If you have a problem please email Caroline at [email protected] Caroline reads all your letters but regrets not being able to answer them all personally
I’m tired of taking care of my boyfriend
Q A friend in her sixties became ill many years ago and as a result feels anxious and unsafe to be alone. She is single and has no family. Although her doctor thinks she can handle it, she insists she always needs someone, either at her home or when she goes to a friend’s house. For years, several of her friends and I have operated on a schedule of sorts, where she stays with all of us for a week or two. She doesn’t drive and lives a few miles away. I prefer her to stay with me instead of visiting her, because I like to be in my own house. Recently, she asks more often to stay. I think some friends have had enough and give up. I try to be compassionate, but any suggestion I make about how she might help herself — such as joining clubs or groups — is brushed aside. I suggested she pay a caretaker for the night, which she could afford, but she doesn’t want a stranger in the house. She is not considering moving to an assisted living facility. My husband and I are in our 70s; he has heart problems and we both have arthritis. We want to enjoy the time we have left together without worrying or feeling responsible for anyone else. We have raised children, cared for the elderly and sick parents and now help with grandchildren. We believe that all free time should be ours. It has been going on for several years and the end is not yet in sight. Am I selfish?
A Like you, I feel very sorry for her. She clearly doesn’t take life well. But no, I don’t think you’re selfish. You, your husband and her other friends took care of her for so long. In many ways she takes advantage—though not intentionally—and has developed “learned helplessness,” expecting others to solve her problems rather than dealing with them herself. This situation must change. You and your husband have worked hard over the years, taking care of others and now deserve time for yourself. It won’t be easy, but you should talk to your friend about reducing the number of visits – perhaps in terms of your health and finding it exhausting to have guests so often. She’s pushed away helpful suggestions — possibly including counseling or medication to manage anxiety — which are unfair to you. If she has the money, there are plenty of solutions, including caregivers or boarders for companionship. Someone is just a stranger until you get to know them! Of course you don’t have to see her all the way – and I’m sure you don’t want to – but you could reduce her visits to three or four short stays a year. If she complains, tell her softly but firmly that she can learn to enjoy an independent life. You could offer to help find a good health care facility, retirement home or boarders through a housing sharing scheme. She may find that a more independent life is satisfying and better for her self-esteem. Be assertive and set your needs higher. You deserve your own time.
Should I block my abusive brother?
Q My brother was spoiled as a child – now he is an angry 42-year-old man with a drinking problem, who is still financially supported by my parents. I struggle for money and am a single parent, but I have always been independent. When he is drunk, he sends terrible emails to me or other people, with whom he has had a lot of fights. He bullies my mother, who also struggles with my father’s dementia. It puts such a strain on us. I don’t know what to do. How can I stop him from contacting me?
A Your brother takes his problems out on you and takes advantage of your mother’s good will. It must be disturbing. It would be difficult to block him from fully contacting you unless you have taken a non-molesting warrant (rightsofwomen.org.uk can provide information on this). However, this would be an extreme measure and could put more of the problem on your mother. You both need help resisting his bullying. So contact al-anonuk.org.uk, which supports the families and friends of problem drinkers, and family-action.org.uk, who can give you further advice. Your mom was clearly beat up by your brother, so giving her the strength to say no to him will help. Try not to read his abusive emails. If he’s harassing you over phone or text, hang up or temporarily block him. Your brother needs help too, but I expect you and your mother have gone down that road many times before. For your father, please also contact alzheimers.org.uk as your mother may need additional support.