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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

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My friend suffers from depression and I feel very sorry for her. But recently I have got to the end of my tether. I arrange to meet her and then, at the last minute, she cancels, either making excuses or saying she's being pursued by the "black dog". Over the last six months we've made five plans to meet and on three occasions she's cried off. Last night was the worst as I'd asked other people around to meet her specially, then got a text saying "something's come up". I feel so sorry for her but get fed up being so often disappointed. All best, Hattie


Viirginia says... Having suffered myself from long bouts of depression I can sympathise with how your friend feels. She wakes up full of gloom and dread at the prospect of communication with anyone, even you, someone who is very fond of her. It crosses her mind to struggle through, but then depression argues: "But I am such a lowly worm that it won't make any difference whether I'm there or not... Worse, if I were to go, I would probably be a blight on the whole event, I would make everyone else unhappy and if there are other friends of Hattie's present I'll reflect badly on Hattie, and she'll feel angry and upset with me. Not only do I not want to go but it would be a noble and unselfish act to absent myself so I don't ruin the evening with my misery."

Like all depressed people, she's not only self-obsessed but believes she has more power than she thinks. Even if she were just to sit through the evening looking glum, she couldn't put a dampener on other people's pleasure. And her absence would make a difference. You've put a lot of effort into your plans, and probably you've looked forward to the walk/movie/drinks that you organised. She has huge power to disappoint you when she lets you down. I imagine you've done everything you can to help her by suggesting doctors, counselling and so on and frequently ringing her up. What you must do is impress on her how upset you feel when she fails to turn up. Explain that she does have power. There's a risk that this accusation will make her feel more depressed, but it might make her feel that she matters, that her life has meaning.

Most of us have the courage combined with the sense of duty to force us to struggle through immediate events we've promised to attend even though we've got splitting headaches, sudden diagnoses of cancer, an unexpected bereavement. Some depressed people are renowned for their ability to put on a front – to be seen smiling and joking minutes before they bump themselves off.

Your friend must be told that you love her very much, but if she wants to cancel a date with you, she's got to give proper notice. Otherwise, she's just got to do her damnedest to put in an appearance, even for a very short time, to prevent your feeling as hurt and rejected as she does herself. And if she refuses, well, I'm sorry, but if I were you I'd keep ringing, but cut out the meetings. You do have, at some point, to look after yourself.


Readers say...

Don't expect too much


Unfortunately, that's the nature of depression. Meeting a friend can suddenly seem incredibly overwhelming. I'm sure that, as a depressive, she'll be feeling much worse about the cancellation than you. I'm afraid the only way to deal with the problem is to expect very little consistency from her. There's probably nothing you can do to change her unreliability so you may have to take her as she is or not at all.

Sam Whyte By email


Thinking of her

If your friend has cried off get-togethers, why not tell her you understand that she does not always feel like going out, but when she does want to see you, you will be there for her. That way the onus will be on her to make the first move and decide the type of meeting she wants. If she does not call you it will be because she does not want to see you. If there have been only five meetings arranged in the last six months it would seem you are not really close friends, but you could send the odd email or card just to remind her you are thinking of her.

Jenny By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I feel very low because all my friends were asked to New Year's Eve parties except me. I could have gone to a bar with some people, but they're not really my type and I didn't want to get completely drunk. The result was I stayed at home alone feeling sorry for myself. It was the same at Christmas. Everyone said they had a great time, but though I had an okay time with my family, it wasn't very exciting. Why is it with me that the party always seems to be in the next room? Best wishes, Angie

What would you advise Angie to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk, or go to independent.co.uk/dilemmas. dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)