Life

Ask Fiona: I can't cope with self-isolating any longer

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman struggling with loneliness and a grieving wife who feels unsupported by her husband

People living alone need to try to stay connected with family and friendss

I have a chronic lung condition which means I am one of the people forced into shielding due to the pandemic. I'm divorced and live alone so, as you can imagine, it's been really hard as I've not seen anyone face-to-face for weeks.

My daughter delivers my shopping to me and leaves it outside my flat, so I don't even see her. If she brings around any other bits and pieces, she rings the bell and then goes and stands behind a glass partition so I can't hear her.

At one point, I was going so mad, I did take myself out for a few short walks but only very early in the morning when no one was around. I have had to learn about video conferencing and although it's been wonderful to see and talk to my daughter and grandchildren, it's really not the same.

Once it was announced people living alone could form a 'bubble', I thought I would be able to be with my daughter and her family again, but no. She thinks that, with the children going back to school, it's just not safe and the risk is too great for me.

I'm getting desperate now for some human contact and while I understand my daughter wants to keep me safe, I am honestly thinking I'd rather have this virus and be done with it. I'm not a hermit but I'm being forced to be.

People aren't meant to live like this.

JC

FIONA SAYS: I know a number of people in the same position, with health conditions that mean they have to be shielded and believe me, many of them are feeling the same way. I also understand how you must feel that getting the virus over and done with might be a good idea. But – and it's a big but – we do know how badly it affects the lungs and yours are already at risk and possibly damaged from your existing lung condition. If you are seriously saying you would rather be dead than live in isolation, then please call the Samaritans on 116 123 and talk to them.

I hope this is just an exaggeration because you are struggling with these very challenging circumstances right now, because you clearly have people who care about you. The fact your daughter is visiting you from behind a partition and that she cares so much about you should certainly make you stop and think. Your family cherishes you.

Billions of people are cut-off from their normal lives; the situation we are all in is unprecedented. People living alone need to try to stay connected – safely. Now we can theoretically join a bubble, perhaps you could consider getting together with someone in the same position as you? Although, I would advise you seek advice from your doctor about how to stay safe now, as the risk of infection is still present. Think about people you feel close to and see how they might feel about forming a bubble – obviously people with children may be more risky, as might those who are in contact with others, but do you have any single friends in the same boat as you?

We're all getting used to using virtual communications more so while you've been video conferencing with your family, try asking friends if they can access this too. Just seeing a few more people - even virtually – might help.

There are a number of experts who have suggested ways we can avoid feeling so lonely too: if you look online you can find examples. The Government is aware of the problem and the effects isolation is having on mental health and has launched the Let's Talk Loneliness website (letstalkloneliness.co.uk). Advice on there includes keeping a journal of how you feel and taking note of those things that make you feel happier or more fulfilled.

Go on your local council website too – there are a number of schemes in place to help people in your situation, but you need to register for help. There are also charity befriending services – for example, Age UK organises befrienders for older people living in isolation.

Above all, be kind to yourself. We know being kind to others can improve our self-esteem but it's important to be kind to yourself too. Showing yourself compassion and gratitude can really help, especially when going through very challenging times like right now. We all have to accept that events are beyond our control right now, as hard as that is, but deep down, you know that separation from people and things we love and care about won't last for ever.

MY DAD RECENTLY DIED AND MY HUSBAND HAS BEEN SO UNSUPPORTIVE

My father and I had always had a really close relationship so when he became ill with dementia, it was natural for me to want to spend time with him and help him. At the start of the pandemic, he had a stroke and went into hospital. He recovered and was sent home, but little did we know that he'd contracted Covid-19.

I moved in to help him recover from the stroke before we knew he was infected, so when we found out, I had to stay with him in isolation – and my husband was furious. My dad died six weeks ago but for those last few weeks of his life, my husband was very cruel. He showed absolutely no sympathy or support and got angry with me because I spent so much time with my father. He even refused to come to the funeral because he said it was too big a risk.

I've moved back home now but my husband moved himself into the spare bedroom. Just recently he has been showing signs of ill health himself; he's had shortness of breath and also palpitations. I suspect he's got the virus but he hasn't said anything, and now he expects me to look after him, even though he's not consulted a doctor.

I have told him he is being silly, but he won't listen and snaps at me if I tell him to get medical advice. I am also finding it very difficult to forgive him for being so unkind to me before. Am I making too much of this?

MS

FIONA SAYS: If you're husband suspected he had the virus and moved into the spare room in order to protect you, then he was doing the right thing. However, if he moved into the spare room before he showed any sign of illness, then he was being immature and insensitive.

Could he have been jealous of the love and the time you gave to your father? This kind of petulant, silly behaviour is very childish – but I suspect it's likely to have been driven by fear. Fear for you, fear for himself, and general fear about life as it is right now.

Your husband needs to know how hurtful he has been, but I think there is little point in confronting this issue until he has resolved his own current health problem. I suspect he is worried about what he may be told but please continue to encourage him to speak to someone.

At the very least, go to the NHS website and look at the advice there.

There's information on there about testing kits, plus guidance on self-isolating and what to do to keep yourself and other family members safe if your husband is infected. It includes information on treating symptoms at home too, which is what most people are advised to do initially. Obviously, if the symptoms get worse you may need more help, and it's important to know at what point you potentially have to call for emergency help – the website will help with this too.

I can quite understand why you're finding it hard to forgive him; he hasn't behaved well and he has been hurtful towards you. You have shown remarkable patience, especially to a man who has been cruel to you, but now probably isn't the time to get him to face up to his immature behaviour. When things have settled a little, it may well be that you and he would benefit from counselling to help you work through this. Relate (relate.org.uk) is a good place to start. Remember, you are also dealing with grief after losing your father, so take care of yourself and your own needs too.

Your husband needs to understand how much he has hurt you

IS HE TOO EMBARRASSED TO SEE ME AGAIN?

I started seeing a new man just before lockdown started and we got into some pretty heavy petting on our third date. Unfortunately, he got quite carried away and lost control of himself in my car. He was mortified and nothing I could say would make him feel any better.

Since then, it's been impossible to see him but although I've called him several times and told him I'm hoping to see him when all this is over, he's not responding to my calls. I'm worried that he's still too embarrassed to see me again, so what can I do?

JG

FIONA SAYS: It would be a shame if what looked to be a promising relationship was spoilt by something so minor. If you are really sure of your feelings for him then I think you owe it to yourself to try and reassure him. Rather than keep calling him, send him a message or even a letter explaining that you genuinely care for him and don't want this incident to spoil what could be a good relationship. After that, it's down to him and you must respect his choice.

If he still doesn't respond, I think you have to face the fact that it's over. Don't blame yourself, this wasn't your fault. He may be very embarrassed about what happened - but he might also just not be in the right place for dating right now.

BOYFRIEND LEAVES PORN MAGS AROUND THE HOUSE

I'M a single mum with an eight-year-old son and my boyfriend has recently moved in with us. He is not the father of my child, but I really think I love him.

What bothers me though is that he leaves porno magazines around the house, and although I've told him I find them offensive and that I don't want my son to see them, he doesn't seem to care. I feel like it's as though he's being unfaithful to me, but he thinks I'm being silly.

CA

FIONA SAYS: I don't think you're being silly at all – many women feel uneasy about these magazines and your boyfriend is being hurtful by not acknowledging your feelings. On top of that, they're highly unsuitable reading material for an eight-year-old boy. This is your flat and you have every right to tell him not to leave them lying around.

If he can't understand that then I believe you should consider whether he is really the right man for you. If he can be so inconsiderate about this, I'd be worried about whether he's capable of consideration in other aspects of your relationship too. It's not just you to think about here but your son too.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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