[STANDFIRST] Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine reassures a lonely grandfather, and a woman struggling with having her partner's daughter around.


Until 20 months ago, I was one of the fittest 72-year-old men around. I used to have my four grandchildren over to my house every weekend. I used to take them out and play football with them and I was really enjoying life.

Then the doctor told me I had high blood pressure and decided I needed medication. I have tried five different types of blood pressure tablets at different times and they completely changed me. I was exhausted the whole time and had no energy to see and play with my grandchildren anymore. I felt like an old man, and if I tried to explain to the doctor how I felt, he said I'd just have to get used to them and stop moaning!

So, I decided to stop taking them and lose weight. I soon started to feel better - but then came the coronavirus and I feel I've lost everything. I live on my own and see no one anymore, because my daughter thinks I'm at risk and won't bring the children near me. How I would love to play with my grandchildren again, but as long as this goes on, there is no chance.

I feel this virus, plus the problems I've had, have destroyed my life and that there's no point in going on any more.

H. W.


It's a great shame that your health problems and the coronavirus are preventing from seeing your grandchildren. Your daughter obviously cares about you and is worried that the children - who are, presumably going to school and interacting with others - will infect you. As tough as it is, she is trying to keep you safe because she loves you.

This is all still extremely hard though. You appear to have taken yourself off the medication - and it does sound as if your GP was less than sympathetic about the side-effects you were experiencing. I would really encourage you, though, to go back and perhaps see a different doctor.

If you've lost weight and changed your diet, then hopefully you may have brought your blood pressure down - but it's important that it's properly monitored by a health professional. If you've become less active this year, as so many have, there is a chance it may have gone up even more, so do get it checked.

I can quite understand how you will feel depressed and lonely. So many people are feeling the same way. Loneliness and depression are two of the horrible side-effects of this pandemic that are only now beginning to be counted, and with everything that is happening in the world, it is all too easy to feel hopeless.

Researchers have found in some studies that almost half the people polled have felt the pandemic has harmed their mental health. When you're suffering from depression - and from your email, I believe you possibly are - life can feel overwhelmingly bleak. As bleak as it feels though, please do remember that things can, and will, get better - and you are not alone.

When you speak to your doctor about your blood pressure and coming off your medication, I would encourage you to talk to them about how hard you're finding things too, because depression can equally be an illness - and one that can be treated. That may or may not involve medication, but there are certainly many things that can help - including self-help measures.

We are social creatures and these months of social distancing and sheltering at home have clearly left you feeling isolated and lonely. Being cut off from the love and support of our families is hideous and we need to find new ways of interacting with them. You may not be able to play with your grandchildren or even be with them physically, but could you set up video calling with them?

Could you even find ways of playing online games with them? Seeing people - even if through a computer screen - is so much better than just hearing their voices, so please try and explore some of these options.

There are services out there that can help you too - contact your local council to see what befriending options are available, for example. If nothing appeals to you there, contact Age UK (their advice line: 0800 678 1602) as could match you up with a befriending volunteer. And please remember, if you ever feel very low and need somebody to talk to, judgement-free, you can call Samaritans for free at any time of day or night (116 123).

Eventually, this pandemic will pass and life will pick up again. You will be seeing your grandchildren again, so I really hope that when you do, you are still as fit, active and healthy as possible so you can enjoy their company.


My partner has a 14-year-old daughter and over the past year, she has had to live with us because her mum has health problems and has had to isolate. I have found it increasingly difficult to cope because the girl never goes out and is hanging around us all the time.

It's a bit better now she's back at school, but my partner and I can never be alone together, without her finding some thin excuse to interrupt or stay around. I know she must have found it difficult at first to adjust to her father having a new partner, but surely after a year she should have come to terms with it. I've tried to explain to my partner how uncomfortable this is making me, but he seems unable or unwilling to tackle it.

Last weekend, he arranged a nice meal to celebrate the fact we've been together for a year, but then spoiled it by inviting his daughter to join us. Why can't he see how important this is to me?

J. K.


Frankly, I am amazed that you can't see that his daughter is important too! This poor girl must be desperately anxious about her sick mother. On top of that, she's been uprooted from her home to live with her father and a woman she doesn't know. Whether she's continued at the same school or had to start at a new one, she's probably had to cope with feelings of loneliness and isolation because of all the restrictions.

What do you expect your partner to do with her at times when you don't want her around? Lock her in her room?

I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but I think you are the one being a bit unreasonable here. You can't simply dismiss a child whenever you think he or she has become inconvenient.

If you are finding it hard to have ANY privacy together, then perhaps it might be a good idea for your partner to have a chat with his daughter. She is certainly old enough to understand that couples need some privacy, but beyond that, she has as much right to be around her father as you - perhaps even more so at this present time.

You are, potentially, her stepmother, or you could be in the future, even if you aren't get married. If you fall for a man who has a child - then either you take that on board, or you rethink your relationship, because that child is a part of who he is and comes with the package.

I wonder if your partner is concerned about your lack of empathy and understanding for his daughter at such a difficult time in her life. Instead of trying to find ways to exclude her, could you not find ways to get closer? For a start, you both love and care for the same man, so look for other areas of shared interest and other common grounds.

At 14, his daughter is becoming a young woman and in a few more years she will, potentially, be moving out and making her own life. Perhaps you could consider helping to equip her with some of the skills she'll need, especially as her mother isn't able to do so right now. Get her involved with meal preparation and cooking; get her doing a share of general household tasks; help her to learn about budgeting and finance.

I'm not suggesting you try to replace her mother but more like an aunt or older sister - you never know, you might even start to care about her. If you can't adjust to these realities of family life though, perhaps you need to consider whether this is the right relationship for you.


I have discovered something about my husband that has upset and embarrassed me, and I don't know what to say to him. He left the computer open recently and I saw he had been in an online gambling site.

Betting is something we have always condemned in my family - we don't even do the lottery - and I thought my husband understood this. I am so worried that he has a problem and that he has secret debts.

I know he realises something is wrong because we haven't spoken properly for almost two weeks. Up to now, our marriage has been very happy and open, so why hasn't he talked to me about this?

W. J.


If your husband knows you and your family have a deep opposition to gambling, then I suspect he hasn't said anything because he is worried about your reaction. Clearly, your upbringing has made you think this is something very terrible, but an occasional flutter doesn't necessarily make him a problem gambler or gambling addict.

You are worried about secret debts, but do you have any reason to think this? Are there any unexplained holes in your finances? If not, you may well be worrying without good cause - but, as it bothers you, I think you need to talk to him. Explain that you saw he had been on a gambling site and that it's been worrying you ever since.

I understand your concern but please try to keep things in proportion until you know more. I hope he will be able to reassure you, but if there is a problem, then clearly it can't be ignored as gambling addictions can be a huge problem. If this is the case, if your marriage is strong and your husband is fully willing to work on the issue, I hope it's something you'll be able to tackle together. If there is a problem then GamCare (gamcare.org.uk) or Gam Anon (gamanon.org.uk) might be good sources to turn to.


I have always found it hard to talk to people; I never know what to say. I've been working from home and we have regular meetings most days. Most of the time we're talking about work stuff, but there's always chat time too, and I feel very left out. I am sure they must think that I'm very boring, but I just can't seem to be like everyone else.

F. C.


While some people are good talkers, they would get nowhere if others weren't good listeners too. Video conferencing meetings can be intimidating for anyone unless they're particularly assertive - and the assertive ones are generally the ones you'll hear talking.

It may surprise you that some of them will actually be very nervous and insecure too, and are talking to cover up their nerves. People who talk a lot often do so because they are insecure or need an audience, and that can be the same in real life as it is in these calls.

If you want to take a more active part in these calls, perhaps you could learn a few easy techniques for keeping a conversation going. The most obvious of these is to never answer a question with a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

Instead, try to respond with a full answer that gives the other person material on which to base the next exchange.

I'd also encourage you to ask questions yourself, as this will keep the conversation flowing and may even lead to debate or flowing chat. 'Why is always a good one!

There are several books that explore other techniques you might find interesting to read - How To Start A Conversation And Make Friends by Don Gabor is a good one, but there are plenty more.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.