Angry if I stay, guilty if I leave.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have been with my boyfriend for 12 years; I started dating him when I attended the second year of university.

He got very good grades in high school, but after he started university, he always got so very sick that he kept deferring exams and even stopped school for a year while trying to get better. I guess this is a serious blow in his life because he used to be number one in school. He started developing OCD. He did things like counting books on his bookshelves and “tidying up” his apartment like a “showroom” everyday. He was even sent to the psychiatric ward in the hospital by his doctor because he had suicidal thoughts.

His family is never supportive and didn’t want to accept the fact that he had some mental health problems. He finally graduated from university and meanwhile I did too (I am a few years younger than he is). Then I made a very wrong decision: that I neglect my future and my career. I decided to stay in this country (I am an immigrant) and just live with him. He likes to travel and we just went travelling around on a shoestring and we never get a job.

I told my family in my home country that I had a job here. Meanwhile he still has OCD, he is always nervous, cannot sleep well and he has fibromyalgia which makes his body ache all the time. He even stopped communicating and seeing his family because they never take his problems and his words seriously.

Then a few years ago, something bad happened and we needed legal help etc. Even worse was that half a year later, his brother hired a private eye to spy on us, realized what happened to him, and threatened that if he didn’t talk to his parents, he’ll let everybody know what happened. I think he felt so terribly humiliated by his brother that both his physical and mental health started to deteriorate. He complains that he always has “heart attack” feelings; he can’t breathe; his stomach always aches; he always have diarrhea; his head aches; he suddenly developed glaucoma; his ears have hyperculosis; he is always tired; he couldn’t concentrate on doing literally anything; you name it. Of course, he is as suicidal as ever, saying he doesn’t have any future.

Now as a full grownup, I regret not cherishing my time and future. I don’t know where to start in my career. I know that it is wrong to lie to employers about my nil work experience, but I really don’t know how am I going to get a job without doing that. I don’t know how to help my boyfriend either. He has seen doctors regarding his problems on and off over the years, but they don’t help much and he completely loses faith in doctors. I do care about him but I also blame him for not facing his problems seriously enough, and he lacks the determination to overcome them.

I feel guilty and selfish because I always just want to walk away and go back to my home country so I don’t have to deal with him any more. I am depressed, I don’t have any friends, I can’t even talk to my family frankly about my problems because of all my stupid lies. I think I have totally ruined myself. I really don’t know the next step I should take.

A: You are already taking the next step. You are facing up to your troubles and starting to think about what to do. There are very few mistakes that can’t be turned around. Since you are not writing to me from prison, it seems that whatever happened in 2002, it didn’t include murder. Death is the only thing that can’t be fixed.

You’ve just wasted 12 years of your own life. Okay. It could be 30 or 40. It’s your choice whether you are going to keep this up. My guess is that you are just over 30 years old. There’s still plenty of time to live a good life. I find it interesting that in 12 years together you never married your boyfriend. It seems that deep inside you’ve been telling yourself all along that maybe this isn’t what you want.

I’m very, very sorry that your boyfriend has so many mental and physical problems. He can’t be faulted for that. OCD and fibromyalgia can be miserable. But thousands upon thousands of people have the same illnesses and yet somehow don’t take advantage of someone they love. He can be faulted for not staying in treatment long enough to get better. He can be faulted for not staying in one place and not getting some kind of job so that he could get treatment. Yes, it’s very hard. Yes, he feels terrible much of the time. But many (actually most) sick people reach deep into themselves to find the strength and courage to work on getting better.

It’s time for you to take a deep breath and have a serious talk with yourself. Your boyfriend is unlikely to change. The only person you can change now is you. It’s time for you to be “self–ish” — meaning taking time to think about what is good for yourself. Maybe you want to take a time out from the relationship and see how it feels.

Your boyfriend will undoubtedly be upset. You seem to be the only loyal friend he’s got. But that’s not your fault! Rather than get angry with you, he needs to face his own problems. He probably needs to try another hospitalization to get to the bottom of what is wrong with him and to get adequate treatment for it. (He needs to be “self-ish” too. He needs to care enough about himself to stop avoiding his issues, his family, and himself and get his life back together.)

It’s certainly time for you to have an honest talk with your family and to go for a long-overdue visit. Parental love is an amazing thing. Even when parents are disappointed and angry, most are also able to forgive and to offer some kind of help. Go humbly. Accept that they have reason to be as upset with you as you are with yourself. Then see if maybe they can help you figure out how to get back on track.

You have not ruined yourself yet. You are still young and can give yourself a second chance.

I wish both of you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Jul 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Angry if I stay, guilty if I leave.. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/07/02/angry-if-i-stay-guilty-if-i-leave/