Ask a Helping Han #2: How to Handle Conflicting Mental Health Needs

Dear Han,

This year, my best friend of 13 years showed up to a party at my house a complete mess, with visible self-harm wounds. She lives across the country, and was in town for this event. I was shocked, as I haven't seen self-harm wounds on her before. She then got pretty drunk and proceeded to berate me for being a bad friend, not noticing how depressed she was, and not committing to our friendship the way she wanted. I was, of course, appalled. Long story short, we have since become much closer; I helped her find a therapist, talked to her about my own mental illness, and apologized for not seeing how much she was hurting. Our relationship has greatly improved since then, and we have both apologized for perceived wrongs. She is now in therapy and on medication and is doing better than I have seen her in years. That being said, she is still in a very delicate place emotionally. I know how this feels, so I want to proceed carefully.

Here’s the thing: she is constantly late. Like. Very late. She's basically nocturnal, and doesn't realize that people cannot always work around this schedule when she is in town. This holiday season, she kept me waiting for an hour and a half after our meeting time, because she "just couldn't get moving after she woke up" (at 3 pm; we were meant to meet at 6:30 pm). The following day she was supposed to come to my home, and was four hours later than planned because she overslept. Mind you, she did not set an alarm to make sure she woke up on timeand this was a behavior she had before she was depressed. To complicate matters, lateness is very emotionally triggering for me. it sends my anxiety rocketing and can lead to full panic attacks. I feel like I cannot confront her about this, because her mental health is so delicate right now, and her major criticism of me is that I am "mean" to her when things don't go my way; a specific example of meanness she has brought up is when I've snapped at her for doing things like being four hours late. Should I try and talk to her about this? She has anxiety about leaving her house and her comfort space, but I have anxiety about not sticking to plans. How can we balance our respective terrible brains?

Thanks,

Anxious and Off Balance

 

Dear Anxious,

Ahhh, the constant excitement of trying to balance various people’s mental illnesses! I do think this is worth addressing with your friend, and I actually think you can be pretty straightforward. The key is discussing it not at a time when it has just happened and you’re upset about it, but instead at a time when you’re calm and can bring it up in a way that hopefully won’t be interpreted as “mean.” Potential script:

“Hey friend, can I talk to you about something? I’ve been hesitant to bring this up because I don’t want to upset you, but I feel like discussing it is better than just silently stewing. The past few times we’ve had plans, you’ve been anywhere from an hour to four hours late. I know that when you’re having a rough time, you struggle with getting yourself going, and I understand that—but the thing is, it makes me incredibly anxious when things don’t happen on the schedule they’re supposed to; sometimes it even triggers panic attacks. If we make plans to hang out at a certain time, I’d really like it if you’d make an effort to actually be there when we agreed on. Is that something you can work on? I love spending time with you, but it really stresses me out when I have to spend hours sitting around wondering if you’re going to show up or not.”

If she tries again to frame this as you “getting your own way,” it’s extremely fair to push back—the plans that you are making are being decided by both of you, so if she wants to make the plans for later in the day, she needs to say so up front. If this were up to, say, half an hour late, I would tell you to cut her some slack—but hours late is extremely disrespectful of you and your time, and it’s okay to say so.

I also want to note that just because your friend is struggling doesn’t mean that you have to let her do whatever she wants. Between her being mad at you for not noticing her depression (that she didn’t tell you about) while she lived across the country and her calling you mean for communicating your needs to her, she sounds like she has pretty unreasonable and one-sided expectations of your friendship. I’d urge you to consider just how much catering to her you’re willing to do. It sounds like you’ve jumped through hoops to help her get the help she needs, and rather than be appreciative, she’s mad that you would have any expectations of her at all. Maybe take some time to think about whether this friendship is really working for you before you keep going out of your way to keep her mental health stable at the expense of your own.

Love,

Han

Have a question for Han? Email askahelpinghan@gmail.com.

Ask a Helping Han #1: Dealing with Trump Supporting Parents

Dear Han,

I’ve been mulling over an issue I’ve had with my family for over a year now, and I still don’t know how to proceed. I have three sisters (one of whom is very similar to myself, ideologically, while the other two are in line with my parents) and my parents. In a specific context, my parents are wonderful people. They are kind, generous, and loving—but in a classic Christian conservative kind of way (e.g. they give to their church to help the poor, but don’t like that the government takes taxes to support social programs). Growing up, the rule was always “don’t talk about politics” for two reasons: 1) it was assumed that everyone was in agreement and 2) it was assumed that “it’s just politics” and therefore wasn’t very important. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve swung way to the left politically and have become about as liberal as it’s possible to be. This didn’t really come up with my family until 2016. My sister and I asked my parents not to vote for Trump, but they did. It devastated meI thought my parents were good enough people to realize how terrible he was, but they’ve fallen for every thing Fox News tells them. I used to speak to my mom every week to catch up on family stuff; I’ve only spoken to them 3-4 times total since the election. I don’t know what to do. I dream (literally, I have had several dreams along these lines) of reconciling with them, of them understanding what hurt they’ve caused…but I don’t know how to get there from here. Going back to how it was (i.e. not discussing politics) is possible, but feels like a compromise of my values. Never speaking to them again is possible but hurts to contemplate. Any advice for a middle ground?

Thanks,

Heldraga the Unseen

 

Dear Heldraga,

Unfortunately, you are far from alone in this conundrum. A lot of people have been having to reckon with the toxic politics of people they love over the past year. The ideological divide in our country has probably never been wider or harder to ignore. For a long time, people were able to hide their conservative or liberal leanings behind the idea of “big government versus small government”but this is no longer what our two main political parties stand for. The Republicans don’t want small government, they want (and are making blatant grabs for) all of the money, all of the power, and control over the choices of others based on their pseudo-religious, puritanical views of how people should livewhich are based less on religion, and more on trying to keep old rich white men in control. This makes conversations about politics both easier and harder to haveon the one hand, it’s easier to make a case for good versus evil, but on the other hand, the arguments are so much more rooted in our core sense of selves that it’s impossible for them not to get emotionaland everyone loves to dismiss an emotional argument.

Have you had a conversation with your parents about whether they still support Trump? I feel like this might be a good place to start. I think it’s possible to frame your conversation with them around the things that he’s done that are antithetical to the cores of Christian beliefs, which might help them understand where you’re coming from. Potential script incoming:

“Hi Mom. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t been calling as much this year. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been really struggling to reconcile the wonderful people that I know you and Dad are with your support for our current president. So much of what he’s done over this past year has gone against the way you raised meto be a kind, generous person who takes care of those who can’t take care of themselves. This administration has done so much harm alreadybreaking up families, taking healthcare away from childrenthat it hurts me to think that you would condone this. I wanted to talk to you to hear your thoughts on whether you still support him, and why you think it’s okay for him to treat people this way. I know this is an upsetting conversation to haveit’s really hard for me, too. I love you so much, but I’m scared for what will happen to our country if good people like you are willing to look the other way while our president leaves vulnerable people to die. Can you help me understand?”

I can’t guarantee that this conversation will lead to anything positiveyou may end up with very affronted parents. It’s possible that they won’t talk to you for awhile. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll give them something to think about. I think that the people we love, who we know to be good people at their core, are the ones we need to try the hardest to sway in their beliefs if we ever want to swing our country back away from where it’s headed. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

Love,

Han

Have a question for Han? Email askahelpinghan@gmail.com.