Ask Fiona: How do I help my friend who is self-harming
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week, self-harm, a fear of spiders and how to reconnect with school friends
I'M REALLY worried about my friend.
He gave in his notice at work, but he's done nothing about finding a new job.
Now he's cutting himself really badly five or six times a day.
I've told him to stop, but he says it helps.
I can't believe that and I wish he wouldn't do it.
FIONA SAYS: Sadly, more and more people seem to be self-harming as a means of coping with stress and emotional pain.
Although it's hard to understand for those who don't do it, injuring yourself by hurting the body on the outside can relieve the pain on the inside – at least for a while.
In the long term it causes far more problems than it solves because the underlying reasons for doing it are not dealt with.
Your friend is unusual in that he isn't being secretive about what he's doing; the fact he's confided in you is very positive.
He really needs your help though – not just in finding a new job, but in expressing why he does this.
Encourage him to talk, but don't judge him; encourage him to find out more about self-harming so he comes to understand what he is doing and find alternative strategies.
He may well need a therapist to help him get over this, so encourage him to see his doctor or else call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393.
Their website (www.mind.org.uk) is also a useful source of help and advice.
I'm terrified of spiders
I KNOW I'm not alone in being afraid of spiders, but I think I'm probably worse than most because I'm literally terrified.
My boyfriend thinks it's a bit of a joke, but several times he's come home to find me waiting outside because I daren't go back in the house after seeing a spider in there.
I don't want to be this way and I'm afraid it may affect our baby as I worry I'll pass on my fears to her.
My boyfriend said I should go and see the doctor, but it seems to me I'd be wasting his time on something so trivial.
FIONA SAYS: Fears and phobias aren't trivial, especially when they affect your life as this seems to do.
They are more common than many people realise and although you describe this as trivial, there are fears and phobias for all manner of things.
Even the fear of dolls (pediophobia), pleasure (hedonophobia) or the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) sound rare but are common enough to have names.
Your doctor might surprise you by being a lot more sympathetic than you imagine.
Ask for referral to a therapist and hopefully you'll overcome your fears before your daughter is old enough to pick up on them.
Should I rehome my cats?
AT THE age of 76 I realise I am closer to the end of my life than I am to the start of it.
Since my husband died five years ago, I've lived alone and have no close relatives nearby, so am somewhat dependent on friends and neighbours.
I've had a couple of bouts of illness recently and I'm very grateful to those neighbours who have looked after my two cats.
This is not a good long-term solution though and I am worried that they will be put down, should I die or have to go into long-term care.
This is preying on my mind and I wonder if I should try to rehome them now, even though I would miss them terribly.
Do you have any suggestions as to what I might do?
FIONA SAYS: Arranging for your cats to be rehomed might give you confidence that they would be well cared for, but it would deprive you of the companionship they clearly give you.
I suggest you start to carry a card, like an organ donor card, that gives details of your pets' names and details of who has agreed to look after them for you.
The RSPCA (www.rspca.org.uk) has a "Home for Life" scheme whereby you leave your animals to them in your will.
The service is free but, obviously, if you left them a legacy it would be appreciated.
There is another organisation you should know of too, called The Cinnamon Trust, which is a charity for the elderly, the terminally ill and their pets.
Cinnamon Trust volunteers look after people's pets when they are unable to do so.
If this is because they are ill or in care, they are kept in touch with the animals through visits, if possible, or letters and photos.
Although they are based in Cornwall, they have volunteers across the country and you can call them on 01736 757 900 or visit www.cinnamon.org.uk for more details.
How do I reconnect with my school friends??
I WENT TO college straight from school and, over the last few years, have been working so hard I've lost touch with most of my school friends.
I've seen what they're up to on Facebook and stuff, but I've not been posting anything myself and feel very detached.
Now, unbelievably, my job is going to take me back to my home town and it's made me realise how much I've missed them all.
I'd very much like to get in touch with them again, but I'm too embarrassed to just turn up and hope to pick up where we all left off.
I know I should have made a greater effort to keep in touch, and now I wonder if I have left it too late.
FIONA SAYS: While friendship doesn't generally thrive on neglect and, as you've found, it gets harder to re-establish contact as time goes by, I don't think you should give up.
Why not post on Facebook the news of your imminent return and say you're hoping to catch up again?
I'm sure many of them will be delighted and want to know what you've been up to.
For those you're not in contact with through social media, why not drop them a line or pick up the phone?
Many may have moved, but start by making contact with those you feel would be most sympathetic.
Tell them you've been wrapped up in your work for far too long and that you do feel sorry for not keeping in touch.
There may be some who are resentful to begin with, but I expect they, too, will come around when they realise they've really been missed.
Make sure you don't lose touch again though; friendships need to be valued, not neglected.