(Sorry in advance for the length of this… turns out it bothers me more than I thought.)
I have an older cousin (I’ll call her “Jenny”) who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. It manifested about thirty years ago; she’s now in her early fifties. Back when she first showed symptoms, she attempted suicide and was hospitalized. After a few rounds of this, she stopped treatment and left to hide in another state.
Jenny’s almost a textbook case of the illness: she started out believing a certain pop star sent coded messages to her through his album covers, invented all sorts of grand histories for our family (she thinks we’re related to the Russian royal family/Tsars), and has developed a belief that her mom and brother are out to destroy her.
Anyway. Jenny’s been missing/homeless/drifting for many years now. Not long ago, because I’m the most web-savvy of our family, and also because I’m nosy and a good researcher, I wondered if there were any way to track her down to see if she’s alive. Knowing her interests/obsessions/fantasies, I came across a few message board postings in a fan site for one of these stars she’s obsessed with, and through various links and clues I found a bunch of different personal webpages that are clearly my cousin’s work. All of them – no matter what the real topic – contain vicious comments about Jenny’s mother, accusing her of lying to Jenny about the identity of her real father, and claiming that she (Jenny) is actually the product of an “unnatural” relationship between Jenny’s mother and one of our mutual cousins. (This cousin is actually YOUNGER than Jenny, so the accusation is especially ridiculous.)
Now while I’m upset and creeped out by reading such things by someone related to me, I didn’t get really freaked until I discovered one of her pages includes a huge-ass biography of my nuclear family, including plenty of identifiable information. Worst of all, Jenny discusses the deaths of my brother and mother with lurid, conspiracy theory-laden details, including a theory frankly makes me want to vomit.
Jenny flat-out accuses my older sister of causing our brother’s drowning, apparently on ‘orders’ from Jenny’s mother. Please note that my sister was only four at the time. Our brother (who died before I was born) was several years older. His death was a terrible accident, verified as such by a police investigation at the time, and there is no way Jenny’s disgusting claims are true.
What bothers me most about this is that if I can find it, so can other members of our family. It’s not impossible for others to locate, if they know certain things about our childhood background. The thing that most scares me is the very real possibility that my sister’s young daughter may one day do some surfing and come across this pack of delusional rantings about her mom.
I haven’t told anyone in my family about this yet. As far as I know, no one knows that Jenny is still alive and posting these things on the Web. (Amazing to think that a jobless, homeless person can create webpages that include scanned and original images. Yay for free library internet access, I guess!)
My questions to anyone who bothers to read this rambling post is:
What I want most is to get these pages taken down, unlikely as it is. The webpage is hosted on a free webhosting service based in the U.S. Do I have any recourse in asking the host to shut the page down? Is what she says libelous? And is libel even a reason for shutting down a site? I hate even thinking about this, because my nature is usually “sticks and stones etc. etc.”
Should I tell my sister what’s being said about her? I’m wary of doing this because she’s suffered all her life from survivor’s guilt about our brother’s death as it is; I’m sickened by the thought of telling her that ‘out there’ is an actual accusation that she’s a murderer.
A small part of me is tempted to email Jenny herself and make some attempt at a reasoned request. I almost certainly won’t, because the reality is she’s not someone you can reason with. Her illness is toxic. Plus I’m a bit scared – even though she doesn’t currently seem to think I’m part of this family-wide anti-Jenny conspiracy she’s invented, she may well start to weave me into her web of lies if I get on her radar. That I do not need.
Irony alert: This is almost as long as one of Jenny’s screeds. Sorry about that. Anyone have any advice?