What advice to give to my fiance, who is in law school and in a bad place?
April 21, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

My fiance is not speaking to me. We are in a long-distance relationship. He is depressed, has ADHD, a probable gaming addiction, and not doing well in law school. How can I help him?

I'm posting anonymously since these are details that are pretty specific to my fiance and our relationship, but I will try my best to answer any follow-up questions.

My fiance and I have been together for over seven years. We dated in high school and went to different colleges. So we've been in a long distance relationship for most of our time together. I'm currently 5 hours away from him by bus.

He is in a bad place right now, and has been like this for some time. So he's in his second year of law school. This semester, he was diagnosed with depression and ADHD, and currently taking medication (I'm afraid I can't remember this medication). For a few weeks, he seemed to be happier and more willing to do schoolwork and look for jobs for the summer. However, his most recent email to me stated that he doesn't think the medicine is working.

He is also ignoring me, and that recent email came today. We haven't spoken in almost 2 weeks. He doesn't reply to my emails or answer my calls. He does this periodically, so this isn't new.

I'm also of the belief that he is playing video games instead of studying or seeking the help he needs. He is very fond of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Steam, etc.

He is getting help, and I know depression takes time to overcome (I have been there), but apparently my powers of empathy and compassion just aren't enough to reach out to him. I have no idea what to do at this point. I'm almost ready to end things, but I've tried to before at various points, and I just don't think he'll buy it. I'm also afraid of his relative fragility, and what might happen if you break up with a depressed person.

At this point I'm just ready to help him as a friend, but I'm not sure what to do anymore. I have tried to sit with him as he does work to make sure he concentrates and doesn't browse Reddit. I have tried making schedules with him (never works). I agreed to move in with him this fall to placate him, but I don't think that is sufficient motivation anymore.

What advice would you give my fiance, if you were his friend? How can I help him? Should I even help him?

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Powers of empathy and compassion are not solutions for depression or ADHD.

What happens if and when you break up with him are not your responsibility.

It sounds a little to me like his ignoring you is his way of "breaking up"....without having to do the heavy lifting of actually breaking up.

If he's getting treatment for his known problems, that's about all that can be done. You can't help somebody else through this. Not with all the empathy in the world, and you do sound very empathetic. It may be messy for awhile. It sounds like he's about to lose his girlfriend and maybe fail out of law school. Those may be necessary things at this point.

Step back, figure out what your limits are, and let him find his own way.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:24 PM on April 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Every ADHD medication does not work for every person with ADHD. Same goes for anti-depressants. If he thinks the medication has stopped working, he needs to go back to his doctor so they can work together to get the right combination of medication.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:42 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm almost ready to end things, but I've tried to before at various points, and I just don't think he'll buy it.

All the empathy and compassion in the world are not going to fix your boyfriend's broken brain chemistry. You are not his ADHD coach, and you are not his shrink.

You don't need someone's agreement to break up with them. You are five hours apart. Just stop answering your phone and email, which isn't going to be a problem since he's not calling or emailing you. Frankly, be overjoyed you've got out of this. Your boyfriend is either about to bail out of law school with no law degree and an asston of debt, or graduate with poor grades into the worst job market in history for law grads.

I hate to be harsh but maybe you've been in this relationship so long you can't see how completely awful it is. You don't marry people who don't return your phone calls for two weeks, and you don't marry people who don't look after the shit that enormously impacts your shared future. I don't care what other stellar qualities they have. Bail, because he already has.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:49 PM on April 21, 2012 [46 favorites]

I did this a few times to guys when I was depressed and it was just easier to shut the relationship stuff down because everything was bad and it was just stressful (these were always LDRs, I have ADHD, bipolar disorder, and so many other things that aren't the point right now.)

If I were giving your fiance advice, I'd say:
You are screwing everything up here, buddy. I get that it's really hard and it stinks and it's totally unfair and that really doesn't matter right now. No one can fix this but you, and when it does eventually get fixed, the thing you are going to hate the most is all the time you wasted and all the people you messed with while avoiding getting it fixed. Yes, you have diminished capacity - but you have enough capacity to be able to choose to ask for help, so do it. Tell the truth to your doctor, do the work in therapy, stay connected to your family and friends even though it's a pain and it seems really pointless, because it's not pointless at all. End of sermon. Oh, but let me know if you want resources.
Since your fiance isn't around, I'm going to give you advice, instead:
  1. ADHD and depression are big, huge, complicated, difficult things to deal with, both when you have them and when someone you cares about has them. It stinks, a lot, for everyone. You have to put on your own oxygen mask first. Figure out what your needs are, make sure they're met, and then - and ONLY then - start thinking about what you might be able to do for someone else.
  2. One of the crappiest parts of mental illness is that the person who needs to change is the person who is least likely to understand that change is necessary, and to be in a position to effect that change. Trying to help them see that it's necessary, and making it easy for them to get help, is a very kind thing to do. It may not work for a long time, though.
  3. The sense of hopelessness, frustration, sadness, self-hatred, disgust, resignation, etc., can be so overpowering you sit in dirty clothes for three days and forget to eat and stop returning phone calls. This is no one's fault. He's not doing this to hurt you (at least, the odds are against it) and he realistically doesn't perceive how it's affecting him or you, either in the immediate or long term.
  4. The one thing I wish I had had, when I was screwing around being depressed and not dealing with it because dealing is hard, are consistent, persistent, supportive, but firm messages of "you have a problem, there are answers, please let me help you."
  5. The fact that he is your fiance in no way obligates you to give him those messages. It might be wise to reach out to people in his immediate environment and let them know what's going on, though.
  6. You can do everything perfectly, and this will still turn out really bad and painful and disheartening and be fodder for a few decades of regret. I'm really sorry. Mental illness is awful like that.
  7. If you want to talk about depression, mental illness generally, and the psychology behind this kind of behavior, feel free to MeMail me. I was totally exactly like this for about ten years of my life, right down to the gaming and the not answering emails and the exhausting the patience of everyone who liked me even a little bit. One of the reasons I try to answer these kinds of AskMe questions is because I can't go back and fix the period between 1995 and 2010; this is the closest thing I can get to it.
  8. I'm happy to talk with your fiance, too. I don't expect he'll take you up on it, but it may be worth a shot. When I was in the lowest of the low places, the one thing that never even occurred to me was the idea that anyone else, let alone lots of people, had been in the same kinds of places and might know a bit about getting out, that I'd like to hear.
  9. I have no opinion on whether you should give up on this guy. But do realize this is going to be hard one way or another, and he has a not-so-great track record already. Only you can decide if you can put up with that and stay sane, safe, happy, etc.
  10. Being broken up with, like getting evicted, having your car repossessed, having your wages garnished, losing your job, accidentally burning your eyebrows off, ending up in the ER getting your stomach pumped, waking up in jail, and a lot of other serious natural consequences of your bizarre/unhealthy/risky/inappropriate behavior, are almost 100% ineffective at getting someone with a serious mental illness to go off and get themselves better and fly right from there on. That kind of "shock" treatment might work with a healthy person who had experienced a lapse in judgment, but your brain is sufficiently messed up that you just don't tend to process these bad things the way you should. I speak from the POV of someone who lost houses, money, cars, jobs, boyfriends, and years of her life - knowing the whole time that these were bad and painful and scary things - and that didn't change my behavior at all.
  11. That doesn't mean you shouldn't break up with him. I'm just saying, don't expect that breaking up with him is going to be the thing that transforms his life. It almost certainly won't. Getting kicked out of law school, being kept from admission to the Bar, etc., also probably won't accomplish anything.
Good luck. Again, MeMail if you want to talk, or vent, or whatever.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 8:50 PM on April 21, 2012 [41 favorites]

He is your fiance, and he is ignoring you for weeks at a stretch?

If he's able to play video games, and able to attend law school, he's able to pick up the phone and speak with the woman who is (or should be) the most important person in his life. Depression or ADHD aren't excuses for this behavior.
posted by quivering_fantods at 8:51 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know about advice, but you could say "We haven't spoken in weeks. Let's not marry. You have a problem and I hope that you can find the help that you need."
posted by oceanjesse at 9:06 PM on April 21, 2012 [22 favorites]

As someone who has ADHD and depression and completely dragged down a relationship parly because of them, there is nothing you can do for him. My partner at the time was compassionate, understanding, encouraging, but there was nothing he could do to stop me from destroying myself. We ended up breaking up and it was the best for both of us.

One day I decided I was going to get better and I pursued the treatment I needed. But that came a while after the relationship ended, when I was finally able to realize I could choose to continue to be miserable or make attempts to be happy.

You have to look at him as he is now, and ask yourself if you're OK with it for the rest of your life with him. Because there is never, ever a guarantee that he will choose to pursue treatment until he finds something effective, and there is nothing you can do to get him to make that choice.
posted by schroedinger at 9:59 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know you won't agree with this. I know.

Still. This is NOT an actual relationship you are describing - it's just a mess of crap that you, personally, can not control, and are likely promoting with your continued "support" - WALK AWAY.


(PS - I know you think he is awesome, but AWESOME partners do not act like this, even in the worst of circumstances. Go ahead, as me how I know. Memail)
posted by jbenben at 10:02 PM on April 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

Hi, I have ADD (not ADHD), and have had bouts with depression, so I'll give you my two cents; hopefully it might help a little.

First of all, I disagree with the comments of anonymous (starting with Powers of empathy...). Empathy and compassion are, as one might expect, essential ingredients to recovery from depression, as well as living with ADHD. Of course, these are essential ingredients to life in general.

The commenter says that it sounds like your fiancé is breaking up with you. This isn't out of the question of course, but the information you provided by no means implies it. Having been through similar situations, here's what I was going through:

• Where women tend to be very good at reaching out, and maintaining social ties when faced with adversity, men are absolutely not. Men tend to isolate themselves, and feel guilt and shame. Guilt both in the disappointments their causing others, and in putting rainclouds over others' headspace when they share their painful emotional state. Of course, that's not the right way to look at it, but we do anyway. (Sorry about the generalizing — these are more like bell curves than absolutes! That Men are from Mars book has more wisdom / sweeping generalizations of that sort, and might be helpful. :) )

My thinking would be that you not read his distancing himself from you as being about you or your relationship. Well-timed direct questions on that subject are the upcoming step!

• I highly recommend you do a Google video search for Dr. Russell Barkley, possibly with the terms ADD and ADHD added to that. He's a highly regarded psychologist who has focussed his career and research on ADHD.

• ADD is really hard. Knowing what to do, but being cut off from that knowledge, and some-damn-how being "frozen" and unable to act is not only counter-intuitive and deeply frustrating, it's very painful. Your fiancé's state of mind when he's doing something other than what he knows very well he ought to be doing is one of self-loathing.

• There are medications that are helpful for some people, to some degree. Although it's only a piece of the puzzle, Vyvanse is very helpful for me.

• My sense is that people with ADD and ADHD need to construct lives in which immediate feedback is ever-present. Life without it is impossible for us.

Is your fiancé really committed and driven by the task of getting a law degree? Personally, I could never sustain effort for long-term goals without that drive. He may need to (unashamedly) change tack and search for what can drive him.

Even if he's driven to accomplish that long-term task, as someone with ADHD, it'll be arduous at best, and impossible at worst for him to get there. It's still possible though, as are other judiciously selected long-term projects. The key is to design tasks, schedules, and life to be ADHD appropriate. Is your fiancé the kind of guy who would jump up and help you if you were struggling to load something into the car? That's a clue. More than that actually, it's a kind of axiom for thinking about life with ADHD. Why is his ADHD unaffected by that imperative? 1) it's immediate: the consequences (your appreciation or disappointment) occur in real-time), 2) he's driven to do it. Take away #1, and you have a man who's disappointed in himself, and take away #2, and you have a man who flounders in ineffectual "shoulds".

Applied to this situation for example, and assuming your fiancé is sufficiently driven by the goal, what would the solution look like if it was just a matter of snapping your fingers? Your fiancé would have a study group that met for 5 hours a day to work together. Or, you were there with him, hanging out (usually in the same room), having some good times while he busts his ass, and generally providing him with the immediate feedback that he needs. This need not come in the form of "nagging", although a little bit of mothering will always be good for him.

For me personally, only two contexts have worked for me. Being outside them has been an unmitigated disaster — every bit along the lines of the situation you describe. The first has been projects that I was super driven by — that I couldn't wait to get out of bed to work on, an the second is *working within teams*. As Dr. Barkley points out, people with ADHD and ADD join the military in higher numbers than the general population. I can't abide by an autocratic environment personally, but those externalizations of my frontal lobe are something that we benefit from particularly, even if it's just an open and multi-faceted office environment.

Well, at this moment, your fiancé is adrift, and can't re-connect with his world. This is because of his ADHD (he's probably telling himself, like he did two hours ago, that two hours from now he's going to call you), and his depression. There may be a way through it — I don't know, but my guess is that he needs to "come home" and retool, or if that's not possible, you need to go to him and help him ride through it. The cruelty of depression is that it robs one of the tools that are necessary to get through it, but the fact remains that feeling *effective* is the very often the antidote to depression for someone with ADHD. The question is, what can make that possible? As nutty as Freud could be, he was breathtakingly insightful when he said recovery comes through love and work.

All the best to you and your fiancé, and tell him I said to spend his day around people!
posted by huron at 10:03 PM on April 21, 2012 [14 favorites]

I could have written this more or less word for word a few years ago. After years of trying to help him deal with his depression, video game addiction, drug addiction, etc, I was preparing myself mentally to end the relationship and help as a friend (btw: bad idea) when he ended the relationship instead. For my own sanity I had to completely cut off contact with him shortly thereafter.

A few years later, guess what? He's fine. He ended up graduating from school and is employed and healthy and as far as I can tell pretty happy. I'm not guaranteeing that your fiance is going to come through this exactly the way you hope he would, but you are so deeply wrapped up in the minutiae of his fate -- as though it were your own -- that you're seeing his situation as more dire than it is. In the short term, he might fail a class, be sad, withdraw, etc. But he isn't in mortal danger, and much more likely than not, that will not change.
posted by telegraph at 10:05 PM on April 21, 2012

This is my opinion - people that are depressed and/or active/recovering addicts can develop poor coping mechanisms in the process of getting better and in an effort to feel normal. By "poor" I mean these coping mechanisms generate negative consequences for the person and the people around him or her, even as they take medication and seek therapy. Depression's a huge issue... and people can deal with a huge issue poorly. It can be a long messy road.

I'm sure the video games, the isolating, and the not focusing on studies make some of the pain and anxiety go away. At least in the short term. Long term -- not doing so good. As people rightly point out, an engagement with no communication is NOT A GOOD SIGN. As my friend says, just because you see red flags doesn't mean a parade's coming.

You should really be asking yourself what are you willing to deal with. A lot of this behavior, I hate to tell you, is:

a. not something you can change
b. going to get worse before it gets better
c. not your responsibility

So given these purported facts, I hope you realize that all you're left with is "what you're willing to tolerate." This should be about you, and that may be a hard starting point. You should have high standards. Nothing really wrong with that. By stepping into a depressed person's shoes, what you end up doing is rationalizing a pretty shitty situation and extend the scope of the problem. You are avoiding making a decision, and clearly paying a price for it.
posted by phaedon at 10:15 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

To me, I'm more concerned about the fact that you've been together since high school but didn't stop at some point and think, "we should go to the same college!" or that you would just automatically move with him when he started law school. Fiance implies you intend to be married; it's hard to imagine why you would want to marry somebody you don't even desperately want to live in the same town as.

I wouldn't put too much weight on the radio silence if those silences always coincide with stuff like finals. (Which is basically now at many of the schools I know of, anyway.) I know perfectly mentally healthy people who have trouble keeping up with social contact during 2L when juggling activities and classes and jobs. I can imagine it being very easy, with ADD/ADHD, to think, "I'll email her tomorrow," and have it suddenly be next week and you have another deadline to meet. If it happens regardless of his regular schedule, I'd worry. Video games are not the same thing as people, so while I don't think they're a good coping mechanism and it might very well be a symptom of the ADHD/depression, I wouldn't make it out like, "He doesn't call me but he does play games!" Calling even someone you love is harder than playing games. Games are a way of disengaging; socializing requires engaging, which is way better but also takes more energy. I have given up real plates and silverware for finals, and yet I'm still here. It's because this is a break that my brain needs; dishes are a chore.

That said, you can't fix him, he has to fix him. You can, optionally, take some of the load off by moving in and doing some of the everyday stuff so that he has fewer things he has to worry about getting done, but if you're not totally okay with that, it can be easy to get resentful when the other party is playing a game and you just did the dishes again. Since it doesn't really sound like you want to live with him much in the first place... just don't. How he reacts to you breaking up with him is his problem.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he, as you say, is getting help, the thing he probably needs most is a functioning safety-net-feeling. Imagine that he likes getting your messages (if they're nice and supporting ones), but that his condition somehow makes him unable at this point to react properly to them. This would be something totally different from him ignoring you. "Ignoring" is an interpretation on the basis of what you are able to see. So,

If you choose not to walk away (as opposed to what others above seem to recommend), you might consider, for a while, giving up your idea that he should write back, and in some regular trickle, sending him thoughtful and supporting not too- long e-mails that contain:

-- stuff that makes him know that you haven't walked away,
-- little or no stuff that adds guilt or asks him for taking action,

If he - as it seems - very occasionally does write messages, you will eventually be able to find out whether he appreciates this tactic or not.

Apart from that, in my opinion, it is almost entirely impossible for a partner to help with actual tasks and scheduling in a pedagogical fashion, without establishing some type of hierarchy or power imbalance in the long run, which eventually will put too much strain on the entire relationship.
posted by Namlit at 4:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think he's trying to break up with you - I think he's just overwhelmed. But that doesn't mean there's not a big problem. However, you are not going to be able to address it until after his semester is over (probably just a few weeks from now). I'd completely back off, then sit down and figure things out in person after finals.
posted by yarly at 4:57 AM on April 22, 2012

You should just send him a link to this AskMe and see what reaction he has to all the good responses that have been given to you herein.
posted by 254blocks at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, sweetie. I have written and re-written this answer a few times.

It is very painful for me to see you in this position. I am so, so sorry you're here. I've been where you are and it is heartbreaking to watch someone you love deal with ADHD and depression.

What is most heartbreaking is watching them when they will not do anything about it. It's like watching someone drown and they kick away the life preservers you keep throwing at them. And with their last gulp of air, they curse you for not doing enough to save them.

You must learn that you cannot help him. And this is not a failure -- it's not for lack of love or compassion or empathy. But love, compassion and empathy are no substitution for medical intervention (or a swift kick in the ass, as necessary).

As for whether you should help him: the answer is no. He must help himself.

It's getting a little triggery for me to keep writing here, but PLEASE memail me -- I cannot stress enough that you are not alone in being where you are now.
posted by mibo at 6:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here is what I imagine is happening in your fiance's head. I certainly don't want to guarantee that I'm right, but I'm writing from experience.

He feels like he has fallen behind. His ADHD and depression have contributed/caused a degree of disorganization and procrastination that he feels he absolutely cannot recover from. To him, it seems that in order to "catch up" and be where he should be in terms of his schooling, his relationship and his own personal care (dealing with his conditions, etc), he would have to work through an impossibly large pile of his own failures. He knows it is his fault that he hasn't done his assignments, asked for help or extensions because he hasn't done his assignments, requested appropriate support or guidance (or whatever the exact details are in his case). He knows it is his fault that he hasn't called you back, but every minute that goes by the shame that he feels for not doing his "fiance duty" increases, and under the weight of that shame, he literally cannot manage to pick up the phone and face talking to you.

He views facing you - facing his failure to be who you want him to be - impossible. He views facing his schoolwork - and his failures to be up-to-date, up-to-par and successful - as impossible.

He views facing himself, by which I mean buckling down and coming up with a concrete plan to get out of the pit he is in, which requires explicit acknowledgement of where he is right now, as impossible.

He does not have the skills yet to tackle large problems step by step, or even get started (because of his ADHD). He does not have the skills yet to tackle large problems related to his perceived success or failure at all (because of his depression). He has not yet acquired the all-important PERSPECTIVE necessary to see that his present condition is not a sentence he earned for being a horrible person, OR that his life doesn't have to be this way. He is still operating under the assumption that he deserves the mess he got, that he is being punished for being a bad person.

This toxic combination of feeling that asking for help is futile because of the enormous complexity and intractability of the problem, and then ALSO feeling that even if he were to ask for help he wouldn't deserve it and it would never work anyway (because he's "worthless" and "hopeless")... well, it's a doozy.

In light of these crushing feelings of failure - all of which he believes revolve around him in the most personal way possible - he probably 100% does not believe that these situations are common to the diseases he has - he turns to the easiest possible "instant-success" outlet: video games. They are absorbing (so he doesn't have to think constantly about his failures), entertaining (so he can have a tiny bit of fun for once), require some skill (so he feels he has some), rewarding (so he can feel he's finally winning at something), and, of course, they are unbelievably easy to do for hours and hours and hours and hours.

I think it is extraordinarily likely that he knows exactly how bad an idea it is to play video games instead of dealing with the very real problems he has. He just has absolutely no tools in his toolbox to allow him to deal with those problems.

OK, so what do you do?

1. You spell out for him, explicitly, whatever you DO understand about his position. He probably believes that you have nothing but contempt for him, and that you are completely unable to imagine the shameful things that are driving him to act in the way he does. By showing him that you are CAPABLE of understanding some of what is happening for him, you chip away at his belief that his problems are utterly, completely personal. You show him that his feelings aren't all that tragically unique.

2. You tell him that he MUST seek help for his problems, and that answers are out there. Above all, you stress that a symptom of his disease is believing that nothing can be done. His feelings of hopelessness are not grounded in reality. He WILL fight you on this one. He believes that they are. You show him cold, hard, non-personal evidence to the contrary. You do NOT re-inforce his idea that he is helpless. Instead, you show him you understand how wickedly hard his life is right now - but you never, ever imply that he can't do something about it.

3. You monitor yourself carefully. You get your own supports. You get people to commiserate with you about how GENUINELY HARD it is to have an SO who can't support you, can't be there for you, and can't give you want you want or need right now. I think actually that there might be a small silver lining in your long-distance status. When you are in the physical presence of somebody who just. can't. get. going. on anything, it can be enormously frustrating and the tendency is to try to force them to do things they just can't do. This can be damaging for both parties, and you are avoiding a lot of it.

4. You give yourself an internal, private time limit. After the time is up, you ask yourself: do I still love him? is anything about this situation changing? can I imagine myself married to this man? can I imagine him playing the role of husband? is there any intimacy left here?

... and if the answer to any of those questions is no, don't marry him. It won't be your fault. You're not required to wait for an arbitrarily long period of time while he deals with his legitimate problems. He may be a prince at heart - truly - and it's true that these diseases are not his fault, but that still doesn't mean you have to stay with him. You deserve a real relationship, in which your partner has the capability (yes, the capability - I'm sure he currently has the desire) to pay attention to, and care for you.
posted by Cygnet at 7:12 AM on April 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

It's good of you to want to help him. I remember what it was like to have depression and ADHD and have exams coming up. I can't tell if he wants to break up with you or not, and I'm not saying that you have any requirement to break up with him, but you should definitely do what you want.

I think if you want to break up with him and remain available to him as a friend that could really be helpful to him all by itself, though it obviously won't cure him and there's not much you can do beyond that. I just get the sense that he's a part of your life, quasi-family, and telling you to just walk away and never look back is not going to feel right to you nor is it what you want.

I think he's going under at a very precarious time in his life and that the next few years aren't going to go very well for him. They didn't for me, though I had only very rudimentary help (6 sessions of counselling with a woman who wanted me to admit to having an eating disorder which I didn't have) and certainly didn't benefit from anything half as advanced as an ADHD diagnosis. I got diagnosed with depression, but didn't take the meds as a) I instinctively knew that wasn't the root of my problem and b) I knew I was a bad person and medicalising my badness was only going to enable me... in a nutshell, I doubt that even the right help at the wrong time would have been much help to me, you know?

What did help, a bit, was when I fretted to my mother that I wasn't going to do very well in my exams, and she said, "okay then, accept it, you're not going to do very well." I was taken aback because here was an approach that had quite simply never occurred to me. Nor had the implication that it was actually okay for me not to do very well. My point being, I don't know what specific thing you could say that would help and a lot of it will just go in one ear and out the other. The right remark can really get through to someone, but it has to come at the right moment, there's only one right moment, and you don't know when it will be.

But I get the sense that you accept him, even if your relationship isn't acceptable right now, and you want to communicate that to him. Don't care for him at the expense of your well-being, but if you want to say "the relationship isn't working for me right now because you're not able to be communicative, but I'm always here for you as a friend," that would be fair. He may not take it well, or even answer, but you can't control that.
posted by tel3path at 8:08 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I advise against marrying this person. He doesn't sound like he's got many of the skills to hold together a serious relationship with another person.
posted by ead at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why on earth would you want to sign up for a lifetime of this?

He hasn't called you in two weeks, so it shouldn't be too hard to "cut off contact", but if he does contact you again, just tell him marriage is off the table. Nobody deserves to be treated this way even as a girlfriend; and he's doing you a favor by giving you a preview of what it would be like to be his wife. Ugh.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have been there - overwhelmed by schoolwork and helpless to focus on it and make progress due to depression and anxiety. So I just hid. No phone, email contact, quit opening mail, barely left the house. I was too proud to say just how bad it was because it's not like there was anything to point to as the cause, except for my own brain not working properly after a long period of stress caused by the pressure of school. And the financial cost of the program (tens of thousands in student loans) compounded an impossible bind: stress of feeling like I had to do well to justify all the time and money spent, but knowing that I could not do the work anymore. I could not see any way out so I shut off the outside world.

A few friends and family tried to help me, and I'm grateful to this day that they tried, but their well-meaning attempts included trying to impose a strict daily schedule on me (when I could hardly get out of bed) and continually calling me with every possible means they could think up to get me to finish my work (offers of money, words of encouragement, reminders of all the loan money I already spent, reminders of how disappointed they'd be if I didn't finish). I still could barely get out of bed. This was while going through medication and therapy, by the way.

I can't read your fiancé's mind but maybe shame is playing a big part in this. Someone who cares about him very much is trying everything to help him and he can't make his brain go along with the program. I remember having conversations with graduate students who would get stuck along the way in their programs because of depression and anxiety, and it was so hard to even talk to them because their entire world was school and school obligations, and they simply weren't making progress and were so deeply ashamed about it. Especially when it seemed like everyone else was also on antidepressants and ADD medications and still managing to be functional and make progress.

My advice to your fiancé is to start by acknowledging (because he's been hiding, I bet he doesn't want to truly think about it) that he could very well fail out of law school, or at least get very poor grades if the current situation continues. The academic calendar keeps moving while he's got his head in the sand. I don't know how it works with his law school, but look into taking a semester or a year leave of absence. Do it now. Be proactive before you do get poor grades or fall too far behind, and don't be ashamed about it; this is an action you can take to do what's best for your own well-being. Then, perhaps a change of environment would do him good? If he lives right near campus, get a little distance from the school environment - maybe move crosstown, or to a nearby town. And get a job. Not a law job. Something that gets you out of the house. Work at Starbucks, there's nothing wrong with it. Go outside and get fresh air and exercise and sunlight every day. If that's just long walks, that's fine; do that. Don't eat junk food. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and don't stay up all night on the computer.

I disagree with the responses advising you to break up with him right away. In my experience this situation he's in is toxic and difficult to resolve, but also particular and temporary. Outside of the specific pressure of law school deadlines and the accompanying financial worries, he may be a completely different person who is not depressed nor disengaged from the world. But right now he is stuck in an environment that produces these things in him. I blame the environment more than the person and have a lot of confidence that if he is willing to take action, the person he really is will come back. But look, he needs to think long and hard about whether he wants to be a lawyer. I'm sure there's a lot of sunk costs already after a year of school, but if he is miserable and hates the profession, struggling longer and making a career of it will likely produce more of the same. Maybe he needs to walk away. It doesn't make him a failure to do this, it just means a career in law isn't for him. Better to come to terms with it before wasting any more time and money.
posted by citron at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also have ADHD and depression. I previously used video games to cope with it (and can now tell I'm in a bad spot when my first reaction is to want to play video games I played then).

You cannot help him if he is not willing to help himself. You cannot make him better because you want him to be better. Your love is not going to be the catalyst to his transformative change. That's just now how this works. I know that's a terrible thing to hear but if you want to stay with him, you need to accept that he has control over his own actions (though they may be misguided due to his mental health). You cannot force him into anything.

Ultimately what helped me with my depression had nothing to do with my partners or my relationships. You probably feel as if you should be doing something, like there's some magic response you could make that would help him (and by help him, what you really want is for him to "return" to what you want in a partner)... but I'd encourage you to absolve yourself of this responsibility.

If he really is in a pit of depression (and potentially a hyperfocus episode, that's usually what led to me hiding from the world) then the only person who can save him is himself. He needs to ask for it or reach out. Until then, you can try everything you can think of... but it won't do any good. That is not a failure on your part. It does not mean that you're a bad partner or a bad person or you should be doing more. It's just how it is.

At least, that's my experience with it.
posted by buteo at 1:30 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's ok for you to break up with him, if only because I've kind of been in the same place as him (maybe?), and the big problem is the guilt and shame that turns into a feedback loop where I don't contact you because I feel guilty and ashamed that I haven't, and then I'm going to contact you as soon as I've done something unreasonably huge to make up for it, and then the thing I'd have to do to make up for it gets so huge I get paralyzed, and on & on it goes.

Breaking up could actually be a huge, giant relief, because he isn't constantly disappointing you any more.

As for recommendations -
~ 'The Now Habit' by Neil Fiore. It's about procrastination, but it's secretly about how getting anxious and perfectionist and paralyzed/workaholic about things doesn't actually help (duh!).
~ Helping other people is great, because I don't *have* to do it at all, so I don't freak out, but I'm getting practice at 'doing things'! (See, the constant volunteering recommendations - it really depends what it is. Getting picked up by a friend to help them move house is *perfect*. Getting picked up in general!).
~ More sleep
~ Leaving the house more (wandering, dithering, as long as it is outside)
~ 'ADHD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life' (book)
~ Hiring a student etc to be a body-double around the house. They don't have to do anything but keep you on track.
~ Breaking up with him (No really, this could actually help, and at least it won't be harming you as well. Tell him you're breaking up, and that you need an at least 3 month break where you don't talk, then block all social media with him).
posted by Elysum at 11:20 PM on April 25, 2012

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