My friend is in her mid 20s and we've been friends since school. After uni she moved back in with her mum who only just divorced. Since then she's never had a 'proper' job, just part time or seasonal stuff that she tends to flake out on with vague, minor maladies such as a sore arm. Her mum provides for her so practically speaking, she doesn't have to work or claim benefits to survive.
She's never been an extrovert and always liked staying at home pursuing her hobbies. But in the past year it's got to the point where she never goes out if she can help it, her mum does everything for her, she doesn't do anything round the house. She's even lost interest or energy to pursue her hobbies.
She has always had minor ailments and when the rest of us got a cold at school, she'd get it so much worse. She's always been a hypochondriac too. But now she's complaining of headaches, feeling tired all the time, dizziness sensitivity to noise, easily fatigued by socialising or leaving the house. She was diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, but the doctors couldn't figure out any real cause. My other friends believe it might be more of a mental illness than a physical one, such as depression and hypochondria. Her mum seems to be making it worse by doing everything for her and not encouraging her to make baby steps to do more for herself or to get out of the house more.
I don't know what to believe. I know when I've been depressed in the past, staying in bed all the time and losing any sense of routine made it so much worse and created a vicious cycle of uselessness. She has no motivation to keep going to the doctors or to try and get better as she doesn't need to go out and earn money, no partner or children.
As her friends, is there anything we can realistically do to help?
We encourage her to get out the house or we come to her, but she tends to just complain the whole time. It's so sad and I feel like I've lost my friend to a black hole. She use to be bright, funny, eccentric. At this rate she will have wasted away the whole of her 20s and possibly even the rest of her life.
I have no idea what's wrong and I wish she'd keep pestering the doctors to diagnose and treat her.
I am not surprised she is easily fatigued by socialising or leaving the house, if she hardly ever does it. As you say, it is a vicious cycle. Obviously I shouldn't diagnose over the internet. However, it sounds likely that she has health anxiety and depression. All the physical symptoms you mention are often associated with anxiety and/or depression. This is not the same as "faking it". She probably feels genuinely ill. It's just that anxiety and hypersensitivity to symptoms make the symptoms worse.
Her mum is enabling her and really making it far worse. Do you know the mum at all? Could you explain how worried you are? Would you be prepared to speak to your friend very frankly and say some of the things you have said here? That you are worried she is wasting her life away? Maybe you could offer to go the GP with her. I think she needs a referral for CBT.
Has your friend asked you what might be wrong with her or asked you for advice? Maybe she doesn't see anything 'wrong' with herself. The best way to support someone is to not 'need' them to be any other way then they are at the present moment. So continue to support her and invite her to things without pressure. If she is feeling low then any sort of criticism or or unasked for advice (any statement starting with 'you should', 'you need' or 'do you know what you should do', or 'What I think you should..') should not be used. The more she has friends who accept things they are right now, the more she might feel able to make changes herself...or not.