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Tuesday, May 22, 2018, 12:36 p.m.

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Tell Me About It

Seek help to battle constant dark thoughts about family

By Carolyn Hax

This article was published May 17, 2018 at 1:42 a.m.

DEAR CAROLYN: I am 49 and live with my husband and 5-year-old son. We just bought our first house and we're doing well. I have battled addiction and depression in the past. I still do but I feel I have it under control. My husband is semiretired at 50 and I'll be working in the local schools soon. We are not hurting financially. Our son is adopted after many years of trying to have our own. He is everything to us.

So why do I feel like the other shoe is about to drop? I have everything I've always thought I wanted and yet I worry daily that something horrible will happen to my husband or son. I've imagined every possible way they could die. I know this is the happiest I've ever been and yet feel like it's only a matter of time before it all goes away. Why can't I just enjoy my life and not be so damn fretful?

-- Nervous Nelly

DEAR NERVOUS NELLY: The tough part about such dread is that some of it is rational. Healthy, even ... in fact, it's the engine driving the whole concept of living in the moment, the very one you're trying so hard to embrace.

Life is cyclical. Your ups will be followed by downs. The whole reason we're supposed to be mindful of now is the unreliability of later.

This can feel less bearable the more we have to lose.

It takes some mental conditioning, but we can use our understanding of change to train our minds to appreciate where we are and what we control.

Yet when an awareness of impermanence swells into preoccupying death-visions of the people you love most, it goes beyond mental retraining or self-flagellation for not enjoying your life as you think you're supposed to. It's time to treat it as no less a health issue than addiction or depression.

If you still have access to a care network from those battles, then that's where you start.

If you're starting over, then tell your primary care physician about the dark thoughts you're having and how they affect daily life. Enlist his or her help in a diagnosis and treatment plan.

That you've found your way to happiness through depression, addiction and infertility says you have the health savvy and emotional stamina to take this on (with some to spare for the rest of us!). Think of this next phase as training to maintain the beautiful things you've built.

DEAR CAROLYN: My sister thinks if I confide in her, then my confidences are no secret to her husband. He is a nice guy, but I don't particularly WANT my innermost secrets known to my brother-in-law. I've told her this to no effect. I have nobody else I can talk to about things that bother me. Do I have to stop talking to my sister about my deepest feelings?

-- Lonely Sister

DEAR LONELY SISTER: Regrettably, yes. Or you have to accept that her husband will know everything.

So which do you want more: a confidant, or confidentiality?

Of course you want both, but your sister's stubbornness rules that out -- which is her call but, again, regrettable. So choose one and don't torment yourself with what-ifs.

And please consider, long term, cultivating more relationships you can count on.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email

tellme@washpost.com

Weekend on 05/17/2018

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