I recently discovered your blog, and I'm very appreciative of all the advice you give. I know you're busy, but I feel like at least putting my thoughts in words will help me understand them.
I'm a freshman at BYU. Last semester, I met a boy in one of my classes, with whom I got along decently. After a few weeks, he came to class wearing short sleeves, and I noticed that both of his arms were covered in self harm scars, many of which seemed fresh.
As time went on his arms seemed to heal, and we became better friends. I saw him after class at the end of October though, and he was MUCH worse. So I confronted him about it. We talked a lot after that, and I became another therapist to him. His depression was many, many years in the making, as was his harm, but I managed to help him curb it a little.
After a week or so of this, our relationship had become very emotionally attached. As such, we began flirting a little. I was terrified, because I didn't want to date. But I couldn't tell him no, and by mid-November I believed I was very OK with dating too. The weekend after our first date, he called to tell me that he needed to be hospitalized for his safety. His bishop and I took him to the ER. He stayed in a hospital for over a week. It was not his first time. After his release, he did much better, mostly because he knew any more hospitalization would only delay a mission. And he stopped harming for over a month.
During that time period, our relationship escalated. We kissed—I asked my bishop about it, and remained within his guidelines of what was safe, but I admit that kissing made me very uncomfortable, to the point that I would have panic attacks. He helped me deal with it and respected me when I asked that we not do it again. When Christmas break started, he talked to me often of how he missed me. He began to harm again during break, to an extent that he hid from me. I didn't find out until we got back to school, and even then he didn't want me to know. I became very worried. I had been from the beginning, I guess, but it began to culminate. As such, I broke it off.
He began to harm himself more and more, in multiple sessions daily. And after a week, he even admitted that he was closer to a suicidal plan than he had been since the last hospitalization. He didn't mean to, but he alluded to the fact that dying had made him better. I felt (and still do feel) terribly guilty—I think I pushed him to hurt himself. But I also had felt peace and support at the idea of ending our relationship, and so I couldn't bring myself start it again. I tried to help as a friend, but wasn't nearly as effective.
Before you worry too much, he's on a new medication now and is doing much better. He has also continued to express feelings for me, and while I feel less guilty, I know that my actions in turning him away have been less than Christ-like. I recognize that when I sing a Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief these days, I am being dishonest.
I guess after all of that, I just wish to ask: when is it ok to give up? Within marriage, I assume one ought to be supportive forever (that's kind of a big part of marriage), but in dating, and friendship, is it selfish and wrong to want to back out? I don't really know. I want to help, and I ought to help, but I also want to be happy too.
Not only is it NOT selfish to stay out of a relationship with this man, I insist on it.
Self-harm is many things, not the least of which is addictive. Until he conquers that addiction it would be foolish of you to have any kind of romantic relationship with him.
Love him as a friend. Pray for his recovery.
But don't allow yourself to get sucked into his depression.
His symptoms are real and very serious. He needs (and it sounds like he's getting) qualified regular therapy. That's good.
Love and support does not require that you give more than you're able, that you put yourself or your future in jeopardy, or that you must carry his anchor with you all the time. Jesus IS the Christ; let Him do His job, you do yours.
Yes, care, help, offer concern, but your first spiritual concern is and must always be you.
One of the first rules in lifesaving is that you never put yourself in a situation where there are two victims.
Please understand this: however he chooses to exercise his demons, it is not your fault nor your responsibility.
And, if I may, even in marriage there's a line where it's better to cut bait than to hang on.
If you haven't yet, take a good look at this post: The A's of Why NOT to Marry.
It may help.
- Bro Jo