From the U.S.: My house mate has been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with depression and is taking meds. The associated problem from a very untrained point of view is that they have for the first time in their life at 50 realized they can’t have everything they want and life isn’t always fair – and this lesson coming so late has really thrown a curve ball at them.
There is some underlying OCD tendency also with some selfish trend from always getting their own way/thing (up to now). I don’t doubt for a minute they are suffering some mental trauma and are suffering but their behaviour is very “attention seeking” – huffing and puffing, mumbling dramatic statements like “there is no future for me” & “I never learned how to love” , walking round hunched over all the time, saying I didn’t want to disturb you then behaving in such a way that can only disturb, playing a bit of a wounded animal et..
I appreciate that they are not well and I am being as supporting and helpful as I can be, but I just don’t know what to do about the attention seeking behaviour. Whether to ignore it or play along. I’m so confused. I don’t want to make things worse or cause more pain and suffering, but I’m really confused as the best course of action. I appreciate that this likely a symptom of the illness, but I just don’t know how to respond. Any advice please.
A: Thank you for writing. I’m sure this is very difficult. You are a sensitive person who is trying to be supportive but, as a housemate, you didn’t agree to be an in-house counselor. It’s difficult to know how much is too much.
You weren’t specific about the nature of your relationship. If you are simply a housemate, then it would make sense to draw some clear boundaries on the woman’s behavior. It’s wonderful that you are supportive but you also do need to take care of yourself and not let the mental illness be a “third housemate”. Her needs for attention may be legitimate but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be the one to provide it.
If she is a partner or dear friend, the boundary is less clear. Her illness has an impact on you and on your relationship. It’s appropriate for you to work with her to find ways to take care of both of you while she recovers.
The place to start is probably a clear conversation with the person. Share the same compassionate concern you showed in your letter. Then ask what she thinks is reasonable for support. See if the two of you can decide on some ground rules for when and how long you can give her attention. Another alternative is to ask her if you can attend her next counseling session to talk over what is and isn’t helpful support at home.
Meanwhile, if your friend isn’t yet in group therapy or a support group, I advise that she talk to her counselor about whether participating in such a group would help her. You might also suggest that she join one of the forums here at PsychCentral so she can get the good support of members of our community when she is feeling upset or needy. That could also take some of the pressure off of you.
I wish you well.