My closest friend is mentally unwell and in love with me. Help.
December 1, 2013 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I share a house with my oldest and closest friend, and I have found out that he is in love with me and feels intense heartache and jealousy when I date. He is deeply depressed and emotionally dependent on me. We are both late 20s guys and I am straight. I don't know how to deal with this.

I feel I should separate myself from him, but I think he could be in serious trouble without me. He has become quite isolated, has nowhere else to turn for support, and has been self medicating with weed and booze. If I cut ties with him, or even just move out and create distance, I'm certain he will fall even deeper into depression and maybe may even hurt himself. He refuses to get help for his illness as he doesn't trust doctors and psychologists and is convinced they can't help him.

This situation terrifies me. I couldn't live with myself if something happened. I feel completely trapped, and have no idea what to do. I would greatly appreciate any ideas.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are not responsible for anybody but yourself. This behavior that you describe on his part is emotional blackmail, codependency, and something you cannot control! What will you do, stay with him for the rest of your life so that he doesn't kill himself over losing you? No, that is not how reality works. He could kill himself regardless. I repeat: you are not responsible for anybody but yourself, so you will be able to live with yourself if something happens. Why? Because his behavior, his attitudes, his actions, and his life are his and his alone.

Move out, let him know that you care about him, and then contact ANYONE this guy is related to so they can step in and do right by your friend. Do not allow yourself to be blackmailed into coming back, into coming to see him, or anything like that. You can only help him by getting out right now and doing right by you first.

Memail me if you need more input. I have some experience with this and am happy to weigh in a little further.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:03 PM on December 1, 2013 [44 favorites]

His mental health isn't your responsibility, first of all. Whatever you do, and whatever he does in response, is not your fault (as long as you aren't being abusive somehow, of course).

The first thing you should do is move out. And probably with the bare minimum of notice to minimize the drama. THEN, figure out how much help he needs and what you can do to help him. You can't do anything for him while you're living with him.
posted by empath at 6:06 PM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Put on your own oxygen mask, first.
posted by jbenben at 6:11 PM on December 1, 2013 [41 favorites]

A thing to remember: he is probably in love with you because you are straight, thus unavailable. In a sense, any unavailable person would do instead, because the whole point of the exercise is generally to create a kind of miserable stasis which is less scary than dealing with the illness/loneliness/internalized-homophobia/whatever-is-going-on-with-him. I mean, don't get this mixed up with some idea that he's in love with you because of your personal qualities or that this is some kind of tragic failed romance for him; it's a defense mechanism of some kind for the poor guy.

Unfortunately, the only way out is through - he needs to get to a point where he has to deal with the world in some way, whether that's via therapy or medication or some other large life change. This probably means he's going to hit bottom pretty hard, but that's not something you can prevent. Even if you dedicated your life to staying with him and assuaging his fears and miseries - well, what if you got hit by a bus? His mental health can't rely on you alone. Also, if you spend your time making him feel "better", he's still in this state of miserable stasis - holding himself in the one position which causes the least pain.

If you move out and he deals with reality, he'll be moving forward. In a few months or a year or two years, he will very likely be in a better headspace, maybe even starting to deal with the world and finding someone who loves him. He'll have a very hard fall before that happens, but the best thing you can do for him is not to prop him up.

Of course, it would be good to get in touch with people who can help and console him in your absence - family or any friends other than you.

For him, this will feel like a break-up, remember that. Seeing you will be painful and sad, and he'll have the horrible temptation to seek your presence and attention.
posted by Frowner at 6:19 PM on December 1, 2013 [14 favorites]

I was with a man who was mentally unwell who loved me. It was different, of course, from your situation, but the bottom line was the same: I had to leave because no matter what I did, I couldn't really help him. And if he killed himself because I left - well, that wouldn't be my fault.

You can't be blamed for your friend's actions. I would work on thinking about how to rid myself of that feeling of potential guilt, because - at least this is what happened for me - that could be the glue that is keeping you attached to this toxic situation.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. Take care of yourself. It's OK to prioritize yourself over this other person.

I would consider individual therapy to help get you some support as you work through this time, which could be very trying. It's OK to leave someone who is manipulating you. I know he is your friend, but the way he is behaving... well, it's keeping you locked in. And that's not fair to you. He's trying to take away some of your agency by letting you be afraid for what he might do if you take care of yourself. Whether it's conscious or not, it sure isn't very friendly.
posted by sockermom at 6:33 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

You really need to let someone else step in and help him, because the dynamic you're describing is so totally unhealthy for him that there's very little you can ethically do besides that. He will not get better while this situation persists - I'd be very surprised if he recovered while you shared a residence, because there's no way to change history (everything the two of you have said and done so far) and it's next to impossible for you to change your current behaviors enough to make a real difference in how you interact while he's in such terrible shape.

I have been as depressed and confused as your friend sounds. And, if I were this bad off and doing this to a friend right now, I hope that whatever friend was stuck in that place with me would have someone vigorously telling them to get away and tell professionals, family members, etc., to help me instead. Being a full-time carer is bad enough when you've actually made "till death do us part" vows and everyone is fully conscious of what's happening and clearly and freely chose it all while they were well - this is why respite care services exist. And you made no vows and had no open and honest conversations in advance of this coming up. And you certainly don't have the kind of training you'd need to deal well with this - there are classes, etc., for family members of folks with mental illness that can make the real difference in bad times, but the bad times are not generally the point where you start learning it all.

If you can tell the mods where you live, folks here can offer specific support/resources/etc., but the very first step for you has got to be realizing that the way you "fix this" is by embracing, wholeheartedly, the fact that you cannot fix this.

I BTW agree that this is very codependent sounding; if you want to start reading about that kind of thing start here.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:34 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

He has become quite isolated, has nowhere else to turn for support, and has been self medicating with weed and booze. If I cut ties with him, or even just move out and create distance, I'm certain he will fall even deeper into depression and maybe may even hurt himself. He refuses to get help for his illness as he doesn't trust doctors and psychologists and is convinced they can't help him.

So he is getting sicker and you feel obligated to continue the current situation? He uses your presence to avoid getting help--and you think you should stick around?

Get out. Give your friend contact information for services that can help him, and get out.
posted by LarryC at 6:50 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is probably going against the grain a little, because I think the issue here isn't that he's saying he loves you, it's that he's mentally unwell. The following is just based on my personal experience, but hopefully it's helpful.

I think him saying he loves you and is possessive of you is his "out of touch with reality" way of saying he needs you. Since you're an old, close friend of his, I do think it's right to at least try and help him before fleeing the coop. However, "helping him" doesn't mean getting with him (don't worry!), it means steering him toward the health care he needs, and helping get him to take charge of his mental state once he's more medically stable. Truthfully, this sounds like he's having a serious health issue and he probably is going to need *some* level of hospitalization or at least a doctor's care.

First thing is, you need to get in touch with his family if they're at *all* functional. Unless they're a complete mess, they're going to want to lend a hand, will know his past medical and insurance history, and will have more access to medical personnel and carry more weight with his work/school than a friend will. Ask the most responsible member of his family who he gets along with to come visit, if possible. If he doesn't have family or if they're incapable of helping, then anyone else in his life who he trusts and loves would also be helpful in helping you sort this out, so contact that family-like person -- even if he has lately fallen out of touch with them. If they could come for a visit, that would be great, too.

Second thing is, if you think that he'll listen to you and will even begrudgingly let you take him to the hospital or HMO center, then do that. Seriously push it -- he's not going to want to go, but do what you can to convince him (please do this for me, etc). Keep things very calm and light and clear, but be goal-oriented about this. If he really won't listen to you, then he will need another trusted, responsible person (ideally, a parent or other very close family member) to come stay with him for a bit and get him to go to the hospital. Once he's at the hospital or HMO center, in my experience they do take charge and get things moving with emergency appointments with mental health professionals and medication, keeping him in the hospital, etc. So right now, concentrate on getting him willingly through those doors.

Third thing will be contacting his work or school, but ideally at that point he'll be able to do that himself. Besides, it's putting the cart before the horse to worry about it before you have any idea what his treatment will be and how much it'll interfere with his ability to work.

Other things that aren't directly medical will probably come up even after his health/mental state is more under control:
1. his ability to keep to a routine in terms of eating/sleeping
2. his ability to get to work/school
3. the necessity of staying away from drugs/alcohol as much as possible until his head is on straight.

Those are things that he's going to have to work at and probably re-learn, and if you're really committed to being there for him, you can help him do that, basically by setting the routine and following it yourself with him. But he might need to move back in with his parents or a sibling for a while instead, because relearning how to live a non-mentally-destructive lifestyle requires a lot of day-in-day-out work, and it's OK if you can't be the person to put in that work with him.

When he's considering how best to tackle getting his life back in order (probably a matter of months, though possibly weeks), that's when I would discuss the idea of moving out and/or not being roommates anymore. But right now he doesn't sound medically stable to tackle those things, and it'll probably be more stressful and less productive to try and deal with the living situation and lifestyle issues now, while he's having a health crisis and it'll cause all kinds of freak outs and fear on both your parts.
posted by rue72 at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

If he was mentally well, then the love thing would probably either disappear or at least be just a thing that happens sometimes and not that big a deal. He has depression to a level that he feels intense pain and heartache from getting out of bed, you know? Of course it hurts to a disruptive degree, but that's not the feelings at fault, that's the depression. So I'd just set that part aside for the moment and think about generally what one ought to do when a close friend is mentally ill and refusing treatment. I generally agree with rue72--see who else is available to help you in this, really pull out all the stops because it only goes downhill otherwise whether you go or stay.

It's kinda like--what would you do if it turned out he had cancer and it was wrecking his life and he wouldn't go see a doctor? You can't tough-love people with depression into fixing themselves, so you can't threaten to move out to try to get him treatment. On the other hand, if all reasonable steps fail, you don't have to go down with him just because he's your oldest friend, there's some point where he has to make that call himself. Do what you can do, don't feel bad for not doing more than that.
posted by Sequence at 9:07 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

rue72 makes some REALLY great points at first.

I want to caution you that you should not ever ever EVER get in touch with his school or work.


Yes. It's OK to contact family members if your roommate requires an intervention. Of course. That's the humane thing to do for a friend!


His family might not be stable or LGBT accepting. I kinda doubt this situation of depression, addiction, and transference of strong emotions onto you developed with a warm, sane, and loving family in your friend's background.


- Before you help him, you need help for you.

You are not a mental health professional. Find LGBT friendly services in your area and consult them for advice, access to services and resources for your friend and yourself, and generally proceed slowly and at your own pace.

My heart goes out to you and your roommate, FWIW.

Before you contact his family, contact helpline professionals who can discuss the situation with you personally, in depth, and can direct you and your roommate to resources for further help.

Don't do this alone or rely on non-professionals.

This is serious. Get professional, not dramaz.

Good luck. I mean it.
posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on December 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

Something I've found very helpful at times of difficulty is the idea of the hot coal in the throat - the excruciating thing that can neither be swallowed nor spat out. Most of us tend to resist change, especially facing our demons, until there is no other option; until we get the hot coal in the throat.

Perhaps it might be helpful to think of your continued presence in your friend's life as the thing that is insulating him from his hot coal. If he can get by, no matter how marginally, because you are there making life bearable for him, then he will not face up to the things he needs to look at. You removing that comfort from his life doesn't guarantee that he will improve, but it may be the catalyst for change he needs too.

It's critical to let him know why though. He needs to know you love him and that you're stepping out of his life, to whatever degree, because you think you're contributing negatively to it and that you're doing the best thing you can to help.

I feel for you; this is a tough and scary situation. Good luck and remember that he, like all grown ups, is responsible for his life.
posted by mewsic at 10:11 PM on December 1, 2013

You are only responsible for you. Internalize that.

Now, that's not to say that you should abandon your friend.

You need to sit down with him and tell him "Buddy, I'm really concerned about you. You're isolating yourself, you've developed an inappropriate crush on me and you're using too much booze and weed. Your choices affect me negitavely in the following ways: I feel guilty when I date because I know you're hurting. I feel responsible for your mental health and happiness and I resent it. It pains me to see you hurting and your refusal to seek real, professional help is just another symptom of your depression. Unless you go to a GP to seek help for your depression, I am going to have to move and strike out on my own. I'm not going to love you to death. So either I'm accompanying you to a doctors appointment, or this is my 30 day notice. Which is it?"

That's a productive way of dealing with this. You do have to stand firm on your bottom line though, if he fails to help himself, then you need to move on.

As it is right now, he's addicted to his depression and you are his enabler.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gay guy here. I've been the mentally unwell gay guy crushing on a straight guy. It sucks, but it's not your fault.

He needs help, and one of you needs to move out. He's seriously depressed, so it probably won't be him.

Advice for him--if he's open to it--would be to find someone to talk to, but also to find some gay people to hang out with. If you're gay and only hang out with straight people, you end up crushing on straight people. It's a recipe for unhappiness.
posted by johnofjack at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think you should move out, but maybe you could help him find LGBT support groups and go with him to the first meeting. He needs other people to talk to. Help him meet other people and help him take the steps he needs to help himself.
posted by gt2 at 8:07 AM on December 2, 2013

I just want to point out that if you're like me and actually believe in shared responsibility and social support for fellow human beings (i.e. do NOT share the value that it's every person for themselves and that's the only responsibility) you can still have that value system, that it's good to care for others and be there for them and also appreciate that in special circumstances you are not the right person to provide the support. In a situation where helping others puts you or them at risk of harm, it no longer falls into a healthy category of mutual or even imbalanced but voluntary giving and support because it is a harmful and damaging situation where AT LEAST one person is being harmed and that is not an ok solution.

When you say he is deeply depressed and dependent on you, what are the signs you have seen this is true, or could your issues be at play here too? Has he given you reason to think he would harm himself or is this something you're worried about because you sense he is emotionally troubled?

What I mean to say is, friends living together can get feelings for each other and it can suck even if no one has a mental disorder. And yes it probably is best to move out ASAP. I don't think you need to necessarily cut all ties but that depends on whether you are simply sensing he is emotionally depressed or if he has been telling you about his depression/desire for self harm. I don't interact with people who have self harm issues other than to point them to resources and let them know I care about them and wish them the best. I've been in too many situations where a person talking about their self harm issues causing them to be the entire center of the relationship and if that's the kind of friend they want to be they aren't a very good person. If they are in pain and need help, they need to at least be using the resources available and putting forth some effort to care for themselves before I want to be part of supporting them as well and this is just from a safety and self respect perspective.

People with and without mental illness can be self absorbed and that is really the problem not just "mental illness" itself which necessarily isn't a reason to cut people off in my opinion. I like to give extra support to people in need, but I need to see they are putting forth effort to be as safe as possible to those around them and if nothing else be able to be kind and respectful of those offering help. When a person can't do those basic things, it really is only professionals who can work as a team and with education and tools to interact with such people without requiring any basic expectations of safety or mutual kindness at all, and that is a HARD job, deserves to be paid.

Untreated mental health issues, as well as unacknowledged self absorption and crappy social skills, can all be dangerous and it's fair to just get out of the situation if you aren't sure what you might be in for. If he has threatened self harm it is TOTALLY respectful to leave a number for a suicide line and say "That sounds serious and there are people who can help you if you really mean it. There is nothing I can do for you about something so serious because I could do the wrong thing or put me or you at risk, if you tell me about this again I will presume it is a serious cry for help and call emergency professionals to come help you"

In general when I tell people who talk about self harm a lot this message they do stop telling me about their self harm urges.

I just wanted to share this because I think in healthy relationships we DO value being there in times of need. To many people that is a great value and a great thing. In special circumstances the rules need to change simply because of risks of harm, not because people who are mentally ill deserve less support; or necessarily that no one is responsible to anyone but themselves.

That's certainly an ideology you can choose to have, but it's not something you have to agree with to see this situation may not be safe for you to stay involved in and you might need to move on whether for your sake or both your sakes. I wouldn't say we're responsible to no one but ourselves (according to my value system) but rather that we're responsible for caring for others only when we have the skills to do so safely and without damaging our well being or ability to have happiness and quality of life. Aid should involve ensuring the welfare of a person offering support as well as the person being being support and should as often as possible involve mutual reciprocity.

I had a hard time leaving people behind because people would say things like "Only look out for you and no one else!" and I would think, what a terrible world. I don't want to agree to that, so I want to stick it out through anything. There are ways to create the value system you want (whatever that is) that might include providing support to friends in need while also seeing specific situations might call for a change of whether that can safely be carried out or in what way.
posted by xarnop at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

As you decide what to do about this situation, maybe you should make a list of things you will not do and things you do not want to happen. I know that when I am faced with a friend in need, it is very hard for me not to make promises I can't keep and not to put myself at risk, because I feel strongly in the moment and because it seems so heartless to hold back.

I agree with xarnop that it's very difficult to balance a distaste for the "everyone for themselves, people are responsible for their own lives" contemporary truism with keeping yourself safe and functional. It's hard to avoid either being ruthless (because "you can't fix people" and "it's not your responsibility") or being a doormat.

So maybe sit down and think about what your hard limits are - you are unwilling to stay in this living situation longer than X, or you are unwilling to stay in this living situation unless Y condition is met, or you are unwilling to take on Z responsibility for your friend. Also think through "what I do NOT want this situation to be in six months" - like, in six months, you don't want to be in the same situation just barely making it through the day, or in six months you do NOT want to have your friend calling and texting you every day to share his feelings of loneliness and need, etc.

I find it easier to do some things when I know for sure that "doing something" is not going to slip and slide into "doing something I am really uncomfortable with that puts me at risk"....which it has in the past.
posted by Frowner at 8:55 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

contact ANYONE this guy is related to so they can step in and do right by your friend

Make sure he's out to the relative you contact first.
posted by yohko at 4:52 PM on December 3, 2013

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