DAME’s Friendkeeper advises on armchair diagnosing, and helps a woman find her voice with a lifelong bossypants.
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I have a friend who I think has bipolar disorder, but she refuses to see a shrink. Instead she sees a free counselor, who, rather than help, tells my friend all of her problems. With the right medication I really think my friend could lead a happy life, but she has told me to butt out, that it’s her business, even as she begs for my help with her crazy, convoluted schemes. She is terrified of everything and has a boyfriend who is more cruel than kind. Her erratic behavior has driven away most of her other close friends. I love her but I am at a loss. Do you have any advice about how I can help her?
Get Me Off This Crazy Train
It’s kind of difficult when someone explicitly tells you to “butt out,” but she can’t have it both ways. You want me to butt out? Don’t tell me your problems. I’m not a receptacle for your dumping. And actually it’s a good opening to suggest that if the person she’s seeing were helpful, she’d be feeling better.
It’s extraordinarily difficult when you see someone who you believe will be helped by medication and isn’t willing to go that route. Especially if that person isn’t a relative. I think you need to give an impassioned plea—perhaps write a letter—and tell her what you see and what you feel she is struggling with and how you think medication might help. Give examples of people you know who have been helped by meds. It’s hard for anyone but an MD or a therapist to suggest a person may have a chemical imbalance—you wouldn’t feel a lump on someone and suggest they have lymphoma. I mean, honestly, most of the people in my life are not doctors, but we are skilled diagnosticians, if, you know, you don’t care about being correctly diagnosed. My friend Caitlin refers to herself as an “accredited forensic friend,” a doctor-like advisor; but then she likes you to have her diagnoses followed up by an actual MD. I refer to that as “the second opinion.”
I do think it’s very fair for you to suggest that your friend go to a psychiatrist and be assessed. You can do the best you can to persuade her, and then if she doesn’t do it and she continues to kvetch to you, you are free to say, “Look, I told you what I think, you’re not willing to take my advice, there’s nothing more I have to say about this.” It’s tough love but one way or another it will get you off the crazy train.
My friend, let’s call her Miranda, is very bossy. She dictates everything we do, whether it’s a weekend road trip destination or where we’re grabbing dinner. I am sort of afraid of her—she’s very intense and I’m naturally easy-going—so I kowtow. We have been friends forever, and this has always been our dynamic, so for me to change the way I interact with her would be totally weird. But I’m getting sick of being told what to do all the time. Is there a way to salvage our friendship and my dignity? Or should I just move on?
(Not) Like a Boss
It is hard to change dynamics in a friendship, but it’s not impossible. You can start slow.
You: “I want to try the new Thai place on Main Street.”
Miranda: “No, let’s got to TGIFridays—it’s Margarita Madness!”
You: Maybe some other time. I’m going to the new Thai place. I made a reservation for 6:30. Would you like to join me?”
Miranda: “Sure, what a cool idea!”
She may be fine with you making the plans (I imagine it’s burdensome to always be in charge) or she could balk. If she does, you need to talk to her about it. It’s a problem to me that you’re afraid of her. What do you think she will do? Yell? Pout? Make steam come out of her ears? Or are you afraid that you’ll pick a restaurant or hotel and she won’t like it and you’ll feel responsible? Because that is the downside of being the planmaker. But it’s okay, I’m sure you haven’t loved every plan she’s made.
Now if I were you, I’d hear my advice and say, “Nah.” It’s like when I said I didn’t have a lot of friends and some person suggested I start a club. I was like, “Yeah, sure, that’ll happen. Let me go print up some flyers and post them around campus.” So I’m not telling you to just be different. I’ll tell you how. You are an actress, decide who. (Not Meryl Streep because the accents are difficult to master.) I usually think Jennifer Aniston because she’s in my range. I think in this case Jen would probably straighten up her shoulders and maybe brush her hair back with her fingers and then possibly clear her throat and say, “Monica, I’m not going apple picking with you!” Sure Monica will be taken aback but in the end it will all work out.
People are allowed to change, especially long-term friends. And though she may not embrace it at first, a good friend will allow you to be who you want to be.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
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