Tell Me About It

I returned to Ireland for solace but I feel friendless and trapped

My sister has drawn a rota for looking after our sick parents. On top of that, I’m struggling with the work culture and am finding it hard to make friends

PROBLEM: I am at a loss to figure out a way out of my current situation. I have recently returned to live in Dublin, having spent 20 years living in the US, where I went to work straight from college. It was always my aim to return home. My decision to return at this time was prompted by a crisis in my relationship of 10 years when I discovered accidentally that my partner was bisexual and had numerous gay relationships during our years together. It felt right to make a clean break, and I returned to Ireland so I could have the support of my family.

However, coming back has posed numerous difficulties I hadn’t considered. My parents, who are in their late 60s, have both recently developed health problems, and, while it seemed great to be closer to them at this time, I have difficulty adjusting to what my family expect me to contribute by way of support.

My sister, who is closest to where they live, near Galway, drew up a rota and emailed it to us all and I was simply horrified to have this plan presented to me dictating how I would be spending my free time.

I also found a similar attitude at work. I work in a busy financial-services setting, and the culture there is so at odds with what I have been used to. As a result I am finding myself having constant feelings of anger and resentment, and I don’t know how to deal with this. This is made worse by the fact that I find it hard to make any real friends here. I feel at the edge of coping and mostly I just feel trapped.

ADVICE: It sounds as though you are very disenchanted with the reality of your return to Ireland and you are experiencing shock and disillusionment at the family responsibilities and the work settings, which are in contrast to the Ireland you left 20 years ago.

You might also be grieving the loss of your relationship, and this is perhaps complicated by the sense of betrayal and deceit. The combination of negativity and adjustment must weigh heavily at this time, and your lack of friendships and connections is exacerbating the situation.

When you went to the US, you no doubt went through the sense of being the outsider but you probably had a lot of companions in the same boat. Your return to Ireland also puts you in the position of outsider, but without the support of a group going through the same thing.

When we are away from home, we miss family and long for the sense of connection and belonging, but when we return we often have to face expectations and responsibilities we did not realise were building. Conflicting emotions are often the result.

We look back wistfully at our freedom, away from the duties of caring for others, and we might even have absorbed our new culture’s approach to caring for the elderly, which could be at odds with the culture at home. It sounds as though your family have made assumptions about your part in the caring schedule without asking your opinion, and the result is that you are partaking with resentment and anger.

You need to air your feelings about this. However, when you speak with resentment, you will probably be met with hostility and condemnation, so you must first clear the tone in your voice.

The chances are that you are being asked to do no more than other members of the family. If you want to change this, you must make a case other people can understand: do you need time to adjust to life in Ireland before you can commit to such a schedule? As you have no group of friends, do you need to take time to create this?

Others in the wider family probably have a lot more support than you do. When you speak reasonably, it allows others to listen, and you might find more compassion than you anticipate.

Work, too, is presenting a clash of cultures for you, so it is no surprise that you feel trapped. Is there anything you can do to increase your connection to the work culture in Ireland? Could you volunteer to sit on a committee or board where your outside perspective is valued? Or perhaps you could use your external perspective for the good of the organisation by finding a way of offering this without inherent criticism. Your attitude to family and work is negative right now, and this is blocking you from engaging. This is something that you can change. Start with an open attitude, and start now.