My friend and roommate is driving me crazy, and it makes me feel like a bad person!
November 11, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my very depressed roommate/old friend without being dragged down into her vortex of drama?

About two months ago I moved in to an apartment with an old college friend (a third woman lives with us). It's not going very well and I don't know what to do.

Some background: My roommate (I'll call her Sally) is one of my oldest friends. We met just before freshman year of college and became very close. We drifted apart a little bit in the latter half of college, mostly due to some very scary personal stuff going on in my life.

We reconnected immediately after college and decided to live together when my lease expired. It's now about a year and a half after graduation and our lives have diverged considerably.

Me: Chose not to go to grad school, was planning on drifting for a while. That didn't happen. I lucked into a really great job doing what I love, have met a lot of really great friends, and have a really great boyfriend. With some ups and downs, am doing well.

Her: Chose to go to grad school at the same university where we did our undergrad, in a field she's not exactly sure she wants to be in. When she graduates this May, she's looking at another stressful SOMETHING, whether it be applications to another grad program or trying to find some kind of paid job in her (somewhat esoteric) field. She and her boyfriend broke up earlier this year in painful circumstances but remain in a dramatic on/off relationship. She has few friends remaining in town.

In short (too late), she's not doing so hot, and I am relatively warm. Most of this is down to different choices we've made in the past year that might end up with different consequences for us further down the line. It's always awkward to experience this kind of inequality in a friendship, but that's not all.

I recognize that she is depressed, and that much of what is making her depressed is beyond her control. But what I find harder to excuse is her behavior in dealing with her depression.

She has become very anxious and adopted a very little-girly attitude, often saying things like "I don't get it, I just don't get it." It grates on me because I know her to be a very intelligent woman. She is EXTRAORDINARILY negative about basically everything (a recent conversation saw her complaining about the quality of bowls we have in our house). She talks a lot about wanting more friends but refuses to do anything that would help her make them, like go on OkCupid or go out to the bar. She often talks about things she wants to do but will never organize or take an active role in spearheading them. (For example, she will wistfully say 'We never go out anymore. . .' on a Friday night at 9:30 PM, when I've either already made plans or have put on my pajama pants. But she would never, say, ask me on Wednesday to hit the bar with her on Friday.)

This has been going on for a long time. At first I thought it was just a rough patch, but now I'm seriously concerned both about her and about her friendship. I've done everythign I can think of: took her out, did active things with her, introduced her to some of my friends, encouraged her to seek therapy, told her I would go to an Al-Anon meeting with her (her ex/boyfriend struggles with alcoholism), cried with her late at night, talked to her frankly about my concerns, etc. I respond with enthusiasm when she (rarely) invites me to things and invite her to things at a reasonable rate. Because we live together, she sees first hand that I am a very busy person at the moment, but because we live together, I think we both feel we should be closer friends than we would be otherwise.

I'm not saying I've been a perfect friend. I've had a lot on my plate, inlcuding starting a new career and a new relationship while in recovery from aforementioned (remember that?) scary personal drama. As a person and a friend, I am easily overwhelmed by emotion and don't hide my feelings very well at all, which makes me sure that Sally knows I feel very pained and awkward around her. I am at the end of my rope with this and feel myself withdrawing from her because being around her makes me feel so stressed and unhappy. I really want to be a good friend to Sally, but I feel like the person I loved is totally subsumed under this woman I would have trouble liking or respecting if I met her now. But also, I have to maintain a cordial roommate relationship with her!

The other wrinkle that makes this particularly painful was that when I was going through aforementioned scary personal drama, my very good friend withdrew from me in a similar way that I feel myself wanting to withdraw from Sally. Although my friendship with this person and my friendship with Sally are very different in terms of intensity and commitment (the former was much greater), I know how much it hurts to be on the other side and I am very afraid and ashamed of myself that I see myself doing it. It may be normal to grow apart from friends, but I have to think there's a good way and a bad way of doing it.

tl; dr version: How can I maintain some sort relationship with a roommate and friend who is turning into an unpleasant person?
posted by andhowever to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Try not to judge the situation as good or bad. I know exactly how she feels and how you feel. I'm up and down myself. You've done a lot for her. One of the things I like to say to someone feeling down, unsure or depressed is "you got this!" And it really works overtime. The reality is, they truly know what to do. They just have to peel back their frustration to work on themselves.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 4:26 PM on November 11, 2011

I saw that you said you talked to her about your concerns. Have you tried telling her things that are very concrete? Maybe start there...

But she would never, say, ask me on Wednesday to hit the bar with her on Friday

This would be a great thing to tell her because it's very concrete. Tell her that you like to plan ahead and you would like her to initiate next time she wants to go out, so if she feels like going out, let you know on a Wednesday.

When she starts going off with negativity about things like bowls, could you tell her that non-constructive negativity does nothing but wear you out? And if she has a legitimate problem that she'd like to solve about something, if she wants to bring her constructive concerns and proposed solutions to you to deal with it together, that would be fine, but otherwise it wears you out.

When she starts doing her helpless little girl thing, could you tell her it is frustrating for you and you need her to give her best attempt in those situations rather than throwing her hands up?
posted by cairdeas at 4:32 PM on November 11, 2011

Your roommate could be me when I'm off my meds. She really sounds like she needs to see a medical professional and discuss some prescription options.

Short of trying to get her into a doctor there is little you can do. If your friend was diabetic instead of depressed you wouldn't be monitoring her blood sugar for her. If she doesn't want to get better she won't.

There isn't really a way to end the struggle with depression, but as long as I'm still fighting I'm winning. Medication and therapy just happen to be a couple of weapons that work well for me.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:45 PM on November 11, 2011

She's depressed. I've lived with depressed roommates (actually, I've now had two roommates with untreated bipolar disorder and one with regular depression) and I'll tell you that there is nothing you can do to make it better. Besides continuing to urge her to seek professional help.

But I know that wasn't your question. Your question was how to maintain the relationship. My answer to that is sorta similar - you have to recognize that your job is not to make her life better, and decide what you want your role to be if she chooses not to seek help. To be honest, I detached from the roommates (who were all friends) who were dealing with untreated bipolar/depression. I just didn't know what else to do. It did hurt all three friendships, but I'm not sure what else I could have done. It's not unlike what your friend is going through with her alcoholic guy - if she doesn't seek help, you can't do much for her.
posted by lunasol at 6:46 PM on November 11, 2011

I recognize that she is depressed, and that much of what is making her depressed is beyond her control. But what I find harder to excuse is her behavior in dealing with her depression.

Oh boy, I've been there. On both sides. And I can say with 100% certainty that when dealing with depression, you're not entirely in control of your own behavior. When in a depressive episode, I've done things to friends/roommates that just horrify me to think about in retrospect but that at the time made total sense and seemed appropriate. I literally could not think clearly and my behavior, while totally off the fucking wall, seemed completely reasonable.

Which is why it's oh so hard to live with someone who's depressed. She thinks that she's behaving appropriately, and she's totally not. If you try to point this out to her, she won't be able to see what you're talking about. Truly, it won't make sense to her when she's depressed that she's behaving in an inappropriate way. Even more importantly, until she gets the depression under control, it will be nigh on impossible for her to truly change her behavior.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. She'll either get help and get better on her own, or she won't. You can't make her change right now and you can't make her get better, no matter how much you try. She has to want it to be able to do it effectively.
posted by sonika at 6:53 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Besides continuing to urge her to seek professional help.

I'll just add to this that if she expresses the desire to get help, then help her get the help. If you're depressed, often the very hardest thing to do is to actually make the phone call to make the appointment. And then to actually get to the appointment. It sounds stupid, but it's very true -- the depression will fight you all the way to getting treatment.

So, sound her out about getting treatment. If you can get her to agree, then make a commitment to assist her in doing that. If you can hold her hand while she takes that (very very big) step everything will get easier from there.
posted by anastasiav at 9:30 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the thoughts and perspective, everybody. I think I'll try to be concrete with my suggestions/concerns in the future. (In response to anastasiav, I did encourage her to seek therapy and virtually held her hand when she did. She stopped going because "it didn't fit her schedule" and "the therapist just stared at her and it made her really uncomfortable" -- pretty clear signs, to me, that she wasn't quite ready for therapy.)

I'm trying to prepare myself to fully convert our relationship into Friendly Roommates from Friends if necessary. It's never easy, but some of the experiences shared here have shown me that it's the best thing in some cases.
posted by andhowever at 2:03 PM on November 12, 2011

She stopped going because "it didn't fit her schedule" and "the therapist just stared at her and it made her really uncomfortable" -- pretty clear signs, to me, that she wasn't quite ready for therapy.

Those to me are warning signs that she really needs therapy and won't stick it out because she's too depressed to change. Sometimes it takes more than one therapist - Lord knows I've seen some bad ones myself, but I also had an amazing therapist in college who helped me put myself together in more or less one piece. When I would start making excuses not to go, it's because I really really needed help but wanted to pretend that I was just fine to ignore how bad it really was.
posted by sonika at 5:02 PM on November 12, 2011

you could still support her, just whenever she goes off about how your bowls suck say something like "i'm not having this conversation" and walk away.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2011

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