Sunday 4 December 2016

Dear Patricia: My life seems empty now my son has left home

Patricia Redlich

Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00

I AM in my late 40s and although I keep busy, I find that not having a close personal relationship with a man leaves me feeling empty and alone. My only son, now 26, lives with his girlfriend. I reared him on my own, having divorced when he was just four. I am at a crossroads in my life and wonder what the past 20-odd years of struggle was all about.

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I have worked all my life, but my business folded 18 months ago due to the recession, and I now find myself unemployed and feeling useless and a bit hopeless. I got antidepressants from my doctor, and sleeping tablets, to help me during the dark winter months. I am still taking them as I got afraid of the suicidal thoughts I was having after Christmas.

I'm also wondering if I am afraid of men. I certainly feel scared of having a close relationship and ending up disappointed, like I've always been. I also think that basically men just want sex. At the same time I feel I am not worthy or deserving of real love from a kind man. So I'm wondering if I should just give up on men and accept that I'll be on my own for the rest of my life. I feel so terribly confused. When does it get any easier?

SOMETIMES we have good reason to be depressed. Depression, in other words, is not automatically an abnormal response. It can be right on the button, an appropriate way to feel, given the circumstances of our lives. And of course the same applies to anxiety.

Having these feelings doesn't mean you're neurotic. They are signals that all is not well, warning signs that you need to change direction. Your spirit, soul, or unconscious mind is asking you to pay attention to your distress. Depression only becomes a problem if we allow it to settle round us like a dense fog, crippling us rather than spurring us on to do things differently. The action we take is, of course, a function of our belief system, our moral code, our sense of duty and responsibility. People don't commit suicide because they are depressed. They do so because they give themselves permission.

Medication is fine as a temporary crutch. If it stops us feeling overwhelmed, gives us a leg-up as we work at changing things, then that's fine. It is not a solution, even when it appears to make the symptoms disappear. Like I said, the symptom -- depression in your case -- is a wake-up call. Shutting out that inner voice doesn't solve the problem. Which is why it's good you've put your thoughts on paper. And feeling confused is OK, par for the course.

The solution to your problem isn't simply some man's arms. Of course you should -- and will -- find someone, if that's what you want to do. The gap in your life, however, is broader than that, and very real. You've got an empty nest and no business. You'll have your hands full just handling that. And there's another reason I'd like you to steer clear of the man issue for the moment. You've been clearly disappointed in your male relationships in the past. I'm therefore concerned that dwelling on the issue of a romantic partner is more about feeling a failure, rather than seeking a solution to your sense of emptiness. Do you understand? I'm not saying men are off the table for good. I'm saying romance is not the place for you to start.

People think that it's their feelings, like low self-esteem, or helplessness or sadness, that trip them up. But it's not our feelings that are the problem, it's our belief system. You are right to feel low just now -- you have good reason. What's getting in your way is the belief that you can't do anything about it.

Yes, your business is gone bust. Your work skills, however, are still alive and well. All you have to do is believe you'll find another way of using them -- and then set out to find that way. No, there's no replacement for your son. There is another place to put the energy and emotion and thoughtfulness you used to raise and nurture him. Let me try and find another way of saying this. You are who you always were: successful, competent, loving. It's just the vehicles you had for exercising all those attributes which are gone -- not the attributes themselves.

And yes, maybe it's time now to look at the part of your life you left empty. Maybe you have the chance now to concentrate on filling your life with a loving partner. All I'm saying is tread carefully. At the moment you're beating yourself up on that front, parking all your disillusionment with life there, dumping all your fears in that particular department. That's not the road to success, now is it?

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