That woman who faked cancer at Truman State a few years ago got probation. It was a big deal in St. Louis because Truman is an in-state university where smart kids (including Graham!) go, and because of its academic reputation, it was shocking that someone there – who was a grad student in education, no less – had faked having cancer for months, and to the extent that she accepted donations from faculty and fellow students and shaved her head. It was debated on whether she should get jail time or not, and while that certainly seems fitting for someone who would prey on others’ sympathies, I don’t think incarceration was an ideal punishment. For one, it’s not illegal to pretend to be sick (forgery is illegal though, which is why she got in legal trouble). For two, as long as restitution is made to anyone who donated money or gifts (a requirement of the probation), then the debt has been cleared. I think possibly some psychological counseling is in order, which, yes, please, this woman is obviously insane.
Although not, like, clinically insane. There’s a difference between clinically insane (like schizophrenia) and just regular insane (like you don’t understand or care that your actions have consequences and to you, the attention you get from having fake cancer is totally worth the risk of being caught). Regular insane is a lot more common than some people might think. Or maybe they do think it, but they refer to the insane people as loving drama, or starting shit, or whatever, but the fact of the matter is that when your brain is unable to distinguish between good attention and bad attention, or when you either don’t stop to think about what you’re doing and that the thing doesn’t stop with the action itself, hey, congratulations, you’re kind of insane.
In my experience, this kind of insane person isn’t satisfied with being insane in their own life. Usually they let their insanity bleed into other people’s lives, as well, and not just by making them feel sorry for their fake terminal illness.
One of my former friends was (is) what I call a psychic vampire. Not only did I always leave this person’s presence feeling mentally drained, but what I eventually realized was that they weren’t present at the worst times in my life because they cared or wanted to lighten the burden. Instead, they were there because they wanted to be involved in the misery. Because to them, being involved in the misery was the same thing as being involved in joy, which, when you think about it, is the same as not knowing the difference between good attention and bad attention. In this person’s mind, getting someone to notice you for doing something great and interesting was the exact same as getting them to notice you by, say, throwing a tantrum or faking a pregnancy.
And the thing was, this person wasn’t very present during times of joy. They weren’t interested in sharing the moment if it didn’t directly involve them, and because it was harder to involve themselves in a terrific event than it was in a terrible event. A terrific event was terrific no matter what. A terrible event could always use more drama and yelling, and oh, the stories you could tell about your involvement in it later on. The mindset here (I think) is that this person’s interest in an event (or me) waxed and waned depending on how much any particular situation could be made about them. This person was always making situations about them. I could momentarily complain about Graham leaving his shoes under the coffee table or something, and they’d turn around to someone and use that as an example of me hating my boyfriend (untrue) just like she hated hers (and why do we have to be in that boat together?). I got so frustrated at times because I couldn’t just talk to this person without the conversation devolving into a one-sided competition about making any situation as immature, ridiculous, or severe as possible. And this person was nowhere to be found (or, if they were somewhere to be found, they were antagonistic) for good news, almost as if they were accusing me of using my good fortune to undermine their relationship with me.
There’s this famous incident between Marc Maron and Louis C.K., who were supposedly great friends at one point who then became estranged when Louis C.K. got a bit more successful, plus adult personal stuff like divorce, aging, and alcoholism. It’s more involved than I’m saying, but at one point, Louis C.K. went on the WTF podcast and hashed it out with Maron, once saying something like (and I’m paraphrasing) “if you don’t support my success, if my success makes you feel insufficient or resentful, then fuck you. You’re not a good friend to me.”
It took me a long time to recognize the patterns in this person’s behavior. It took me far less time to terminate the friendship, though, and once this happened, several other people came to me with similar stories about the same person. Which was validating on one hand, but upsetting on the other. Sure, I estranged myself from this person, but there will always be others for them to drain, and most disturbing, it’s in their nature to do this.
This is why I cannot stress enough how pleased I am that all of the people I currently call friends are able to enrich my life in some way. Every day, I’m compelled to send these people messages like “I like you because you are funny” or “you’re super fucking interesting” or “I’m glad you are so kind.”
I only follow through with this sometimes and with some people, as the rest would likely reply with “you’re an idiot” and they would be partially correct.