Angst: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
I am a single father and until nine months ago my teenage son lived at home with me. I had no idea how lonely life would be when he moved away to college. Life now feels pointless and my job does not provide adequate satisfaction. Over recent months, I have lost my appetite much of the time, but at other times I eat excessively so that I can feel horrible for days afterwards. I seem to be unable to discipline myself into a pattern of sensible eating.

It is very common when we experience loss in our lives to seek something to fill the gap. The sense of loss makes us aware of a feeling of emptiness. The reaching out for food is an attempt to stop that feeling. It is actually a cry for help. You can never fill this gap and emptiness with food. The underlying feelings that are causing you to binge have to be addressed to bring about change. This can be done by specialised counselling or therapy. It will take hard work on your part but the pain of being a compulsive eater is worse than the pain of facing up to it.

Barbara Gordon, Sunra, Yoga and Holistic Centre, 26 Balham Hill, Clapham South, London SW12 9EB. Tel: 081- 675 9224.

My 11-year-old son has just started at a comprehensive school in the part of London where we live and he seems to have turned, overnight, into what I would call a street urchin. He is loud mouthed, uses bad language, talks about being tough and has adopted a broad Cockney accent which really grates. My husband and I have tried asking him why he has adopted all these manners which are so different to the rather gentle, soft-spoken child at primary school. I worry partly because I don't like what he is at present but also because I fear it is the beginning of a path to something worse.

In his last year at primary school your son was one of the oldest. Now he is one of the youngest and probably feeling small and vulnerable and under tremendous pressure to act like his new peers. It is a shock when our children start behaving so differently at such a young age. Parents often feel that their background and values are being rejected. Although he may never say it, he needs you. He needs to know you still love and accept him even if some of his behaviour bothers you. You can support him and at the same time negotiate agreements about the way he behaves at home. You may find it useful to talk with other parents with sons of a similar age to find out how they are navigating their way through this difficult period. One way is through a Parent-Link support group which encourages parents to talk about the daily stresses of parenting and offers strategies to deals with difficult family situations.

Tim Kahn, Parent-Link. For details of groups send SAE to Parent Network, 44-46 Caversham Rd, London NW5 2DS.

An affair which mattered to me a lot, even though I am married and felt I could not leave my family, was brought to an end a couple of years ago by my lover. At first I felt angry but I thought I had got over it rather well. Now I find it is constantly in my mind and I am terribly tense most of the time. I seem to be full of a kind of impotent rage. I feel sometimes like a pressure cooker and I can't find a way to deal with this.

I wonder what is missing in your marriage today that makes events of two years ago so preoccupy you? The experience of rejection may be reverberating with a parallel experience in childhood. However punishingly your lover ended with you, there was realism in his recognition of the greater pull of your marriage. The help you need could take one of two forms - or maybe both. First, you could benefit from actually blowing your top. Bottled up rage is a major physical stress. Short-term relief is immediately available through any of those therapies that support active, noisy voicing in direct speech, as opposed to talking-about-it mode. Secondly, you may wish to avoid a repetition of this kind of affair and be curious as to why you are suffering so. In that case you might valuably commit yourself to a more explorative therapeutic quest.

Guy Gladstone, the Open Centre, 188 Old St, London EC1Y 9FR. Tel: 081-549 9583.

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