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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Relationships » Friend's depression

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Author Topic: Friend's depression
mizchastain
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Okay, I have posted here about my own issues, which are mostly resolved now. I do still suffer from intrusive thoughts, but I can mostly push them down till they're no worse than "annoying". I told my male friend I had feelings for him but had decided not to act on them, and he was sorta embarrassed but thanked me for being honest and we're back to friends default now the air's cleared a bit, and I'm happy with that.

The problem I have now is with another internet friend of mine. She's a bit younger than me (she's in her mid-teens) and, for over a year now, has been suffering from severe depression. I agreed to be supportive because I've had the same thing myself, but the problem is I'm starting to think she doesn't want to be helped. I told her she needs to tell her parents and she won't. I told her to talk to a school counsellor or a doctor and she hasn't. I actually pointed her to Scarleteen (not telling her what name I go by here) but I don't think she ever came here. All she ever talks about on her blogs is how miserable she is, and she's not done a single thing to change it. I know it's ridiculously selfish of me, but it's impossible to continue feeling sorry for her and I'm starting to get really sick of it. I can't just abandon her, but I don't want to be friends with her anymore because she does nothing but wallow in her own misery. She never seeks me out to talk anymore and when I try to talk to her I just get more of the stuff she sticks up on her blogs. She talks about how she has no RL friends, and all I can think is "I'm not surprised if she's like this in real life as well". Then I feel bad for thinking such awful things about someone who used to be my friend, but it's impossible to keep the same level of sympathy when I've had more than a year of this from her. I miss what she used to be like, but I can't keep watching this endless stream of hopelessness in the hope of catching a glimpse of the old version of her. Is there anything I can do or say to persuade her to get some better help? Should I actually tell her what I think and hope it gives her the push she needs, or would that make it worse? Should I cut my losses and leave her alone since she apparently doesn't want to take my advice anyway? Or should I just stay around and keep on "being supportive in that detached way of not doing anything" (to quote the webcomic artist K Sandra Fuhr) since she won't listen to my advice and I'm on a different continent to her so there's no more I can actually do?

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September
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I'm glad to hear you're doing better, mizchastain! [Smile]

I'm a big fan of internet friendships. But one of the perks - being able to get to know someone in relative anonymity - is also one of the downfalls, because it means you can't really reach out to someone. If this were a "real life" friend, I would suggest that you get in touch with their parents and give them a heads up, so that they can assume responsibility. Because here's the thing: you're just a friend. Having supportive friends when you're struggling with depression is awesome and so helpful, but a friend CANNOT take the place of a therapist, and a friend can certainly NOT be your entire support system.

You've spent an entire year trying to help this friend, and I can see why you're feeling frustrated and annoyed. So please, don't feel bad about it. Please also don't feel bad about being 'selfish': seriously? YOU are the most important person in your life and your first duty is to yourself and making sure you're happy. As long as being a supportive friend is something that you want to do then great - go for it! But when it's starting to really drain your energies and be frustrating, then it's time to recognize that and take a step back.

Now let's figure out what to do next. I suggest you simply be honest: write her an e-mail or a letter and explain to her that you care deeply for her, but that you do not want to continue to assume the responsibility of being her sole friend and therapist all rolled up into one. Tell her that you want to continue to be there for her and support her, but that in order for you to do that, she needs to be pro-active and reach out. If you want, you can include links to helpful websites or phone numbers to resources in her area (if you want any help finding those, we can certainly do that).

If you have contact info for her (address, phone number) and are really worried for her safety, then you might even want to think about getting in touch with her parents.

But ultimately, with this being an online friendship, there is only so much you can do. It might help you to realize that it's not in your power to fix her, anyway: whether or not you keep talking to her, SHE is going to be the one who has to decide that she wants to accept help. That is not a step you can take for her, and it's also not something you can influence.

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Johanna
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mizchastain
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I haven't got any contact numbers for her, just her email.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who feels this way about this girl's problems, because I noticed she got a lot more blog comments from other people back when she talked about things other than how miserable she was. Everyone else seems to have sort of drifted away from her, and I don't want to do that without telling her why because I really hate it when people I thought I was friendly with stop talking to me like that (a hazard of blogging, I guess), and I seem to be all she has left, which is why I feel bad about leaving her. I worry that if I stop talking to her it'll make things worse for her.

I think one of the biggest problems I have with it is that I feel like she doesn't respect my advice at all. I tell her that therapy and meds really helped me, and recommend places she can go to get help, and she sort of vaguely agrees and then does nothing at all. I want to help her and I really miss the old her because she was awesome when she was happy, but I know that I can't emotionally babysit someone on another continent when I'm trying to deal with my own life, particularly when they make me feel ignored like that.

I also can't help but think "Geez, was it this miserable to be around me when I had depression? No wonder I had no friends and couldn't get along with my family at the time."

Is there a polite way to phrase this? I can't outright say "I'm sick of listening to you and I'm pretty sure all your other friends are as well".

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mizchastain
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Okay, drafted an email to her. I think I got the balance of "I'm really sorry you're going through this and I know how much it sucks" versus "I refuse to babysit you any more" tones right, but I'm asking my other friend to go over it for me to make sure I'm putting it carefully.

EDIT: Other friend said the letter looked decent, so I sent it. I feel better in some ways and worse in others. I feel rotten for doing this to her when she needs help, but we weren't really friends anymore anyway since this was consuming her so totally. It's not my fault she's this way, I can't do anything more for her, and I won't try to maintain a friendship with someone who refuses to give anything back. It hurts, because I spent most of my life with no good friends at all so I learned to cling to the ones I have. I guess I should be happy that I do still have some real friends now ... I worry that she'll try to hurt herself, but I clearly couldn't stop her even if she did, and since she hasn't yet I doubt I'll be what pushes her into doing so and it wouldn't really be my fault if she did, so I probably shouldn't worry about it.

If she contacts me back and says she's actually got some real help, I'll be willing to talk to her again, but for now I'm gonna take her off my friendslist and go talk to my actual friends.

[ 10-11-2009, 05:21 PM: Message edited by: mizchastain ]

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Ecofem
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mizchastian, if it's ok that I jump in to your conversation here with Joey, I wanted to say that it sounds like you're doing the absolutely right things. I understand wanting to balance care and concern with your own boundaries and also not supporting/encouraging negative patterns on your friend's part. You've done a lot of good stuff and requesting that distance while also explaining why is a very brave and kind thing to do! [Smile] I hope she makes those positive changes in her life, too, but we'll see.
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mizchastain
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Thanks. I still feel bad about it. I told her that I'd be open if she contacted me again when she had got some real help and was feeling better, but I don't think she's gonna take me up on it. Doing this kind of thing to someone kinda burns a bridge. I feel like a total bitch for doing this to her, but I can't realistically do anything I haven't already done about a million times and nothing I did worked, so all I can do is stop her dragging me down with her.

I still hope she does get help. Maybe I'll check back in a year or so. From what I saw it mostly seemed to be school that was upsetting her so much, but I can't stay around repeating myself for however long it takes her to finish high school.

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Heather
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You have limits. You have boundaries. Not only is there nothing wrong with either, all healthy people have them, and it's also healthy for people to learn to recognize and respect the limits and boundaries of others.

I know how crappy it can feel to really want someone to be helped but either know you can't really do jack (even if they think or say you can), or that you're just too past your limits to be able to try anymore. But it happens, and someone is going to be more helped by coming to terms with that and finding the RIGHT help that CAN be effective than by you ignoring your own limits and boundaries.

Maybe an analogy will help?

Let's say my best friend needs open heart surgery, and they want me to do it, and tell me I am the ONLY person who can help. Thing is, I'm not an open heart surgeon, and my "help" would probably kill them dead. It'd be no kind of help at all : they need an open heart surgeon.

OR, I have a friend who really needs someone to be at her side after a trauma 24/7 for weeks. Not only am I just not available for that whole time, it likely wouldn't be very healthy for her to have only me providing that support, both because that level of trauma needs more qualified care AND because having it be me, me and only me could compound her existing suffering by her developing a total dependence on me.

[ 10-16-2009, 05:01 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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mizchastain
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She did get back to me and said she sees the need for change, but I don't believe her. It's just the same stuff she's said before, and she didn't do anything then, and she's made more journal entries with the same stuff and hasn't done anything to pull herself up. I can't feel sorry for someone who's clearly causing a lot of her own misery, and I can't stop her from doing it.

I miss what she used to be like. We were never *best* friends, but we got along great. We used to joke together. We shared some specific in-jokes nobody else I've met finds funny. We used to exchange doodles and little bits of writing. Now she hardly does anything herself and doesn't comment on anything I do or say. I thought I wanted to help her because she was my friend, but I don't think we've really been friends in a long time, and I don't know if I want to be friends with what she's become. It hurts like hell to officially cut someone off, though.

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mizchastain
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Oh, some more info I forgot to put: in one of her latest posts she threatened to start cutting herself again. I'm scared she's going to really hurt herself, and there's nothing I can do to stop her if she does. I know it won't be my fault if she does, but I still wish I could stop her.

There's also the problem that when I look before a certain period on my journals she commented everywhere. It's hard to forget someone when you used to talk at least weekly, even if that was a long time ago. I keep seeing her comments and wondering when it all started to go wrong because she seemed so happy then. I don't wanna delete those comments because people will wonder why.

Maybe I should talk to the college counsellor about this. It's slightly hypocritical expecting a website to be *my* support system for dealing with someone else doing the same thing ...

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Heather
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The thing is, no matter what you do or do not do, you still cannot control anyone else's behavior. That's not just something any of us are capable of doing, nor should we be.

But if and when we see and know someone else is earnestly going to be done harm, or do themselves harm, and truly feel that they are unable to act in their own interest to keep from harm, what we can do is call in someone else who CAN help that person to better take care of themselves. So, if you really feel she may do herself real harm, if you have any contacts for her family or friends, that would be something you can do.

It's fine, by the way, for you to talk about this here, but if you think you could use some extra help, then by all means, getting in touch with the counselor at your college is a good idea.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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mizchastain
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I don't have any contact details for anyone in her family, though. That's the real problem - she's on another continent and I have no idea specifically where. I know her age and what are probably her real first and last names, but that's no help given that she could be just about anywhere in the US as far as I know and I'm in Europe. If I lived nearer I'd have dragged her to the doctor's office myself long before it reached this point, but I don't really know who or where she is.

Given that she's completely ignored everything I have to say for a year, then basically repeatedly lied to me about getting herself help, why is it that I still feel like *I* am the one being a jerk for not helping her more? But even if she's not been much of a friend lately, she's still a person, and I feel horrible about not being able to help her.

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Heather
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Know what I think?

I think when we earnestly want to be helped, we don't only make contact with one person and then don't connect them in any way with others in our lives so that when we DO need help, that person is effectively hog-tied, and unable to help at all.

You're not being a jerk, and I also don't know what exactly it is you could even do at this point TO help. Really. Hopefully it's obvious given what I do with my life that I take helping others very seriously, and hopefully that lends some credibility to my saying there are simply situations where we both can't help, and where the only thing we can do (or someone wants us to do) is enable, which isn't helpful at all.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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mizchastain
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Thanks. I'm hoping someone in her real-life circle notices what's going on and helps her. She went on about how her parents didn't believe her, but I don't know if she's actually really tried to tell them. She says her grades are falling, so possibly the truth might come out when her teachers notice that and contact her parents - that's what happened to me when I was in a similar situation in my mid-teens. (I was badly depressed and my schoolwork quality plunged because I couldn't see any real reason to do the work. Teachers noticed and contacted my parents, and there was a lot of yelling but they did realise that I really needed help, and made sure I got it.) Presumably if she really does hurt herself people will find out ifwhen she needs medical treatment, but I really hope it doesn't come to that.

I thought if I checked on other blog sites I know she's on which I don't use I'd be able to find more info about her and maybe get enough info to find her parents, but if she was too smart to give personal info away on the ones I've seen, she's hardly likely to spread it around on sites I just happen not to go on, so that's probably not a good idea. I should just cut myself off from her for at least a while. Maybe check back in a year or so and see if she's improved. It's hard, but I know it's for the best.

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mizchastain
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She got back to me saying she's deleting all the content on all her blogs and is going to be away from the internet for a while. I think she's going to hurt herself and there's no possible way I can stop her. I apologised for being harsh even though I stand by the fact that I can't keep on repeating myself at her and begged her not to hurt herself. I don't know what to do. I'm scared for her and I feel like dirt for doing this in the first place.
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Heather
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What COULD you do if you WERE communicating with her? Could you someone stop her -- via the Internet -- from hurting herself that way? How?

If you honestly think someone is in serious danger of harming themselves, the rightest thing to do if you can't get them to real care yourself is to call their local police.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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orca
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Or, if you don't know where she lives or how to contact her local police station, you can also send an email to the administrators of the bloggging site she uses and let them know that you are very concerned she is going to harm herself and if they could get in touch with the local authorities.

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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mizchastain
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I don't know if she really will or if she actually really just meant she wanted to back away from the internet for a while. It would make sense if she was going to because she mentioned she was falling behind on her schoolwork. But it's better to get help if she doesn't need it than not get it if she does, right? I have no idea where she lives beyond "somewhere in the US" (I think she's PROBABLY in the South, going by some things she's said on her blogs, but that's as far as I know). I checked the info of the various sites she's on but I can't find where to send the email. They only seem to have functions for reporting abuse and bugs with the sites. I'd rather not give away which ones she uses, if I send a private message to someone here could they help me find it?

I don't think she's ever gonna want to talk to me again even if she's okay. I said in the reply email to her that I understood if she didn't want to be friends again, but it hurts.

My parents don't get it. My mother's telling me I should have just cut myself off totally, but I can't suddenly stop caring about someone who is/was a friend.

[ 11-01-2009, 04:30 PM: Message edited by: mizchastain ]

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Heather
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I have to be frank and say someone can really only be so close of a friend if we don't even have the vaguest idea where they live.

And if you don't know that, you can't directly help (and we can't either). But like I said to you before, if she hasn't even disclosed that, I'd say she didn't intend to get very close to you, or have you be someone who really COULD help her, regardless.

I hear that it's tough to stop caring for someone you felt close to. But all in all, it's sounded more like someone who was using your relationship to enable some things or get attention, rather than like someone who felt very close to you or wanted to. And again, I just don't see how you can directly help someone who is going to self-harm. Just continuing to talk to them isn't going to do it, especially if you're not a therapist, and you can't help connect them with qualified people who can help.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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mizchastain
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I know she hasn't been that close a friend, but she's still a person and I missed her, and I'm frightened that she's going to die. I still feel like utter trash for what I did because as far as I can tell I'm the only person who knew what was going on and I'm all she had left. I know rationally that it's not my fault but I wanted to help her because I've been in a similar situation, and I feel like what I had to give wasn't good enough even though I did all I could. I guess when I sent that email I was really hoping it would sort of snap her out of it and we could be friends again. All I can do is wonder if I could have done something that would have made her realise what she was doing to herself, and rationally I know there wasn't, but it doesn't stop me wishing I could have.

I think I'm so worried because for a long time my internet friends really were all I had. I have RL friends now, but for most of my teens I was very lonely, and that was when I had my worst depression. So I know where she's coming from. (I didn't tell my internet friends I was depressed, though, except for my closest one whom I'd known for a long time, and I did get other help.) Even if internet friendships aren't the same as real ones, I learned to cling to them because that was the only social contact I had, so I can't just let one go.

I think I found the right place to send the messages to her blog site mods. If I contact her email provider, will that be more likely to help since they're more likely to have her contact info?

[ 11-01-2009, 04:57 PM: Message edited by: mizchastain ]

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Heather
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Her email provider isn't likely to do anything unless it's a small, independent company.

I really, really think you need to understand that if she made you all she had, she CHOSE to do that. And if she really wanted you to be able to help her in a serious situation, and be earnestly close, you would have contact information for her. You would. That was also a choice she made.

And again: you could not have been, and cannot now, in control of her feelings or actions.

I don't think 'net friendships aren't real, for the record. But at a certain point of closeness, you get and give more information to your 'net friends about yourself, most certainly some of the most basic information about yourself. If you're saying someone is your very best friend, the only person close to you, but they don't even know what area of a country you live in or what your last name is...well, something isn't quite right with that picture.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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mizchastain
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If she really is a danger to herself, I think I'm obliged to try everything I can to help, but when I checked on the email provider's website I can't find anywhere to report it to. Is there anywhere which could track her IP or something?

My "best" net-friend has shared more info with me. (We've been in contact four years, exchanged phone numbers, I know which state he lives in, and I like to think he and I trust each other enough to tell each other and ask for help if we feel we're going to be a danger to ourselves.)

Even after all this, I feel bad. I don't want her to die and if she does I can't stop her and I'll never even know.

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mizchastain
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I found her IP address. Is there anyone who could trace it to find her? I feel creepy for doing that but it's better than having her be hurt.
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Ecofem
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Hey mizchastain,

Have you two phoned before? If you two have, why not just pick up the phone and ring him? If he's on the East Coast of the US, he's 5 hours behind you (it's 3am on the East Coast right now and 8am in the UK), 6 hours from the Midwest, and 7 hours from the West Coast. (I'm assuming you mean US state but I know it could be a state in another country.) However, I'd wait a bit unless you know he's up.

You could do a lot more with a phone number, like contact his local police station if you think he's in immediate danger or just like call and talk to her parents even if he's living at home or a roommate if he's at uni... if you don't feel comfortable doing that, then don't, but I think you have a lot of starting points there. There is always the chance that it's not real or he's just doing it for attention but if you're really concerned and want to be active, that could be something.

[ 11-02-2009, 01:59 AM: Message edited by: Ecofem ]

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Ecofem
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quote:
If she really is a danger to herself, I think I'm obliged to try everything I can to help, but when I checked on the email provider's website I can't find anywhere to report it to. Is there anywhere which could track her IP or something?

My "best" net-friend has shared more info with me. (We've been in contact four years, exchanged phone numbers, I know which state he lives in, and I like to think he and I trust each other enough to tell each other and ask for help if we feel we're going to be a danger to ourselves.)

Even after all this, I feel bad. I don't want her to die and if she does I can't stop her and I'll never even know.

I just edited the post to change pronouns; I thought we were talking about a "she" here but you just used "he" in your most recent post. So, what's up with that?

[ 11-02-2009, 02:04 AM: Message edited by: Ecofem ]

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mizchastain
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Sorry, wasn't clear there. The "he" was somebody else, with whom my relationship is fine. (That one was the guy I had a crush on in my last "need help" post. I did eventually tell him about it, and he was embarrassed but okay and I got over it pretty quickly.) "He" is my main email pal, and has been my best friend for a few years. I was trying to compare how I got on with him to how I was doing with this other girl. The girl I was talking about in the main post is someone else, whom I was not terribly close to, but I felt protective of her because I sort of mentored her a little when she entered the blog site I was on.

I spoke to the counsellor at my college's drop-in clinic, and cried myself out. I feel better now. I've done everything I can, and I'm just going to cut my losses, hope her family notices what's going on, and carry on without her while still being there if she ever wants to come back. The IP thing was probably a bad idea, it's sorta stalkery even if it was only fueled by a desire to help. I don't think it was even because we were close friends or anything, I just felt like I should be able to do something and now I've accepted I can't I feel better. Still feel bad for her, but it'll pass. Odds are she'll be okay.

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mizchastain
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She got back to me and told me she's okay, she just wanted to avoid the net because she needs time for RL stuff. She had talked about that before, so I believe her. Very relieved she's okay, and we parted on better terms this time. Looks like this is working out okay. Thanks for the support, everyone ^_^
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Ecofem
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Heya mizchastain, I've been meaning to get back to you here! Thank you for your clarifications earlier. I think you have a good take on things and I'm so glad to hear she's been taking steps to work things out. Again, you're a very kind and caring friend and that's a wonderful thing. I hope you're well. [Smile]
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