Ask Amy

Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 10:05pm

DEAR AMY: For about a year now, I've been in an almost constant state of anxiety. I'm always exhausted, and I never seem to have much energy. The things that I used to get excited about just don't make me happy anymore.

Lately my closest friend has grown tired of this mood, which I cannot seem to shake. She told me that she does not think she can continue to be my friend if I am going to act like this. I have tried to force a more optimistic attitude when I am around her, but it just leaves me feeling worse.

I can't make her understand how I am feeling because I do not understand it myself. We have been best friends for 18 years, and I really do not want to lose our friendship.

How do I change to be the type of friend she wants me to be?

— Feeling Friendless

DEAR FRIENDLESS: You've tried to change — but you aren't able to change. And you can't change right now because you aren't well.

For an anxious and/or depressed person, change isn't a matter of merely trying to behave differently. Your body chemistry is working against you.

Focus on your health right now; see your primary care physician for a checkup and report all of your symptoms to your doctor.

You need people to be on your side right now — if you explain honestly that you are wrestling with some health issues and enlist your friend's help, she might make a very good advocate for you. It's worth a try.

DEAR AMY: I am 23 years old. My mom's friend from college and her husband have always been close to us. My sister and I even call them "Aunt" and "Uncle."

These friends love us as if we really were their nieces, and we love them as our aunt and uncle. They have always showered our whole family with gifts at Christmastime. These gifts are thoughtful, but not things that we necessarily want or need.

I want to ask them to stop giving us (or at least me) so many gifts, and my mom agrees.

I thought about suggesting they donate the money they would spend on the gifts to a charity I know we would both support. Do you think that is a good idea?

How do I go about addressing this without offending?

— Over-gifted in the Northeast

DEAR OVER-GIFTED: Acknowledge your friends' generous spirit and as the next gift-giving occasion approaches, contact them to say, "I want you to know how lucky I feel to have you in my life. You have been so generous over the years. As I've grown into adulthood, I want to accumulate fewer things and also support an institution whose work I really believe in. I wonder if you would be willing to donate to this organization in lieu of material gifts to me. If not, I understand — and I'm very grateful, regardless."

You can also honor this couple by donating to their favorite cause in their name.

DEAR AMY: I'm responding to a letter signed "Not Thankful," written by a woman whose annoying sister-in-law is already begging for a Thanksgiving dinner invitation.

Like her, I would start cranking up my anxiety in the spring over having to invite my self-centered and trash-talking sister-in-law for Thanksgiving.

Then three years ago, after our other Thanksgiving guests had left, my sister-in-law sat and talked to my husband and me.

She revealed that she had been in counseling and told us about the years of horrendous childhood abuse that she endured after my husband (her older brother) had left home. I sat and listened to her and cried for hours.

Now I make an effort to invite my sister-in-law to all holiday and family events. She doesn't always come, and when she does come she is often late, talks trash, monopolizes the conversation and so forth.

I simply don't let it bother me and consider my generosity to be my "Thanksgiving" that my daughters and I never had to endure this sort of suffering.

— Another View

DEAR ANOTHER: This is a very powerful lesson of compassion. Thank you.

Send questions via email to askamy@tribune.com. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.

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