One of my best friends since childhood has struggled with an eating disorder for years. We don't live in the same city but talk a lot and I make sure I ask her about her health and inquire about how things are going with her therapist to make sure she is okay. Sometimes she tells me the truth, but sometimes she doesn't and I find out about relapses through her roommate or mother. I just get so upset and worried about her and even frustrated. It's draining to be friends with her and I feel so bad I can't help her and I hang up the phone feeling just exhausted. I feel so selfish for even thinking this, but I am not getting anything from this friendship other than stress and sadness, should I cut it off?
- Troubled Friend, 26, Jacksonville
Dear Troubled Friend,
First I want to acknowledge your concern regarding your friend, it sounds like she is dealing with a disorder that's been part of her life for years. But you've been part of her life for years too and I am sure that you can look beyond her eating disorder to who she truly is. It seems like you are troubled because you are making her disease too much of the focus of your relationship.
From what you said, she has an involved roommate and a mother and sees a regular therapist so that means she has plenty of people who live near her that are looking after her. I'd encourage you to stop bringing up her health and the status of her disorder during your conversations. Talk to her about anything else, like work, dating or the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy. She is probably craving these types of "lighter" conversations and would look to your phone calls as a great source of relief.
Her eating disorder is not your responsibility, but being true to your own feelings is. Since talking about it causes you anxiety, take it off the list of topics during your talks. Call her roommate and mother and ask that you be informed if she relapses or needs additional support regarding her well-being. For now, focus on all the things you love about her and the connection you share. Allow her the opportunity to be a friend back to you as well which I have a feeling she will once she doesn't feel like she is the one with the "problem."
Girlfriends are a cherished commodity. Before you consider backing away from this one, try to recreate the dynamics of your relationship. If you do and you still feel like the friendship is too taxing on you, it may be time for a heart-to-heart with her. But I have a feeling if you stop worrying about her so much and trust she is in good hands, you'll remember all the reasons you became friends in the first place.
have you found that friends who acted this way were helpful for you? what other things that your friends have done helped you through your disorder?