Annie's Mailbox for Jan. 11, 2011: Scared after a break-in

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Dear Annie: I'm 15 years old. Two years ago, I arrived home from school to find a burglar in my room. My bedroom door was locked, and when I got near it, the thief burst through the door. I attempted to kick him in the groin, but missed. He grabbed my throat, squeezing it tight, and then went out the window. I called 911 and waited inside a closet for help. I made out a report and told my parents.

They never found the guy, and ever since, I have become extremely paranoid when left home alone, even if it's for only an hour. In the past few months, it has gotten worse. I keep thinking there's someone trying to get in, or I hear imaginary footsteps in the hallway. Until my parents come home, I keep a kitchen knife by my side. A secondary problem is that when I think someone is going to touch my back or neck, I tense up.

I don't know how to express my feelings to my family without sounding pathetic. I don't want therapy, because my parents can't afford it. Do you have any suggestions about how to get over my phobia?

— Paranoid in Southern Calif.

Dear Paranoid: Your parents should know how you feel because they will want to help. But if you are reluctant to speak to them, talk to your school counselor or nurse. It sounds as if you are suffering from post-traumatic stress, and some short-term therapy could be extremely helpful in working through your fears and learning techniques to cope with your anxiety.

Dear Annie: My boyfriend was divorced a couple of months ago. He and his ex-wife have six children together. She is very bitter about the divorce and dislikes me intensely.

The ex's mother passed away last week. My boyfriend attended the wake and funeral. The problem is, he felt I should have gone with him to be supportive, regardless of what his ex thought about it. I say that because this woman dislikes me so much — and has for 30 years — it was better that I did not attend the funeral and make a bad situation worse for her and their children. What do you say?

— Sure I Did the Right Thing

Dear Sure: You behaved correctly. This was not about your boyfriend. It was about his ex-wife. Your boyfriend was there to pay his personal respects and support his children. Your presence would have created tension and anger, adding more pain for the bereaved. If your boyfriend needed your support, he could find you at home.

Dear Annie: I would like to reply to "Pleading for a Little Privacy," who works nights and sleeps days and can't get people to leave her alone.

My wife and I work opposite shifts so one of us can be home with our sons. We have done this for 11 years. If someone rang the doorbell, I would not answer. I used to have a problem with my father-in-law, who would come over and ring the doorbell or phone me about things that could have waited.

I had a simple solution for this. Whenever he would wake me up during the day, I would call him at the corresponding time late at night and do the same to him. If he woke me up at noon, I would refuse to talk to him. Then, when I got to work, I would call him at midnight and ask him what he wanted to talk about. After my third call, he got the hint. Now he never calls me during the day. In fact, he never calls me at all. If he needs something, he will call my wife. This has worked pretty well, and I get a lot more sleep.

— Andrew from Illinois

Dear Andrew: You've solved one problem, but we hope you haven't created a second one with an alienated father-in-law.

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