My blind musician friend is a real downer

He is so depressed he's driving everyone away

Published November 15, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I have this problem that's been getting worse as time has gone by. It's regarding a friend of mine -- I'll call him Dave -- whom I have been friends with for over 14 years. He's an all-around great guy. He's a superior guitarist and a very talented keyboardist. He's funny and very affectionate. He's also blind, which is not a problem, but is relevant to the situation.

Dave is a chronically depressed person. He is almost 50 years old and hasn't had a girlfriend in decades. He used to meet people online and set up to meet at a coffee shop without even mentioning that he's blind and they either slink out unnoticed or talk to him briefly, saying they're not interested. He feels judged because he's blind. I tell him that he should try to date someone else who is blind, but he said he doesn't want to date anyone who is blind, that he wants someone who is sighted. This makes no sense to me. He hasn't had a girlfriend for over 20 years, much less had sex with anyone. This has made things much worse. He feels down on himself most of the time and tends to bring people down with him. He's self-pitying and talks about how bad his life is, like it's the most interesting subject of conversation. Not a lot of people hang out with him because of this. Anyway, he's quite the negative Nellie about most things, which has been rubbing me the wrong way for a long time.

If I'm doing pretty well in the stock market he says, "It's going to go down again, you'll lose everything." If I invite him to dinner, which everyone else is raving about, he is overcritical and says, "It needs more _____. It's OK, but it could be better." He says this about everything.

I told him that if he ever wants to be invited again, he'll stop critiquing everything because it's getting on my and other people's nerves, which is why he doesn't hang out with people that much. He's argumentative for the sake of being argumentative -- at least, that's what it seems like because he tries to provoke negativity out of people because he feels so bad about himself.

It doesn't make sense to me because he makes himself feel worse and becomes even more isolated.

He acts like he's a victim in life and people should feel bad for him. All he does is complain. He sucks all the energy out of the room.

I've been friends with Dave for so long and I love him and care about him, but I feel like he's pushing me away by his behavior. He went so far as to betray my trust by telling my business to someone, something serious that I had confided in him, who he knows doesn't like my husband nor does my husband like her, due to a bad history between them, which he was fully aware of. When I confronted Dave, he made out like it was no big deal. I didn't talk to him for almost a year because of that.

Trust is the cornerstone of every relationship and our friendship has suffered. On some level, I keep him at arm's length about a lot of things.

I have tried to talk to him about this, but he just gets defensive and starts running his mouth off, saying offensive things, as though what he says has no consequence. He's disrespectful and doesn't apologize for it. He doesn't take kindly to advice or well-intentioned criticism because he feels like he's being attacked. It's really not like that -- we just all want him to live a happier life.

I love him, but I don't know if this relationship can go on any longer. Is it salvageable, or am I fighting a losing fight?

@ My Breaking Point

Dear @ My Breaking Point,

Right now, you are being manipulated by this man. If you want it to stop, you first need to cut off communication with him. You can be of no help to him or to yourself while he is manipulating you.

Think about what is going on here. Even though he has treated you very badly, you continue to call him your friend. Why is that? Don't you feel hurt by what he has done? Don't you feel afraid of him? He has betrayed your trust. Moreover, his complaining is a kind of aggression. What he is doing, in essence, is saying not only that his world is shit but that your world is, too. You probably have the correct instincts but you are fighting them. Think if you were a child: You would run from such behavior, or you would fight back. That would be a sensible response of self-preservation.

I highly recommend getting some help with this. You can't do anyone any good until you first get yourself untangled. Psychotherapy could be of help; also a visit to a group like Al-Anon or Co-Dependents Anonymous might be a real eye-opener. Here is some general help with dealing with manipulative people. He may be keying in on personality traits you are not aware of. So it also might help to read the "Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators" section of the Wikipedia entry on psychological manipulation.

Your problem is large enough on its own. It may take months or years before you have a good enough understanding of the dynamics of your relationship to be able to approach your friend in a helpful way. When and if you do, however, there are many things you can suggest to him. First, you might suggest that he read this message to blind people from Lighthouse for the Blind about the prevalence of depression among blind people. Perhaps if he knew of the link between blindness and depression in adolescents and of the study being conducted by Cardiff School of Optometry on the blindness-depression connection he might more seriously consider getting help for his depression.

Depression among the blind is a large enough problem that an entire book, "Identifying and Treating Depression in Individuals with Visual Impairments," has been devoted to its treatment.

Keep in mind that psychotherapy is a good way to relieve symptoms of the existential crisis such as depression and anxiety, but its ultimate purpose is to help us find enduring meaning. I have spent the morning reading not only about blindness and depression but about the martyr complex, masochistic personality disorder, victim behavior, and, as is the peril of such reading, have seen much of myself! Big surprise, right? Plenty to talk about in therapy tomorrow, I figure.

Among the more interesting things I came across is the story of Saint Lucy, a patron saint of the blind. And of course there is no escaping the significance of blindness in literature -- in Oedipus the King and many works of Shakespeare, not to mention, duh, in the novel "Blindness" by Jose Saramago.

Along the way I wondered: What is the connection between the martyr complex and a true spirit of self-sacrifice? What is the difference? A true will give up physical life to maintain spiritual integrity. A person with a martyr complex is manipulating other people but is blind to his own condition.

So, you may eventually be able to help your friend but first you must become aware of how he is manipulating you and create some boundaries. Seriously, if you have the resources, you might find it best to get some professional help with this. Not that you can't do it on your own, but you would make faster progress with someone to guide you. Then, once you have conquered that, you may be able to approach your friend with an offer of help.

Whether he accepts your offer of help is of course up to him. He may choose to continue being his own victim. But at least you don't have to.

By Cary Tennis

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