Annie Lane: Sister obsessed with conspiracy theories

Published 6:30 am Saturday, July 3, 2021

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Dear Annie: My sister and I reunited about five years ago after not speaking for at least 10 years. Unfortunately, we did not have a good childhood; as we got older, our own dynamics grew toxic, and I had no choice but to keep her away. I was glad that we started talking again earlier this year, but since we have reconnected, I have noticed some quirks. She believes in a lot of conspiracy theories and practices a religion that has some strange beliefs. She says very hateful things about certain groups of people. Sometimes, we will be enjoying ourselves at the mall or at lunch, and seemingly out of nowhere, she will start espousing some of her crazy or hateful beliefs. She has also done this around my children. Another thing is that she randomly gets incredibly frightened and calls me crying and begging me to buy supplies for her in case it’s the end of the world, or to loan her money to leave the country because she believes the government is trying to kill her. She gets al!

l her information from videos she finds online. I have begged her to stop, and I try to be patient, but it’s upsetting to me, and I stay stressed for days after one of her episodes. I don’t want to lose my sister again, but our relationship is wearing me down. Can you help?

— Sad About Sis

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Dear Sad: The internet has flooded the world with conspiracy theories. Millions are lost in that sea, while the rest of us, their friends and family, stand waiting at the shore. In your sister’s case, it sounds as though there might be a deeper issue at play. Her extreme paranoia suggests an underlying mental illness. While you can’t force her to seek help, you can encourage her to do so.

First, empathize with her anxieties. The modern world can be an overwhelming, frightening place right now; history seems to be moving at an alarming clip. Technology does raise legitimate privacy concerns. You can understand where she’s coming from without agreeing to where she’s ended up.

Ask how she’s doing. Let her know that you’ve been concerned lately, because her fears seem to be causing her a lot of distress — such as the times when she called you asking for money to flee the country. Encourage her to consider talking with a counselor.

Whether or not she agrees to get help, you can help yourself by setting better boundaries. Let her know you won’t tolerate any hate speech; the second she starts that up, firmly excuse yourself. For relief from the burden of shouldering this weight alone, visit; select “Support and Education;” then “Support Groups.” From there, you’ll find the link for family support groups. Meetings are free, and the peace of mind they can offer is priceless.

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Dear Annie: I would like to start downsizing and have yard sales. But I have hoarders living next door to me. All we have, we have taken good care of, and I don’t want to see these items sitting carelessly out in the rain and snow for months between now and the time we move. How do I tell my neighbors that they cannot purchase any items?

— Nervous Neighbor

Dear Nervous Neighbor: You could try selling some of the furniture online, on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace or Nextdoor — but those can raise safety concerns. Ebay is another option, although the costs of shipping can be high. Of course, you can have a yard sale without any price stickers and give your neighbors an unreasonably high price point if they inquire. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re going to sell something, you need to relinquish control of what happens to it afterward.