Forced Roles

So, amusingly enough, the day after a 111 responder sent an ambulance to my house against my express wishes, Samaritans Radar was launched.

For those who’ve missed it, Samaritans Radar is an app for Twitter which sends the user alerts every time the people that they follow tweet certain keywords and phrases. Those keywords include words and phrases about depression, suicide, loneliness, pain, self-harm and associated things, which are often just normal bits of a mentally or physically ill person’s vocabulary. There’s a lot of good blog posts on this that’ve already been written, starting with Latentexistence’s, which also links to a lot of them. They cover the technology involved, possible abuses, and the possibility of falling foul of the DPA. So I’m not going to cover that.

I, and a lot of my friends, will talk about these things openly even (especially?) when we’re not in crisis, because doing so is both helpful to us as individuals, and can help others who are struggling. There’s nothing more reassuring than seeing someone saying, in a calm voice “This is how my depression affects me” and having what they say be similar to, or comparable to, your own. Knowing that everyone that follows me will get an alert every time I decide to talk about (for example) self harm and coping strategies, or how to differentiate between intrusive thoughts of suicide, and planning suicide, is just going to make me less likely to talk about mental illness in a “how to cope” sense, and to make me less likely to use twitter to talk to people when I am in crisis.

But wait! You say; Surely, Pidge, when you tweet that you’re in crisis, it’s because you want your friends to respond?

This post here seems like a bit of a tangent, but go and read it anyway. Come back once you’re done. I want to talk about shoelace-tiers.

If I tweet at 4am, and one of my friends is online, and can help me, they’ll respond, and we’ll talk. If I desperately want to talk to an individual friend – if it’s so dire that I need a response immediately, and just having shouted into the void won’t make it better – I’ll phone them. Or the local mental health services. Or, indeed, the Samaritans. A spontaneous response from a friend who’s awake, saying “Hey, want to talk?” is nice.

A friend who’s asleep getting an email, which sets off an alert on their phone and wakes them up, coming online specifically to offer spontaneous-seeming comfort, who doesn’t have to tell you that they’ve got an automatic system to detect your crises, and thus can just “spontaneously” be always there at the right time… No, that’s creepy.

It’s one thing to be the friend that’s always there for someone, or to have that friend who’s alway there for you. But having a friend who engineers to be always present for your worst moments, when they’re not always around for the good times, is disturbing.

It’s the first step, I’ve found, in what I’m going to describe as role-forcing, a more universal way of saying shoelace-tying.

Let me describe, exactly, why I use the word shoelace tying.

A few years ago, I was having an episode of serious back pain, and I needed to have someone else do my shoes for me. I didn’t see this as being particularly sinister – It was just doing the laces on my trainers – and I’d made clear that I was very thankful for the person doing the tying. The woman doing the tying was someone who I’d been interested in being in a relationship with, and who was interested in BDSM. I’d made clear that I was into physical sensations, but that power exchange scared me on a visceral level. I didn’t mind that she enjoyed it, but she’d have to seek it with people who weren’t me.

She tied my shoes, several times, and she turned it into a power exchange. Lots of big soppy eyes, exaggerated care, explicitly making it be about her submitting to me. I had no choice but to let her do it, because I needed my shoes tied, and I had nobody else to do it because I was fairly isolated at the time. She forced me into a role which I didn’t want to be in.

Not long after that, when I was housebound for the first time – A combination of mental and physical issues – and I was befriended by a young man who helped out a lot. I would genuinely have been stuck without his help, but somehow, he managed to always be there when I had problems. He brought me food, and cleaned the house top to bottom – And thus I always had to ask him where my things were within the house, and came to rely on him to feed me, and to be my confidante. And he did, admirably. Until all that I talked about were my old war stories, from before I was crippled, and my worries for the future and the likelihood of my death by my own hand. And that’s what he pushed me towards, because it was dramatic, and it was how the narrative would have gone if it was all in his favour. Shoelace tier, forcing the role of “Broken superhuman” (Literally, his words!) from which the only logical conclusion was early death. It was only later on, after he’d moved away, and I’d grown enough sense of my own self to tell him to fuck off for good, that I noticed that all of his friends were amazing superhuman legends who’d just happened to have a terrible accident or tragedy in their past which made them soft and malleable and dependent on him.

Role forcing. The long term moulding of someone into a social role, usually along with isolation, or at least enough isolation that the disabled person continues to reinforce the role when they’re talking to other people (Example – The shoelace-tier responds well when the victim is passive and tactile. The victim is passive and tactile with others. Others assume that this is how the victim socialises with others, and treat them as such) Usually, it’s infantilisation – The disabled adult, treated as a child by either their own parents or a friend. Sometimes, it’s forcing a master role onto them (The shoelace-tier wants to serve, and thus treats the victim like a lord, making them into an isolated pharoah with no will of their own). Sometimes, it’s a patient, and sometimes it’s even that of an abuser – The shoelace-tier makes it appear that their victim is overly demanding of them, and gains sympathy from others for “Being the only one who can stand to be around [victim]” tus isolating the victim ever further. It’s not good, and it’s something that happens more often than anyone wants to admit – As a victim of it in the past, I don’t want to say “I’ve been manipulated like this”, and I can’t imagine that any abuser would ever say “I deliberately isolated someone and moulded their personality into what I wanted it to be”.

To other victims, I just want to say – It doesn’t make you weak, it just means that you’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Anyway, what does this have to do with Samaritans Radar?

Frankly, that’s how it starts. That one friend who’s always there when you need them? The one that does all your errands, that takes you to everything that you want to go to? The one who you automatically ring when things have gone wrong – But who isn’t the one that you think of when things are going right; Where they not only never celebrate your successes (Unless it’s a success like “I’ve got my surgery date!” or “I’m no longer under the care of the CMHT!”) but are never around for just pleasant chats by the fireside or quiet evenings down the pub. Or any quiet fireside chat with them turns into a tear-streaked baring of the soul. The one who feeds on your grief. Imagine if they had social license to do that openly? To follow your lows with an obsessive closeness that they don’t apply to your highs? To “just happen” to turn up at your house the morning after a messy night, and offer a shoulder to cry on and an alternative to going out and seeing your other friends… Those friends who just don’t understand like they do?

I don’t believe that these people are so rare that Samaritans Radar doesn’t have to be worried about them. I don’t believe that anyone dealing with a lot of mentally ill people could be naive as to their existence.


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