Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Kindness of Virtual Strangers

At a chat board I frequent, there is a poster who has clearly been struggling with severe depression for most of his life. In recent weeks, his posts have become more and more desperate, and more than once he has posted "goodbye" messages, only to be talked down off the ledge by the group.

A few weeks ago, after several days of silence, a newcomer joined the board to inform us that out of the blue he had received an email from this person, who was an old friend, and that the depressed poster had indeed made a serious attempt on his life and was currently hospitalized. There was an outpouring of support from the chat board community, lots of messages of courage and hope that our friend would now receive the treatment that he clearly needs.

Silence followed. Then, two days ago, the newcomer came back to inform us that in fact the suicide attempt had been successful -- that our virtual friend was gone. As you'd expect, there was an outpouring of sorrow, messages of grief, and fervent pleas that the newcomer express our condolences to the family.

To the shock of most, last night our depressed friend came back and posted that there had been a mistake in communication. That he's still with us, though he had made an attempt on his life. However, it quickly became clear that he had masqueraded as a newcomer and posted the misinformation himself, in a misguided attempt to "see what it would be like" if he died. He finally confessed the deception in a post full of self-loathing and -recrimination.

Many of the members of our chat community are quite upset, feeling manipulated and gulled, and perhaps understandably so. Myself, I cannot bring myself to feel anything but compassion for this poor young man, who is obviously so deeply troubled. So what if his illness and lies have lead to my having "wasted" my time and kindness responding to a sham? I can think of no better use for my compassion and kindness. I do not grudge him even one little bit of my time, thoughts, hopes, words, or worry. I cannot conceive of reacting with anger to a person who is clearly in excruciating pain. I hope it will always be thus.


Anonymous said...

You are kindness itself, Ruth.

As you know, I visit the same chat board, and I suspected that much of what was posted was fabricated. I was pretty sure, as well, that the "friend" who posted about the hospitalization and subsequent death was the original poster.

While I'm more cynical than you, as well as a good deal older, I hope the young man gets the help he needs. I feel a great deal of sympathy for him and for his family, but I must confess that I wasn't terribly worried, either. I think it's likely that he'll be all right, or so I hope.


Adorable Girlfriend said...

It's really sad that he did that. It's a real cry for help and I hope that he gets the help he needs. As a community, you will all need to figure out how to group process and go forward.

I have faith in you based upon how sweet and kind you are, that there will be a way.

Best of luck. This does not sound easy.

Domestic Goddess said...

Golly Ned!
I also frequent some chat boards and am surprised (pleasantly so) when folks have difficult circumstances and strangers reach out to help them. I've had an anonymous person read my blog and send me music for Bugaboo, just because he knew it would help. People don't HAVE to do this sort of thing, they just do. Kinda makes me want to know them in real life, too! Of course, there are some REAL IDIOTS on the internets, too.
Wow. Sad, sad story. Hope that young person gets some help and realizes that no matter the circumstances, life is indeed worth living to the fullest whist we have the privilege to do so!

Anonymous said...

Your post is lovely.
As someone who visits the other board, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I found this whole episode heartbreaking. No matter what the outcome was (this time), or his means to get there, he obviously needs a great deal of help and attention.


Anonymous said...

I whole-heartedly support your kindness and compassion, but be careful. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is not respond at all. In situations like this one, sympathy and support wind up simply feeding the pathology.


RuthWells said...

CM, I don't disagree with you. I just can't find it in me to feel angry or duped.

Anonymous said...

I think I need to make myself clearer. Don't feel angry or duped. Feel pride in your compassion. I only meant that feeling compassion and showing it by offering support are two different things, and that for certain types of mental illness, like in this case, actually showing that support can do more harm than good. Clear as mud?