What am I going to do now?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Last year, when I was just ending my freshman year of high school, my mother had a stroke and a heart attack. And I’ll have you know; my mother means more to me than anything in the world. Over the summer, while she was in the hospital, I lived with my best female friend (I have two friends, one male, the other female). It sounds like a dream come true, but it wasn’t. It put such a strain on our relationship. Everyday I would visit my mom at the hospital, then go “home” only for my best friend to either ignore me, or get a really bad attitude. I kept asking her what was wrong, and how I could help, even though I was the one who would go to my house alone for an hour everyday just to cry. And after a while, I went there to harm myself (I would cut/burn my hands, wrists, and feet with a shard of broken glass/lighter). I would ask her to come with me because I was afraid to be alone, but she wouldn’t…I found out later that her father was trying to contact her, even though she hasn’t seen him in over ten years. And I guess it was stressful on her going into high school, and then having me there…

Now, I have been home with my mom for a couple of months, and the thought of slitting my wrists and crying infuriates me. I get so mad when I think about what was happening that I want to attack something. My friend and I
just became best friends again, and she apologized for not being there for me, when I was/am always there for her. Which is a plus. But now, I am left to take care of my mother who is experiencing pain that the doctors and they cannot figure it out. I think about how I just want to take her pain away from her so much, that my averages in school are 50′s and 60′s.

My male friend was there for me when my female friend was being, well, a female dog, to say the least (But, I forgive her over and over). At the same time, he was dealing with coping the death of his grandmother. We were there for each other. And we both admitted, that if it wasn’t for one another, we couldn’t even imagine how things would have turned out. I have already liked him a while before that, so it was pretty predictable that I would fall in love with him. Then, not too long ago, he told me that he was gay. Of course I accepted him at first answer (and still do 100%), but I was more heart broken then he would ever be able to understand. Now, here I am: Heartbroken, distraught trying to take care of my mother, failing miserably, helping my female friend who is now dealing with something (I believe that it is schizophrenia, b/c she thinks that everyone is after her, she sees/hears things, and she is just filled to the brim with anxiety, which runs in her family, but I do not want to say for sure. I just keep suggesting that she seek help from her school counselor b/c her mother refuses to take her to therapy), and have no motivation left…Oh, and did I mention that I heard and saw things when I was about 3, went to therapy for it (no medications, only for ADHD, but that made me freak out worse than ever), and they stopped when I was about 12 or 13. But now, the memories of the hallucinations haunt me, and I constantly fear that they are going to return at any moment. And I freak out so bad that, at night, I cannot move from the room that I would be in at that moment. And all this while, I am called: laid-back, easy-going, optimistic, one of the coolest people to hang out with, and a true friend that gives awesome advice…They say that the only thing wrong with me is that I am too hard on myself…Lets’s see: I’m 5’4″, 260lbs, failing, used to be a merit-honors student, and I don’t accept compliments…Gee, I wonder why I’m hard on myself…I realized that I don’t want things to go back to the way they were, I want them to be better. I know its a lot to ask from a girl who lost her hope to even want to continue living, but I don’t know what else to do. People depend on me. and, I don’t want to leave time for myself, because that means I just do more schoolwork toward things that I don’t even want to get into. No matter what I do, it’s a waste of time. Please, I just don’t know what to do anymore…

A: “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” ~Cicero

The first thing I realized after I read your letter, which I am so glad you wrote, was that my shoulders were somewhere up around my ears, and I was holding my breath. It was only when I had to finally start taking in some air again that I realized how tense I’d gotten just by reading what you’ve been through. I can only imagine what it is like to have all this happen when you are 16 years old.

So I went through your letter again and realized why I had such a reaction. In a very short time you have experienced a series of powerful losses:

    You mother went into the hospital and became infirm. Since you did not mention your dad, I am imagining he is not in the picture, which makes her loss a profound one. As you said, she means the world to you.

  • When she was in the hospital you lost the routine of being in your own home.
  • You lost balance in your friendship when you moved in with your girlfriend and became estranged from her. All this without it being your fault, just a matter of circumstance.
  • Because of all you were dealing with your mother and friends you’ve lost your academic standing in school. This is very understandable. How could you concentrate when the care of your mom is utmost in your thoughts?
  • Even though your mom is back home you’ve lost the old relationship with her, and the old routine, because now you must change. In some ways the roles are reversed; you have become the one taking care of her.
  • And, even though your girlfriend and you have repaired your relationship, it too has changed and you are more aware of her mental imbalances.
  • You’ve lost a romantic expectation with your male friend. This, too, was a surprise and not something within your control.
  • It is no wonder, as you say, “ you’ve now simply lost hope.” This would be a very natural reaction to any one of these losses. You’ve had more than a half dozen.

Your role with many significant people has changed radically in a very short time. What we know about this is that that is when a depression is likely to occur. Depression can happen when we feel we don’t have any control in our lives. We feel helpless, and we will have trouble concentrating, making decisions, getting motivated. Even the cutting and burning you’ve described is part of this. When pain happens to us and we feel we have no control in bringing pain to us, we are even tempted to bring pain onto ourselves as a way of getting some control.

But you already know what to do. The good advice you give others is now important for you to accept for yourself. What you would tell a friend in the situation you are in? My guess is it would be something like this:

  • Begin by going to the school counselor to start talking about all of this on a regular basis.
  • Have the counselor broker an understanding with your teachers so they can help you improve your grades.
  • Your school or the hospital your mom was at may have a social worker that may be able to help find some in-home medical support for your mom. You need some help with her at home.
  • Are there any family members or your mom’s friends you can call? Aunts, neighbors, and people your mom knows, that could help you get help for her?
  • Make some time to study each day. You know you have academic talent, and your mom would want you to do well, so make a plan to begin catching up. You’ll feel better when you can begin accomplishing again.
  • You have good friends, but it may be time to open yourself up to connecting with others. You are cool to hang with, so be open to new friendships and nurture them in your life.
  • Take it one step at a time. Remember the saying: “Left foot, right foot, breathe.”

Let me close by saying how much I appreciate your writing us, and to end with a quote by an unknown author: “The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice we give to others.”

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 May 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). What am I going to do now?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/28/what-am-i-going-to-do-now/