Q: I have a sibling, “Bailey,” who suffers from panic attacks and anxiety disorder. Bailey was first diagnosed while I was attending college. I had a standard psychology class that helped me understand the basics of what he was going through, but whenever there would be a problem with him, I would always feel completely out of my depth.
Bailey has improved over the last couple of years thanks to medicine and lots of therapy. But recently, he threatened to commit suicide. Our parents took him straight to the hospital. When I came home after work and heard what had happened, I sympathized with my parents, but I had no idea how to respond to such an ordeal. Worse, my parents want ME to talk to Bailey. Where do I even begin?! Please advise. — At a Loss in the East
A: Much as your parents might wish it, you are not an expert when it comes to mental illness and you cannot be your brother’s therapist. When you see Bailey, tell him you love him and had no idea he was in so much pain. Ask what kind of emotional support he needs from you, and be prepared to listen. Encourage him to talk openly with his therapist, because no one should have to go through what he is experiencing alone, and his therapist can help in ways that, much as you all might wish to, a relative cannot.
Q: I have been married to “Tom” for nine years. I moved into his house after we married. I downsized a lot of my belongings, but the problem is, Tom doesn’t want me to have anything of mine in his house. He’s always giving my things away or making remarks about what I do have is trash. I have decided to put everything of mine into storage. I will even keep my clothing elsewhere and keep only a comb and toothbrush in his home.
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This makes me very sad because I feel he does not value me. I feel homeless even though I have a place to stay. I work and we split the bills. I don’t know why he’s so negative about anything that is mine, and I’m wondering if I should just move out.
I have tried talking to him and he says he is “only joking” when he offers something of mine to someone else. However, because he has given away my things in the past, it’s not a joke to me. — Guest in My Own House
A: When a couple marry, depending upon their circumstances, they find a way to combine their belongings or start fresh. That your husband would give your things away without your permission is insensitive and disrespectful. That you have tolerated it until now tells me your marriage is not one of equals, which is not healthy for you. Under these circumstances, I can understand why you would want to leave.
If Tom is willing to accompany you to couples counseling, it MIGHT help you to communicate better. However, if he isn’t, YOU should talk to a therapist about your entire relationship with Tom so you won’t find yourself in a subservient position in future relationships after you move out and divorce him.