When is it time to distance yourself from someone?
April 25, 2019 9:30 PM   Subscribe

So I have a depressive friend, he has been a good friend, but his depression has worsened over the last two years, to the point where he just doesn't care about anything but playing video games anymore. That's all he wants to do every day and that's what he wants everyone else to do as well. There's really no other way we ever communicate.

To be frank, this has become a vicious cycle, I try to hang out with him, he doesn't want to, he ends up lying to me about wanting to go out and bails on me at the last minute, I get angry about it, not because he doesn't want to go but because he has to lie about it. If he doesn't want to go out he should just say so, but he doesn't and on an on this goes.

The other thing that has been upsetting me for a while now, was his near suicide attempt. He tried to kill himself, and then messaged me about it, two days before his graduation. Honestly, I was just so angry, he put me in a terrible position and I've never gotten over that. We never speak about it, but I hated him for having put me through that and for making me go through the angst of having to make me stop him from doing something stupid. Some people will probably tell me I'm being selfish for hating him for it and maybe they are right, but I cannot change how I feel about that, and it has bred resentment towards him because of it.

Anyway, sometimes I feel like he is just not there anymore, like he's an empty shell, with no dreams, no ambitions and no drive to do anything. He just exists.

I am at a very good point in my life, probably the best I've ever been for a while. I'm letting my real personality flourish for the first time in a long time, I'm forming new bonds, exploring new things, meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, I'm engaged at my job and I'm all around leaving my comfort zone. But then he's there, and I feel like most of the negative thoughts in my life come from him. I hate to say it but I just don't want that anymore, I can't bear his burdens for him.

I don't want to cut him out of my life, in part he's a contributor to my life improving, but I can't be around him either, we just end up fighting,I end up being passive aggressive, I end up disappointed or I get really mad at him. I don't think it's good for me to be around him anymore.
posted by Braxis to Human Relations (52 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I’m super depressed, I have every intention of meeting up with friends, I’m sure I’ll want to Do The Thing and then The Thing rolls around and I just can’t get out of bed. I’m not lying to My friend, I am overestimating my ability To Do The Thing. I don’t know if that perspective helps your frustration.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:41 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


When I’m super depressed, I have every intention of meeting up with friends, I’m sure I’ll want to Do The Thing and then The Thing rolls around and I just can’t get out of bed. I’m not lying to My friend, I am overestimating my ability To Do The Thing. I don’t know if that perspective helps your frustration.

I understand that. Why does he need to lie to me however? Why can't he just not do that? It's just so much more than that at this point though. Sometimes I think he has this idea that my life revolves around him, it doesn't. For example today, I got mad at him for wanting to sabotage me and another friends' plans just so he doesn't have to go through the "indignity" of having to attend. He picked up on that and threatened us that if I kept talking to him that way we wouldn't do anything. I had half a mind to tell him to not go then. If he suffers then all of us should as well?

I'm sorry, but all this fighting cannot be good for us.
posted by Braxis at 9:48 PM on April 25


People are going to pile in here to tell you that depression doesn't make you a bad person, he's not trying to hurt you, etc., and all that is, in fact, true, but ultimately if you take no pleasure in his company and he brings out bad characteristics in you, it's probably best for you to step back from the friendship. Just try to understand that to a significant degree it's not his fault, and that if he gets better, he probably won't want to resume relations.
posted by praemunire at 9:54 PM on April 25 [31 favorites]


Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom to realize that they have to take steps to change their life. That includes losing people. Distancing yourself could be good for him.
posted by bleep at 9:56 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


If you are seeking permission to friend dump this friend because you don't have the skills or temerity to help, then you have it. You don't need it, but, you have it.

If you want to understand what he's going through and try to reach him, then maybe this will help:

Your friend has in illness. If you put me 400' up on a radio tower and measured my heart rate and such, you'd see that I was clearly terrified. If you put me 6' up a ladder, you'd get the same result - even though if I fell off, there is basically no chance I'd be significantly injured. In either case, I am much more likely to fall or be injured because I am nervous than if I were confident - but no amount of "just don't be scared" will do that.

This is because anxiety lies.

Your friend suffers from what can loosely be characterized as an anxiety disorder. His perception of reality is not all in line with what his risks actually are. He is not well, and is in fact ill. Fact is, you probably can't be his only source of support and help.

But what you can contribute is non-zero. The best man at my wedding attempted suicide. I'm glad he failed. He is one of my best friends. I wish I had done more in the weeks leading up to it, and I will never forgive myself for the things I could have done better. I should have been more patient with him. I should have tried harder.

I hope you never feel that guilt.

Nobody get out of this alive and we are all in this together.

I would urge to to man up, and meet your friend where he is - with kindness and understanding. He makes plans because he intends to meet you. Why does that fail ? How does he feel? What can you do to help ? What can you do to understand ?

If you don't have the spoons, or whatever - well, look to your own needs. Of course. But, you should reach in where and when you can. Or get yourself right enough that you can. Maybe reading this might help.

Point is - help as much as you can. You can't do it all, but you'll have the peace that comes from knowing you tried.

I know your friend is annoying. Someday, you will have a colicky baby, or wife who has alzheimers. What will you do then ? That's a rhetorical question - what we have to offer other people and why is central to how society functions. It is worth interrogating your own views and limits and knowing what and why they are.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:19 PM on April 25 [16 favorites]


People are going to pile in here to tell you that depression doesn't make you a bad person, he's not trying to hurt you, etc., and all that is, in fact, true, but ultimately if you take no pleasure in his company and he brings out bad characteristics in you, it's probably best for you to step back from the friendship. Just try to understand that to a significant degree it's not his fault, and that if he gets better, he probably won't want to resume relations.

Well, distance doesn't mean cutting him off completely. You're right though, and his behavior is harming me and bringing out the worst in me. This has been going on and getting worst for two years now.

Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom to realize that they have to take steps to change their life. That includes losing people. Distancing yourself could be good for him.

True, but I wonder if he would change his life even so. It doesn't matter though, he will lose me regardless. I've been trying to get him to go out because this is probably the last year I will see him so frequently, I will leave for Canada next year and I don't know for how long I will be gone, I might not even come back since I'm leaving my options open to whatever comes next after I finish my MS over there and if staying for more than two years is an option then I will take it. I've moved on to new prospects after having graduated, he hasn't.
posted by Braxis at 10:20 PM on April 25


I don't want to cut him out of my life...I don't think it's good for me to be around him anymore.

If you think you might want to entirely quit interacting with someone, but you're not sure, maybe go lower contact and see what happens. By "lower contact" here I mean: give yourself permission for the next while to stop reaching out to him, making any plans, and doing any of the work of maintaining this relationship. A "while" is relative to your circumstances - if you normally try to see him every week, stop for like a month, and see how you feel. If you feel relieved and comfortable and great, well, that answers that.

As far as understanding your own anger and resentment: if I told you I was only socializing with some guy because I thought that if I upset him, he'd go beat up a person I liked, you'd be like "that is literally a hostage situation, and not a remotely healthy or sustainable friendship." If you feel like you have to be kind and supportive (or else your guy will hurt himself), of course you're going to feel backed into a corner.

It's been two years. If he hasn't gotten professional help yet, I don't think whether his situation gets better is at all in your hands. Is he currently seeing or trying to see any kind of mental health care provider?
posted by bagel at 10:28 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I would urge to to man up, and meet your friend where he is - with kindness and understanding. He makes plans because he intends to meet you. Why does that fail ? How does he feel? What can you do to help ? What can you do to understand ?

You assume I haven't? When he tried to kill himself and told me and me alone, I stopped him and I called my other friends and his parents to stop him.

I don't know what to tell you other than this has been occurring for ages now. Two years have passed and he has only been getting worse and worse. He's also trying to drag me and all his other friends down with him because he doesn't want to feel alone.

I'm not going to poison myself with his anger, despair and fear simply because he is sick. I have already fought tooth and nail against my demons and it was hell to go through with that, I cannot fight his demons too.
posted by Braxis at 10:32 PM on April 25


It's been two years. If he hasn't gotten professional help yet, I don't think whether his situation gets better is at all in your hands. Is he currently seeing or trying to see any kind of mental health care provider?

I think he used to see a psychiatrist once a month. No way that is enough however, I have been going to therapy once a week for almost a year now and I'm only truly opening up until now.

Hostage situation is exactly right though. He holds us all at gunpoint or else. All of us have had similar reactions to his behavior, some of his other friends started creating other groups to stay apart. My other friend and I are making plans without him.
posted by Braxis at 10:35 PM on April 25


[Heya, Braxis, this needs to be more of an "ask your question, let people answer" thing and not an ongoing back-and-forth; that's not what Ask is meant for. If you need to add e.g. a clarifying comment later, that's fine, but the point-by-point responses to folks need to stop happening.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


As someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation since I was 11 years old, your question is worst nightmare shit. It is what I have to fight myself tooth and nail to convince myself is not what my friends think about me. For his sake and your own, put distance between you two.

I'm sorry that he put you in the situation he did with his attempt, and I'm glad that you responded in the moment. But that's also relationship-shattering stuff, and I know from personal experience on both sides of the situation that sometimes it can ruin a friendship, even if the people involved step up in the moment of crisis. Maybe that's what's happened to you. But please, do your best to not vilify him. You say yourself that you're in a very good place right now - take advantage of your privilege here and stop pushing yourself to be beside someone who so clearly isn't able to meet you where you want him to be.
posted by Mizu at 11:35 PM on April 25 [38 favorites]


Have you told him how you feel? Then depending on his reaction, you can see if things change. If not, spend less time with him. Unless you discuss your feelings directly you're just going to be passively annoyed and that doesn't help the friendship. As things are now it just sounds like you should do your own thing for awhile. I would also suggest that you think about why you're so angry with him. It sounds like you've improved your life and so you want him to as well and are frustrated at his slow pace. So I think it'd be helpful for both if you took a step back.
posted by jj's.mama at 2:44 AM on April 26


Try to help him before distancing yourself.*

Anyway, sometimes I feel like he is just not there anymore, like he's an empty shell, with no dreams, no ambitions and no drive to do anything. He just exists.

Yeah. That's how people with mental illness act. Something in your dynamic needs to change, and instead of abandoning him or continuing this trend of playing video games in his house, try helping him. If he refuses help, then you can move on with a clear conscience. But I don't think you should cut him off just yet.

Tell him your concerns. Tell him things can feel terrible but they get better. Some day you can tell him you're mad about the suicide attempt, but I wouldn't do that now. Offer to take him to a therapist or a psychiatrist or to a clinic. Offer to support him as he gets help that will improve his life.

I get this is an exhausting situation, but I don't think you've considered there's another road between the status quo and separation. I would try really hard to support him for now and see what happens.

*But I think if you can only appear pissed off and angry at him because of his illness, then you need to just politely be too busy to hang with him until you can stop that.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:49 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I think your friend is angry but thinks if he expresses it he will be abandoned. He unconsciously expresses it anyway and guess what? People want to abandon him. Try telling him this. It will probably just piss him off. Now the anger is out in plain sight. If you can stick with him through his anger, he may have a chance but he will try his best to drive you away because it actually less scary to be abandoned than to be loved.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:08 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Your friend is not having chronic depression at you.
With the attitude and misperceptions about mental illness that you have displayed, distancing yourself may well be healthier for your friend. You have the permission of this internet stranger to do so.

Do not do a feelings dump on your potentially suicidal friend, contrary to some of the advice above. The most you should say on that is "I value your friendship, but I can't provide the support you need at this time, so I need to step back a bit."

I'd encourage you to learn more about mental health, however. An easy place to start is to take a weekend mental health first aid course. I know that sometimes when I'm frustrated about a situation, it's because I don't know enough yet to know what to do. I try hard to ensure that I don't misplace my frustration at my own lack of knowledge as anger at someone or something else, but that's a challenge for everyone. It sounds like that may be part of what's going on with you? Anyway, educational programming that focuses on that "what to do about it" aspect, not just vague "understand what this is about" messaging, is more helpful to me.

Talking about your feelings about this with your therapist, who you see once a week, would also be a good idea, of course. I am assuming that you already do so, though, and don't need that advice from us. But I want to strongly encourage you to view the situation as "okay, my friend's depression is what it is. What choices am I going to make about my reactions, and how I deal with my emotions about the situation?"
posted by eviemath at 4:29 AM on April 26 [25 favorites]




One thing I wanted to respond to most specifically:

Sometimes I think he has this idea that my life revolves around him, it doesn't. For example today, I got mad at him for wanting to sabotage me and another friends' plans just so he doesn't have to go through the "indignity" of having to attend. He picked up on that and threatened us that if I kept talking to him that way we wouldn't do anything. I had half a mind to tell him to not go then.

This is you having the idea that your life revolves around him. Yes, you can go do things without him. In particular, if you made plans to do a thing, and he can't/isn't up for it when the time comes around, that's him saying he can't do the thing. If you also don't go do the thing, that's you choosing to not go do the thing. That's on you.

I recall one time when I was younger (though still slightly older than you, if you're a traditional-aged student), I was complaining to a friend about being tired because I had stayed up too late arguing fruitlessly with a partner at the time. She listened patiently, then - very gently - noted to me that it takes two to argue.
posted by eviemath at 4:44 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Reading some more about severe depression and suicide might help you try and move on from this:

I was just so angry, he put me in a terrible position

It's understandable to feel that in the moment, and even in the aftermath when you try to come to terms with it, but in the long run - you have to know that he wasn't trying to suicide at you. It wasn't about you. The most helpful explanation I've ever read of suicide, written for family and friends, was from Virginia Ironside, and this isn't verbatim, but the jist was:

"They didn't do it to hurt you. They were just in such unbearable pain that they had to make it stop, any way they could, and the only way they could find to do that was to throw the baby out with the bathwater."

I cannot change how I feel about that, and it has bred resentment towards him because of it.

Can you rexamine the assumption that you can't change your feelings about it? I think maybe learning more about severe depression and suicide could help you change how you feel about it, even if the conclusion is still that you can't deal with his needs right now.

It's really admirable and loving of you to keep trying to include him when he repeatedly doesn't show. And it's understandable that you're maybe having anxiety about him dragging you down when you've put so much work into doing better yourself, and your progress still feels new and precarious. The whole 'put on your own oxygen mask first' thing is real, and I've stepped back from people in depression myself before, to my lasting benefit (and, as far as I can tell, to no lasting damage to them). But if you do decide to withdraw from him, it would be so much better for you both if you can try and do it from a place of compassion, not anger.
posted by penguin pie at 5:12 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


You have lots of legit grievances but I wanted to point out:
Why does he need to lie to me however? Why can't he just not do that?
But at the same time you judge him for not being active and outgoing and "ambitious" and "dreaming" enough. If instead of lying he honestly told you he didn't want to go out would you actually treat that as a valid choice? (Assuming that it's really dishonesty in the first place and not a "mouth writing a check his depression can't cash" situation as others have suggested.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:12 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Another possible thing that could be at play here - it sounds like you were, unwillingly, involved in his suicide attempt and the aftermath. I've been there and it is hard, and depending on how it all played out, could be legitimately traumatic for you. Possibly right up to and including diagnosable-PTSD traumatic. We don't have nearly enough information to say whether that's the case here, but it would not be surprising if you have some unresolved and difficult feelings of trauma, and if some of these interactions are pushing your buttons because of that in a way that they otherwise might not. Just something to think about, because you sound really angry and judgmental here out of proportion to the situation, and that rings some familar bells for me. If you're still struggling with that aspect of it, you might need to distance yourself as a self-protective measure, and/or seek some professional help working through those feelings.

Whether or not that's true, it doesn't sound like the current iteration of your friendship is healthy for either of you. And given that you're moving away soon, there's a natural time limit here anyway. I would advise doing a gentle slow fade to whatever level of friendship is manageable to you for the remainder of your time there. Inviting him out to things clearly is not working out well, so stop doing that. But he likes playing video games. Can you work with his current illness-imposed limitations to find the time and compassion for a monthly video game night? Can you plan some other low-key time limited hangout, like a dinner near his place, after which you will have other plans so you won't end up sitting around for hours arguing? Can you work on yourself as far as developing some better boundaries so instead of a big fight blowing up, you can just say, "I'm sorry that going with us won't work out for you, we're still going, I hope you have a good chill night, let's catch up some other time soon" and go on your merry way?

You have options here that aren't either a Big Come To Jesus about his illness, or completely dropping a friendship with a history that at least part of you seems to want to keep honoring in some way. In your shoes I think I'd try to find a middle ground that's compassionate to both your needs and his illness. Easier said than done, I know, but I wish you luck and your friend healing.
posted by Stacey at 5:38 AM on April 26 [18 favorites]


Look, I get it. My sister in law has depression and anxiety, and I occasionally I get frustrated and resentful because she isn't doing anything to get better. Part of this is because I used to be depressed but got better, and my partner used to be very depressed and anxious, but did the work to get better. So part of me goes, "So why can't you do it?" That's not now depression works, though. It's different for everyone, and it depends a whole hell of a lot on how much resources and support you have.

Recently, my partner told me that the main reason they were able to get better is because I was there for them for years, adamantly telling them they were wrong every time they called themselves names and beat themselves up. I was there telling them, over and over and over, that they're a good and kind person, telling them they're doing the best they can and they deserve help and love and attention. That's how they were able to start challenging some of their negative thoughts, which was a necessary step before they were able to try and get help in the form of therapy and medication. Otherwise, they felt too undeserving, thought it didn't matter, that it was hopeless and they were worthless so what was the point?

I think they should give themselves a little more credit for how much work they did on their own, but I think there's truth in the fact that having someone to challenge your negative self talk really helps. They did that for me, too. It doesn't sound like he has someone like that. It sounds like you may even be making his negative self-talk worse. I get frustrated with my sister in law, but I have never brought it up or voiced it to her, because what's the point of telling a depressed person "you're too depressed and that frustrates me!" It frustrates her too, to no end, and she's constantly beating herself up about it. I guarantee it frustrates your friend more than it frustrates you.

I am trying to be more compassionate to my sister in law by remembering how both me and my partner were when we were very depressed. We weren't trying to get better or do anything with our lives because we did not expect to be alive long enough for it to matter. We both assumed it was just a matter of time before we got the courage to kill ourselves. What on Earth is the point of "ambition" and "dreaming" if you expect to be dead soon? That's what depression does. It takes away all your hopes and dreams and will to do anything. Sometimes, you have a spark of desire to do something, so you agree to go out with friends, but when the day comes, you physically cannot push past the wall of hopelessness to actually do the thing. That's not your friend lying to you. That's him trying his hardest to get up and go out, and then failing. It probably frustrates him to no end too.

If you want a more scientific perspective, try reading up on behavioral activation. But honestly, unless you can let this go enough to stop fighting with him over it, you need to distance yourself for both your sakes. Some frustration that you express in private to one or two friends is fine. But you're clearly so invested in him getting better that it's become very personal and angering. That's not going to help him, and that's going to be bad for you too. I don't get angry about what my sister in law does anymore. A little frustrated when it messes up my plans or takes a lot of emotional work and energy out of me, sure. But I let it go quickly (as in, like, 15-30 minutes) and don't take it out on her. It's her depression that's the problem, not her. I want her to get better, but I also have learned to not invest myself in that happening. I've accepted that maybe she never will get better, and I've decided to still care anyway. Caring is a choice. Your feelings aren't. But you can still choose to care, if you want, and act accordingly. If you do want to do that (and I'm in no way saying you have to, you're also allowed to distance yourself), I'd say the best thing you could do is be that voice that challenges his negative self talk consistently and compassionately. I'm starting to do that with my sister in law, because I've realized what a key component that was in my partner's recovery, and probably my own as well. But again, you'd have to let go of your anger to do that. You can't choose not to feel the way you feel, but you can choose to accept it and not let it affect your behavior towards him. If you're struggling to do that (just because you can choose it doesn't mean it's easy to do so), your therapist can help.

But honestly, you really sound like you want to give up. And that's okay. If you don't have the energy to be that person, you don't have to be. But in that case, you need to do what's best for both of you and start distancing yourself. Your anger isn't good for either of you. You're allowed to value and want to keep that anger. But you can't keep both the anger and your friendship.
posted by brook horse at 5:54 AM on April 26 [11 favorites]


It sounds like you've got a bit of a pattern going on where you try to hang out, he flakes, and you get mad, and then you try to hang out again. It's kind of a Charlie Brown and the football thing, except you yourself are setting up the the football (by inviting him) and then making the kick (by believing that this time he'll come).

You know how they say the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing and expect different results ... honestly I don't think that's about insanity, people do it on the regular. But it's definitely something to explore when you realize it's happening, probably with your therapist.

If you can't set up invites with no pressure on your sick friend to attend, and enjoy the event whether he comes or not, then it might be time to stop setting up invites for a while - for your own mental health. You don't have to cut him out but maybe you can find ways of being a friend that don't cause you so much distress.

I'm sorry this is happening. Good luck to you and your friend.
posted by bunderful at 6:13 AM on April 26 [7 favorites]


Perhaps your friend and you will find interesting this book by a person who began having suicidal thoughts after getting a concussion. She turned to video games to help her mental health.

She also has a TED talk on the topic, an associated website, video game, community, etc.

Jane McGonigal, "SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient - Powered by the Science of Games"

https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life?language=en
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24611964-superbetter
https://www.superbetter.com/
posted by at at 6:33 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


You may find some of the resources from NAMI (national alliance on mental illness) helpful. They have a Friends and Family section that talks about how to support a person with depression or other illnesses, while maintaining your boundaries and
posted by basalganglia at 6:56 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Who's lying here? Supposedly it's the depressed guy:

I try to hang out with him, he doesn't want to, he ends up lying to me about wanting to go out and bails on me at the last minute, I get angry about it, not because he doesn't want to go but because he has to lie about it. If he doesn't want to go out he should just say so, but he doesn't and on an on this goes.


But you already know that he doesn't want to go out. If you are his friend, why are you making him repeat over and over for you what clearly is painful for him to say out loud and what you already know? You know the situation and stated it clearly at the outset:

he just doesn't care about anything but playing video games anymore. That's all he wants to do every day and that's what he wants everyone else to do as well. There's really no other way we ever communicate.

If you want to hang with him, you have to go over there and play video games. He does not want to shoot pool or rock climb. Every single time you set up one of these elaborate skits where you invite him to bowl, you are fully aware he's going to say "sure," and then not show up at the bowling alley. So who's lying? You. You are lying.

You're recreating again and again this painful situation so that you can make him feel a tiny bit of what you felt when he put you through that suicide attempt. You're pissed off at him because he put you in the impossibly painful and difficult position of having to beg him to stay alive. That's exhausting, agonizing, and terrifying. Not many friendships could survive it, and this one didn't. Stop lying, quit torturing him, get the hell away from him. As several people have said, he didn't attempt suicide at you on purpose, and up to now you weren't torturing him on purpose. From now on? If you keep this up? It's deliberate. So unless you want to deliberately hurt your very vulnerable former friend, stop it.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:57 AM on April 26 [8 favorites]


I understand what you people are saying about the books and how this is an ilness but I have been down that road before. Plenty of times people have told me that. It's not as simple as just realizing that he's sick and just that. He also has a very bad character and it makes it more difficult to deal with. I don't know if that is the depression speaking or not, but he has held me and my friends hostage whenever these sort of situations have come up. They are not putting up with it anymore and neither am I. There are limits.

I have told him these behaviors bother, the last time I got mad, I told him calmly that I was tired of him lying to me and that if he didn't want go he should just say so, I wouldn't be bothered so much if he just didn't lie. I caught him lying again yesterday, and I found out through another friend. It pisses me off that he just can't tell me and that he has to play these games to try and sabotage our plans.

As for trauma, I doubt it, I was not present, didn't see him do anything but I did get the messages and I had to be the one to take action. It made me angry at the time and it still does. I know that's not alright but that's the way it is, and I have thought it through. I hate that he put me through that.

I am not going to play video games with him either, since it is always whenever he wants to not when I have time and I have very little time due to my other interests. If he wants to play then he has to be willing to compromise but he bails on me even then.

I am not going to stick by him and honestly hearing how I have to be there to help him get better sounds like having to share his burdens. No, I'm not going to do that, I'm not going to poison myself at his expense especially when nothing has changed over the last two years in which I've tried to be there.
posted by Braxis at 7:00 AM on April 26


Your question is "When is it time to distance yourself from someone?"

Now. Now is that time. You've clearly already made up your mind about this, and that is totally valid. Everyone cannot always be there for everyone else. It is a lot of hard, emotional work. But arguing here with everyone about how you're justified isn't really changing anything. You want to stop dealing with him then do that.

What stands out to me is your anger about his suicide attempt. Yes, it is very hard to feel like you have to be the one responsible for keeping someone from killing themselves. But carrying that anger is not good either, and maybe you need some therapy yourself?

Ultimately this friendship is not good for either of you. You aren't getting what you want out of the friendship and you're not in a place where you can be understanding of his illness.

Stop frustrating both of you and just end it. Fade away. But as someone else said, there will likely be no coming back from it.
posted by aclevername at 7:15 AM on April 26 [10 favorites]


If you don't want to share his burdens or help him then you arent the kind of friend he needs right now, just as he isn't the kind of friend you want either. Honestly I don't understand anyone encouraging you to stick around. You are not equipped to be the friend he needs, and you don't want to become that person either. Fine. It will be healthier for both of you if you leave hime alone, because, as a person who has struggled with depression, I wouldn't want the guilt and judgment that you are definitely not hiding. Nor do you want to be doing this work that may or may not result in the kind of relationship you'd enjoy. That's fair. I don't know what answers you were looking for since your mind seems pretty made up. Move on, for both your sakes.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 7:19 AM on April 26 [10 favorites]


Honestly it doesn't sound like you have a question anymore; sounds like you've made your decision and it sounds like it's the right decision for both you and the former friend. You don't have to keep loading on justifications (he's "too negative;" he "has a very bad character"). You seem worried that you'll look mean if you stop trying to be his friend. But it's impossible for you to be his friend or for him to be your friend, and it's not either of your faults. It's your justifications making you look mean, not your needing to step away from him.

You're not mean: you're trying to do the right thing through a thick fog of perfectly understandable anger and resentment.

I get the sense that you haven't had many good relationships of long duration and are thinking that relationships fail only when one of the people is a bad person. But good friendships between good people do end, naturally, when the people grow in different directions. It is not the case that one of the two people has to be a bad guy.

Just hightail it away from him. It's okay: you've put in more than your share of effort already and it's somebody else's turn at this point. Leave him out of the planmaking and he won't be able to sabotage the plans. Let him be. If he ends up dead, it will not be your fault.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:20 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


Plenty of people have said that you don't need to take on his burdens. It sounds like you're having trouble accepting that yourself, though, or you wouldn't have posted this question. I would suggest bringing this up to your therapist, to help you work through whatever you're feeling that's making it hard to let go of this friendship, even though you know it would be best for both of you.
posted by brook horse at 7:30 AM on April 26 [8 favorites]


Okay, yes. Based on your follow-ups, you do not currently have room in your life or your heart for the level of flexibility and compassion it would take to meet your former friend where he is. There doesn't seem to be any space where your needs and interests intersect with his current needs and capabilities. It is okay, and probably best for both of you, to walk away from the friendship at this point. If you want permission from some internet strangers to do that, you have it.

You're walking away carrying a lot of anger, resentment, and judgment that still sounds out of proportion to the situation as it actually is. We don't know enough to say why. Maybe that will all dissipate once you've given yourself permission not to engage anymore. If not, please do talk with a therapist about this at some point for your own sake, so you don't get to this level of anger and resentment in future relationships.
posted by Stacey at 7:42 AM on April 26 [8 favorites]


It is possible to be an asshole AND be mentally ill. The label "depression" doesn't excuse people from behaving in a way that negatively affects others. Maybe he would still be this way even without the "depression". Fade away and do what your other friends are doing and form different friend groups. That is normal behaviour at your age where people start solidifying their values and wanting to be around people with the same values. Maybe he will come back into your life after gaining some insight, maybe not. Meanwhile, live your life for you.
posted by saucysault at 7:43 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


You don't seem to recognize that your anger and frustration is on you, not him. He is not producing "most of the negative thoughts in my life." You are, by handling the situation in a dysfunctional way.

You don't have to spend time with anyone you don't want to. It sounds like you want to maintain this friendship though, which is kind of you. So work on changing the story you're telling yourself about him. Some things that might help:

Stop seeing his inability to pull himself up by his bootstraps as a personal failing; consider it something he has no control over.

Stop asking him to do things that he is consistently unable to do.

Stop perceiving him as someone "holding you back;" if he actually is holding you back from something, make changes to prevent that.

Set up mental boundaries to keep his emotional state from bothering you personally. It is possible to be concerned about and empathetic toward someone without it taking over your life.


If you're able to do these things, it'll probably be easier for you to offer to go over to play video games every once in a while and enjoy an evening with a good book if he cancels on you. If you're not able to do these things, you don't need anyone's permission to end a relationship, but maybe it will help you see that changing one's thought patterns is not that simple.
posted by metasarah at 7:45 AM on April 26 [10 favorites]


Your options are not just (a) cut him completely, or (b) let him (really, his depression) sidetrack and wreck your life. There’s a whole middle ground here. Three concrete suggestions:

- Stop scheduling plans around him or for him. This might relieve anxiety for both of you. It sounds like you have a full life, so continue planning your social calendar without regard for his video game schedule. Make sure you keep inviting him to things regularly, no matter how many times he fails to show up. Try to put aside your annoyance about his lack of ability to go out, because it’s not about you, and it shouldn’t be a problem if the plans are not scheduled around him. (Don’t plan anything where his absence would cause an issue.)

- I think you’ve hit the point in your friendship where his behavior is bothering you above and beyond a justified amount. This is normal even in friendships without the kind of issues you’re dealing. Sometimes I go through phases where literally everything my friend does annoys the shit out of me. I’ve learned over time to realize that’s irrational, it’s coming from some issue of mine, and I should pull back on contact a little bit to regain my perspective before I say something I don’t really mean that will linger. Sometimes it’s better to sit with your feelings and wait for a while than to act on them.

- Seek help yourself to talk through the experience of saving your friend from the suicide attempt. That is extremely scary and it’s normal that it has affected you so strongly. He’s not in a place where he can help you deal with it.
posted by sallybrown at 8:06 AM on April 26 [7 favorites]


It's not as simple as just realizing that he's sick and just that. He also has a very bad character and it makes it more difficult to deal with.

What's not simple is your level of involvement with someone who you seem to basically not like. It seems like you miss your before-friend and are actually having a tough time coming to grips with depressed-friend. At some very real level their illness isn't about you and yet you still try to do things (set up hang out time) as if your friend will somehow realize the value of your friendship and get their shit together. And you take it personally when they don't ("Why do they lie?"). I know it's hard to be in a situation where you sort of can't take a friend at face value, but you're going to have to do the "put your own oxygen mask on first" thing. You've decided, if I am understanding what you're saying, that you don't want to be part of your depressed friend's crucial life support. That is fine, that is a choice you can make. But now you need to actually start working on distance here because it's upsetting you that, basically, your friend is not your friend.

I get it, at least somewhat. I have a few depressed friends and for whatever reason my personality type is such that we wind up in each other's orbits. One of them was at the "Call me at work when I was on my way to a thing I had to do and tell me she was going to kill herself" point (was cry for help, she did not attempts, ten years later she is doing a lot better but still depressed). And I had to tell her flat out "I am not this person for you. I am your friend but this is not my job and that is how I am going to act" It was tough because to the literal minded what it feels like you are telling your friend is "It is okay with me if you die" but what you are really telling your friend is "I can't dedicate my life to saving yours"

Part of your frustration, I think is seeing yourself stuck in your same role with this friend and being grumpy about it. So think how you can change that set of interactions with no input from your friend whatsoever. And then do those things. NAMI is a good starting point (my partner has a son with a chronic mental illness and it's really useful to have some coping strategies or just people to talk with) as well as finding some friends in not this situation. No one is saying this is easy but you seem to be mourning your before-friend and blaming your depressed-friend for that loss and it would be worth trying to extract yourself from that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:11 AM on April 26 [17 favorites]


(Sorry if this is too much of a reach, I know there’s a danger in playing ‘join the dots’ with previous asks. Disregard if you think it's nonsense, but FWIW…)

Your levels of anger over this seem particularly high, rather than just deciding to disengage with him and doing it. As others have pointed out, it sounds like you’ve decided you need to walk away, but for some reason you’re struggling with that – both the idea and the execution (otherwise it’s not clear why you’re here, as you seem to have made up your mind already – this, and particularly your follow-ups, read more like a need to express your extreme frustration, rather than needing help deciding what to do).

So looking at your previous asks to see if I could understand better, this one leapt out at me. Another relationship that resulted in a high level of anger for you (justifiably, by the sound of it) and where your situation made you feel locked into the relationship, like you couldn’t just easily walk away from it but had to keep talking it out to try and find a solution or agreement.

Again, I’m sorry if I’m drawing spurious connections, but maybe you can unpack this a little with your counsellor. It sounds like you’ve done an awesome job on moving on from that previous situation, presumably you eventually manged to set those boundaries unilaterally and stick with them in the way that was healthy for you. Maybe you can redeploy those skills here if you’re finding it hard to step away and are overwhelmed by anger that you're trying to dispel by getting the other person to see your point of view or apologise.
posted by penguin pie at 8:12 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


His depression sounds pretty bad. You sound like you want to be a friend. I'm sure you've encouraged therapy. Try action. If you have a bit of time on the way home,stop and see him, ask him to come out for a short walk. Maybe on your day off, go for a walk, get some lunch. When people are depressed, it can be hard to get moving. Any exercise, and getting outside a bit, helps.

Don't make it a plan,which gives him the opportunity to piss you off some more. Keep it small. And encourage therapy; he may be more ill than he is saying.
posted by theora55 at 8:21 AM on April 26


You’re angry because whether he knows he’s doing it or not (probably not), he’s manipulating you, and it feels like shit to be manipulated.

Having someone put you in the position of being responsible for their *actual life* is a lot for a young person to handle - yes, traumatic - especially when (pardon me, I glanced at your history) that young person has already had to be responsible for family members’ dysregulated behaviour, and has been through his own rough patch.

I don’t think you’re wrong for being hurt, upset, and angry, and I don’t think you should feel guilty for that, or feel obliged to your friend, for that matter. It sounds like you’re finally at a place in your life where good things are happening, and his pain is too close to the bone, and you want to protect your well-being.

Your feelings are valid, not only the sick person gets to have feelings.

Gently removing yourself is ok. Having boundaries for your own self-protection is ok.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:32 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


Mentally ill people can hurt the people around them. The converse, that you can hurt the people around you when you are mentally ill is also true. It's not the mental illness that is the real issue, because people with no mental illness can also hurt people around them. It helps to separate the harm being done to you from the person's mental illness.

With everyone we need to have boundaries and not identify too closely with the other person, and be responsible for our own happiness and not theirs. One tool useful for figuring out if you are being over responsible or over reliant is to look at the difference between omission and commission. If you rage at your friend you are hurting them through commission by something your are doing. If you neglect to invite them to a party you hurt them through omission, by something you are not doing. In general you can are wise to responsibility for when you hurt someone through commission and not to take responsibility when you hurt someone through omission.

If your acts of omission hurt your friend they are dependant on you, and the pair of you are too emeshed and have bad boundaries. Of course, on the one side emeshment is necessary and healthy. If you have a baby and don't nurse it and it goes hungry that is totally on you. The baby is unable to be anything but dependent, so if you need to withdraw from that baby for the sake of your own mental health, you need to delegate the baby's needs to someone reliable. But when you get to adults it becomes one of those hard to parse areas about how dependent they need to be versus how responsible you need to be. Figuring this out is one of your major challenges in life. It's basically THE big question in all relationships.

We are pretty much all capable of becoming overly responsible for other people because it's the only way to keep kids alive, so it is in our instincts. And we are also pretty much all capable of becoming overly dependent on other people because it's a great survival strategy to hook into other people's anxiety and get more from them than we contribute. When we do this we usually don't realise we are doing this. We tend to feel either that they owe this to us, or that we have absolutely no other choice and we loathe feeling dependent.

This is an important issue because it ties into the question of consent. If I lead you to believe that I will go out with you and then change my mind at the last minute it can have lethal consequences, if say, you are are now stuck trying to get home on foot, on your own in minus thirty degree weather. I have a right to change my mind, but not if I am doing so frivolously and endangering you. On the other hand if you reluctantly say that yeah, okay, you could have sex with me and then change your mind, I am not entitled to murder you.

So how much do you need to feel anxious or guilty about withdrawing support for your friend? It's no fun inviting him to things and then getting rejected and having to change your plans. If you dump him and go no contact you may make someone important to you more depressed and really unhappy, maybe even suicidal again.

So perhaps you can look at is how much you are sticking him with your needs - and how much you are being over protective of his mental health. perhaps you can sketch a way of not sticking hm with your needs, and simultaneously protecting his mental health. If you require him to come out with you in order to have fun, then you are sticking him with your needs, whereas if he is requiring you to invite him to everything, he is sticking you with his needs. Sometimes he is not requiring you to invite him, but you are so anxious that he will die without your support that you are inviting him in a desperate bid to keep him alive, and sometimes this is even worse for the mental health of the person you are inviting because they need to keep their anxiety levels down and you are only making them higher with every invitation and the drama if they don't meet your expectations. And of course they might even be part of this bad pattern if they lay a guilt trip on you if you don't invite them. Basically, everyone involved could be flailing in a way that is bad for the other person and bad for themself.

Can you deal with uncertainty? How about you approach the going-out thing, by maximizing the uncertainty. "Hey Joel, I'm going out on Friday night and listening to that new band. You usually don't feel up to stuff like that, so I expect you won't be able to make it, but if you can I would love to see you there and I'll pay for some chicken wings. If you decide to come let me know by six PM Friday night and I'll swing by and pick you up." Don't ask him to say yes or no in advance, just give him some warning to save the date. And then work from the assumption that it is okay whatever he does because you can have fun without him, or with him, and he is smart enough to figure out whether going or not going is better for his mental health. Even if he's not that smart it's okay, because you are not that smart either, so wrong decisions will be made, too bad, but unavoidable.

Now as for the fury and outrage and hurt that your friend stuck you with a massive amount of emotional labour when he leaned on you during a time when he was actively suicidal - Guess what? You are entitled to that fury and outrage and hurt. You got sucked in deeper than it was safe or fair for you to be when that happened. You probably are not an expert at handling and supporting suicidal friends, so it was an enormous stress on you and your boundaries probably got badly breached.

I've struggled with this. I am delighted to say that the first time one of my children told me they were suicidal, I picked up the phone and informed them that they were going to make an appointment for their mental health, right now. I was not equipped to figure out how suicidal, how serious, what kind of help, what to avoid doing etc. so I delegated care to a professional. It was my instant reaction and it was a good one.

Unfortunately I have also ended up emeshed at other times, flailing, suffering, not helping and taking serious damage myself. Over a decade later one of my other children ended up admitted for suicidal intentions, and he spent considerable time raging at me that he couldn't commit suicide and it was my fault because if he did commit suicide it would upset me and his dad and he hated me for this and we were bad evil people for putting him into this situation. I felt that he needed the support of my visiting during his admission and bringing him books and quarters for the pay phone and such, but I was not mentally capable of spending time with him when he was like that without taking damage myself.

That's the problem with being responsible for something when you don't have the resources to be responsible for it. You get through it, somehow, because the minutes and the days don't stop, even when you are going into the corridor to vomit from being upset, but at the end of it you are stuck with a tendency to gag whenever you remember the time, and sometimes you can't stop remembering and can't stop gagging, multiple times a day, every day.

I am guessing that you are in a similar place, that you can't stop remembering what you did during his suicidal time, and what you felt, and it wasn't good for you and you haven't healed from it yet.

If your friend had desperately needed a kidney and you had donated yours you would still be carrying an injury. And if your friend had desperately needed $60,000 to pay for a mental health admission and you had taken a loan on your credit to pay for it, you would still be struggling financially. Instead you have bad shit going on in your head.

So here are a few questions: If your friend is suicidal again, would you provide him with support again? If you went back and was in the same situation again, being asked to provide support, would you provide it a second time? (Assuming you knew it was the first and only time.) When it hurts or distresses you, you will always do better if you can look at it more closely, with compassion, and see exactly where or why it hurts you.

Maybe, in retrospect you should not have tried to help your friend. Maybe in retrospect it was still something you had to do. Well, it's done. But own that conclusion and keep it. Your friend may or may not have manipulated you into helping them - and you may or may not have actually been any help. But you had agency, and that agency means that the next time something similar happens you have the information to respond the right way.

Maybe you can conclude you got used and should have run a mile. Maybe you can conclude that you donated a kidney and will live with back pain for the rest of your life, but you fucking had to, and that was the only choice than anyone decent would have made. Or maybe you can conclude that the problem is that your friend is a jerk and you did the right thing, but he is such a jerk he feels that he used you and yet has never acknowledged the fact or attempted to begin to build up trust and fairness between you again. Or maybe you don't know if he is oblivious, or grateful, or resentful, or incoherent. But often the distress lingers because you have not been acknowledged.

So begin by acknowledging to yourself, then look for outside validation from others, and finally, if there is any point in doing so, look for acknowledgement from your friend. You might end up saying to him, "I am glad you told me you were suicidal. It fucked me up trying to help you, but I am so glad you told me and I had the opportunity to try to help." If you are still hurting there is probably something that needs to be heard. It doesn't have to be heard by him if he is not in a position to hear it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:50 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


The middle way. The third way.

You are angry. Wait until you are not angry to read all of this and consider your best course.

Take a break. Use more and different words when you explain any of this to someone, including yourself.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


It pisses me off that he just can't tell me and that he has to play these games to try and sabotage our plans.

You have brought this up a few times and he has now demonstrated that he struggles with follow through on plans. So by making plans with him that hinge on him playing an active role in planning or participation beyond showing up at an appointed time you’re setting him up for failure. One way to approach this would be to invite him to participate but to have no requirements for him to do anything. You and your friends make plans. If you want to stay in touch with him you invite him if it makes sense to do so, e.g. it is an activity he has historically enjoyed/was able to make a positive contribution to or else something where he can just turn up and hang out but it is no problem if he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t show up (within a reasonable time) you all can still go ahead and do whatever it is you wanted to do. You’re not cutting him off completely but you are allowing fir the fact that he may not be in a place at the moment where he can make significant contributions to plans.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:46 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


You asked this question with your mind already made up. That's fine, but you would be well served to ask why you don't trust your gut feelings.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:54 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Honestly it doesn't sound like you have a question anymore; sounds like you've made your decision and it sounds like it's the right decision for both you and the former friend.

Agreed. OP has made a decision, and needs to act on it. Now they just seem to be arguing with people who are offering help.
posted by terrapin at 9:55 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Yeah, ok it's not a question anymore. I'm sorry if it's out of hand but it's just that I have put a lot of effort and it seems like he is falling deeper and deeper inti his depression.

Being unable to help just makes it impossible for me. I'm not used it. Usually when I have a problem I do whatever is necessary to fix it and most of the time things work out. This is not one of those times.
posted by Braxis at 10:29 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Something that's helped me is to think on the difference between a problem and a predicament. You can endure a predicament as best you can, or you can escape a predicament as best you can, but some things aren't fixable. Someday you might look back on this as a valuable lesson in the limited value of throwing energy at a situation you don't have the power to improve.
posted by sculpin at 10:38 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Braxis, maybe your question-behind-the-question is „how do I not feel like shit about this situation and the choice I feel forced to make“?
posted by Omnomnom at 10:48 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Braxis, maybe your question-behind-the-question is „how do I not feel like shit about this situation and the choice I feel forced to make“?

Yeah that's probably it.
posted by Braxis at 11:34 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Welp.
1) Try and tell yourself firmly - and try and believe it - that the shittiness doesn‘t have to be anyone‘s fault. You don‘t have to hate yourself for making this decision and you don‘t have to hate this guy for the way his sickness put you in this position. You don’t have to weigh blaming him against feeling guilt. Sometimes all choices you are personally able to make suck.
2) Ask your therapist about those feelings. Explore them. They‘re almost certainly about a lot more than just this one guy and your resentment. Big feelings can mean big steps forward.
3) You sound like you‘re stewing in feelings you can‘t even articulate. You seem to be having problems even reading what we‘re saying, it‘s so distorted by big feelings. When that happens, it‘s probably not useful to marinate. Go out and do something vigorous with your body. Doesn‘t matter what, just go make some endorphins. Thinking about this won‘t get you anywhere right now, so refuse to think about it for the next two hours. Push any thoughts about it out of your brain. Excercise your body. In two or three hours, see if that lets you process your feelings better.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:33 PM on April 26 [3 favorites]


You can still be friends with him without subjecting yourself to hanging out with him (which you apparently don't like anymore) and without making plans with him (which he keeps flaking on). Maybe encourage him to get some help and let him know you're worried about him - stop making the conversations about you being annoyed and make them about him needing help. But other than that, you don't owe him time and energy you don't want to spend on him.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:04 PM on April 26


Something I learned too late in life is that it's actually completely acceptable to choose who you have close to you, and that emotionally healthy people tend to be that way because they're choosy about who gets the benefit of their emotional labour (and vice versa). Doing this gives you the energy to participate in your friendships in a way that is mutually satisfying. Being choosy isn't about expecting perfection out of people, but it's about recognizing when a situation is taking everyone involved way out of their depth.

This is a potentially scary thing for people who have never prioritized relationships that work well, because it means they may have to consider distancing themselves from a lot or all of the people close to them. It means that you could potentially end up at least temporarily lonely or isolated. That's certainly a risk, but this can also give you the clarity and calmness to set reasonable boundaries with people and make better connections.

Maybe I'm projecting, but maybe you feel crappy about yourself and uncomfortable with your gut instincts because you're caught in a cycle that doesn't make you feel like a good friend. Breaking this cycle - and asking less of your friend - might help you to feel better about your decisions. Best of luck.
posted by blerghamot at 2:10 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


[Braxis, this is very much not the place to pick a fight with people. Your question has been asked - you can take what answers work and leave the rest, but you need to stop responding here.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:11 PM on April 26


It's probably better for your depressed friend to not hang out with you if that means fighting with you and knowing that you're starting to resent him.

Take a big step back and maybe engage more on the level of "hey I saw this cute picture of an animal I thought you'd like so I'm texting it to you" or "I sent you a postcard with a dumb joke written on the back." Asynchronous stuff is good - you maintain some kind of connection but you don't have to be frustrated he doesn't feel up to meeting somewhere and he can text you back when he's in a relatively good mindset. Postal mail is good because it's also physical, so he has a thing to look at that reminds him somebody likes him.

Keep it easy and low stakes. If it's not easy and low-stakes, take a bigger step back.
posted by momus_window at 3:44 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


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