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Too Late Now

Katie wrote:

This is a bit irregular, but what would you have said if I had sent this question:

"I've had a 4-year relationship with a guy that ended 3 years ago. It lasted for so long because he was really depressed and I "waited" for things to get better for him before breaking up. He finally broke up himself because I had grown completely cold by then, but he's still in love and still depressed and has even tried to commit suicide twice since then."

"I left the country and am living abroad but he keeps calling me every two days or so. I don't know what to do, it's driving me mad. He's getting professional help but he seems to trust only me and I know he shouldn't, I just want him to leave me alone and go on with my life. I'm afraid to say anything, he gets hurt easily but on the other hand I feel I'm torturing him instead of helping"

You see, he finally did commit suicide a few months ago and I can't help wondering "what could I have done" and how to go on with my life now, with this, with myself. I feel awful.

Dear Katie

I can understand how awful you feel; it is very difficult not to feel guilt when someone you care about commits suicide; still worse when the relationship has been difficult.

I hope I would have said "You are not a mental health professional; you can advise him, as strongly as possiblke, to seek help - but you cannot force him, unless you have reason to believe he is suicidal or a danger to others."

I think I'd have added "What you do owe him, as a friend, is honesty; if he is distressed, and can't let go, you can only increrase the pain by allowing him to hang on ... if you care, risk shotrt term pain for long term peace, and let him go with honesty and respect."

I should add that with hindsight, you probably hear his threats of suicide and the attempts, as your fault. If he was, by then, recognised as having a depressive illness, clearly it is unreasonable for you to blame yourself. Even if that was not so, you are not a mental health professional, and really could not have foreseen what might happen - tragically, suicidal threats and attempts occur more often in non-suicides than in suicidal people.

Either way, you cannot change the past. However difficult it is to force reason over personal emotions, you should not forget the good times, and the help you did give - or offered. Hindsight gives a clear vision, but little justice; so long as you acted in good faith, not for selfish motives, you have no right to torture yourself now.

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