Anonymous asked a question:
My roommate used to be my best friend. However, I became incredibly depressed from last year until about a month ago, and that severely strained our relationship. Even though I don’t believe I should apologize for everything that happened (because I was depressed), I have a bunch of times and asked her for forgiveness. She has yet to say to me “I forgive you” and hasn’t ever apologized for the things she did to me. I don’t understand how a “Christian” friend could treat me like this.
Hey dear friend, I’m sorry this happened, and I’m with you: I’ve wrestled with depression for a lifetime, and I know how it can take us over and make us irrational and out of our minds. The harm we do is not intentional and not our fault. And I know how awfully insensitive the general culture can be towards your depression, from ignoring it to mocking it to offering all sorts of wrong theories on how to get “cured.”
Now, I have to say the very difficult truth, and I’m saying it entirely with grace and empathy and love for your situation as well as my own. I say this attempting to balance my heart for you as well as for your friend.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that your friend is not obligated to forgive you. As much as she tried to stay, she also has every right to leave. She’s not obligated to apologize, and if you’re holding her apology to a “Christian standard,“ that’s rather gaudy and even malicious. This sounds cold and unfair, but to expect every single person to stay through our mental hardships is to ask them to be God, and is almost just as burdensome as enduring depression itself.
Both pop culture and church culture might teach you a romanticized, whimsical way to “always be there for someone,” but it’s never that easy. Dealing with a depressed person (like me) is exhausting and draining, and it requires a help far greater than many of us can give. Not everyone is built to endure these sort of things. I don’t blame them: my depression is so severe, I cannot imagine who’d be left in its wake.
I’m sure you never meant to hurt your friend while you were depressed, but she was indeed hurt, and she is not required to still be your friend, your confidant, or your companion through your journey. Your friend is not your therapist. Your depression and mine are not some “quirks” to be glossed over. Most likely, our depression will ruin many, many more friendships. I wish friends would stay, but so often they don’t, and I’ve come to make peace with when they won’t.
Consider the words of famed journalist and professor Andrew Solomon, who has written the definitive work on depression called The Noonday Demon, and who himself suffered a depression so severe that he tried to contract HIV from male prostitutes to kill himself:
“Depression is hard on friends. You make what by the standards of the world are unreasonable demands on them, and often they don’t have the resilience or the flexibility or the knowledge or the inclination to cope. If you’re lucky some people will surprise you with their adaptability. You communicate what you can and hope. Slowly, I’ve learned to take people for who they are. Some friends can process a severe depression right up front, and some can’t. Most people don’t like one another’s unhappiness very much.”
Our depression certainly takes us hostage and hijacks our brains into doing things we normally wouldn’t do, but please allow me to dispel you of the romantic notion that everyone must stick through “thick and thin.” Movies and TV shows can make mental illness look quirky and appealing, but in real life, it’s nearly impossible for my friends to endure with me when I fall into depression. It’s intolerable and insufferable. While it’s true that we are not ourselves when we’re depressed, the injuries we have caused are still very real, and it is our friends’ choice to draw boundaries when they feel unsafe around us.
All of my friends are outside their depth to handle me beyond a certain point; only trained professionals are qualified to speak into my mental illness, and even then, would they stay if they weren’t trained and paid? As unfair as it is, I understand why my friends have left. I’m not sure how long I would have endured with me, either. The reality is that not everyone is equipped to handle a friend through their mental illness. It is not your fault or mine. It just is.
It also doesn’t mean that your friend is a bad person or a “sell out.” It only means that human patience has a limit. Some have a longer wick than others. But yes, even my wife needs a break from my own condition.
It is contradictory to ask for selfless empathy for my issues while at the same time I disregard having empathy for the other person who must deal with me. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask for an empathy that you’re not willing to reciprocate. And I’m afraid that because of our unrealistic, westernized-saturated, over-romanticized culture, our idea of love has become, “Put up with everything no matter what, or else you really don’t love me”—which is atrocious, mercenary, opportunistic, and reeks of luxurious privilege.
Please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that a friend should leave at the first sign of difficulty.
I’m not saying your friend shouldn’t hear you out or should not apologize.
I’m definitely not saying that those with mental illness are incapable of deep, lasting friendships (I’m proof of the contrary).
I’m not “victim-blaming” or shaming those who are barely surviving; those of us with mental health issues, more than most people, are at the mercy of external forces and a terrible social stigma, and it’s awful how we’re seen and portrayed.
I’m not empathizing more with those who have abandoned you: the person with mental illness has it the hardest of all.
And I’m not saying that all I’ve written here is right, either; feel free to disagree and push back. After all, every situation is different case by case, and some people have certainly left too quickly, too easily, without warning, and it says everything there is to say about them.
But I am saying that I am not entitled to everyone automatically staying with me on account of my recovery or their value. If they leave, of course it hurts—yet friendships are rarely forever, and they often end to innocuous things like time or distance, and I do not expect every friend to stick around for even more arduous reasons.
My hope is that every side of this conversation can learn to navigate with each other, with education and empathy for one another. I cannot demand that all my friends stay without empathizing with the cost of their love for me. I cannot demand forgiveness without considering the deep hurt that’s been caused, regardless of whether I was out of my mind. Thank God, there are some people who stayed despite it all, and I am thankful and humbled that they would love at such high expense.
And really, if a friend leaves too early: I must question if that person was truly a friend at all, or only liked the parts of me that were palatable. In that case, they will probably always jump from island to island of half-commitment and convenience, and I say, good riddance: you’re better off.
Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM
20 thoughts on “My Friend Won’t Forgive Me for My Depression”
Christianity often demonizes depression. It was worse about it in the past – where it was viewed as having not enough faith in God to overcome some spirit of sadness from the devil or some such thing. There was a time when pastors would preach that using medication and professional counseling was not having sufficient faith in God to bring forth a natural healing. As such, Christians who didn’t struggle with depression would often get the idea that those who struggle with it are still sinners who don’t fully believe in God. Your friend has been taught to believe in ‘tough love’; when you cut yourself off from a person in order to turn them from their ways and back to God and as a result, back to you. The problem is that in this scheme of things, it involves a definition of repentance that involves you being sorry for your lack of faith that resulted in your depression coming over you – it’s not really a recognition of the complex medical make-up of depression, the imbalanced neuro-transmitters and it’s more of an admission that it was “all in your head” than it was a real struggle. Those who have this foundation of beliefs about depression don’t really understand anything about the best way to help you. Otherwise, they would have done their homework and learned that an unwavering support system does far more good than ending a friendship. It’s not on you to salvage this friendship, you can offer an olive branch, but if she refuses to take it, you can’t really do anything about it. But you can be a pro-active force in Christianity, educating others to learn about the medical reality and help to prevent this bad theology from eroding perfectly decent relationships with misinformation.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey Jamie, I absolutely agree with you. Depression is handled terribly in the church, with little thoughtfulness or nuance. However, I’d also like to hear your opinion on the post that I wrote. I’d appreciate your thoughts on it!
I think that you’re right in that a person cannot control their friends’ reactions to how they’re doing, it’s a hard reality, but it’s okay to be disappointed in them. I find that a lot of people just aren’t educated about depression and often end up making all the wrong mistakes, so I think it would be helpful to restore the relationship by getting together with that friend and letting them know how they can best stand by you and help you for future reference, I don’t think it’s too late for this relationship, but rebuilding trust won’t be easy for either of them. Given that one has had to deal with a friend that they don’t understand and the other one has been let down by a friend that didn’t understand them. But good friendships weather bad weather well and sometimes become even better for it.
Yes, I would hope ultimately they reconcile. There is definitely a deficit of education on all sides. Thank you for expanding on your thoughts about it.
Hello Mr Park! Thank you so much for writing this post. I went through something similar with a good friend of mine. She was suffering from a mental illness and I didn’t know at the time. I put up with a lot with her. I have my problems of my own, dealing with not one but 2 disabled children. I didn’t know anything about depression or mental illness at the time because I was young so I just cut her out cold turkey. I was doing much better because being with her was so draining. I found out 6 years later at an event that she was suffering from a mental illness and she was seeing a psychiatrist. I felt terrible. I wish I had known. I have no way of knowing. Thank God we were able to reconcile and one day during a conversation I mentioned some of the things she did she couldn’t remember a single thing. We are in good terms now but I still hate myself for not being more educated about what mental illness is.
Depression sounds like the unpardonable sin. So, Christians who claim to know Jesus are not obligated to forgive and can walk away from a relationship when the other person struggles with depression? Where in God’s name do you find that in Scripture? Survey says: NOWHERE. Why? Because it isn’t found in the Bible. Your argument, my friend, is specious and is a spiritual non-sequitur. The premise to your argument seems to be thus: “I have depression.” Okay. Boatloads of people struggle with depression – rich, poor, white, black, American, Russian, short, tall, beautiful, ugly, mute, articulate, fully functional, special needs, high caste, untouchables – there is no category of person on earth who doesn’t have more than one charter member of the depression club.
So for starters quit with the “I’m so difficult to be with and people can discard me at will” crap. It’s utter hogwash. Christians, especially Christians, have got to have each others backs man – period, end of story, take it to the bank, count on it, may it ALWAYS be! How will the world know we are Christians? If we love one another. Oh wait, I forgot: the one exception to the love one another principle given to us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that you DON’T have to love your roommate if they wrestle with depression.
J.S., you are way off base brother, in fact the base is on another planet. FYI – I wrestled with deep depression on and off for almost four years. Friends who I had known for over twenty years and with whom I had served on the elder board of our former church completely bailed on me and my family. I get it as well as anyone gets it. It has been gut-wrenching to live through being stabbed in the back by those who claim to love Jesus and who still parade around like respectable, “holy” leaders of the church. No wonder the church in America is impotent and incapable of impacting society since the leadership too often is in lala land and doesn’t love their fellow Christians when the going gets tough. Jesus has got to be weeping at the state of His church in America – just weeping.
Christians, those of you reading this who claim to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, do God a favor: obey Him. Read His ownership manual of you, a.k.a. the Bible, and do what He says. Once you have read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation without skipping Leviticus or any other “boring” book, and read it several times, only then will you be able to start making application in a counseling situation such as a roommate living conditions. It is NEVER okay for a Christian to bale on another Christian – PERIOD. It’s NEVER okay for a Christian to bale on ANYONE – PERIOD. I’m so glad my family didn’t bale on me when I was going through the worst of my depression. My wife, kids, parents, in-laws, in fact my whole extended family and even all friends not living near us stuck with me and many friends in our church at the time stuck with us and never wavered. True disciples of Christ. My love for them goes deep because they have been the fragrance of Christ to me and my family through four very challenging years. They have all been our family’s “Barnabas,” the son of encouragement. May God use me to encourage others as I follow the example of so many faithful, godly people.
I agree with you on nearly every front (and of course, it’s absolutely okay if we disagree). Ideally, no Christian must ever leave another Christian behind. We’re called to love, serve, forgive, and all those other imperatives. And it’s absolutely wonderful that your family and friends stuck with you. Even Paul and Barnabas had a falling out and split; I’d say your family has been better than Barnabas.
My response here is essentially two things: 1) You can’t make anyone forgive you, which would be legalistic non-consensual coercion and 2) the reality is that people do leave, and they shouldn’t, but I cannot blame them when they do.
It’s true that the issue of depression is handled with utter, absolute disregard, both in the church and the secular mainstream. But I’m also exhausted of the narrative that we must act as pseudo-therapists and hero-saviors to people who actually need professional help. We’re certainly called to love, and yes, that means knowing our own limitations and realizing that I can’t “love enough” because I am a finite being. If you read the original message up top (in bold), it assumes that his or her friend is obligated to come back, even though his or her friend might have been hurt. My advocacy is not only for the depressed, but for those who have been hurt or abused, too. I advocate for all sides of the conversation.
I’ve wrestled with depression my whole life. I tried to kill myself in 2004 (by swallowing a bottle of pills). My depression isn’t typical: it’s accompanied by intense anger, violent outbursts, and days of nearly catatonic lifelessness. It isn’t a Hollywood style depression of just being “sad.” Some people who are depressed never hurt a single person. But some, like me, have a depression that drains my loved ones, and occasionally, can be dangerous to myself and others. So I can understand why some of my friends would draw tighter boundaries with me, and why some would even choose to leave for a time.
Maybe it sounded like I was saying, “Leave the second you feel like it.” No. Instead, there is wisdom in how we handle the messy complexity of others, and to know when we are limited. What you’re endorsing is the absolute ideal, and it may work in suburbia or in a spherically smooth world (I’m not assuming your case here), but that cannot work in every situation. The Christian way of love is never as romantic as the pretty picture we paint in our heads. It is so much grittier and much more shrewd than we’d like to think.
By the way, you seem to only comment when you’re really mad about something. I’d love to hear more from you in a non-contrarian sort of way. 🙂 (**Edit: Bad memory on my part, you do comment on quite a lot of things and you’re equally encouraging and convicting. I do appreciate your investment.)
Here’s another post for consideration:
This is very complex, and no cookie cutter approach suffices every scenario. However, from a pastoral perspective and with the starting point being the Bible, not my human condition, I have to strongly disagree with your basic premise which seems to be something like this: “I have depression that I am burdened with and not everyone can love me and that is okay.” Hogwash. You are eisegeting your condition into your practical theology. Mr. Park, that is a biblical/theological error. Your starting point for how you live and what decisions you make and how life is going to be is NEVER yourself and your human struggles – NEVER!!!!! The starting point is always Scripture – sola scriptura. Stop evaluating life from the rubric of your depression. And if you think I’m angry, let’s get together. You ain’t seen nothing yet. If iron sharpening iron offends you, check your Bible and stop your blog until your theology is biblically accurate.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Dang, you replied in like ten minutes! Quick. So I edited my last point, you’ve indeed been both encouraging and convicting here. I wrongly used the word “mad.” I suppose if you are simplifying my basic premise into one sentence, then yes, I more or less agree with your simplification, which could be better said as, “I can have grace for those who do not show me grace.” It’s a difficult premise, but I can’t beg others to stick around. Also, not everyone starts on the Bible or interprets it the same way as you do; when you say “the starting point is always Scripture,” as a fellow Christian I agree, and it also doesn’t mean we will all land on the same conclusions. That’s partially why I blog, to explore what is true. Okay, I’m out! Thanks for your thoughts.
LikeLiked by 2 people
We are all free to choose our opinions. Grace is extended to us; we need to extend grace to others. Interpreting Scripture isn’t the real issue. As a Christian, forgiveness, tolerance, long-suffering, patience, peace, gentleness, meekness – these are non-negotiable attributes. I choose to love and suffer long with my pain in the neck Christian brothers and sisters. They should do the same for me. God expects them too. I can hold them accountable to the clear commands of Scripture. However, you are absolutely correct: I can’t make someone do what is right. That’s between them and God.
Peace out brother
Obedience to God and depression can often be two different issues. Please don’t mix them to impose more guilt on the sick.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t think Park was saying (it’s ok for people to leave you when things get bad). He was more like saying (you can’t hold someone or yourself accountable when it happens). He wasn’t dismissing the fact that it was wrong and it’s hurtful for people to leave in a time of need, he was stating that it’s bound to happen, and we must know how to act when it happens. As Park quoted, “Ideally, no Christian must ever leave another Christian behind. We’re called to love, serve, forgive, and all those other imperatives.”, that’s exactly it! Ideally, it’s not suppose to happen that way, but realistically it does happen that way. So we must learn to forgive those even if they don’t offer to us what is to be expected in a Christ-like walk.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes. Of course, it’s always wonderful when friends stay. Unfortunately that hasn’t always been my experience. I was so bitter about it, and I still wish they would’ve never left, but I am not entitled to them. In some sense, I think they’ve also missed out on growing with me. Thanks for sharing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think the situation is covered to a large extent in the difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation. A person who professes Christ is required to forgive, but not necessarily to reconcile.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Good word. There are some situations where it would be dangerous or foolish to get in close proximity again, despite having forgiven them.
Some great wisdom in this piece I think. Good on you for tackling a sensitive topic.
Knowing what to say, how to say it when dealing with a depressed friend or loved one is difficult. I am currently struggling with this in my personal life.
Thank you for sharing this!
LikeLiked by 1 person
It’s not you’re friend not forgiving. It’s some people that need to be talked to a certain way and how they perseve things. Like my boyfriend for instance, he believes being depressed is a made up thing he’s very opinionated about certain things but I was diagnosed with chronic depression when I was also diagnosed at the age of 7 with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and hypothyroidism, people don’t understand how it is when you have a mental illness. I told him in the nicest way possible and explained everyone feels and acts different. If they don’t understand that sometimes people just need to be a vampire in there room sometimes. It’s normal. But also have you thought that maybe you’re friend is an empath? Because I also struggle with being that too when you can feel everyone’s emotions . It’s hard to take on someone else’s depression when they themselves might be depressed because you’re depressed? And they don’t understand and except that they too might be depressed and that they can’t help you cause they can’t help themselves . This is something that you and you’re friend need to sit and have a talk about this. Loved the story keep them coming.
Also I’m very new to this blogging thing please don’t judge
LikeLiked by 1 person
Such a hard read, bro. Thanks for putting things in raw but complex terms. I think the complexity must be respected in this situation. God bless you always for writing.
This was an amazing article with great advice. I dealt with a similar situation with my best friend. Intitially, I was angry at her for abandoning me. Now I don’t see it that way. We both have faults and we are both working to forgive each other and move forward in our friendship. It isn’t the same as it was before my severe depressive bout this spring but it is improving. I have learned that no one is obligated to deal with your problems, although I am thankful for those who do stick around. Thanks for the sound advice!