that they were unwell, physically, and possibly mentally as a result of the stress of their physical illness. I responded to messages positively and tried to be supportive. They started to call me. I requested them not to call me but assured them I would answer messages any time. Calls I found difficult to manage, given my own problems.

They had many friends on Facebook who always seemed to respond with encouragement. A while ago, they were taking a really positive step forward and everyone wished them well. The next day it hadn’t gone as they had planned, and people, including me, were still supportive and giving advice.

That night, my phone rang. It was late. I knew who it was. I didn’t answer it.

The next day there was a post on Facebook saying goodbye. Followed by a message from a relative saying that they were turning the machines off later that day. It was clearly written by someone distressed and angry, accusing people of saying vile things.

Later came a further post saying they had gone.

I was devastated. If I had answered that call, could I have made a difference? The guilt I felt overwhelmed me.

Then I found it was all lies. They were alive and well. They had made all the posts themselves, even pretending to be their relative.

I have tried to understand. I have tried to empathise with someone in such need that they fake their own suicide, tried to fathom what they were seeking by doing this. I am at a loss. I have had too much of death in recent years to treat it lightly.

You may think badly of me for not answering that call. I would not blame you. I think badly of myself, even given the lies. Is that the person I am now, who would ignore someone in their need? Someone who puts their own needs before that of others.

I thought long and hard about this. Looking back to my opening statement about toxic people, should I remove them from my life?  Putting aside for a moment my own needs in this, what can I give to this relationship? I am not a professional. It looks like they need a very different level of support to anything I can offer. A few posts on Facebook and a few words of support will not suffice a person with this level of distress. I know they have people who know them in real life, know their family. That is where the real support lies.

I waited to see what response, if any, they would make to this episode. And there was the message – if you don’t like it, scroll on by.

My family saw the impact the chilling drama had on me. They advised me to disengage. I appreciate and respect their concern. I have removed contact with this person. It has left me a wiser but sadder person.

Portland Jones Disability Liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands