Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2002/ 26 Teves 5762

Hard to move on; separation anxiety

By Wendy Belzberg -- My wife and I have been married for 38 years. Recently she has undergone three difficult surgeries --the last one after she broke her leg--and she cannot walk without the support of a walker. She shows no sign of learning to live with her handicap, or of resuming the live we once shared. It has been twenty months and she still refuses even to consider getting a wheelchair. The last time she left the apartment was to get a haircut over a month ago. What can I do?

A:I am neither a doctor, MSW, nor a physical therapist but I think I can adequately diagnose a case of depression. And a legitimate one. It sounds as if your wife has lost not only her mobility, but her independence as well. Who wouldn't have a hard time adjusting?

Speak to your wife's doctors about prescribing medication. Any lingering taboos about depression should have dissolved in the face of so many celebrity confessions. Not to be cavalier, but I would lump this recommendation right up there with chicken soup: It couldn't hurt. And there is some medical evidence that it will even help.

Gently spell out for your wife the impact her choices are having on your life and your marriage. Her well-being is not the only thing at stake: Your quality of life is also being compromised. Your wife may choose never to leave her home, but make clear that there is nothing appealing to you about living out the rest of your days in confinement.

Finally, if your wife is resolute about not rejoining the outside world, you will have to bring the world to her. Invite friends and family over to visit. Regularly. You may also consider inviting a mental health professional and/or a marriage counselor over on a bi-weekly basis. If your wife wants relief from her busy social schedule she'll have to leave her apartment. I suspect it won't take long before she is begging to get out.

Q: I have a special needs child who requires a lot of attention from my husband and me and has received it. We have not left her with a babysitter until now, and when we did my daughter cried for two hours. I would prefer not to leave her with a sitter again. My husband feels differently.

A: It can be a great adjustment and challenge to have a special needs child, but adjust you must. You and your daughter must both leap this hurdle, you for the sake of your marriage, your daughter for the sake of the family. I am not suggesting for a second that you compromise your daughter's safety. If there is no medical risk, however, hire someone who can respond quickly and intelligently to your daughter's needs, and can use his or her best judgment should an emergency arise.

Bear in mind that no child in her right mind likes to see her parents walk out the door. Your child's separation issue most likely has nothing to do with her special needs. The sooner your child can join the mainstream on whatever level she is able, the better. Book that sitter now. And leave your guilt at home.

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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg