The Pool's agony aunt Viv Groskop

Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: How can I help my overweight teenager?

On this week's podcast Viv discusses a territorial housemate, having to work with a colleague who once bullied you, and a teenager who can't stop eating

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv, 

I've moved in with a housemate that I'm just not clicking with - we don't really talk except when she has an issue with something I've done in the house. I try to engage with her but her replies are always short and she never asks questions in return. I've come to accept that I'll probably never be close with her... but the tension makes me feel like a visitor in my own house. She leaves for work earlier than I do, and when she gets back she goes to her room. I don't feel comfortable in our living room or kitchen because they're all set out her way, as she moved in before I did. Do you have any advice for making me feel more comfortable or connected to the space?

Hello Disgruntled House-sharer. Well, this is a difficult one, isn’t it? I think there are a lot of different problems at play here and they’re all getting muddled up. The first and most simple is that you’re new in a house and you’re not sure about the set-up. That’s natural. It takes a while to settle in and feel at home somewhere. Give it time. The newness of the situation may be the thing that is most concerning you here and that will pass quickly, so try not to over-dramatise whilst you’re still taking stock of your surroundings.

The other problem is the character and personality of your housemate. Although this is potentially not a problem at all -- it’s an opportunity. Here is someone who clearly doesn’t want to make friends, she just wants a quiet life and to live in her own space. Maybe that’s not what you wanted from this house share -- maybe you wanted a new friend. But you need to respect the signals she’s sending out: this is a house-share where the people involved live their own lives. They’re civil to each other and perhaps supportive at certain times but they stay in their own space. In the short term, this might be a chance for you to get some time to yourself and find some calm in your busy life (I don’t know why I’m assuming that you have a busy life but everyone seems to have a busy life nowadays). In the long term it may be something that makes you feel sad: you’d like to live in a house with livelier housemates. That’s OK, there is time for that. But you don’t need to make that decision now: give this situation a chance. It’s not what you expected but it might have unexpected benefits.

The final problem is the layout of the house. I’m not sure what you mean here, without getting into specifics. “They’re all set out her way.” What does this mean exactly? I can only guess. I think you might be projecting your feelings of discomfort onto the space: you feel unwelcome because this woman doesn’t want to be your best friend and likes having her own space. But that’s a perfectly natural attitude, even if it doesn’t turn out to be one that you share. Is the space really so terrible? Or are you making yourself feel as if it is because you’re convincing yourself that you’re not welcome there? You’re reading a lot into a situation which some people would pay good money to find: a house where you have your own space, you don’t have to talk to people unless you want to and where there’s peace and quiet. Try and see some of these advantages, even if they’re not necessarily the reason you got into this. There will be plenty of other opportunities to live in a noisy house where everyone occupies the communal spaces the whole time and wants to chat. Enjoy the chance to live in a space that is a bit different. Maybe the thing you’re feeling is not really tension -- it’s actually calm waiting to be discovered.

Dear Viv,

When I started my first job, the relationship I had with one of my colleagues was incredibly toxic and I felt incredibly bullied by her, eventually leaving my first job because of the way she treated me. Since then I've had a happy career and regained all the confidence I lost because of her belittlement in my first role. However, her company and my company are working together on a project and I keep bumping into her. The first time was a total surprise and I felt a wave of nausea go over me; since then I've bumped into her several times and felt sick and panicky each time. It's not possible for me to just stop seeing her, so how do I deal with this?

Hello Toxic Bully Surivivor! I’m sorry to hear this is happening to you but I’m glad you’ve written in as I suspect many people have experienced this: having someone pop up in your working life who you thought you’d got rid of a long time ago. Your case is particularly extreme as this person didn’t just annoy you, they bullied you and essentially forced you out of your job. That’s a pretty intense situation and I can understand why you’re feeling this. That, however, is the key: the way you’re “feeling”. See how you describe what this woman makes you experience: “a wave of nausea”, “sick and panicky”. These are physical feelings, a physiological response your body is having to the memory of this woman. But your body is deceiving you here and you need to listen to your mind: in your logical mind you know that you have got over this situation. You did an amazingly brave, practical and sensible thing by walking away from that first job, since then you say yourself that you’ve had a happy career and regained all your confidence. You have put that situation behind you. It is in the past. Some part of you retains the memory of those horrible feelings and is bringing them back when you see this woman: but that memory is outdated and no longer relevant to the person you are now.

So try to let it go, whilst doing that gently and remembering that being freaked out by this woman is a completely natural reaction. Smile to yourself about the reminder of how you felt back that and recognise that it doesn’t really reflect how you feel now: calm, confident and in control. You are a different person to the person who was bullied by this woman. Time has passed. Stay in the moment of now and keep reminding yourself of everything positive that has happened in your working life since then. Bring all that into your interactions with this woman: this is not a repeat, it’s a new script. I think you might be surprised about what happens if you do this.

You might find you experience this woman as an entirely different person and you might even find that you get on. Be open to this time being different -- because it is different -- and don’t allow yourself to get stuck in the past. Think to yourself, “That was then, this is now.” It really is different and you know it. You can definitely sail through this.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above

Dear Viv, 

My eldest (16) is really overweight, he does do sport, and we do encourage him, while he's with us he eats healthy food. He knows about nutrition, but when he's not in our company he binge eats. He goes to the shop after school to buy crisps and sugar. We've talked about it, he knows he's overweight, but he doesn't seem to be able to help himself. I've found stashes of food. People say "he'll grow out of it" or "don't worry about it", but I am worried about him. About him going through his teenage years being unhappy with how he looks (because I know he is unhappy). I don't want him to be bullied. We've had hearts and to hearts, and he's tried to change, but it doesn't last. Please help.

These questions have been edited for length. 

Got a question for Viv? Email her at The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

For help and advice on eating disorders, contact beat on  0808 801 0677 or 0808 801 0711, or visit their website.

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