BEL MOONEY: I’m isolated and feel so jealous of my friend’s perfect life

Dear Bel,

I’m having a very hard time dealing with the isolation of Covid. I’m single and live alone, with no partner or children. My depression has become worse over the past few months.

The problem concerns a friend who lives in New Zealand, where the virus is more contained and life is basically back to normal.

My friend calls all the time via Skype, and I’m beginning to feel that it’s always all about her.

She’s having a nice life, going out and meeting friends, dating — she met someone recently and it seems serious.

By contrast, I live in fear of the virus and mostly stay home alone. I feel she uses me as a sounding board for everything. I feel I spend so much time listening to her that I’m ignoring my own life.

She sucks a lot of energy from me, and more and more I feel like a fraud, acting like I’m happy for her and giving support, when I’m feeling bitter.

It’s not that I’m not happy for her, but honestly I’m jealous and just can’t deal with her lovely social life when I’m so sad. I’m not sure what to do. I’d like to put some distance between our friendship.

Lately, whenever we speak — almost daily — I end up feeling quite depressed. What do you advise?

LOUISE

This week Bel answers a question from a woman who is jealous of her friend's life in New Zealand, where the coronavirus is more contained

This week Bel answers a question from a woman who is jealous of her friend’s life in New Zealand, where the coronavirus is more contained

There is a perfect storm of feelings within this apparently simple email. Let’s pull out the words one by one: ‘alone…depression… fear… bitter… jealous… sad’.

The loneliness you describe (‘no partner or children’) has been made so much worse because you ‘live in fear of the virus’ — and your helpless pain at the situation is now projected upon the friend you now resent because she has what you cannot have.

So painful have your feelings become that you’d rather withdraw from her than be forced to hear about her good life, in stark contrast to your misery.

You give no indication of your age, which is a pity. For unless you are old and with health issues (which I doubt) I will suggest gently that it is probably your fear of Covid that is poisoning your life, and not your friend’s sharing of her activities in New Zealand.

Your letter is a reminder of the fact that the real pandemic in our country at the moment is that of psychological problems caused by the virus. Waiting times for people with disabling, unstable, chronic conditions have soared — and anxiety has spread.

Mental health services are overwhelmed, with little face-to-face contact — and so on. The situation is dire and everything the Government threatens makes the nation’s depression worse.

Your very first sentence isolates this issue. I’d be curious to know whether you felt ‘bitter’ and ‘jealous’ of your friend last year, or whether the fact that you’re voluntarily withdrawing from the world because you are terrified of the virus has turned you against her.

If so, it’s your fear that’s the danger, not your friend. I suggest you need to see terror as toxic and tackle that, rather than ditch her company via Skype.

Of course, she may be prattling on in a self-absorbed way — in which case, why do you have to be a ‘fraud’?

Why not tell her the truth? Ask for her understanding? We’ve all had selfish friends and sometimes they can become so demanding you have to turn away for your own good.

But is that really the case here? If you drop this friend, won’t you feel lonelier than ever? You say all the listening you do has the effect of making you ‘ignore my own life’. But I could argue that anything that briefly makes you forget your isolation is good.

If you feel you want to limit the Skype contact because her self-absorption is getting you down, then fine. The question is, what are you going to do with that time?

Do you have local friends you see regularly? I’d work hard to keep in touch by technology and see people face to face as much as possible (OK, two metres apart). Go out, masked-up — since even interaction in a shop matters.

Have you signed up to interesting online magazines and forums (like Spiked and Unherd) as well as uplifting sites such as Welldoing and The Daily Om? Also, don’t forget the charity Mind (mind.org.uk/coronavirus-we-are-here-for-you). These days, without going out much we can spend time online feeding mind and spirit.

We’re more fortunate than previous generations because the world can come to our door. Do you listen to music? Keep up with issues? When your friend calls you need to have things to discuss, rather than being the tense face which smiles, then resents in private.

Should I move in with mum-in-law?

Dear Bel

I really enjoy reading your advice, so I hope you can also give me your opinion on what I should do in this situation.

I’m getting married and I don’t know which option to choose. Should my partner and I create our own marital home together.

Or should I move into my partner’s family home where his mother is now a widow — but healthy mentally and physically.

Her children have all flown the coop. I feel depressed thinking about this ethical dilemma of leaving a parent behind.

Is it terribly immoral to not be with your elders every day?

CATALINA

THOUGHT OF THE DAY 

As you float now, where I held you and let go, remember when fear cramps your heart, what I told you:

Lie gently and wide to the light-year stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

From First Lesson by Philip Booth (American poet, 1925-2007) 

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This is a good question I respect. It is relevant to point out to readers that your real surname is from a world culture which has always attached great importance to respect for the older generation.

In the words of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, ‘there are three degrees of filial piety. The highest is being a credit to our parents, the second is not disgracing them; the lowest is being able simply to support them.’ What’s more, I have a friend married to an Eastern European who told me he was naturally fine about her elderly, widower father moving in with them, because that’s how it’s done in his country.

In this society, we are far from embracing that (admittedly often difficult) duty. Yet at the same time I have nothing but sympathy for your wish to have an independent married life with the man you love. (I’m guessing he’s still living with his mother, the last one in the ‘coop’).

Far from it being ‘immoral’ I see it as perfectly natural — especially when your partner’s mother is perfectly healthy. That last point is surely key.

What does she think? Might she feel happy to be alone at last? Your guilt may be misplaced, so I hope you and your partner can have this honest conversation with her and include his siblings, too.

I would seek a compromise that allows independence and support — like living nearby. As she becomes older, you could consider buying a place where she has her own quarters. I live next door to my son, 12 minutes from my parents and 20 from my daughter, so I know that careful proximity can work, with both love and duty satisfied.

Only a lockdown will fix my fears

Dear Bel,

I have a 91-year-old mother, an 81-year-old husband, an 18-month granddaughter from my daughter and a two-and-a-half- year-old granddaughter from my son.

My daughter’s little girl goes to nursery where there has just been a case of Covid confirmed with one of the older children.

The nursery is still open for the younger children so my daughter intends to keep sending her daughter. I usually have each granddaughter separately once a week and also see my mother.

But as my daughter is not working, I feel she should take my granddaughter out of nursery for the time being, especially as she is expecting another baby soon. In addition, my daughter-in-law is also expecting and worries about the girls mixing.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

I’m piggy-in-the-middle and quite frankly would welcome another lockdown.

CAROLINE

Obviously people have very strong feelings about Covid, lockdown, and the whole damn thing. When (a few weeks ago) I questioned the ‘rule of six’ re Christmas, I got into trouble with certain readers, who objected to my independence of mind.

What I’d do and what you choose to do may be very different, yet each of us is entitled (I firmly believe) to that choice.

Recently I received a sad letter from a grandmother who hasn’t seen her grandchildren since the beginning of lockdown — ‘to protect me’. So post lockdown she still chose (solely because of age) to shield herself — even though that meant choosing to be unhappy.

For me (just turned 74) that would be inconceivable. My mother (96) feels the same. We both choose being with family over ‘protection’ — and frankly, nobody tells either of us what to do within our homes.

Having said that, I believe you have every right to tell your daughters what you think, without waiting for any politician to issue instructions on new lockdowns.

If you think your granddaughter should leave nursery, and that if she doesn’t you can no longer take care of her, then your daughter should take that on board and respect your considered choice.

If your chief concern right now is to shield your husband and mother, then both your daughters should listen to your wishes. They may think you are being unduly worried and over-careful, but I believe they should honour and help — not add to the worry.

And finally… How hope can come out of grief

Having just had a birthday, I was pondering the passage of time (as you do) and reflecting on my 50 years in journalism (quite a milestone) and all I’ve experienced and learned …when, as if on cue, a book arrived from a publisher.

It was more than just another review copy, to add to the thousands of volumes in our house. This title pierced straight through to my heart and took me back 45 years.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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The title is Loving You From Here: Stories of Grief, Hope and Growth When A Baby Dies —compiled by Susan Clark for Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity).

We are just at the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week (baby loss-awareness.org) and I heartily recommend this deeply moving book if you know anybody who has suffered this particular grief, before or after birth.

Believe me, it’s vital for those who are bereaved to know they’re not alone. That’s why the sharing of stories is vital.

My own jolt of emotion comes at the beginning of the book, because it reprints in full the article I wrote for The Guardian newspaper about the stillbirth (at nearly full term) of my second son.

I couldn’t possibly have known that one article (dated January 8, 1976) would become crucial in changing attitudes towards stillbirth in this country, giving for the first time a voice to parents weeping for their baby.

It actually resulted in setting up Sands — and I am very proud to be Founder-Patron today.

As a journalist and author, I have written millions of words in my long career, but that one article remains the single most powerful thing I’ve achieved.

I mention it with humility —since I’d rather not have had the loss, and seeing my name and long-ago words reprinted in Susan Clark’s book could only open the wound.

Still, this book I hold in my hand is a testimony to the awe-inspiring truth that goodness can indeed come out of grief. It takes me through the tunnel into the light.