How can I help someone I my physical presence probably hurts?
February 8, 2011 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Met a girl who seemed to like me. As an aspie virgin, this is unprecedented: she's sending huge-massive signals. Long story short, it turns out she's fallen really, really hard for me, is probably depressed and tells me she's self-harming. Tried being friends, didn't work. Can I help her? Is that even possible?

We met near the end of term, and exchanged emails over break. They were light, just chatting about music and books. I got back to school, and she was really happy to see me. Hey great, I thought. A girl who likes me, and I seem to have noticed (as referenced above the fold, I'm a diagnosed Aspie; I pass for "a bit of a geek" and have enough painfully learned social graces to get by. No romantic experience, but plenty of girls who are friends).

It became clear pretty quickly that she was more into me than I her. I was in the "let's see what happens" dating mindset, she was in the "infatuation" mindset. She said that she was unhappy at school, and felt out of place (she's from a unintellectual working class family; we're at a small private liberal arts school). I began to worry that she saw me as a "savior" but I didn't want to sabotage things.

I ended up trying to be friends, but it just wasn't working- I still got mega vibes off her. I was just way too uncomfortable, and so I decided to "unfriend" her- it was just not going to work until she got over me. This was Saturday (or, rather, Sunday morning).

She chose this time to tell me that she felt empty, disconnected and unable to cry. That she hurt herself sometimes. This is at 2 in the morning (yes, we were both sober), and once I walk out the door I'm not going to see her again- even in this small school we don't cross paths without trying. I left, eventually, but I felt awful. I don't know how to help her- I told her to talk to the people at our school's health center. I told her to tell them what she told me, and that they're professional and caring.

Is there anything more I can do? I don't think I can see or talk to her without making her feel worse when I leave. I can talk to a counselor at the health center who I talk to about my own issues; I don't want to breach her confidence, though. The counselor already knows who she is. But her health is more important, surely? The soonest I can talk to the counselor in person is on Friday. I'm trying my very best not to be a douche or try to get too involved, but I like her and want her to be happy. I know I'm not responsible for her state of mind... but I worry about her. She sounds like she might be bipolar- she told me she has phases where she barely sleeps, and phases when she only sleeps. She just seems miserable.

I could ask her roommate to keep an eye out for her; I don't know what other friends she has. I don't think she has any close friends here. I want to make sure she's okay. O oracle of the internet, what advice have you for me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does she live on campus? This is something her RA should know. "I'm concerned about Jessica, she's been depressed and she told me she's hurting herself." At my school, RAs were trained in how to get further help from that point on. At the point where someone's hurting herself, confidentiality needs to be breached. She'll probably be pissed off at you, but oh well, at least she's not dead.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 AM on February 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, and after you tell someone, don't contact her anymore.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 AM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

You've done everything you can. Guilt is a killer, so listen to me and not it: You've done everything you can. She's not your kid. She needs counseling and either she'll get it or she won't.

But her health is more important, surely?

There's folks who will disagree but I don't believe that self-harm necessarily leads to suicide. Nevertheless, she doesn't pose an immediate danger to herself and those are the only circumstances under which it's okay to circumvent her own desires.

You've told her where help is if she wants it. Anything beyond that is asking for drama which it doesn't sound like you're ready to handle, and honestly interacting with her further would likely be damaging to both of you.

You can help her, and you already have, but you can't fix her. Let it be. It's the best you can do.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:29 AM on February 8, 2011

Well, if you really don't want to be around her then you probably shouldn't try to 'fix' her. She's not your responsibility.

On the other hand, you could demand she get help as a precondition of your staying friends with her. Therapy, antidepressants, etc.
posted by delmoi at 8:34 AM on February 8, 2011

If she has a huge crush on you that she can't conceal or even minimize, you do her no favors by being around her. (It would be a different story if she had enough self-control to keep things a bit under wraps.)

Yes, go to her RA. There is no situation where keeping this secret works out well. Even if she's over-dramatizing a bit to make herself seem interesting (which is just about the best scenario) she's still in a bad place because only when you're in a bad place do you play that particular card. Sure, having an RA step in isn't going to be exactly fun, but in the long term it will probably shunt her onto a better course.

(A small caveat--will her RA feel obligated to notify her parents? Does your school have some kind of weird set-up where they can expel someone for health reasons or push them into in-patient mental health treatment? Make sure that getting the RA involved won't actually start a juggernaut of meddling and institutional force.)
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, yeah, tell the RA. I hadn't thought of that.

After that, don't check up on her, don't ask around to see how she's doing. Just walk away.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2011

You have reason to suspect that a fellow classmate is in danger. You are not the person to get her out of that danger, but your responsibility (as a classmate, a friend, and a human being) is to inform the people who can help her. Once you have informed the appropriate authorities, you should exit from her life.

Talking to the counselor will be a good idea. First, you can make sure you inform him/her about this girl. Second, you can ask the counselor for advice about how you should handle this situation: have you done the appropriate thing? Is there more you should do? What should you do about the guilt you seem to feel? The counselor may be able to help you sort through this emotional and difficult situation you're in.

In general, from what you say, it sounds like you have your head screwed on right. You are concerned about this person, but you have set up good boundaries for yourself. You want to do the right thing, but you understand that you likely cannot actually help. It hurts to see someone nice, kind, and deserving of happiness fall into pain and turmoil. It's hard to stand idly by when you really want to rush to the rescue. There just isn't really a way for you to rescue her; you cannot help her. I'm sorry this other person is suffering, and I am sorry you're suffering vicariously. Life isn't always good, and we aren't always given situations where we can be the heroes we want to be. Just make sure you've informed those who may be in an official position such that they can help her, and then move on from this sad chapter of your life.
posted by meese at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2011

She chose this time to tell me that ... once I walk out the door I'm not going to see her again

I may be misreading, but this sounds like a suicide threat. It's not your job to guess whether such threats are genuine. If that's what it was, or if it even might have been what it was, then you should tell someone at the counseling center. You shouldn't wait until Friday to do it, either.
posted by jon1270 at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

You do not have to be the person who makes the distinction between may-self-harm and suicidal. If you tell her RD or your RD that she has disclosed wanting to self-harm, they should have a set of steps for getting her help.
posted by freshwater at 8:49 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Met a girl who seemed to like me. As an aspie virgin, this is unprecedented: she's sending huge-massive signals. Long story short, it turns out she's fallen really, really hard for me, is probably depressed and tells me she's self-harming.

As someone was once in your position (a late-bloomer with low self esteem), I went through a phase where I got attached to one girl like this after another. Really, it's nothing to do with you, and she isn't falling for you, and she isn't sending signals. She just wants/needs attention, and you're giving it to her.

This isn't the beginnings of a relationship, this is someone who is reaching out for help. Direct her to the RA, like someone suggested and see if you can put some distance on the relationship. From what you said, I don't think there's any reason to cut yourself out of her life completely, but just for your own sanity, I wouldn't get too involved.

You deserve someone who likes you for you and who isn't just looking for someone to wrap up in their drama.
posted by empath at 8:50 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can I help her?

Almost definitely not. And it's inappropriate for her to put you in a situation where you might feel obligated to try.

It's okay to like someone and still be able to admit that you can't help them.

It sounds to me like this situation is too confusing for you to be able to remain involved without somehow harming or being harmed.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2011

I agree with your guess that she may be bi-polar -- all the behaviors you mention sound like the bi-polar friends and acquaintances I've had over the years (and I've had many). Regardless of whether that's her true diagnosis, she does sound like she needs some professional help dealing with her depression/other emotional needs.

However, note I said professional help. You should not be that person. But you are in a position to help convince her it's time to seek help. Persuade her, if you can, to contact the school's psychiatric counselor.
posted by me3dia at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2011

I don't want to breach her confidence, though.

You don't owe her this. Breaching her confidence is probably the best thing you can do for yourself and her.

She's manipulating you, and she's using the shield of secrecy to keep you helpless and ensnared. Don't let that happen. Get professional help.

I'm coming at this from a particular perspective: A friend of mine killed himself more than a decade ago after drawing me into his manipulative drama for years. Reading back over his letters makes it clear that I should have spoken up—often and loudly—and not tried to deal with it all myself. I don't blame myself for his death, but it would have been a lot better for him and me if I'd told everyone we knew about his harmful self-talk and looming depression.

so I say with love:
- Don't keep secrets for crazy people.
- You are never the only person who can save your crazy friend. Get help. The sooner the better.
posted by purpleclover at 10:07 AM on February 8, 2011 [12 favorites]

What desjardins said in the very first response: Talk to the RA, talk to your counselor, don't talk to the girl. I'm gonna bypass all the crazy-labeling and attempts at secondhand-over-the-interwebs mental-illness diagnoses. But I will say this: that girl is in a bad place. She is in a horrible state of mind and needs help really badly. And if she actually is self-harming, nobody needs to play a guessing game about whether or not she is actively suicidal: that shit is dangerous, and I've seen a few really nasty accidents of the "I cut too deep" variety. She has told you that she is actively dangerous to herself. Act accordingly.
posted by kataclysm at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2011

It is not your job to keep this woman from injuring or killing herself. It is, however, the job of the RA (or at least it's the job of the RA to inform the campus psychiatrists or whoever actually is responsible). It's not going to go on her permanent record or make anyone think less of her--people who deal with the mental health of college students deal with dozens of similar cases every year. It's a big deal to her, because it's her dysfunction, but to the people giving care it's just one of the many ways that college students unravel under stress.

You write, I don't think I can see or talk to her without making her feel worse when I leave and I think this is very insightful. You're right on, and I can tell you that a lot of neurotypical people who are very intuitive about social situations would be less wise--I know I have done the wrong thing myself, trying to reach out enough to make the other person happy without making myself unhappy, and that it was always a doomed enterprise.

Don't keep in touch with her. Obviously a friendship with you is a source of stress for her right now, and you're not enjoying it yourself, so what's the upside to continuing it? You can wish her well and hope that she works through her issues without actually trying to maintain a friendship.

The thing is that, for whatever reason, she is overreacting to you in ways that aren't really about you as a person. You didn't cause any of her excessive reaction, her feelings that without you she's nothing, or whatever over-the-top emotions she's feeling right now. How could you? You guys hardly know each other. Something else is going on for her, but she's focused it onto you for whatever reason. Staying away from her is the kindest thing to do, because it will give her the space to deal with whatever's going on in her own head.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Been in a like situation, best thing you can do is get her help and not let her manipulate you. Seriously.

If there is anything else i can do/answer for you, shoot me a MeMail.

Again, i cannot stress it enough. Get her help, even if it is talking to the person you talk to at the university and do NOT let yourself get manipulated any more...
posted by knockoutking at 3:50 PM on February 8, 2011

- Don't keep secrets for crazy people.
- You are never the only person who can save your crazy friend. Get help. The sooner the better.

This is exactly right. This girl needs help, and not from you. Talk to her RA, talk to the counselor, talk to people who can provide her with concrete resources that will not further complicate the emotional trauma she's going through. She's not a bad person, but she's also not being fair to you, and probably won't ever be, at least as long as she feels this way about you & knows that it's unrequited.

Sounds like you're approaching this in a way that's both sensible and sensitive. Good for you for that, and good luck extricating yourself from this friendship.
posted by dizziest at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2011

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