Help me relate to my friends who have mental health issues
March 13, 2007 10:43 AM   Subscribe

How do I better relate with people on anxiety and anti-depressant drugs?

This is a sensitive topic for many people, including many of my friends. I've tried to do as much empathizing as I can, but I still find myself having trouble associating with some of my closer friends who take anti-depressants and anxiety disorder drugs.

The problem is more or less as follows: many of my friends are on these type of prescription drugs and are very intelligent, fun people who offer many great things to my life (think mostly college poet/writer types). The rub seems to come in that they have a way of inserting their mental health issues into many conversations, and use it as reasoning for nearly all of their actions. They often make comments dealing with their mental health, and generally define themselves with their disorders in a way that seems almost self-obsessive. I find this extremely annoying, because if they never mentioned it, I wouldn't assume they had any kind of "disorder," and life would go on between us as it always has--with plenty of laughter and smiling and fun.

Is it normal for me to feel awkward or annoyed by this type of behavior? Am I way out of line? Should I shut up and be more accommodating and make a better effort at empathy?

I understand that anxiety and depression are serious diseases that people deal with on not only a daily, but an hourly basis (that is to say, all the time), but it hampers my friendship when it's all I hear about. "OK, time to go get some pillz!"

I love and cherish these friends and I want to be available to them, but I think my suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry, coupled with my own drug-less battle with depression a few years ago has left me jaded to the issue and feeling somewhat hostile when presented with otherwise normal people who define themselves by their diseases--and their drugs.

Are there any good books on the subject of living with loved ones who have these types of diseases? What about books that address the pharmaceutical and anti-depressant industry itself? I'm not entirely sure what I'm asking, but I'm trying to sort some things out in my head, so anecdotes or personal accounts may help here.

Also, is it completely out of line to be suspicious of someone's therapist and their relationship to that person?

Apologies if I've made any off-color comments here. I know this is a touchy issue and I simply want to be a better friend to people I care about a lot. Thanks.
posted by dead_ to Human Relations (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As Miss Manners would put it: I'm sure nobody would advocate coming between a patient and a doctor, so the real issue here is how to deal with friend behavior you find annoying.

Everyone is annoyed by something someone they love does, says or likes. I find it best not to dwell on it, because then it starts to grate more and more and it eventually overwhelms everything else. The fact that you've posted the question here means it may already be too late. When they do their annoying thing, just blank out for a second and kind of hum mentally to yourself, then pick up where you left off.
posted by DU at 10:59 AM on March 13, 2007

IAABI (I Am Also BatS*** Insane), but I think your annoyance is justifiable. People in general have a hard time realizing that someone can do a really wonderful thing and still be a complete ass, or be the most gruff, socially rude person you know and still be the kindest.

It sounds like your friends are great people that are using one aspect of themselves that they think others find interesting as a sort of conversational comma, a universal silence-filler and segue. Almost everyone does this to a degree, whether it be that time they were in a bank holdup, that month spent backpacking through Europe, or their crippling colitis. A lot of people don't even realize they are doing it, and may be hurt if you point it out, but, as embarrassing as it may be, I'd want to know it that situation. Just let them know that they are more than a few cubic millimeters of misfiring synapses or a drop of miscreant neurotransmitter. Don't let them use their illness to define themselves.

Also, as a side note and as a person who has overcome (mostly) his own problems without the aid of drugs (bad mojo with my mother getting over medicated), I share your paranoia. In light of constant news and anecdotal stories of all sorts of medication used as a catch-all for any and all personality quirks, I know the lines between awkwardness and true anxiety, quarter/mid/etc.-life ennui and true depression gets blurred.

I'd be suspicious just because, if they didn't keep reminding you, you would have never known. Even a clueless friend would recognize the difference between mental instability and the vast spectrum of odd, but healthy personalities. Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs are, in my opinion, grossly over prescribed, matched only by the wholesale distribution of ADD and ADHD medication for children. Unfortunately, even if you were 100% certain due to divine prophesy, you don't have a degree or psychiatric license, and, even if you did, they still may not listen to you. Their repetition of their problems (which most true sufferers I've known don't brag about) makes me think they aren't seeking comfort and understanding so much as validation. They don't want you to pity them, they want you to believe them.

But I know neither them nor you, so if I said something out of turn, I apologize.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:09 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The rub seems to come in that they have a way of inserting their mental health issues into many conversations, and use it as reasoning for nearly all of their actions. They often make comments dealing with their mental health, and generally define themselves with their disorders in a way that seems almost self-obsessive.

Can you give some more concrete examples of the types of behavior that annoy you?
posted by canine epigram at 11:13 AM on March 13, 2007

Perhaps you're encountering the difficult territory with your friends between "looking well" and actually feeling well? Individuals who appear well may in fact be dealing with painful illness -- even if they are able to let their personality shine and enjoy lots of laughter. They may be angry, not just annoyed, that they deal with a chronic issue, and they may simply be trying to be honest with you (a trusted friend) rather than defining/excusing themselves with it.

This article helped my understanding (and, I must add, despite the source).
posted by vers at 11:20 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm missing something here, but: have you considered just bringing up this problem with your friends? Be a friend to them and help them make a change to their conversational habits. The hard part is setting up such a conversation and phrasing your concerns delicately, but that's a matter of responding to your friends' moods and needs, so you know better than anyone how to go about it, I'd imagine.

It's easy to be pissed off by someone constantly referring to their problems - I've been on both sides of that, making out-of-nowhere comment about my weight or relationship status in the middle of arbitrary conversations, but finding it infuriating when my depressive-chic schoolmates carried on about how hosed they were, how sad, how empty, how glad to be medicated, etc. The solution seems to me two-sided: you try to make a change in your reaction, and try to alter the action itself in a friendly way.

Best of luck.
posted by waxbanks at 11:24 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm also interested in how they interject mental health issues into conversations.

I'm being treated for anxiety & depression with medication, but it's not something I talk about with most of my friends. I mean, I might mention it when I'm transitioning on to a different medication and feel out of it, to explain why I'm out of it, or if the subject of depression/anxiety come up in conversation, but most of the time I am focusing on having fun & socializing, not on sharing the wonders of modern medicine with people who don't give a shit.

Basically, it's something I consider sort of personal, along the lines of weight loss & religion, so I keep it to myself unless someone else brings it up.

So yeah, I think it's weird if they never shut up about it. How long has this been going on? Maybe they are just starting to feel really good so they want to share that.

I also think it's seriously overdiagnosed. These days anyone can get a prescription to help anxiety & depression from their general practitioner. That's not always a great thing. I think sometimes we grasp for REASONS for the way life is, and some people can really latch on to some sort of diagnosis as a way of defining who they are.

And yes, it's ok to be suspicious of therapists - I just fired mine for being totally batshit insane and an idiot to boot. I think someone who is even more vulnerable than me might not have realized how insane and toxic a person like my therapist was, and that's really scary. You don't need to be sane to be a therapist.

At the same time, unless your friends are asking you for advice, it's not really your place to say, unless you feel they are genuinely harmful to your friends.

Sorry for the ramblingness, but I hope some of this was remotely helpful.
posted by tastybrains at 11:27 AM on March 13, 2007

Best answer: my own drug-less battle with depression

Try not to judge based on your own experience. There are degrees of depression and anxiety. Some can be overcome by just hanging in there and taking extra-good care of oneself until the triggering factor has passed. Often, though, it can't. I was actually quite unsympathetic to depression and anxiety before I developed it myself -- so much that I probably caused more problems by allowing my denial to delay getting treatment. Take it from someone who was formerly of the same opinion as you: these things can get pretty bad, and even very strong, rational and responsible people need help sometimes.

All that having been said, making a production out of treatment is not a necessary part of the process, and there are plenty of people -- myself included -- who do so without all but their very closest friends or family knowing. You sound as though you suspect your friends might just be "slumming it," so to speak; using their Zoloft to contrive some sort of artsy bohemian malaise. If that truly is the case, then I wouldn't blame you for being irritated -- I have a very low tolerance for people who wear others' real burdens as fashion accessories. But on the other hand, depression is weird and your friends just might be coping the only way they know how. Just being there for someone who has depression can mean a lot, and I hesitate to suggest that you give up on them entirely.

So, to compromise, how about this: give your friends the benefit of the doubt with the most open mind you can manage. If you still find their company irksome, speak up or bow out or whatever it is you feel you need to do, but make it clear that you're there for them and check in from time to time. You care about your friends, and if this is just some trend it will pass. If not, you'll have been a better person for sticking around through the hard times.

is it completely out of line to be suspicious of someone's therapist and their relationship to that person?

Well, the Thou Shalt Not Sleep With Thy Patients rule is there for a reason, and there are a lot of crappy therapists out there. However, (and I have nothing to back this up) I think this happens much less in real life than it does on TV. If you discuss this with your friend (I'm assuming that's why you're asking), make sure you do it as gently and non-judgmentally as possible, and make it clear that his or her well-being is your only concern.

I hope this helped!
posted by AV at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

FWIW, this behavior is not really specific to mental health issues, in my experience. Naturally, most people with chronic health issues don't define themselves primarily in terms of those issues. And there is also a notable minority of people who do define themselves primarily by those health issues, regardless of whether it's a mental health problem, back pain, food allergies, etc., etc. I know someone who is allergic to (at least to hear her tell it) just about everything, and takes every conceivable opportunity in a conversation to bring that up.

I realize that doesn't really answer the question of "how do I handle this?" (I try to just let it slide, which may or may not be the best way of handling it.) But I wanted to point out that there are people with all varieties of health problems who do that - it's not specific to mental health issues.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:55 AM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Sure, canine epigram.

For example, sometimes we may be talking about a class. The conversation will often take a note of indignation against teaching practices, justified by whichever disorder seems the best fit.

It's never, "I can't stand rote memorization tests," but rather something like "I can't stand rote memorization tests because of my brain and my diseases," when the truth is pretty much everybody hates rote memorization, regardless of their brain or diseases. This is just one example.

Many times, if a serious topic for discussion comes up, this person may say, "I'm not trying to be smart, but there's a lot of things I want to know and I just genuinely don't know what's being said, things I can't know because of my brain." Serious topic being something related to interpersonal relationships, money, grades, etc.

This type of stuff makes its way into many conversations, though these people are hardly constituted by their mental health issues, and seem to selectively apply them (i.e.: I hate group-work in class because my brain doesn't let me hang around so many people, but I'll see you at the party Friday).

I want to empathize, but responding to these things is difficult. "Maybe you should seek some treatment for that problem, so that we can communicate better," is the wrong thing to say, because, well, they are already in treatment and have accepted these things as indissoluble parts of their lives that they aren't working past, but being defined by. It seems like that's what I too, will need to do (accept).
posted by dead_ at 11:55 AM on March 13, 2007

I think often people use mental health isues as a crutch/excuse and one side of me gets annoyed, one understands.

There are people at my job that are often out because of depression.
And I know people with physical ailments that drag themselves to work everyday.

I understand it is harder for the depressed workers to come to work but the guy I work with that takes him an hour extra to get ready because of he's in a wheelchair gets here.

It's harder but doesnt mean you shouldnt do it.

Depression, IBS, anxiety, Cronic back pain, one side paralyed due to stroke, ADHD... we all have burdens and i think what ever it is bringing it up all the time/making excuses doesnt seem to be the appealing thing to discuss in casual conversation.

That being said- we all have our annoying sides. I obsess about travel and my dog and probably talk about how much my work can suck way too much and probably a thousand things that I dont realize is annoying.

I get along with my republican friends by avoiding politics- maybe you can avoid these convos when they come up.
posted by beccaj at 11:57 AM on March 13, 2007

I'm a therapist, and I treat plenty of depressed folks with talk therapy. I'd suggest three things about your situation:

1) Your friends may actually be talking about it because they feel strangely about it. In other words, their focus on it might be their own attempt to normalize something that they don't actually feel that great about.

2) Talking about being depressed or taking medication does not mean that one isn't depressed. They may be trying to communicate some of how they're feeling to you without opening themselves up to an emotional conversation they'd rather avoid.

3) Psychotropic medications do work. They're oversold (in a philosophical sense) and over-prescribed, but they do work for some people some of the time. Since their efficacy is not much better than talk therapy, and they have a lot of side-effects, they strike me as a poor first-line treatment strategy, but they do work; and your suspicion of them, while justified in many ways, may be blinding you to the fact that their actions are what make your friends able to laugh and joke with you at all. (Which might not make them any more comfortable with taking them; see#1.)
posted by OmieWise at 12:05 PM on March 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

In my experience, people who constantly bring things like that to your attention feel a bit insecure about the issue. I have a friend who is adopted, and she seems to always define herself as such... as though she need needs to remind people. My mother, who was also adopted, says some people just have trouble coming to terms with it. I suspect there is some parallel to people who deal with mental illness.

I would say, to an extent, there might be an insecurity in feeling that you have a problem with it... and they feel like they need to compensate by bringing it up... This might even be compounded by the fact that you really don't know how to react to what they say.

People deal with different things differently. I would say just try to understand that... Don't feel weird about talking about things... Don't feel like you need to say anything at all in response. Just nod, smile, move on. I agree with DU. Focusing on a behaviour that bothers you definitely can make it more unbearable.

In regards to your feelings on prescription drugs... once again, remember that all people are different. I know that I might not have made it through my own depression/anxiety issues without the help of drugs. I tried to do it on my own for the longest time, and it just got worse and worse.

Maybe you could even have a discussion (one on one, versus in a group) with a few of your friends about your feelings about drug therapy...? Talking to them about their experiences might help you to break down some of the negative feelings you have about using medication. Ask them for their feedback... Intelligent people tend to welcome intelligent discussion, and introspection. Just be the great friend you seem to be... be supportive and understanding...

(*I wrote this earlier, but the internet/site was being spotty. So forgive me if some of this has already been addressed.)
posted by Mookbear at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

my own drug-less battle with depression a few years ago has left me jaded to the issue and feeling somewhat hostile when presented with otherwise normal people who define themselves by their diseases--and their drugs.

Can you share more about your battle with depression? How bad was it, how you conquered it, if you saw a therapist, etc?

The best way to empathize with your friends is to have an honest conversation with them. Asked them to tell you (in detail) what life's like for them, on and off the drugs. And then really, really listen. Some of your friends might be "depressive-chic". Some of them might be in the best place they've been in years thanks to their drugs.

When talking to my friends, I've brought up a mental/health disorder because I wanted to talk about it but didn't know to say "so, wanna talk about my disorder"? Pre-medication, if I brought up my depression, it was because I was scared or lonely or needed a hug or something like that. When I finally started medication (after 4 years of stubbornly going without), I was so happy that I was happy (physically, mentally, etc) I could talk about nothing else for weeks. Similar to newlywed talk... And most of my friends welcomed it (let alone tolerated it) because they had seen how bad life was for me off medication.

If after talking to them you're still thinking you're friends are prats, well, you can stop speaking to them without guilt :)
posted by whitneykitty at 12:22 PM on March 13, 2007

Your friends are being annoying and self-centered, but hopefully you have the power to refocus their conversation. Back in the 90's, it was people who would bring up their childhood sexual abuse in every conversation and blame all their bad behavior on it. In the 80's it was chronic fatigue. For all time, it has been people who bring their 12-step recovery into every conversation. Tell them you appreciate them as a person rather than a set of symptoms, and want to relate to them in that way. If they are feeling bad, you will be there for them, but you don't want every conversation to be about mental illness.
posted by matildaben at 12:24 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some of these issues come from the fact that you are in college. For better or for worse, college is the time that many people begin exploring what makes them them, so to speak-- and often start talking about themselves a whole heck of a lot. I'm sure I did it myself.

It does sound like your friends may also be using their illnesses as excuses, which can also be very annoying.

Perhaps you could just say, "you know, I love you just the way you are, but it really bums be out when you obsess about your depression. I don't want to exclude you from talking about it, but I just want you to know that I don't consider it the core of who you are."

Or something similar but less cheesy.

Regarding the therapist thing-- there are a ton of therapists whose behavior falls short of sleeping with their patients, but who are nevertheless detrimental to their patients. I had a friend in college who read "The Courage to Heal" and decided she had repressed memories of abuse/incest; her therapist encouraged this and in fact made her problems a whole lot worse (IMHO). At the time I didn't realize that was the case, but in retrospect, what a terrible impact she had.
posted by miss tea at 12:29 PM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers so far, everyone.
posted by dead_ at 1:01 PM on March 13, 2007

Drama queens are fun, aren't they? (In all fairness, though, some therapists like to encourage patients to use their illness as a crutch or to notice things they might do differently than others due to it. Hence, some of what you observe may be from that. Or from your friends being over-dramatic. Maybe some of both.)

You might want to try something like this:
Friend: "OK, time to go get some pillz!"
You: "Oh, that reminds me I need to take some meds for my explosive diarrhea/chronic constipation!" (switch it up every time for maximum effect)

Ideally, they'll note that sometimes medical history can really be TMI and keep things to themselves in the future.
posted by SuperNova at 1:03 PM on March 13, 2007

When specific examples come up that you feel are not directly illness-related (ie. everybody struggling with rote memorization) it might be helpful to your friends (and to you) to say something empathetic and humorously, like, "I know that your struggles are serious, and I'm not trying to diminish them, but take comfort in knowing that EVERYBODY, including myself, has problems with rote memorization, and you are not alone in that one!" They may just be seeking validation or comraderie. Try to empathize without diminishing their struggle. Also recognize that it may in fact be more of a problem to them than to the average person. If anybody feels like anything is a serious problem for them, then it IS in fact a serious problem to them, regardless if you feel like it's common or justified or you would feel differently in their shoes. You're you.

Most of the time when people air small pieces of "dirty laundry" they're just looking to connect with others. To have somebody else say, "oh yah, my laundry stinks too" and move on. Your annoyance may inadvertantly be sending the message of "ewwww, MY laundry doesn't smell!" which in turn prompts them to insert more types of approval-seeking interjections.

My point is, try to empathize with the parts you can relate to, and acknowledge the real struggles that you don't understand anything about. Receiving small reminders/validations *usually* makes people more comfortable and secure, and less apt to continue strange self-centered** digressions.

**By "self-centered" I simply am referring to a comment stemming from that person's concept of self, and do NOT mean "selfish".
posted by iamkimiam at 1:33 PM on March 13, 2007

Best answer: You might want to start by remembering that you're actually asking two questions: "how do I deal with this annoying behavior some of my friends have?" and "how do I deal with my own prejudices regarding depression, anxiety, and appropriate treatment thereof?"

You probably have friends that you don't know are on depression or anxiety meds - and you don't know because "talking about meds constantly" isn't a behavior that all depressed/anxious people have. Most of us mention it pretty rarely, unless there's a specific reason [we're changing meds and we want our friends to be on the lookout for behavioural changes, it happens to be the topic of conversation, etc.] You might want to sit them down at some point and say "look, I don't see you as a disease or a medication, I see you as a person, so it's sort of hard for me to sit by and see you define yourself as your disease/meds." But be willing to sit and listen, without interjecting your opinions on meds and such: as OmieWise says, there's a chance they're trying to deal with their own reservations about medication [and being someone who needs it], and they don't realize quite how much they're talking about it. Find out why they feel the need to mention it so much.

That's all separate from your distrust of counselling, anxiety/depression meds, etc. With regards to that, it's important to remember that there is no "typical" experience of depression. You got over your depression without having to resort to drugs, but that doesn't mean that everyone who uses medication is somehow lazy or weak: there's a big range in depression, and in how various sorts of depressions are best treated. You got better without meds: you lucked out. While some people who are on meds may have asked a doctor for pills the first time they felt a little disappointed after a bad grade in college, many of us spent years trying to deal with our depression or anxiety without resorting to meds. Very few people prefer to have to spend their life medicated, or risk the annoying side effects of SSRIs.

Similarly, there are bad therapists, and there are people who are not helped much by counselling, but counselling is still one of the main ways most of us deal with depression or anxiety. If you have specific reservations about one of your friends' therapists, bring it up to him/her and explain that you're concerned about them. Beyond that, though, I think that the best way to deal with your reservations about treatment of these sorts of mental illnesses is to remember that nothing's really black and white. Remember that everyone who's dealt with this stuff has their own story. It took me a long time to come to terms with my chronic depression, and a longer time to realize that counselling and behavioral stuff wasn't enough, and to try meds. To my chagrin, the meds do seem to help. Find out what your friends' stories are, and you can figure out how to react appropriately.
posted by ubersturm at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I come from a family of strong silent types, that when asked how they're doing are always, “pretty good.” They would never burden someone with their problems or worries -and this is even after my father committed suicide.
posted by spork at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2007

You've phrased this about depression and drugs but really it's just generally douchebaggy behavior revolving around something that people self-identify strongly with. Miss tea has it right-on - this kind of behavior is much more prevalent in someone's early twenties.

The best thing you can do is just grit your teeth and bear it, if they really are otherwise wonderful people. I have a friend who for a long time couldn't make it twelve hours without some sort of reference to her attraction to women, to the point where I at one point said "yes, we get it, we all know it's not just the rod and staff that comfort you."

This went over as well as you could expect.

As others have also said, cut them a little slack. As someone who has wrestled with depression yourself you understand just how big a part of your identify this can be. They're trying to put it in context for themselves and cope with their decisions and mistakes in life. Maybe they talk about the drugs all the time because they're seriously ambivalent about taking them.

If the question is seriously about how do you relate to them and not just how do you deal with the fact that this gets under your skin then maybe you should say "I wonder, do you know how often you mention that stuff? Are you okay with it?" If you really want to know why it's constantly on the tip of their tongue, ask.
posted by phearlez at 1:59 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am on antidepressants and sometimes I might come off like your pals in that while I'm very private about my medical history (and everything else) with strangers and acquaintances (except over the internet, apparently), I'm very open about it - even casual - with friends. I can't imagine ever saying something like "my brain doesn't let me hang around so many people," mainly because it sounds dumb. Your brain? Really? Does it ground you or take away your allowance if you disobey it? On the other hand, when explaining why I'm passing on a party invitation, I might say, "I don't know, it's the social anxiety, it's hard for me to be around a lot of people sometimes." I can see how some might find that sort of thing irritating after it's gone through their personal filter.

I mention the personal filter because there seem to be two issues here - first, that your friends are obsessing over something to an annoying degree, and second, that it's especially annoying to you in particular because of your autobiography.

I have a similar issue, actually - I don't drink, and it's hard for me to deal with people bringing up drinking so casually all the fucking time. Do people really bring up drinking a lot, objectively speaking, or is it just that I notice it a lot because of my own history? Probably both, but the latter is the only part I can control. I recognize that it annoys me because alcohol and alcoholism are so significant to my life, on a deeply ethical level, and I have a tendency to distort even the most casual reference to drinking - especially the most casual reference to drinking - as a trivialization of my own history and system of ethics. Rationally, I know that's completely fucking crazy and I'm actually not the center of the universe and on and on forever. But when you've made a decision that's very important to you and that goes against the mainstream, it's easy to feel like you're being crushed by a tidal wave.

Sooooo, 100% extrapolating here, I think maybe this bothers you so much because, due to your life story, it affects you not only on a personal level but an ethical one. Again, this is not to say that your friends don't bring up their problems too much, objectively speaking - they probably do, but your reaction is the only part you can really understand and control. "Hostile and jaded" are very strong words. You say you acknowledge that antidepressants really do help people, but I don't think you really, truly believe that - or rationally, you might, but when faced with someone who appears to have wholesale internalized something that clashes with your belief system, you become irritated. And there is so much behind that irritation - it's much more than just, say, a minor welt caused by your shirt-tag.

I want to reiterate that I've focused on your reaction not because I think it's unjustified, but because, again, you can't really change your friends. That way lies madness. A few people have indicated that your friends' obsession with their problems means they're seeking validation, and trying to convince you. But that doesn't have to mean they're secretly unsure - it might mean that they're trying to convince you because you're judging them!

To give you a bit of insight, maybe, as to why they're so casual, it might be a defensive thing, but for a slightly different reason. If you'd known me before I started taking medication, I was much more depressed, much more socially anxious, but also much, much, much more self-abasing. In addition to being a symptom of depression itself, self-abuse also arises from a deep-rooted belief that one should be able to just snap out of it and act like a normal person like everyone else. I was so hard on myself, so mean to myself, and it was such a relief to find out that my behavior wasn't (entirely) my fault. God, it was such a relief. So maybe the casual references are a relic of that time, and an attempt to shake a self-perception that hangs on tight. Just a thought.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but you've given me a lot to think about, so thank you. One of life's greatest difficulties is the acceptance that it's unfair to impose one's own experiences on other people. I haven't managed it yet, but I have a feeling a lot of wisdom lies there.
posted by granted at 2:44 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider is that self-absorption is actually a pretty big part of the symptom profile for depressive disorders. People are stuck in their own heads. I can see how that can easily be confused with having their heads stuck up their asses.

Also, consider that depressive disorders aren't visible, and symptoms sometimes manifest themselves in ways that seem like just good old fashioned jackassery. Sometimes I end up talking about my meds too much kind of as a way of apologizing for being such a pain in the ass. More like damage control than making excuses. "I'm trying to stop being crazy, I swear!"

And of course there's the fact that, yeah, actually, a lot of times this does take over your life. Not always, of course, but when your brain has sort of been conspiring to make you miserable for the better part of your life, it's hard to think of anything without that disorder affecting it somehow. I mean, we are talking about the brain, after all. It's easy to see how having something wrong with your actual brain can color pretty much everything that gets processed through it. Which, you know, is everything.

For people you just kind of think are jackasses, assume it's another form of jackassery. A pretty safe assumption really. For people you really care about, go ahead and err on the side of caution, assuming they're genuinely just pre-occupied with a disease that colors their entire perspective. I promise they don't want to be, and they almost certainly already know they're a drag to be around and feel really dumb about it.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 3:39 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

"When Someone You Love Is Depressed," by Rosen and Amador, is a book that I wished those who love me had read when I was depressed.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:40 PM on March 13, 2007

I have a dear friend who was diagnosed with ADHD in college. Literally every time I have seen him since the diagnosis, he's used ADHD as an excuse for something, or talked about the drugs he has to treat it. Friends I've talked about this with agree that he really, really talks about how ADHD affects his life, to a ridiculous degree, to the point where he blames it for totally normal behavior like being late or getting bored in a boring class. It gets tired, yes.

At the same time, as someone who's been on both sides of this, it's a big deal when you find out that you have something to blame for things you've been scolded for all your life. This guy was always getting in trouble because he couldn't sit still and would forget anything that wasn't physically attached to his body, and he got worse grades than someone as downright clever as he was should have. Ritalin has made a huge difference for him. I'd imagine finding out that you have a treatable (or even just recognized) disorder is a big relief after a life of just being a naughty kid. Knowing he has ADHD has allowed him to accept himself for what he is, and not beat himself up for things he can't help doing (I've known him since he was 11 years old - believe me, he really can't help doing these things. It's not a question of insufficient will or desire to change). That's nothing to sneeze at, and it can change a lot about your life.

Doesn't mean he shouldn't shut up about it, but it's allowed me to smile and nod and wait for the conversation to turn to the next topic, without getting annoyed or impatient.
posted by crinklebat at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2007

Offhand, I suspect what's going on is a combination of youthful, self-righteous excuse-making, the fact that it feels really good to not be "in the closet" any longer about something so fundamental to their lives, and the fact that acknowledging it casually makes it seem less overwhelming internally. I'm not sure how to address the excuse-making without provoking a defensive reaction.

And then there's always the possibility that it's not excuse-making. It really could be, e.g., that group interactions in one context are a completely different experience than group interactions in another context.

Perhaps there's a complimentary way to at least raise the question? For example, "My brain won't let me work in groups," could be countered with something like "I wouldn't have known if you hadn't said anything -- you seem like you'd be a great person to work with in a group. I mean, whenever we go out with friends, you always have interesting things to say." I think that if they perceive you coming from a place that's both compassionate and genuinely curious, you'll be less likely to get a defensive reaction.
posted by treepour at 5:26 PM on March 13, 2007

treepour and crinklebat are both right on.

I also want to add that saying "Well, everyone hates rote memorization," is likely to be interpreted as "What makes you so special?" A twist on treepour's suggestion is a bit of encouragement along the lines of "Wow, it was hard for me to memorize all that stuff, but you did really well on that exam." - i.e., praise before they start the self-deprecation festival.

I think it's very possible that these friends are (subconsciously) holding onto their illness as a sign of uniqueness, and any perceived threat to that will be immediately countered. I also have a friend with ADHD and he lets it define him. I try to find other ways of showing him he's special and that he can [organize his office/balance a checkbook/be on time for appointments].
posted by desjardins at 8:42 PM on March 13, 2007

In real life I almost never discuss my pills with anybody (except my SO who keeps me posted on which combinations are counter- productive); when I do it's to commiserate with other middle-aged guys who get "guy problems." But when I was 23 I blabbed about whatever came to mind about myself to anybody who didn't run fast enough. ('I have flat feet but a high instep, it makes finding comfortable and supportive shoes so tough.')
posted by davy at 10:36 PM on March 13, 2007

In my experience, friends bring this up because they are insecure about their condition or their status as someone medicated, or both. One friend always brings it up in the context of not getting enough done, for whatever reason.

I've tried to deal with it primarily by changing the subject or ignoring it.
posted by fake at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2007

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