Thank you so much, you've helped alot. Other people have thought she was being manipulative as well, unfortunately. Of me and my friend, I was the one who was willing to consider that she wasn't being manipulative but just honest with her feelings, because I know she's an honest person. The way she says it still comes off that way to me, but with your confirmation I'm even more ready to believe her thoroughly (and that it isn't a subconscious ploy, either).
(I have a sad story to share about this. A day or so before I left to hang out with friends for this whole last week in Oklahoma, she gave me one of those "you're not gonna end up talking to me anyway" lines and I told her to stop doing that, she said she wasn't trying to do anything and I said she knew exactly what she meant. When I came back I found out she had been upset the entire time due to that along with some other stuff that had been going on. She apologized, though, and I did, too, and the conversation ended upbeat despite even more potential drama. I'm determined to not let that event repeat itself, though. I'm just grateful she says I'm an amazing friend.)
It doesn't always help to distract her because sometimes she's just that down in the dumps. She does get distracted pretty easily like you said, though. She might talk about her issues and then all of a sudden brighten up when she starts thinking about something as simple as ice cream. hahaha. Or when I say something she considers silly she'll just suddenly laugh. So I know you're right, but the trouble is that it seems unpredictable when she's gonna be able to be distracted.
I don't mind giving affirmation, it's a stretch for me, but if I use it as a tactic (and yes I do mean it but me having to say anything like that that seems obvious to me is a technique to me) I can do fine. It's still kinda frustrating though, although worth it in the end for how happy she becomes.