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Auntie SparkNotes: Am I a Selfish Burden?

Dear Auntie,

Some of my close friends have just told me that they are tired of hearing about my problems and that I don’t listen enough. They have said that my own sadness is brought on by myself, and that I want other people to fix it. I won’t deny this. I feel like a bomb, or a burden, or a parasite, and I have been told that people feel sad after talking to me. Is the solution to just hide all my problems? Be happy so people will like me? I hurt people by asking for their help. I am sure that I am selfish. Am I?

Actually, Sparkler, I think the word you’re looking for is “depressed.”

Because I don’t know you, sweet pea, and I’m not a doctor, but depressed is how you sound. Every time I read your letter I find myself thinking afresh about David Foster Wallace’s piece called The Depressed Person, which seems to echo your own experience right down to the part where you desperately want not to be consumed by your own suffering but are helpless to talk or think about anything else.

Which is the awful irony of depression: in a way, it does make you selfish. Depression is a black freaking hole, and as much as it sucks to have one of those inside you, it also sucks to be standing next to one, pumping all your warm and supportive energy into it only to realize that it’s still as dark and hungry and infinite as ever. That’s why, of all the mental health struggles out there, this one is probably the hardest on friendships; even the most giving person eventually gets drained when giving (and giving, and giving) is all they do.

So with that in mind, here is my advice: Rather than asking your friends for help that they’re wholly unqualified to give, please put that energy into finding and talking to a professional therapist. If you have access to a counselor at school, start there. If not, you can reach out to (in no particular order) your religious leader, the NAMI helpline (1-800-950-NAMI, M-F; 10-6), or an online service like 7 Cups of Tea, and get the ball rolling on getting some help. And if you haven’t been screened for depression—which I’m guessing you haven’t—then a visit to your family doctor is a must, too. You can get referrals there to mental health professionals, including the kind who can prescribe medication to help you out, if appropriate.

It’s not that this will instantly and completely solve everything; that takes time, and work. But what it will do is give you an outlet dedicated entirely to discussing your problems, so that when you get next to your friends, you can do some listening—or at least talk about something else. It means that when someone asks how you’re doing, you won’t have to unload every last iota of your sadness onto them, because you have another, better place to do that. In short, it means feeling less like a burden and more like a person, one who is going through a tough time but doing what it takes to deal with it. I wish you the best of luck.

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