Dear Annie: I am 62. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed as bipolar. My father and late sister also were bipolar. I have made every effort to keep my illness a secret from my extended family as well as my in-laws. I know from the way they treated my sister that they would not understand. They would be embarrassed by my illness, fear me and distance themselves.
I made the mistake of telling my older sister about my diagnosis. I was certain she could keep a confidence, but she told her daughter — and that girl is incapable of keeping her mouth shut. My sister has apologized, but things will never be the same. I don’t want my family hearing this secondhand, so I’d like to write an open letter to them, with a copy to my husband’s family. My husband and I come from a very small town and it means the whole community will know of my disorder.
I am very depressed about the whole thing. I go to support group meetings and have a good doctor, but I still feel so betrayed. Do you think a letter is a good idea? — Worried in the South
Dear Worried: Yes, although a better idea would be to speak to your family in person, possibly with your doctor or a member of your support group in attendance. The relatives should be made aware that bipolar disorder runs in families — which means your children and grandchildren and your sister’s family may be affected at some point. Silence does not benefit those who are suffering and who may not realize that someone in their own family could help. We know this is going to be difficult for you, but it’s the right thing to do, and you sound strong enough to handle the fallout.
Dear Annie: Seventeen years ago, our beloved family dog nipped a friend’s 3-year-old daughter in the face. The dog had never shown aggression, but the little girl pulled his tail and he reacted. The bite required a few stitches. Our insurance company suggested we get rid of the dog, and although we were heartbroken, we did. He was a beloved pet to our young boys. The insurance paid all medical bills for the child and also gave her an annuity, which matured when she turned 18. The little girl has grown into a beautiful young woman with no visible scar.
For the past 17 years, my friend has called me on the anniversary of the incident to remind me of the number of years that have passed since it happened. She tells me she marks the date on her calendar.
My husband and I apologized profusely at the time. Why can’t my friend let this go? — Nel in Louisiana
Dear Nel: Your friend is obsessed with what could have happened, and she may have residual guilt for not being able to protect her child. She continues to torture you because it makes her feel better. We don’t expect her to forget the trauma, but you did everything possible to make up for it and her daughter is fine now. For your friend to phone and remind you for 17 years is perverse and cruel. Tell her sympathetically that if she cannot stop, she should look into professional help.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from “Disgusted,” whose husband took care of her when she had chemo. She is one lucky woman.
When I broke my leg two years ago, I asked my husband to borrow some crutches from a friend so I could get around. He told me I ought to be able to crawl wherever I needed to go. I might add that he’s a respected businessman and a churchgoer. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving. — Doubly Disgusted in L.A.
Dear L.A.: Well, that’s quite a gem of a husband you have there. We trust he has other redeeming qualities. And what goes around comes around.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. To find out more about Annie’s Mailbox, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Published in The Messenger on 12.11.07