Q. A friend who is in her 60s became ill many years ago and, as a result, feels anxious and unsafe about being on her own. She is single with no family. Although her doctor believes she would cope, she insists that she needs someone to be with her all the time – either in her home or by her going to a friend’s house. For many years, several of her friends and I have operated a sort of rota, where she stays with each of us for a week or two at a time. She doesn’t drive and lives several miles away. I prefer her to stay with me rather than visit her because I like to be in my own home.
Recently she has started asking to stay more frequently. I think some friends have had enough and dropped out. I try to be sympathetic, but every suggestion I make as to how she could help herself – such as joining clubs or groups – is brushed aside. I’ve suggested she pay a carer to stay overnight, which she could afford, but she doesn’t want a stranger in her home. She will not consider moving to sheltered accommodation.
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, not worrying or feeling responsible for someone else. We’ve brought up children, nursed elderly and sick parents and now help out with grandchildren. We feel that any spare time should be ours. It has been going on for several years now with no end in sight. Am I being selfish?
A. Like you, I feel very sorry for her. She clearly doesn’t cope well with life. But no, I don’t think you are being selfish. You, your husband and her other friends have been incredibly kind looking after her for so long. In many ways, she is taking advantage – though not deliberately – and has developed ‘learned helplessness’, expecting others to resolve her problems instead of addressing them herself. This situation needs to change.
You and your husband have worked hard, cared for others down the years, and now deserve time to yourselves. It won’t be easy, but you need to talk to your friend about reducing the number of visits – perhaps put it in terms of your health and finding it tiring to have guests so often. She has pushed away helpful suggestions – possibly including counselling or medication to manage anxiety – which is unfair on you. If she has the funds, there are plenty of solutions, including carers or lodgers for company. Someone is only a stranger until you get to know them!
Of course, you don’t have to stop seeing her completely – and I’m sure you don’t want to – but you could cut back her visits to three or four short stays a year. When she complains, tell her – gently but firmly – that she can learn to enjoy an independent life. You could offer to help find a good care agency, retirement village or lodgers through a home-share scheme. She might find that a more independent life is fulfilling and better for her self-worth. Be assertive and put your needs higher. You deserve your own time.
‘Should I block my abusive brother?’
Q. My brother was spoilt as a child – now he is an angry 42-year-old man with a drink problem, who is still being helped financially by my parents. I struggle for money and am a single parent, but I’ve always been independent. When he’s drunk he sends horrible emails to me or other people, many of whom he has fallen out with. He bullies my mother, who is also coping with my dad’s dementia. It is putting such a strain on us. I don’t know what to do. How can I stop him contacting me?
A. Your brother is taking out his problems on you and taking advantage of your mother’s goodwill. It must be distressing. It would be difficult to block him from contacting you completely unless you took out a non-molestation order (rightsofwomen.org.uk can provide information on this). However, this would be an extreme measure and might place more of the problem on your mother.
You both need help to stand up to his bullying. So please contact al-anonuk.org.uk, which supports the families and friends of problem drinkers, and family-action.org.uk, which can give you further advice. Your mother has clearly been browbeaten by your brother, so empowering her to say no to him will help. Try not to read his abusive emails. If he harasses you by phone or text, hang up or temporarily block him. Your brother needs help too, but I expect that you and your mum have gone down that road many times. Regarding your dad, please also contact alzheimers.org.uk, because your mum may need extra support.