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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships - 42

It could be you....   

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


’I’m ashamed of my weight and I don’t feel loved’

'A' writes:

I have been married for 30 years and have three adult children whom I love dearly. However, I have suffered from depression for a number of years and my husband says this is the main reason we are both so unhappy.

I am an intelligent, loving, funny and giving person. I have many wonderful friends and many reasons to hold my head up high, but I have gained a great deal of weight through comfort-eating and I feel ashamed of this.

My husband absolutely hates the way I am. I am so unhappy, I don't feel loved but just tolerated and am too scared to leave. Help!

A’s problem was one that she put on the Laterlife Forum, selflessly expressing a hope that it might help others in a similar situation.

It drew a variety of responses, including one from myself. Several of these focussed on what A might do to lose weight, and it was at this point that I felt the focus of her distress was being lost in the very kind offers to ‘solve’ her problem for her.
This ‘displacement’ is also what her husband might be trying to do when he puts the blame on A’s depression as the main reason for their unhappiness.

My further thoughts follow:

A is in a very unhappy situation and it would be interesting to know which came first, the marriage or the depression. If this is something that has been part of her from before they met, then she has achieved a great deal in very difficult circumstances. She has done wonderfully well to have maintained such a long marriage and brought up three children who are a source of great pride for her.

But if she became depressed since being married then understanding how this has occurred could give her some insight into what to do about her situation.

She talks of feeling unloved, just tolerated and afraid of leaving. I wonder if her depression is more to do with the marriage than anything else. Her husband seems unable to see past her weight-gain and has lost focus on the intelligent, loving, funny and giving person she really is. He is no longer sympathetic to her needs and it sounds as though she has grown weary of his criticism.

Several people responded to A’s problem by suggesting ways of losing weight through diet or exercise. Exercise will be a very good idea for her, but not necessarily for losing weight. Some form of regular mild exercise is beneficial to combat depression. Most organisations helping and advising those who are depressed recommend stimulating the circulation, getting oxygen into the bloodstream to carry nutrients to the brain and muscles and help speed up the elimination of toxins and waste from the body.

The natural result of this is to feel gradually more alert and energised, as the system enlivens both body and mental state. People who exercise feel they have more energy and therefore do more and feel better about themselves.

All this occurs without going on a diet to lose weight. Sorting out the inner self is the key to changing what you wish to do on the outside. A may come to the conclusion that there is no need to change how she is on the outside because she is feeling more confident about what she really wants to change.

Where does depression come from?

One in five of us will be affected by depression at some stage in our lives. For women there are a variety of life situations that can trigger depression. The female body is subject to many more dramatic changes than that of men and the hormones regulating the system can get out of synch. One of the most common forms of depression in women is post-natal. A mother’s trauma of childbirth can be masked by the excitement of the new bay’s arrival. Sometimes post-natal depression can be left un-diagnosed for many months and occasionally women have suffered silently for years!

Menopause is another very vulnerable time for women. Hormones once again are rebalancing. The body changes in many subtle ways that at times can be dispiriting. Hair, skin, joints, mental, physical and sexual energy levels – all show signs of transition and women struggle with the fear of no longer having the appearance or power of a younger person. It takes time and support of partner and/or friends to adjust and accept the difference as normal and to realise that here is a chance to become more rather than less of who you really are. The emotional balance of a relationship can also change at this time.

Being in a relationship without feeling you have the support and understanding of your partner is a very lonely place. If talking this through with the partner is unfeasible, depression can deepen and the feeling of being trapped increase. The sufferer is left frustrated, angry, worthless and increasingly frightened and unhappy. Confidence flies out of the window.

Men too can suffer depression at this time when they are coming to terms with the physical changes in their appearance – hair loss and greying, weight gain, loss of mental and physical energies, fear of loss of potency, of retirement and ending of career and status.

But what to do?

There may be physical reasons why depression is a problem.

  • Ask your GP for a complete check-up.

  • Much modern medication will do a wonderful job of lessening the lows of depression but it can also mask any emotional causes. Your GP can help you by referring you to a therapist specialising in a variety of ‘talking treatments’.

  • If you feel strongly that your relationship is the core problem, then seek out a specialist relationship counsellor. You can go on your own if that is more appropriate.

  • Relate is the leading organisation for this and you can locate your nearest branch on their website – www.relate.org.uk 

  • Complementary medicine has continuing success in helping with many sorts of depression, through herbal remedies, acupuncture, homoeopathy, nutrition and massage (wonderful for boosting self esteem and just plain feeling accepted and cared for whatever shape you are in).

  • The website of Depression Alliance – www.depressionalliance.org  - can offer excellent help and advice and has an extensive and well-chosen booklist.

If the cause of the depression can be identified, the first battle is won. If, like A, you feel that the solution might be in making a new life somewhere else, then talk this through with a trusted friend, family member or therapist first and work on getting a support group around you who will be there for you when you need them.

Often adult children have noticed more than we think and are ready to help in whatever way they can. For most people, knowing that they could leave and be understood and supported emotionally by friends or relatives is enough to lift some of the depression and start their road to regaining their confidence and control of their life.

Appearance is only part of what we are. We can best adjust it - gently and judiciously - from a position of weakness to one of confidence and strength.

 

 

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling Index page

 

 



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