Ask Ellie: My cousin is acting strangely, and the family can't figure out why
Q: My immediate and extended family all get along, living in the same city. We share a lot of love and mutual respect.
Over three to four years, one cousin’s been acting strangely. I first thought she was on medication — general nervousness and vague when asked personal questions. She’d been in a couple of accidents. But she didn’t appear totally strung out.
Yet when she’d ask for a ride home from a family event she’d ALWAYS insist she be dropped off on a corner, not at her place. A first sign that something was amiss.
I recently had her and some cousins over socially. We were openly sharing stories about our lives. This cousin wasn’t forthcoming about herself (which is fine), and later asked to sleep on my couch because of a headache. I was happy to have her. The next morning, she said she was feeling better.
Recently, she reached out, wanting to have another girls’ night but asked to have it at my place again. I replied that I likely couldn’t swing it, but if she wanted to host at her place, I could try to attend. I inquired, “Where are you living these days?” No response.
I’m concerned that she’s homeless, or in a precarious living situation. I’m also slightly annoyed that she won’t be honest. I understand pride may be involved, but I have problems sharing my time with people who can’t be honest with me.
Should I be more straightforward with her about telling me honestly about her living situation, or simply choose not to spend the time? I feel badly about not seeing her since I think she’s a nice person.
No one in our family can figure this out. We’re treading gently.
A: Tread quickly as well as respectfully. She’s part of your close family, you like each other and she has a problem she’s trying to hide.
Maybe she’s homeless for reasons you don’t know. Maybe she’s living with someone she believes will be unacceptable to the family … or worse. Or, the accidents have caused her to self-medicate with choices that are affecting her negatively.
Whatever the answer, it’s serious enough that she needs help from professionals — likely a doctor, regarding her anxious state, and a counsellor to whom she can open up confidentially.
But she also needs support, not judgment for keeping quiet.
Invite her over again, on your own. Then tell her that you’re worried about her and that she can trust that you’ll help her find direction toward whatever solutions she needs.
Say that a health checkup from her doctor will help with anxiety and that talking privately to a therapist about her living situation will help her make decisions to improve things or change them.
If she won’t open up and refuses professional help, she could be in a very serious problem, and/or involving a mental health problem. If so, gather a few other closest family members and discuss whether an intervention is necessary and feasible, instead of letting her sink deeper.
Reader’s Commentary Regarding “Devastated” whose husband of 15 years suddenly moved out and asked for a legal separation (Nov. 10):
“After 28 years of marriage, my husband did the same to me. I had a hard time emotionally and used a lawyer through my work employment plan. I wasn’t happy with that lawyer.
“When you’re blindsided, and emotions are high, interview a few lawyers before hiring one. I didn’t, and it was an expensive and unfair result.”
Ellie’s tip of the day
When someone you care about exhibits changed, worrisome behaviour, support seeking professional help.
Read Ellie Monday to Saturday. Email or visit her website, ellieadvice.com. Follow @ellieadvice.
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