DEAR AMY: I have a very close friend who is extremely depressed. She is negative about every aspect of her life: marriage, career and self-image. She posts negative memes on Facebook about how ugly she is, how depressed she is and how bad life is. She is also extremely overweight. She is on medication and is seeing a licensed therapist. None of this is helping. She has tried different meds and has seen different therapists. Every time I talk to her she is negative, depressed and complains constantly. I want to help her, but I don’t know what else I can offer her. We have been close for many years, and she has always been depressed, but it’s far worse now than ever. She has told me numerous times that I don’t fully know what has happened in her past so I will never understand what she is going through, and then she proceeds to put herself down. Her marriage is falling apart and I know she has many issues going on with her career and her life, but is everything really that bad? What else can I offer besides a listening ear, without getting down myself? What advice can I give her when she is complaining?
Out of Answers
DEAR OUT: I think that offering advice in this context is a nonstarter.
When someone is clearly depressed and so obviously negative, the best thing you can do is to point the person toward therapy and treatment. And so you can respond: “What does your therapist say about that?”
Your friend might respond that she doesn’t disclose a lot of this to her therapist. Many people paradoxically don’t actually disclose to their therapists the very things that cause them the most pain. She might say that she isn’t currently taking her meds. Encourage her to seek and continue to seek treatment.
I believe that posting negative or self-hating thoughts on social media can actually perpetuate a negative cycle, but many people reach out in this way to vent, and in turn receive supportive comments and affirmations, which they must find — otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Try not to judge her harshly for doing this.
A huge challenge for friends and family members in dealing with someone with depression is to be present and supportive, while not taking on the burdens of the depressed person.
The concept of “self-care” is currently in vogue, but many of us don’t really know how to exercise self-care in our own lives. In your case, it might mean learning to ritualize walking outdoors, reading poetry or listening to a favorite piece of music. If you aren’t feeling strong, you can’t be a supportive presence.
DEAR AMY: This guy that I used to work with started a “friends with benefits” relationship with me about three years ago. I quit my job when I graduated from college. He then reached out to me and we hooked up again. Right after we hooked up, he told me that he didn’t like me and that he liked another girl. Fast-forward — it is now three years later and he is still a part of my life. I have tried to stop this multiple times, but he always says, “Let’s talk it out” — and we end up hooking up. He still states that he doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to have a relationship with me. Every time I ignore him or tell him I don’t want to be “friends with benefits” anymore, he tries harder to be in my life. I just don’t know what to do. My friends all think that he likes me, but if he really did like me he wouldn’t be doing this. Any idea what I should do?
DEAR FRUSTRATED: You actually do know what to do, but you don’t seem ready to do it.
When you start to value yourself more, and love yourself more, you’ll see this pattern for what it is: depleting, degrading and depressing. The day you say “enough” and decline to “talk it out,” will be a great new day for you.
DEAR AMY: The question from “Bothered Daughter-in-Law” really bothered me. Bothered reported that her mother-in-law, an alcoholic and organ transplant recipient, seemed to be drinking again. As the grateful recipient of a transplanted organ, I know that it is extremely important to protect my second chance at life. This family needs to act, right now.
DEAR GRATEFUL: This woman’s drinking is definitely putting her health at risk.