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My depressed friend needed my help, but I just couldn’t do it

“I need to focus on the baby and getting my needs met right now. If you call at 2 in the morning, I won’t answer. Please find someone else to support you.”

Those are the words I wish I would’ve said a couple years ago when setting boundaries with a longtime friend. But instead, I screamed some profanity laden version of “leave me alone” and hung up.

I had had it.

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My friend had depression, low self-esteem and probably some other issues I refuse to armchair diagnose. The support she needed was too much for one person, especially one that had a newborn baby. She’d call when I was busy with the baby, or sleeping or finally taking a shower, and I’d miss it. I’d come back to my phone to find a dozen missed calls, five text messages and a voicemail or two, in all of which she’d be accusing me of being mad at her, or flirting with her boyfriend at a party we went to seven Halloweens ago.

This is where you’re probably expecting me to say that she wasn’t always like this. But she was.

We met in a mental health day treatment program when I was 15 years old. We were both in the middle of our own crisis. I had been diagnosed with bipolar and was in the midst of a severe depressive episode. It was only a month or so before that I had wanted to kill myself.

We instantly clicked and were inseparable until I graduated the program and left. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch.

For over a decade, she’d call at all hours of the day and night. I’d always answer and sit on the phone for hours helping her find resources or just being an ear.

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“You can call me any time,” I’d tell her whenever she’d apologize for bothering me. “Really, it’s no bother.”

But after I had my third child, those words became a lie. I was being bothered. There was no longer enough of me for everyone and everything. I was overwhelmed.

The truth was it was me who had changed. I started asserting myself and advocating for my own needs more. I was finally learning what my own limits were and setting necessary boundaries with people. It was easier with other people who I didn’t feel really needed me, but with her it was different. I wanted nothing more than to be able to give her the support I had been giving for years. Partly because I love her, and partly because I’ve been in her shoes.

I’ve overstepped boundaries and made people uncomfortable when in the midst of depression. I’ve let my jealousy and low self-esteem get the best of me. I’ve made statements to friends that I regret. I’ve tried to guilt people into hanging out with me instead of honestly telling them that I was afraid of what I’d do to myself if left alone. I understand better than most people how these behaviors can be a cry for help.

Understanding that her behavior was possibly a product of her mental illness made me feel obligated to support her even when I wanted to focus on my new baby and needed more sleep.

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So, I sacrificed my wants and needs longer than I should’ve. I gave and I gave and I gave and I gave until I was angry with her for needing me. I blamed her for the missed time with my newborn. And then I exploded at her when I should’ve just calmly asserted my boundaries.

And now she barely talks to me.

This past Christmas was the first in over a decade that she didn’t send me a homemade Christmas card.

She still checks in from time to time and lets me know she all right. She’ll ask how I’m doing and she’ll encourage me to keep moving forward. But just as suddenly as she pops into my notifications, she says goodbye again. Maybe she knows if she gets too close she’ll start crossing lines and I’ll get upset again. Or maybe she’s upset that I lashed out at her. I wouldn’t blame her. Whatever the reason, it makes me sad.

I miss my friend.

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