THE BLOG
04/10/2009 07:57 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Me, me, me: When friendship is a one-way street

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I have a very close friend who is going through a rough time. She recently became pregnant after ongoing fertility treatments. I was extremely supportive through all of this. Since becoming pregnant, her anxiety and panic has increased immensely.

She is an only child who depends greatly on her parents and will often choose to do things with her mom over doing something with me. I don't ask her to do much these days since she is with her mom most of the time.

With her panic issues, she has become extremely hard to be around. I try to help as much as I can, but she will usually just tell me that I don't really understand because I haven't had her exact symptoms. She now thinks she's becoming depressed as well.

I guess my issue is that over the years I go through these stages where I feel like she expects me to be there for her whenever she needs me. But when I need her, she barely has time for me. I can call her with a problem, and she's always doing something while talking to me. I NEVER get her full attention.

I know this is a troubling time for her, but it just seems to have brought back my negative feelings about this friendship. And, to a certain extent, she is creating some of her anxiety/panic/depression. I am just finding myself very angry about this whole friendship. Any advice?

Thanks,
Paige

ANSWER

Hi Paige:

If your friend has a true panic disorder, she may be experiencing terrifying physical and emotional symptoms that feel out of her control. Panic disorders are often associated with depression and anxiety as well. While you sound like a very empathetic and caring friend, your friend is probably correct in saying that you can't understand exactly how she is feeling. You also can't make her symptoms go away. But these two facts don't make you less of a friend.

Because of your friend's problems, the relationship has become one-sided. It's normal that you would feel resentful because she isn't able to be there for you in the way that you are there for her. Since you call her a "very close friend" and acknowledge that she is going through a "rough time," it seems like your friendship once had a more reciprocal basis, where there was more give and take, so I wouldn't give up on the friendship just yet.

The signs and symptoms of a panic disorder tend to flare up during difficult life transitions, and coping with infertility would be high on such a list. In fact, some research suggests that coping with infertility can be as stressful to a woman as dealing with a serious physical illness like cancer or HIV/AIDS. Although getting pregnant after having fertility problems should be uplifting, it can be another source of stress.

You didn't mention whether or not your friend is being treated for her symptoms. If she is, she may need some more time. If not, you may want to suggest that she get diagnosed and treated. Perhaps, her mother is worried about her daughter's problems and that's why she and her mom are spending so much time together. If you have a comfortable relationship with her mom, you can mention that you are concerned about your friend.

In any case, it sounds like you are burned out and may need to step back a bit until your friend is more together. You could have a frank discussion with her and tell her that you are a bit overwhelmed by her neediness but still cherish your friendship. In the meantime, take a break. Spend more time with other friends you enjoy, create a bit more distance between you and this friend, and see how things evolve over time. Just keep in mind that it is unlikely that her emotions are under her control at this point and she's probably suffering more than you. Above all, be kind because she's your friend.

I know this isn't an easy situation but I hope this gives you some food for thought.

Best,
Irene

Have a friendship dilemma that is bothering you? Perhaps I can help. Write to me at: Irene@fracturedfriendships.com.

More information on Panic Disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break-up With Your Best Friend, that will be published by Overlook Press in September, 2009. She recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.