Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My lovely son has become phobic about things


Dear Virginia,



My bright and lovely son went to university on a scholarship at 18 – but left abruptly after only a month. He became phobic about things, and felt he looked ugly even though he is actually a very good-looking boy. Now he barely stirs from his room and spends all day online. I have insisted he eat with us, but that's the only time he appears. He refuses to see the doctor, and I'm at a loss as to what to do. I thought he'd grow out of it. He can't go on like this for ever, surely?



Yours sincerely, Penny

Isn't being a parent a nightmare? It's often so difficult to judge, particularly when children are in their late teens, when is the time to back off (nearly all the time) or interfere (rarely, but, in this case I feel, crucially). There they are, these great lumbering hunks with their strength, deep voices and razors in the bathroom, to all intents and purposes grown men, and yet, sometimes, inside they not only need guidance but pretty firm steering.

This is the case with your son. He's ill. In fact, at the risk of being a DIY doctor, I'd say he's got "body dysmorphic disorder". Look it up on Google and see if it fits. He has become phobic about his own appearance. To everyone else he looks perfectly normal, but when he sees himself in the mirror he sees someone with a huge forehead, bulging eyes of different sizes, squat neck – all kind of ugly quirks. No wonder he can't face going out.

As he is now 18 you can't force him to do anything, but you've managed, somehow, to "insist" he eat with you, so can't you "insist" he see the doctor? (Visit your doctor first to tell him or her of the situation and check out that they'll be sympathetic and have a plan – probably a mixture of therapy and drugs).

If your son refuses, simply tell him, decisively: "I'm your mother, and I can see you're ill. While you're in my house all I ask is that you visit the doctor. I don't ask that you follow their advice. I just ask that you visit. It would take an hour of your life. I cannot stand by and see you wrecking your life like this when you're suffering from a disorder that is not uncommon and can, in many cases, be almost completely relieved."

If he refuses, then consider threatening him with having to leave the house. It may not be possible for you to carry out this threat but it doesn't stop you making it. And, to be honest, unless you take a stand on this, you are really failing him as a parent.

I'm sure you're thinking that, given a bit of space and time, he'll get over this, but he won't. The longer he stays comfortably isolated in his room, the more difficult it will be for him to come out of this personal hell he finds himself in. And the older he gets, the less inclined he will be to listen to anything that you say.

He's a clever boy. Up to now you've obviously done everything brilliantly in bringing him up. Don't give up on parenting now, just because he seems old enough to know his own mind. He doesn't. Now's the time to go the extra mile and, by coercing him to seek help, ensure that his future is as wonderful as it looked set to be before this crisis struck.

Readers say...

Depression has a cure

These are big, flashing-red-light alarm signals you describe. Something happened during that short period at university to make him terribly depressed. He has had, however, almost a year to get over it. The fact that he hasn't suggests it was a serious blow to his equilibrium. If he won't see a doctor, you should.

Depression is a terrible thing but it can be cured with a variety of drugs that are available now. Show him this letter if all else fails.

Helen Braithwaite

London NW3

***

Send him out to work

Boys mature at a slower rate than girls and consequently they are unsure of themselves; the confidence of an 18-year-old boy is easily shattered. Something must have happened at university to cause your son to hate himself. The only solution is to restore his confidence. Tell him that most girls prefer intelligent (your son must be, having gained a scholarship), ugly boys to thick, good-looking ones.

Make him go out and get a job and, failing that, tell him he must do some charity work. Once he has witnessed the real world he will realise the mistake he made in leaving university. In any event, a year on and with the experience gained, you won't recognise your son as he is now, so don't despair.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

***

He is a typical teenager

I really don't think that there is anything sinister going on here. He is just taking his "Kevinness" to its full extent. How I wish I had won a scholarship to university at 18. However, this route is not right for everyone and it's never too late to reconsider at a later date.

It seems to me that he is a typical teenager who has been mollycoddled for too long. He was a big fish in a small pond and didn't like being a small fish in a big pond. Every mother thinks her offspring is good-looking, but 99 per cent of teenagers, and adults for that matter, are not happy with what they see in the mirror. We have the media to blame for this.

The internet has changed the way we live; young people have been brought up with it and often know no other means of communication. He is obviously a very intelligent boy, so hopefully his surfing passion is sometimes being used to a useful purpose.

You must make him realise that the gravy train has come into the station. If he continues behaving in this manner then he must start to contribute. Internet access, mobile phones, food, heat and clothing – all have to be paid for. Work out what he costs you and think of ways he can help ease your finances whilst he decides what course is right for him.

Get him doing the shopping, washing the car, walking the dog, washing up, changing his sheets or anything else which you think is reasonable. I think you will find that he will soon start to grow up realising the sacrifices you have been willing to make for him, and hopefully consider that university isn't such a bad idea after all.

Anita Ashford

Norwich

***

Get him to see a doctor

I don't want to sound alarmist, but it is crucial your son see his doctor, even under duress. I am by no means saying that he is developing a serious mental illness but it's incredibly important to rule it out, particularly if you feel his behaviour has become suddenly and markedly different. Most mental illness occurs in late adolescence and is triggered by an emotional upheaval, such as leaving for university.

The odds are that his confidence has been knocked by not flourishing at university as he'd hoped he might, but it really is so very important to rule out the early stages of more serious mental illness. If this should prove to be the case, the earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis.

Sam Whyte, by email

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone