I’m a Terrible Friend.



Text: I have this friend. Sort of friend. Still a friend. I don’t know. I’ve known her for nearly 30 years, but haven’t spoken to her for months, certainly not since this depressive episode began last fall.

About 18 months ago, this friend had a medical crisis which, another friend and I discovered, was brought on by hoarding behaviors. It came out, painfully, frighteningly, that this had been an issue for some time. As we began to dig out her apartment from under piles of unworn clothes and shoes – still with tags – that had been destroyed by rotting food, cat excrement, maggots and more, those of us who thought we were close to her discovered that she was far more deeply damaged than seemed possible. We learned that much of what we thought we knew was a complicated webs of lies – so many lies that it became clear our friend herself couldn’t fix on the truth.

Days of phone calls, hospital visits, apartment cleanup, and deep dark conversations about therapy and meds and self-care led to her return home. The months that followed brought texts and phone calls about how great things were going, how well she was doing in therapy – stories of going back to school, a new relationship, life being good.

Then just before Christmas, an urgent call from a mutual friend. Our friend was being evicted. She was broke, and her apartment was back to the state we found it the year before. Could I help with packing, storage, and cleaning? She would be moving into a homeless shelter by the new year.

I said no. I had experienced months of nightmares after the first cleanout. I was dealing with a major depressive episode. I had nothing to give, physically or emotionally.

She never called me personally to tell me what was happening. I haven’t heard from her for six months. Is it shame? Anger? Whatever has stopped her from reaching out, I have followed suit, and I live with the guilt of abandoning her to her life. When I dream of her – which is often – she is always trying to take something from me, or wanting me to save her. In one dream, we are old ladies, in a nursing home, and she is trying to take the oxygen mask that allows me to breathe.

I know what this says about our friendship, and yet I worry, and feel guilty, and fret over whether being a terrible friend to one makes me a terrible friend to all. I feel unworthy.

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