How do you be a good friend to someone with depression?
I wish I knew.
I’ve known “Marie” since we were very young children. We grew up together. Neither of us have sisters, so we became each others’ sisters. We were both dancers, grew up in the same Sunday School, and hung out with a close-knit group of girls, all of us having wonderful grand adventures.
College / university was when it all fell apart. Marie went through hell and back while she was off at university, I don’t deny that. She is a sensitive soul, and has a tendency to absorb others’ pain as her own. Later she told me that she has depression (which didn’t come as much of a surprise). What was a shock was when she said that she had felt suicidal on occasion at university. “I probably should have gone to a hospital,” she later said. I didn’t know what to tell her. I was terrified, because knowing her, suicide would not be out of the equation if her depression got bad enough.
In the years since university, it seems as if Marie has been drifting farther and farther away. Oh sure, we still get together from time to time, and according to her, we’re always there for each other. The reality of it is this: I have always been there when she needs to vent, when she needs to process through her thoughts, or when she’s lonely enough to remember that she has a childhood friend somewhere (me) who may hang out with her. I don’t remember the last time that Marie was there for me. It has developed into a lopsided friendship.
I know that depression is a complex issue, and I will readily admit that I do not fully understand it. But from an observer’s perspective, and based upon my knowledge of Marie, her depression has turned her into a self-centered drama queen. Again, I want it understood that I mean no disrespect for those battling depression, and I know that some of her moods are genuine; I am simply stating that Marie has come to use her emotional trauma and depression as an excuse, and as a way to draw pity and attention to herself (however strongly she denies this). This makes me very sad, because she didn’t used to be like this.
Being her “friend” means that there are long stretches of time where I don’t hear from her. Or rather, I don’t hear from her directly. I hear things from others, and I have my own ways of checking up on her (I won’t go into that here – nothing illegal or immoral, I swear!). Yes, relationships go both ways, and I do reach out to her from time to time, but it gets tiring constantly giving your all to a relationship where you receive little to nothing in return.
When we get together and talk, everything seems to always be about her. Every conversation, no matter how it starts or who its about, always comes back to being about her in some way. Honestly, I don’t know if she realizes this – I doubt it. I always come away from these friend-dates feeling emotionally drained. Constantly listening to someone else’s problems without being able to speak your mind is exhausting. I am being given all of her problems, but I know that she doesn’t really want me to help her fix them.
If I were to say what I am really thinking – to speak truth that she doesn’t want to hear – I’m sure she would never speak to me again. She is always right and justified in her own eyes, and therefore will not accept someone suggesting that she may be wrong. Since she has been victimized in the past, she believes herself to always be a victim, no matter the circumstance. Once again, I know that her depression and other unspecified emotional issues (I think she’s got some form of PTSD) cause some of her issues, but other aspects are still under her control.
I am tired of not having a friend who will listen to my problems. I am tired of not having a friend who seeks me out, who genuinely wants to know how I’m doing.
My dad once used the term “light-switch friend” to describe a come-and-go / fair-weather relationship. And sadly, this term is very accurate and applicable to Marie and myself. When she’s lonely and no one else will talk to her, she turns to me. When she gets a new boyfriend, I won’t hear from her for months, and then only if I pester her enough times that she will respond.
I am tired of being a light-switch friend.
But is it speaking up worth it? I know that sounds cruel to say/write, but truly, what is keeping me in this relationship? I know it sounds like we’re a couple on the verge of a break up, but this is a relationship, and the terms still apply. Selfishly speaking, do I receive anything from this relationship? No, not really. There are some times when I think she’s actually trying, but then it seems like we’re hanging out because no one else would play with her, or she’s doing it out of obligation.
Marie has had quite a few boyfriends, but sooner or later they all turn out to be jerks. She wants so desperately to be loved, and I fear that she is getting desperate. Desperate people tend to do stupid things. How do you get someone to realize that the one common factor in all their failed relationships is them? She claims that she is a guy magnet, and that she does not desire the attention that they supposedly shower on her. I know this sounds brutal, but even though I love her dearly and will always find her special, she is not what most people would consider a “guy magnet.” She does possess a certain intriguing mystery and beauty, but she dresses and acts like a shy tomboy. Let’s just say that I doubt that her “magnetic personality” is as strong as she says.
Dear God, I don’t know what to do about Marie. I have so many fond memories of Marie when we were growing up, and she truly is my sister, so I don’t want to walk out on her. But I have run out of ways to fake being okay with how things are between us.
God, please give me words to say to Marie. Your words are always so much better than mine. Soften her heart, and help her to heal from her emotional wounds and depression. She is a precious friend to me, and a precious daughter to You. You love Marie more than I ever could. Please heal her.
And please help me to find a good friend. I miss having a good friend.