If you have a problem, email Caroline at [email protected]. Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally
What have I got to show for my life?
Q I have just turned 68 and feel that my life has been a ‘car crash’, with no achievements and nothing to show for it. When my brother was born, my mother said that I was uncontrollably jealous.
She clearly preferred him to me and my sister, and would brag about him endlessly. When it transpired that he was on the gifted spectrum, things went from bad to worse. Though my sister didn’t seem bothered, I always felt inadequate next to him. He has recently retired, having made a lot of money.
Despite being ignored by my mother, my sister has also run a successful business and is married with children and grandchildren. I struggled at school and left with no qualifications. I couldn’t hold down a job until I was 24 but did finally manage to get a position in local government, where I stayed for 30 years – but was almost always passed over for promotion.
Nothing has come easily to me. I didn’t even pass my driving test until the eighth attempt at 45. I did eventually return to education part-time and passed five GCSEs. I have never been told I have potential at anything. I tried art classes but my attempts were amateurish – only my dad liked them and I think he was just being kind.
I tried creative writing but have been met with constant rejection. I have no practical skills, and when I volunteered at a community centre one member of staff told me I was a ‘waste of space’. I just want to stop feeling like such a loser.
I struggled at school. I couldn’t hold down a job until I was 24
A The notion of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ validation is the difference between being able to see yourself as good enough instead of relying on the opinion of others for a sense of worth.
When someone is constantly criticised or undervalued in childhood, as you appear to have been, it can leave a legacy of feeling ‘like a loser’. This is hard enough, but other things might have also held you back. You say your brother is on the ‘gifted spectrum’ and I wonder if you also mean the autistic spectrum. If one sibling has autism spectrum disorder, it is not uncommon to find such conditions as ADHD in the family and, from the educational pattern you describe, this could be the case.
You may also be dyspraxic (which affects coordination skills – balance, playing sports or learning to drive). When you were young, such conditions were seldom diagnosed. So far from being a loser, you might well have two conditions for which you needed support – and in its absence have suffered terribly. But it’s not too late to seek help.
See your GP for a referral to counselling for support with your feelings of inadequacy and ideally also to a psychiatrist for a diagnosis. See dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk and adhdfoundation.org.uk for information. I am sure you have many lovely qualities and, once you get help, you will start to feel better. Carry on with the creative pursuits, but just to express your thoughts and emotions rather than for others’ approval.
My estranged wife says she wants me back
Q My marriage ended after 20 years. At the time, I would have liked to make it work but my wife, with whom I have a daughter, said that we no longer wanted the same things. Since then I have established a close friendship with a very nice woman, but she doesn’t want us to be anything more than friends. Even though there is no physical contact, I enjoy her company much more than that of my ex-wife. This new woman is always kind and we laugh a lot. My ex was very attractive and we had a good sex life, but she could also be quite cold at times and often very critical. Now, however, she says that she wants to come back. I don’t know whether to try again or continue with my friendship.
A Unfortunately, it may be that neither woman is right for you. Maybe the new one has been hurt in the past and is scared to get involved. Or, despite being fond of you, she feels there’s a lack of chemistry. As you have a good friendship, you could try pushing her for a reason. You need to know whether a relationship is completely off the cards so that you are free emotionally to meet someone else, as, over time, you may become frustrated by the lack of physical contact. If she is ‘just a friend’, she shouldn’t object to you looking for love elsewhere. If she does, then either she is not being honest about her feelings or she’s not being fair to you. As for your wife, I suspect that, sadly, she might only want you back because she hasn’t met anyone and feels lonely. If you were to try again, the two of you should seek counselling. But I suspect you might find that the reasons you split up before would remain.