One of my best friends, "Anne", has mental health problems for a long time. She's very closed off, just like me, and never responded much to my offers of help. I still tried to help her any way I can, but it's difficult as I don't want to force my help on her. We don't have that much contact, but the contact we do have is profound and I value it.

Some more background: We're both around our 30's, Anne is recently diagnosed with ADHD (1 year ago) and myself with autism (6 years ago), and I've had/have my own mental health issues. We both live close to each other in the Netherlands. Anne has not had a job for a long time, but starts a new from-home job in a few weeks.

Anne is away this week and she has asked me to feed her cats. Of course I will do so, she's my friend and there is no other person close by to help. Problem is: since the month she asked me this, I've been dreaded it so much. Anne lives in a small apartment with two cats and she has the tendency to hoard majorly and her house gives me anxiety (I am somewhat of a neat freak).

Yesterday was the first evening of me feeding her cats. Besides her apartment being filled with stacks of cardboard, stacks of paper, Styrofoam, stuff and cat hair, there also was a cat water fountain that was disgusting, clogged with cat hair and sitting on a mold-ridden rag (literally). So, besides me worrying for the mental load all this hoarding might put on her, I'm now also worrying about her own physical health, as well as the cats.

I was in a state between crying and wanting to throw up, but cleared away the fungus and fed the cats. When I left, I took one filled box of cardboard with me to throw away (perhaps I shouldn't have - it was a spur of the moment thing, there's no undoing it now). It's hard for me to face this week, as I'll have to feed her cats every evening and go to her anxiety-inducing house. I have a hard time performing my own job in the meantime. I will feed the cats, because I cannot let those poor creatures suffer.

I'm so riddled with emotions, going between intense sadness for Anne, guilt that I should have more actively tried to help her, and anger/helplessness for the position I'm in, partly because of her. And worry for her health, and the cats too. I also want her to do well on her upcoming job, and worry if she can keep up.

How do I help Anne? My main focus here is starting a conversation that will lead to me helping her: offer her help if she want it (like help cleaning or something, or just mental support). I want to help her, not judge her in any sort of way, make sure that her place is a better place for her own mental and physical health. At the same time I'd also like to kindly tell her that I will not feed her cats again with the current state, because that will be detrimental to my own mental health. I can imagine that this will be a difficult conversation to start.

Thank you very much for the advice you can give me <3

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    Hey Cathy! I think it may be best to split up your questions. Some of them, like how to survive until the end of the week, aren't really a matter of Interpersonal Skills (behaviors you use to interact with others), and would be off-topic here. For the others, 'help anne' is probably very broad, but we can help you with starting a conversation or declining a next request to watch the cats, which are a subset of 'help anne'. Those are still two separate questions though.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 7:28
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    And while all the backstory about Anne helps, it would also help if you could make it clearer what part of your part in the upcoming interactions you'd like our help with. If I take 'start a conversation about this with Anne' as an example, it would be helpful to give a bit more information about what you considered telling her, but why you think that won't work.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 7:31
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    Thank you for your replies! I will edit my question to be more clear
    – Cathy
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 8:08

2 Answers 2


To start with look after yourself first and foremost. I have been in the same situation, rushing all over and making great efforts only to find they cannot imagine living in a clean place, not following through with the smallest effort. It breaks the heart all day long. In the end it is best to take your heart elsewhere.

For the short term you must present your advice as help not for them but for you. The way to get some action is through sympathetic vibration or action. "I won't be able to get all that. Could you get some of that together for me when I'm on my way over? It would be a great help." You can slowly get them working with you (it takes time and patience). They are not against helping others as a rule.

Again, guard yourself from their needs. Empathy has made our species and culture but it can do us in as individuals. I still get requests for help and cannot describe why I cannot help anymore.


The long term answer is: Start doing aerobic exercise at least every other day with her, it'll hold the ADHD at bay, not sure about the effect on autists though, but there are a myriad of mental benefits of regular, particularly aerobic exercise.

source: Spark - The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (by John J. Ratey MD)

Amazingly enough, according to Dr Ratey, aerobic exercise has also been shown to INCREASE brain volume, something once previously thought to be impossible. Pretty remarkable stuff.

  • Hi, machump! Can you provide sources to make your answer more comprehensive and complete? Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 12:17

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