Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas.


My 76-year-old mother had a bad fall at home early last year and broke her hip. She nearly died because she couldn't move, and it was only because a delivery man called to leave a parcel for next door that she was found.

She has recovered well from her surgery and has gained back pretty much all the mobility she had before. She's been lucky, but was very shaken by all of this, and we agreed that she would move in with me while she recovered.

Since then though, she has become very frightened of being left alone. I currently work from home and, with the lockdowns, it's not been much of an issue, at least not at first. However, for the past few months ­— when things have been opening up again ­— I have been able to go out more.

The problem is my mother gets really upset when I do, even if I am just popping out to the local shops. I have a retired neighbour who is willing to sit with her, but there is a limit to how often I can ask. Last week, I told her I must go into my office for the first time in 16 months to see my manager, and that I would be out for a whole afternoon.

Although I said our neighbour could stay with her, she completely lost it. She burst into tears and said I obviously didn't love her and that I cared more about my job than I do her. Moreover, I could not convince her that she would fine while I was out, and in the end I had to cancel my meeting and chat with my boss online.

This has worried me a lot because at some point, I may have to return to my office, and if I can't commit to this, I may lose my job. I feel trapped by this situation and increasingly resentful of my mother being here, yet at the same time, I feel guilty for having these thoughts. What on earth can I do?

D. R.


Your mother has clearly had a fright and her fear of being left on her own isn't really surprising. It would seem she's completely lost her confidence, and it will take time for her to learn to rebuild it. That won't be easy, and she will need help, so do talk to her GP about counselling. If this hasn't happened already, the doctor may also be able to refer her for a falls risk assessment, or if there is one locally, to the falls prevention service.

Run by healthcare professionals with specialist training, it focuses on giving people advice and support to improve and maintain their strength and balance. The idea is to help them avoid having any further falls.

I'm sure that, in time, she will be able to regain some self-reliance and not feel so dependent on you. That time isn't now though, and in order to reach that stage, you are going to need to help find the tools to help her. Age UK has a very helpful fact sheet called 'Staying Steady' that I would encourage you ­— and her ­— to read, as there's a lot she can do to help herself. Its website might be very helpful (

I would also suggest you get her a fall alarm, and show her how the sensor will activate if she falls, which, unless she cancels it, alerts a designated person or agency that can help her. There are many different versions of these, so I suggest you look into them carefully to find the kind that will work best for you. The Age UK advice line can probably advise on this, as well as other options that might be available.

The choice need not be staying at home alone or having your neighbour sit with her ­— there are many other things she could do and places she could go. Have you thought about day clubs and other activities for her that will get her out of the house and give you some freedom? Getting out and about and mixing with others once more will help her to feel better about herself again.

At 76, she's not too old and she should be able to enjoy life a lot more than she is at present. The emotional blackmail she is using to make you stay with her will, sadly, probably have the opposite effect in making you resent her and driving you away. Try and help her to understand this by explaining that, while you love her, you have needs too and cannot be with her every minute of every day.


I am 28 and since finishing my college course, I have lived at home with my parents. For the past few years, I have become increasingly miserable.

My brother is happily married, owns his home, and he and his wife are expecting their first child in a few months. Most of friends from school and college are also paired up and/or have exciting jobs. Increasingly, I feel awkward around their success and find excuses not to meet up or message them back when they get in touch. I've never got anything interesting to talk about, as a home-based, online customer care numpty anyway, so why bother?

No one has said anything yet, but I am sure they must know something is wrong. My brother convinced me to have an online consultation with a doctor back at the start of the summer, but this didn't amount to anything.

I don't like taking about myself and I probably didn't explain my problems very well. Despite this, she suggested that I might be depressed and that perhaps I should see a counsellor. She also referred me to a questionnaire, which I didn't complete as I didn't see the point.

My mum is also worried about me. She's supportive and doesn't seem to mind me dumping all my worries on her, though even she must be getting fed up with me moping around. I have told myself so many times to just pull myself together, but it never works. I think I am a long way from being suicidal, but sometimes I do wonder why I bother.

L. M.


All the sources of advice and support you've mentioned would be able to do so much for you, if only you'd give them more of a chance to help. The questionnaire you didn't see the point of is a standard tool that doctors use to try and assess a patient's mental health. As you didn't complete it, your doctor will have no idea how you feel — especially as you say you didn't really explain your problems either.

It doesn't matter if you can't get health professionals to understand your problem straight away — they're used to that — so please do persevere. If it all comes out in a jumble and torrent of words, so what? Counsellors and doctors are quite used to having to get to the root of problems this way. You must have expressed yourself clearly enough though, for your doctor to recognise that you need help.

You mustn't think that you've got to somehow make an instantaneous and speedy recovery from what has been a long, drawn-out period of depression — it will take time.

The pandemic has meant that while some people have drawn closer together, using video conferencing and other tools, others have retreated into their shells.

Your friends will have been struggling with their own lives through all this — the fact that they've not reached out and not said anything could be because they're suffering, too. Even those who are, as you put it, 'paired-up', may not be getting on as well as you think. Many close relationships have been tested to breaking point when couples have had to spend 24 hours a day with each other for weeks on end. Try to make contact with a few close friends you trust — be open and honest with them and I'm sure they'll stick by you.

Finally, the Samaritans ( don't just help people who are feeling suicidal; they provide a 24-hour confidential counselling service for anyone who has a problem and just needs a good listener. They can also refer you to other specialist sources of help if they think it's appropriate.


From very early on in my marriage, my brother-in-law indicated that he fancied me. I made it clear that I wasn't interested, and nothing ever came of it, but I did avoid him whenever I could. My husband may have suspected something, but never said anything.

He was furloughed in the pandemic, but that ended a couple of months back and he has since returned to work. Soon after that, his brother started calling at our flat whenever my husband was at work. Again, I told him I wasn't interested and asked him not to come around, but that didn't stop him.

The last time he called, I tried to shut the door on him, but he put his foot in it to stop me. I'm afraid I got so scared that I rang my mother-in-law and asked her to stop him from pestering me. Instead of offering to help, she accused me of living in a fantasy world; we ended up having a furious row on the phone and haven't spoken to each other since.

I told my husband when he got home and instead of supporting me, he said that I should have spoken to him first before sounding off to his mother. Now I feel as though I've alienated my whole family, including my husband who has been very distant with me since it happened. I feel so angry that I am being treated as the guilty party in this.

H. A.


Please don't feel that you've done anything wrong here.

You made it clear that your brother-in-law's visits weren't welcomed ­— so if anyone's to blame, it's him.

I can't help but wonder if your husband's family know only too well what sort of a person he is, and have simply closed ranks against you in his defence. Instead of trying to mend bridges with them, I feel you would be better served trying to put your marriage back on track.

Talk to your husband and focus on rebuilding your relationship with him. He may very well be conflicted ­— knowing that he should be supporting you, but feeling anxious about his relationship with his mother, brother and family, too.

If the two of you can get your relationship back on track, and his family see you are both happy together, then surely they will at least question where the original blame should lie. How you deal with them in future though may be difficult, and it may be you have to accept having little to do with your mother-in-law unless she accepts that her son did try to force himself on you.


I have been married for seven years, and apart from the few weeks after my marriage, have not made love to my husband since ­— we don't even hug very much these days.

It's not for lack of trying, but if I try to be affectionate, he moves away and says, at our age, we are past all that. He won't discuss it any more beyond that. I am completely confused by this, as I am only 42 and he is 49 and other than no sex, we have no other problems, so what's wrong with me?

M. E.


I'm afraid I must disagree you when you say you have no other problems. It sounds as though there might be an enormous physical and emotional gulf between you, which needs to be addressed if there is any chance of rescuing your marriage. I don't know what has caused this rift, but whilst you've tried to tackle the problem, he won't even talk about it.

As you say, he's only 49, and plenty of couples are sexually active way beyond retirement. I wonder what has caused him to feel that whereas he could once be close to you physically, he can't now? It may well be that he simply doesn't particularly enjoy sex ­— for some people, this is the case and they may be happy not having sex. But that shouldn't prevent him from showing affection ­— even if that were enough for you ­— and communicating this is important for your relationship.

If he won't talk about it, then I think you need to get help.

Contact Relate ( and get counselling and support for yourself, even if he won't participate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you wanting more from this marriage than you're currently getting, and if your husband is unwilling to try, you will have to decide if what you have is enough.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to 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.