I have always been the friend that everybody goes to for advice or for counsel.
I had learned from my parents to be empathetic and understanding of others; to always see the good in people even though their actions may reflect differently. I was taught to put others before myself; to always make sure everyone was comfortable though I may not be. I was raised to always make room for others, even if meant sacrificing your own space. Sounds like a good virtue to learn and live by...right? My parents meant no ill-intention when they taught me these core values. However, constantly giving away pieces of yourself even when you don't have any more pieces to give or letting people pour their issues and problems into you even when you're about to overflow is an extremely unhealthy practice.
At one of the darkest moments of my life, I found myself desperately trying to help others before myself.
Particularly, I was caught between the lines with a "friend" who latched on to me and depended on me for their survival. My emotional availability became their only reason to live. I felt like I was saving a life. I thought this was a good thing to do. This was the only way for my friend to stay alive, so I should do it.
Slowly but surely, however, my own mental and emotional health deteriorated. Everyone around me could see it. I was constantly sleep-deprived and anxious. My friends and mentors would encourage me to take care of myself, but I would respond with: "She needs me right now. I can't! If I don't call her or text back she'll threaten to kill herself again." I began to distance myself from my other friends. I felt responsible every time she lashed out and became suicidal again. She threatened to harm herself when I didn't text or call back. She would blame me for being a bad friend if I couldn't hang out. If I didn't provide emotional support, her death would be my fault. My best friends urged me to distance myself because I was becoming affected by it too. I refused to listen. I thought they were ignorant and apathetic to mental health. Little did I know that I was the one who was ignorant and apathetic to my own mental well-being.
One day, after an emotional break-down, my mentor called me and requested that we have a chat.
Sitting at her office, she looked stern but sympathetic. Without her saying anything, I knew that she understood the position I was pinched in between. She let out a sigh and said: "Right now, you are not responsible for anybody else's life except your own. Sometimes, it's necessary to be selfish. You have to understand the boundary between being a good friend and letting yourself be manipulated by someone who needs serious help. You focus so much on rebuilding her when you're the one falling apart. Abusive relationships don't just exist in romantic relationships; friendship, at least a true friendship, is NOT like this. You need to wake up. You need to seek help from a professional who can handle her. You cannot save someone who does not want to be saved. At this point, you're the one who needs saving."
After months of denial, my mentor's words suddenly reawoke my sense of reason.
I reflected on all the toxic behaviors I experienced in the friendship and decided that this pattern needed to end instantly. I reached out to my friend's parents and siblings and explained to them what had been happening. Together, we found the best therapists and psychiatrists in the area. We confronted my friend about her mental health and explained the urgency for her to be admitted to a rehabilitation center. Though she did not take it smoothly, we eventually came to a consensus. With the support of her family and mental health professionals, she was slowly, but surely recovering. I found myself sleeping peacefully, knowing that she was in safe hands and that her life no longer depended on my availability. Personally, I started seeing therapists and counselors as well just to make sure I was in a good mental and emotional state. I began researching mental health resources on the college-level, city-level, and even national level. When friends or family would reach out to me with critical signs of mental-health issues I immediately referred them to the resources I found while assisting them every step of the way throughout their mental-health recovery journey.
Today, I continue to become inspired by the core teachings of my parents; now, however, with much more caution.
I realized that being a supportive friend does not mean letting yourself become someone else's emotional outlet. It does not mean being responsible for making your friends happy, but rather helping them find a plethora of other ways to become happy again. With the intense academic culture that surrounds college campuses worldwide, mental health is something that needs to be recognized.
Luckily, there are many resources available.
The issue is educating people about them and teaching people the proper way to handle situations similar to the one I was in. I often reminisce the destructive situation I was put in and I now realize that it could've been solved immediately if I had just reached out to my friend's family members and mental health professionals who actually have the authority to take action. Though this experience was frightening, it opened up an opportunity to educate myself about mental health and the resources available to those who suffer from mental health issues. I learned more about how to better take care of myself and how to look out for others. Most importantly, it taught me how to save a life without putting my own life at risk.