Alice and I met when we were both nine year old. We had a very close and intense friendship for years. However, due in part to mental health issues from both of us, this friendship is now very unhealthy for me, and I believe it isn't healthy for her too.
Alice suffers from severe anxiety problems (including social anxiety) and is a highly sensitive person (extremely). She might have other mental disorders, I'm really not sure. Six years ago, she had a depressive episode with dissociative identity disorders. She had this other personality (let's call him Bob) that was terrifying for me : Bob would insult me, threaten me and Alice, giving me full responsibility of the situation, etc. Bob was aware of Alice, but Alice would not remember her episodes as Bob. She only knew about them because we talked about it. On the other hand, when Bob was quiet, Alice would rely totally on me for her well-being, calling me at any time of the day or night when she wasn't feeling right, being very jealous of my other friends, and often accusing me of not being there for her.
It was a traumatizing experience for me too and I suffered from depression myself. I'm still in therapy, and there is no doubt that this experience with Alice had a impact on my mental health. Hopefully, Alice got psychiatric help and she got better. I haven't heard from Bob again and I don't think I will again.
Fast forward to today : Alice is in a not-so-good situation in life right now, and she is very stressed about it. Probably related to her high level of permanent stress, she have very worrying (physical), life-threatening, health issues. I tried my best to support her, and to keep my own problems to myself. Still, she's slowly turning back to the behaviors she had six years ago (excluding identity disorders) and talking with her in these situation is very stressful for me (strong negative emotions, panic attacks...). They are specially difficult to handle because I do not have the time to speak with her a lot ; we live in different cities and it is not possible at the moment for me to visit her ; and mostly because it brings me back to this period and I just emotionally break down in seconds.
I cannot and do not want to end the friendship. I really think she needs me right now more than ever. I know she is aware of and cannot stop the behaviors that are stressful to me. I know only a professional might "fix" it and I'm just asking on how to make this situation easier for both of us.
How can I end or handle discussions that are too stressful for me ? I explained to my friend why her behavior was "too much", now how can I help her to improve the situation ?
What I have tried
- I talked with her about the things that bothered me in the most honest and gentle way I could. She understood it, though she didn't change her behavior much, and I don't think she really can at the moment.
- I tried to ask her to stop a conversation, or to change topic to something less stressful. She understood my distress but didn't change the subject, or returned to it a few sentences later.
- I tried "taking breaks". Telling her from time to time that I was very busy/that I couldn't talk to her now, and having a few days to myself before going back to her. It works while I'm don't speak to her, but it didn't make the conversations easier the next time they appeared and doesn't feel like a solution.
- I'm not the only one that is having trouble with her. We share two other good friends, and both of them told me they can't take it anymore. They are not as close to her as I am, but she doesn't have a lot of friends and she cares deeply for them. I'm afraid that if they leave, it might have a strong impact on her.
- She is getting psychiatric help.