ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
My best friend and I have been very close for 10 years. We met in the local maternity hospital and found we were near neighbours. Our children played together and went to the same schools, Cubs and Brownies. We saw a lot of each other, sharing illnesses and troubles as well as lots of fun. She seemed like an ideal sister to me. Now her husband's job has taken them away. In the two months she's been gone we've exchanged a few letters and phone calls, but I miss her and am feeling totally devastated. I cry about nothing and dread the empty weekends. My husband is very kind about it at the moment, but we both want me to shake off this depression. I went to my doctor, but he was rather dismissive. I feel so stupid.

It's not stupid to miss people. It's very hard to be the one left behind. Loss is a normal life experience. Distress, anxiety and perhaps even anger with your friend for leaving you, are natural reactions, as is the idealisation of the person who has gone. Your letter suggests your husband is your only support - I wonder if you have any other women friends who can support you through this time? Would you consider trying your doctor again? It's worth the struggle to have your depression taken seriously and medication might help until your feelings sort themselves out.

Mary North, Counsellor, 32 Bolehill Road, Wirksworth, Derbyshire DE4 4GQ. Tel: 0629 824258.

Our eldest girl, who is 14, has leukemia and probably will not live very long. You can imagine the effect that this is having on the family. My 10-year-old son is withdrawn and refuses to communicate or is rude, defiant and sometimes very nasty. My husband and I try hard to reason with him and to show him we love him but nothing seems to work, and I feel so worried he will run away, get involved in drugs or something. But what can we do? Tracey needs our attention while she is here.

Your daughter will probably have been in hospital several times and perhaps you have been with her. In this case your son will, unavoidably, have been deprived of you and he may have feelings of being abandoned. He may also feel very frightened by his ambivalent feelings. He is withdrawing from the insupportable situation where he is having to deal with the real loss of his sister and the symbolic loss of his parents. You should not feel guilty: it is an impossibly hard situation and you have your own pain. The best way to help your son is to listen to him and ask him about his feelings. He may not be able to express things clearly, but he needs to feel he is important enough that you want to hear what he does choose to express. You should also talk as openly as possible about your own feelings with both children and do not try to hide from them what is happening. You can't make things all right for him because they are not all right, but it would probably be more worrying if your son was not showing any signs of distress.

The Rainbow Centre, PO Box 604, Bristol BS99 1SW. Tel: 0272 730752.

I am married to a man who is, in many ways, very kind and caring but he has a temper which seems to be always bubbling under the surface. He isn't physically violent but he gets so cross and often swears abusively. I often decide to be quiet and say nothing but it leaves me seething inside and very cold towards him. Or else I explode too and we have almighty rows which upset the kids, who are in their teens. My husband tells me his father had a raging temper and how he feared the sound of him coming into the house, yet he frightens us all with his own anger.

What is striking here is that one person's anger fuels another's. Thus, your husband's anger seems to come from his father's anger, and yours is caused by your husband's. What the kids see is two angry people who are unable to soothe each other. We suspect that if we were to hear both your points of view they would sound very much the same. Perhaps marital counselling could be of help.

David Olman and Audrey Crawford, The Counselling Partnership, 5 Albert Mansions, Luxborough Street, London W1M 3LN. Tel: 071-487 3766.

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