Re: Ask The Mineshaft, Special Weekend Edition


Lurky has said that he won't be participating, but will read the thread. So this is all the information we're getting.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 2:33 PM
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I've been to training sessions on this sort of thing, and my understanding is that (1) you really can't ask her if she's crazy, even if your intent is to tell her that you don't mind her craziness and she doesn't need to lie about what's wrong with her on her bad days--after all, it's really not your business; (2) you *can* address specific performance issues. E.g., if she's been calling in sick too much, you can have a talk with her and say that she's been calling in sick often enough that it's becoming an issue, but that she's a good employee and if there's some "underlying problem" you'd be happy to try to make accomodations if you can.

That's if you have actual power over her job, of course. If you don't, and the issue is just that she's weird and you don't like the feeling that she's lying to you, in a way you have fewer options and in a way you have more. (This is just me thinking as me, and not from the workshops on disability stuff I've sat in on.) Fewer in the sense that it's not up to you to accomodate, and it's not your business, blah blah, so you should just not bother worrying about her stories. More in the sense that you might could take her to lunch, make it clear that you have no power over her job and are merely asking because you like her, but like is there something she's not telling you...?

As a crazy person myself, here's my take on it. If you and she get along, and she trusts you, and she's assured that you won't try to get her canned or gossip about her, then yeah, it might be a relief to be able to just tell you what's up. Personally I feel better about being able to tell people I'm depressive if they themselves open up first about being nutso or knowing that there are other nutso people on the job (not naming names). Not having to lie is way better than lying to cover up mental illness, which causes a lot of stress and just makes the crazy worse.

OTOH, if--as sounds possible--her mental illness *is* why she lies (i.e., lying isn't a cover, but itself a part of the problem), my totally lay opinion is that since you're not a therapist, you really don't want to get involved in pointing out that she's lying. It might be good for her, but it might also be bad, and you don't want to run the risk of getting drawn into some weird codependency thing where you're trying to second-guess what's true and what's not.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 2:56 PM
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My wife was the night/weekend supervisor for a med school library in the early '80s, and had a part-time shelver/assistant who evidenced much the same set of symptoms (for lack of a better word), although she wasn't very good at doing her job, either. The stories became more and more obviously ungrounded in reality over time, and the situation went completely south when the employee called in to say she had been abducted by several men who drove her in her car to a location where she was repeatedly raped, then released.

Cops were called, and an investigation was launched, and none of it was true. At least, in this world. In her mind, it all happened. She was let go shortly after that, for excess absenteeism. Even before these events, my wife had been annoyed enough by the employee's general behavior pattern that she made her a character in a story she wrote, and killed said employee off most gruesomely.

So I'd say try and keep an eye (ear) on the storylines, and note any movement into darker or more disturbing tales. Taking notes is not a bad idea at all; just keep them where no one else can find them (off site would be best). Documentation is a good thing.

And what B. said.

Posted by: Dr Paisley | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:00 PM
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OTOH, if--as sounds possible--her mental illness *is* why she lies (i.e., lying isn't a cover, but itself a part of the problem), my totally lay opinion is that since you're not a therapist, you really don't want to get involved in pointing out that she's lying.

This would be my guess; that the lying isn't a cover for the crazy, it's a symptom of the crazy.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:03 PM
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Craaaazy. Seriously, I worked with a dude like this. One nutty story after another. Just play along. Confrontation doesn't change crazy people, and eventually she's going to crazy her way into getting canned. If she goes postal, you don't want to be one of the ones on her shit list.

Things I learned from working with crazy dude at my last job, don't let crazy people borrow anything, especially a car. A girl in accounting at my last job learned this the hard way. She was selling her Jeep, let him borrow it for a day to test drive, and he faked a carjacking. It was great. Had a story about getting carjacked at gunpoint by Samoans and shit. The cops found the car abandoned and stripped, on blocks. Everything stolen, including his company laptop. Crazy dude made the mistake of telling the girl he felt guilty that the car was stolen while in his possession, and said he'd get some replacement wheels so she could at least drive it around. The "replacements" he shows up with? The original wheels. Bad move crazy dude. The girl of course recognizes them and alerts the cops. A search warrant reveals weird things like how those wily Samoans stashed the stolen company laptop in crazy dude's mom's storage unit. A conviction for felony insurance fraud follows. Bonus, he's over 30, the idiot 19 year old co worker he's banging believes him that it's all a misunderstanding, and quits to follow him to another state after he gets out of prison. Last I heard, they had three kids and she works to support them as he has trouble getting a job because of the felony conviction.

Oh, and beware the siblings. A friend of mine at my current job dated crazy dude's sister after all this went down. He came to regret not heeding my warnings about the crazy streak in that family.

Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:07 PM
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On a second read, I think it needs to be said more clearly that yeah, if she's doing her job, then, well, the rest of it's not your business.

I say that b/c it sounds like the primary issue here is that you feel you're being lied to, and you don't like that; but if the lying itself is the crazy, then attributing intentionality to her lies is a mistake. She's not lying to cover or to fool you; she's just lying because she's crazy. And the "right" thing to do, morally speaking, is to try not to be annoyed by the craziness, since she can't help it, any more than you'd be annoyed by someone who, say, had to pee every half hour because they had bladder cancer or whatever.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:08 PM
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Yeah. I had a roommate in Samoa who I've complained about before who sounds similar to this woman (I hate to keep on saying crazy, but I couldn't guess the actual diagnosis and I mean appeared to be genuinely mentally ill). And she was hideous to live with, but you really couldn't hold it against her; the nutty stories, several hour monologs and 4am typing weren't meant aggressively, she just couldn't do anything about it.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:13 PM
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Right, and if the person's just a thieving asshole or whatever, you *really* want to just steer clear and stay neutral.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:14 PM
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Yeah. If the stories get antisocial, as suggested in 3 and 5 (and as happened with my roommate), you're going to want to have been neutral, and to be careful to remain neutral throughout.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:20 PM
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I'd let the crazy stories slide if that's all it was. On the other hand, something seems to be affecting her work, and it seems very possible that she's in serious trouble and needs help.

The things you'd do from a work perspective are different than the things you'd do from a personal perspective (with a neighbor, acquaintance, or friend). at work, on the one hand, there are workplace protections for the disabled, including the mentally ill. On the other, her main function in your life is to get work done for you (just as your function at work is to get work done.) The human response and the professional response might diverge pretty far.

Just as with healthcare, I think that it's the wrong way to go to mandate that employers help the disabled instead of the state doing it. I've been in several situations where disabled employees simply weren't able to do their jobs, and that can be an enormous burden on a lot of people. Several people were supervised by a woman with a bipolar disorder, for example. In another case an employee was secretly playing malicious pranks on coworkers, and in one case was caught sabotaging the work (which did get him fired).

Mental illness is a real problem for theories of freedom. The fact that the mentally ill are not capable of intentionality might mean that they are not culpable, but people whose intentionality is doubtful are scarcely able to function successfully as individuals in any way. It also makes it hard to talk about a mentally ill persons rights and freedom if their judgment is so impaired as to make them self-destructive or harmful to others.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:26 PM
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Since it's a professional environment, I would keep everything professional. If she's telling tall tales but otherwise doing her job competently, I'd just look the other way and take her stories about herself with a grain of salt. It's HR's job to deal with the absences.

The lying is odd, but it sounds like the lies are all about her background and to make herself sound better. Maybe it's easier for her to say "I've been injured" than it is for her to say "I'm receiving mental health treatment." Maybe she lies about her past because she had an abusive relationship and it's easier to say she was a bartender than relive those years. Maybe she's nuts. Doesn't really matter. The only problem professionally from what's been said is the absences, and you can deal with that without calling her out on the lies.

Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 3:45 PM
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This reminds me a lot of someone I used to know. This person was a good friend at some point, but the lying eventually made our relationship impossible. He would keep coming to me asking for help, but the reasons he would give for needing help were always bogus. And every time I confronted him about this he would either get very defensive and aggressive or he would make up some other, even more bogus story. Eventually I just stopped taking his calls.

I still feel guilty about that tough. I think it is entirely possible that he did have problems and that he did need help. And I suspect there was some sort of underlying mental illness. But I just didn't know what to do anymore.

Posted by: NotHere | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:02 PM
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I am a paranoid schizophrenic, which I suppose either makes me an expert on this topic or totally useless. Here's what my own experiences, and observing other mentally ill people, suggests to me: if this secretary had a serious mental illness which was treated with serious (non-antidepressant) medication, it would be totally evident in their evinced mood and ability to function socially. You just wouldn't be giving them big ups for a cheerful demeanor and slick execution on tasks. I think we're talking personality disorder, tops, which means this person is crazy like that "crazy bitch" who cheated on you with rodeo clowns, i.e. you really have no meaningful purchase as exemplar of rationality -- just the obvious, ordinary recourse concerning deprecated behavior at work.

(As for the mentally ill not having intentionality, I am having a thought about this terminal, that its screen resolution is very good, and planning to travel home by light rail, because it is desirable that I travel home quickly yet cheaply: so I think I have *intentionality* in sense that Husserl or John Searle use the term, and form *intentions* which would be at least partially recognizable to Elizabeth Anscombe or Donald Davidson. "Impairment of judgment" is a much higher-level concept, one which also contains a not inconsiderable inmixture of cases in which the "rational" interpreter is factually wrong, or guesses incorrectly.)

Posted by: Heinz Ampules | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:10 PM
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"Not having intentionality" is too strong. But one of the things about mental illness is that in some respects the mentally ill can't be blamed for things you would blame others for. This is also true for people with seizure disorders or things like incontinence, but it seems to be at a deeper level.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:16 PM
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13: Seriously, thanks for saying something. I really, really, don't know what I'm talking about, (not a psychiatrist or anything else applicable) but the roommate I was talking about appeared to be, among other things, sincerely delusional -- she would take action on the basis of things about the the world that just weren't true. But she did seem to function all right, although a little oddly, as a teacher.

Does this sound unbelievably unlikely to you? I mean, she was obviously bizarre on even a fairly short acquaintance (it'd take about an hour for people to figure out something was really odd about her), but she was mostly cheerful and clearly intending to be pleasant.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:18 PM
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"Not having intentionality" is too strong.

Isn't that like troll rule #4?

one of the things about mental illness is that in some respects the mentally ill can't be blamed for things you would blame others for.

Eh. I don't know if people can or should be blamed or not. I think that's the wrong issue. It's more about what you yourself are or are not willing to put up with, which when you come right down to it doesn't depend on whether the other person's insane or not.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:24 PM
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I don't know -- what's the line? Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked? My roommate was absolutely annoying to live with, but I tolerated much more from her than I would have from someone who I thought was okay, just a jerk, and I feel kind of bad about not having been more tolerant than I was. It seemed very clear that her wishes were to be kind and to treat people well, and she just couldn't function normally to do that. So, living with her was ghastly, but differently so than from someone I would have blamed for their conduct.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:32 PM
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It's more about what you yourself are or are not willing to put up with, which when you come right down to it doesn't depend on whether the other person's insane or not.

Exactly right. Also, remember that unless you're a psychiatrist, you're really not qualified to judge what is a mental illness. That doesn't mean you can't be concerned, but that after a while it turns into a game of antisocial = Asperger's, tall tale = schizophrenic, and headache = multiple sclerosis.

Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:35 PM
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This reminds me of a former roommate of mine, who I agreed to share an apartment with before learning he was a pathological liar.

First semester of our sophomore year of college, he cashed the check his father sent for tuition, blew it, and so wasn't allowed to register for classes second semester. What does he do? He pretends to go to classes for most of the semester - leaving the apartment at appropriate times, discussing what the classwork he was doing, etc.

It was awful. I was served with eviction papers because he didn't pay his half of the rent, the phone got cut off because he intercepted and hid the phone bill, and I had to deal with nasty calls from people to whom he had written bad checks. I did have the good sense not to let him borrow my car.

About a year ago he was working for a caterer, which was handling an event where I was present. He hadn't changed a bit. He was still telling huge lies about how his father was a retired high-ranking intelligence officer. We both pretended not to recognize one another. Afterwards I explained to my co-workers, who had listened intently to his ridiculous tales, that they had been completely fabricated.

I suppose I should feel sorry for the pathetic bastard, but the only thing I can feel in retrospect is utter contempt.

Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:37 PM
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B., there are things people do which are totally unacceptable if normal people do them. If a mentally ill person does them, on the one hand you are more indulgent out of mercy, and on the other hand you realize it doesn't mean what it would if a healthy person did it.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:38 PM
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I'm not really bothered that she thinks I'm dumb enough to believe this stuff, since she seems to think highly of me otherwise

Lurky, This is about you, not her. Leave her alone.

Posted by: froz gobo | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:39 PM
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Yeah. Cala's right about not being competent to judge generally, but where you can, I agree with Emerson. (I may have been wrong about my roommate, but I was completely convinced that she was mentally ill in a manner entirely different from anyone else I had ever met and lightly thought of as nutty.)

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:41 PM
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Of course there are things you put up with from sick people that you wouldn't put up with from others. E.g., if someone has ibs and accidentally shits on your carpet, you're going to react differently than if someone does it on purpose. But regardless, the whole "blame" vs. "not their fault" thing is grossly, grossly overrated. And being second-guessed sucks, even for crazy people.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:51 PM
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Don't get your point, B. There are some things I just plain won't put up with from healthy people which I will from mentally ill people. At the same time, my tolerance also usually involves distancing.

And the illness of not controlling your body is different and less bothersome than mental illness. In the former case, certain specific actions are unpredictable and not intentional, whereas with mental illness, lots of behavior is very hard to interpret.

I have known three extremely talented schizophrenics. One I tried to give support to over a period of years, but it was too hard in the long run. She remains the most talented person I've ever known, and had many fine qualities besides talent. But she made extraordinary demands on her friends.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 4:59 PM
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My point is pretty much the same as what you're saying: like you, I tolerate by distancing most of the time, and I think it's hard to interpret the behavior of people who are crazy. What I'm saying is that this holds true, I think, for the non-crazy as well: if people act in ways that annoy me, I tend to withdraw a bit, and even if I interpret someone as being an asshole, what difference does that make to anyone but me?

Now with people who you're very close to--partners, kids, etc.--who are mentally ill, this stuff is different, sure. But I think in the general run of things, at work or with acquaintances, it doesn't much matter if someone's depressed or just a jerk--you do what you can, and you don't do what you can't.

Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 5:03 PM
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15: Well, you do know what you're talking about: how someone appears to "reasonable people" (i.e., you-qua-burgher and a large sample of other similar folks) is really the determining standard for what counts as crazy. It's possible that scientists might be able to find a reliable neurological underpinning for someone's seeming crazy in a particular way, but they would still "seem crazy": we know why things appear red, but we still discriminate objects by color-not-wavelength.

I would say (again experience not science) that there is a whole spectrum of people who have less severe, but real, thought problems, like your friend. It seems that these people who function better are paradoxically more likely to have an "organic" problem, i.e. a tumor or disease affecting their otherwise-normal brain, so it's worth considering their behavior carefully.

Posted by: Heinz Ampules | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 5:03 PM
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I often do distance myself from sane but harmful people, but they really should be confronted. A lot of people make a practice of predation, taking advantage, deception, bullying, intimidation, and cruelty, and they should be stopped. And a lot of asshole types do this kind of stuff on a small scale without quite being criminals or sociopaths.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 5:13 PM
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I used to work with a fellow intern who claimed to be a) a former interior decorator/importer to the stars in LA and b) former sprinter for Texas A&M. This was just at the beginning of Googling, so he was safe for a little longer. The sprinter part seemed particularly unlikely, considering that he was an overweight white guy.

Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 6:58 PM
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Nerts to confrontation (futile with any type of personality disorder or character trait). Document the behavior. Time is your best friend.

Posted by: the psycho therapist | Link to this comment | 08-18-07 11:28 PM
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i lived across the hall from some sort of metally fucked up dude. He told lies all the time. WHich was odd since he was very charismatic and good looing. None of the other sophomores who lived on the floor told me & roomates about him, and let us figure it out for ourselves over the course of the first two weeks of college. Which wasn't as easy as it sounds, what with the confusing of moving somewhere new and meeting people and stuff. They thought it was an extrememly amusic joke.

Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 08-19-07 2:38 AM
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Same as 30, I knew a guy named Dan The Compulsive Liar. He was really smooth in conversations with girls but never had a girlfriend as far as we could tell - ironically not because he was crazy but because he would only hit on smart and interesting girls who were not interested in a guy who seemed to be an oversexed lothario in a fedora. If he developed a girlfriend at some point I probably would have become concerned and asked her if she knew what she was in for.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 08-19-07 11:06 AM
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I know someone who had a lab tech who clearly had a serious drug issue. This particular university has a policy of every tub (meaning every school within the university) has its own bottom. Well, my friend doesn't care for that sort of world, and HR wasn't doing anything useful, but the guy was clearly about to get fired.

My friend talked to his boss about it, and one day he said, "Look, if you want to function in a way that will allow you to keep your job, you need to get some help. If you come with me in my car, now I can take you to a treatment program." It was probably totally non-kosher, and it was very difficult for my friend; but it did work. He didn't make this guy his life's work, but he helped him.

Morally to me it seemed like the right thing to do.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-19-07 12:29 PM
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If Lurky is vulnerable in any way to this person (the main way that occurs to me that his/her professional success might in part depend on his secretary's performance), I recommend shielding themselves by any means necessary. If your crazy secretary's craziness can hurt you in any way, her mental health issues are now your business, and you need to take it up with HR to protect yourself.

My freshman year of college one of the guys in our suite turned out to be a fairly skillful pathological liar. Similar to Dan the Compulsive Liar above, the guy bragged frequently of all the girls he was hooking up with, but we never saw any of them. We eventually figured out turned out that he was in the closet, and some time later he tried to pass off his boyfriend to us as his "cousin." I realize that this sounds like a story of someone who was just going to great lengths to hide the fact that he was gay, but it went well beyond that - just like Joannie, this person routinely lied about things that were completely inconsequential.

Eventually cash started disappearing from my wallet. As there was only about a month left of school by this point, the rest of us decided to avoid confrontation and quietly warn people on campus about him. As far as I can tell, the guy has never been confronted on his lying. He now works for a major investment bank (fortunately in a city far, far away from me).

Posted by: transplant | Link to this comment | 08-19-07 7:56 PM
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Oh lordy, the stories I could tell. Rather than burden Lurky with reminiscences, though, I'll simply say that really you're best off ignoring it until it reaches the point that would be problematic for any mostly-balanced employee. At that point, though, unless I were her manager/supervisor and thus had official sanction to discuss performance issues with her, I would not confront her. I would talk to HR. That's a lot of what they're there for. If they're at all good at their job they will want to help her rather than punish her. Take it from someone who has had to call a manager and say, "Listen, she's touching people again."

Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 08-19-07 11:14 PM
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Confronting someone with suspected mental illness is really hard, though - there's still such a stigma attached to it that the person may take what you're saying as an insult, even if you don't mean to be cruel and even if she's party relieved that someone else knows, she doesn't have to hide it, and you don't have a huge problem with it.

I also had a friend like that in highschool (apparently everyone did, maybe we all knew the same people?), and confronting her with her lies not only didn't make any difference, it just made her hysterical.

Of the three people that I've tried to talk into going to therapy ("It's great for everyone! Everyone should do it!"), it didn't help any of them. They all needed to figure it out for themselves.

Posted by: justjenny | Link to this comment | 08-20-07 8:46 AM
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